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Five Thoughts: Spring Game Edition

Spring has officially sprung in Austin, Texas with the annual Orange and White spring game now in the books for the Texas Longhorns. Last Saturday we got our first peek at the 2019 edition of the Longhorn football team as they look to build upon a ten-win season and a Sugar Bowl victory over the Georgia Bulldogs.

The 2018 season is in the rearview now and the expectations for the Longhorns will be as high as they’ve been in sometime as Tom Herman and his staff look to take the step forward to placing the program back in the national spotlight year in and out among the nation’s elite.

While spring game are for the most part pretty vanilla when it comes to play calling and game planning, it is always interesting to see the new faces who arrived in January get their first taste of live action under the lights in DKR and see which upperclassmen are embracing the leadership roles on the team. As usual you can’t get too high or too low with what we saw down on the field considering the circumstances, but I did want to share a few things I noticed after getting to run through the action a second time.

  • Defense Outshines Offense

For as much of the headlines the offense grabbed this offseason, it lacked crispness and execution across the board, as the defense was able to force multiple turnovers, keep the offense out of the end zone for most of the scrimmage, and get a good amount of pressure on the quarterback throughout the day. Keep in mind that the defense also was without several starters on the back end and had taken some lumps throughout the spring courtesy of Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorn offense that contains a good amount of talent at the skill positions.

I know things were kept vanilla from a game plan standpoint, but if the defense can get healthy and continue to trend in the right direction then that can only mean good things for the Longhorns heading into the 2019 season.

  • Quarterback Play

It wasn’t a great day for the Texas signal callers, but to be fair the conditions were less than ideal for the offense to the sling the ball around last Saturday. With that said, the decision making could have been better, as both Ehlinger and Casey Thompson both threw interceptions (though Thompson’s could be chalked up to the pressure) and I counted multiple cases of self-sacking when the ball could have been thrown away.

One of the bright spots for the position was how all three quarterbacks showed that they possess mobility that allows them to extend plays or hurt a defense when the opportunity is there for the taking. This group certainly doesn’t lack talent or athleticism and after the spring game there will be plenty of opportunities for the staff to coach them up heading into the summer.

While it certainly wasn’t 11’s best showing last Saturday, the offense is in great hands with him at the wheel and he will give Texas to win a lot of games this fall.

  • Game Balls: Jalen Green and Jeffrey McCulloch

Coming into the spring, two of the biggest question marks were at linebacker and cornerback and last Saturday showed that Texas has two capable players looking to step up at both positions. At linebacker, Jeffrey McCulloch looks poised for a breakout senior campaign as he seems to have settled in playing off the ball. McCulloch had one of the bigger splash plays of the scrimmage when he picked off Ehlinger in the first half on a check down to the running back and almost returned it for a touchdown. You could see the light coming on for McCulloch as the year wore on in 2018, but now he is set to be a leader in the middle of the defense and as a senior it’s a contract year for him.

At corner, Texas entered the spring looking to find a starter opposite of Anthony Cook, who already has one spot solidified and it looks like coming out of the spring Jalen Green has made the best case for the job. Green flashed last Saturday early often as he didn’t concede much in coverage and he showed he can pack a punch as a tackler when he dropped the hammer on Jordan Whittington on a swing screen. Green as never lacked upside or talent as a player, but it looks like the light bulb has come on and now he is poised to make the leap.

  • Offensive Line Depth

The offensive line took a step forward in 2018 after a horrid 2017 season, but after getting a peek at the group on Saturday, it is clear that the overall depth is going to be a bit of a concern going forward. The most glaring hole at this point is obviously Zach Shackelford’s backup, as Rafiti Ghirmai made the transition to center this offseason and it showed with him rolling quite a few snaps back to the quarterback, which needless to say is less than ideal when you are trying execute an offense. The transition to center is not an easy one for a guy who played tackle before arriving on campus, but Texas will have to find a capable backup given Shackelford’s history of getting banged up.

As mentioned earlier, this unit allowed a fair amount of pressure on the quarterback and also surrendered a few sacks on Saturday, but the bright side is that the season is still several months away, and Parker Braun arrives in the summer. Braun’s arrival will solidify one of the guard spots and will allow Herb Hand to get creative when it comes to finding a solution to the other two spots that are still up for grabs. I’m only mildly concerned at this point given some things still need to shake out before we get to the season, but this is something to keep an eye on as camp approaches.

  • Case of the Drops

While it goes without saying that the Texas offense possesses a good amount of talent at the skill positions, it must be said that they didn’t do their quarterbacks any favors on Saturday when it came to catching the football. There were way too many concentration drops and just flat out dropped passes on Saturday and that’s something that end up costing you in a major way on Saturdays in the fall. I lost count of how many times receivers dropped passes that hit them in the hands during the scrimmage, but I believe I was close to needing both of my hands, which is less than ideal. This group as a whole will have to spend some extra time on the JUGS machine this summer.

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