Tag Archives: Texas football

Steady Progression Will Keep The Wolves Away From Charlie Strong

What we saw in Lubbock from the Longhorns on Saturday was a team finally backing up its words about playing for its head coach. No one is going to brag about a win over a below-average Texas Tech team, but this one definitely had a different feel to it.

Texas is notoriously bad on the road under Charlie Strong, but it found a way to walk out with a win in this one. It was clear Strong had a solid game plan entering the game, and it was executed about as good as you can do it against the top offense in the country. Both points I just made there are pretty shocking when you’ve watched this team play this year.

This game marks one of the first times I’ve seen progression from this team all year. Even with the win over Baylor last week, it didn’t feel like the team took a huge step forward because of all the mistakes. There were still plenty of mistakes made against Tech, but the difference is the players finally overcame them in a venue other than DKR.

Winning on the road is a sign of progress for Strong. The big money donors are looking for any reason to get rid of Strong at the end of the season, but he’s helped his case tremendously over the last two weeks.

Still, this team is far from perfect. There were so many frustrating and inexplicable calls and mistakes against Tech that just had me scratching my head. In fact, I thought probably a handful of times throughout the game that this was the moment that would turn the game and they would blow it. But it didn’t happen.

Progress.

I wrote previously that Texas fans need to accept the performance they will get from a Charlie Strong coached football team. This was not one of those games. It would be nice to have to accept performances like the one against Tech, but the team isn’t quite there yet.

Now that there is some positive mojo in and around the program, it seems like the wolves are backing off of Strong a little bit. We are at a point now where he could legitimately save his job. That seemed like a completely impossible scenario just two weeks ago. With home games against West Virginia and TCU, and a road game against Kansas, left on the schedule, Strong has a shot to make a big statement and silence the wolves completely.

The Longhorns play well at home, so they have the advantage against the two toughest opponents remaining on their schedule. Winning two out of the last three games isn’t unreasonable, but the fire the team has played with recently can’t go away.

And speaking of fire, this seems like a good time to mention the Heisman-worthy performances that D’Onta Foreman has been putting up virtually all season. He rushed for 341 yards against Texas Tech to make him the leading rusher in the NCAA this year (and he even missed one game). The Longhorns may save Strong’s job just by jumping on Foreman’s back and letting him take the game over every week.

However, this team still has a lot of growing up to do, from the players to the coaches. At this point in the season, the mistakes that are happening will likely continue. But the progress we’ve seen of being able to fight through those mistakes and come away with a win is pretty impressive considering the circumstances.

Now shouldn’t be a time to focus on correcting the mistakes and poor play calling at times. These last three games are all about continuing to build confidence in the young Longhorns. Just imagine how good the players will feel if their play on the field was a direct result in the decision to retain Strong for at least another year.

Taking a confident group into the offseason will help the maturation process and give the team a chance to fix mistakes that are easily correctable, for the most part.

The Longhorns have played with a newfound fire since the wolves have been out calling for Strong’s job. Now it’s time to see how they respond when people tell them how good they are. It hasn’t worked out well in the past, but the signs of progress are certainly encouraging for Texas fans.

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Wikimedia

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Texas Fans Are Tired of False Promises

During his last couple of years, Mack Brown promised fans that the stagnant Texas offense was easy to fix and that he would get it done. It never happened.

Then the defensive-minded Charlie Strong realized after his first year at Texas that offense was kind of important in the high-flying Big 12. He and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson promised the offense was going to be different in 2015. I guess they didn’t actually make a false promise, because the offense was worse than it was before, which is still “different.”

With all of the hype around new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s offense, I get the sense Texas fans were cautiously optimistic. After scoring 50, 42 and 43 points through three games, any sense of skepticism is gone.

So why is there still frustration from the burnt orange faithful? It’s pretty evident following a loss to an average California team, in which the team scored 43 points on the road.

Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has been avoiding any sort of blame ever since he’s been here with Strong. Last year, he fielded one of the worst defenses, in terms of statistics, in the history of Texas football. While that made headlines, it was overshadowed by the fact that the Longhorns had an incompetent offense that couldn’t score.

There haven’t been any serious talks about Bedford’s job security, but it’s time to start it up. I understand most fans love Bedford because he is a former player and has a prideful love for UT, but so did Mack Brown.

If we still had the same incompetent offense from last year, then Bedford’s defense probably would get overlooked again. There were some definite warning signs when his unit gave up 47 points to Notre Dame (10 of those came in overtime). When your offense scores 43 points on the road with a freshman quarterback, you should win the game. I don’t care who you’re playing. There’s no excuse.

Charlie Strong finally was asked the question after the game about possibly blaming Bedford for the loss, but he gave his typical answer about not pointing fingers and just needing to execute the game plan. You’ve got to think he’s embarrassed about his defensive performances this season, being a former defensive coordinator himself.

I’m tired of hearing Bedford’s generic answers to questions instead of telling us exactly what he thinks is wrong. In a nutshell, he dances around questions by basically saying things like:

“I have to do a better job of getting the guys ready to play.”

“We need to execute the game plan better.”

“We have to do a better job as a defensive staff.”

Yes, coach, we know. We can see that too. It’s very clear on our TV screens and sitting in the stands. The difference is you’re just telling us what needs to happen and not making it happen.

Those are all false promises, in my opinion. Now that the defense is ruining what could be a special season on the offensive side of the ball, it’s time for Bedford to put up or shut up. He makes it sound like the problems are easy fixes, but we see the same product on the field week after week. It’s just now becoming a glaring issue, and the heat needs to be turned up on Bedford’s seat.

Strong had to strip Shawn Watson of his play-calling duties after the first game of the season last year, and it may be time to do the same with Bedford. It’s not good enough to just say you’re going to be better. I have to see it.

Strong is in a tough spot right now. He heads into the bye week before facing Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks. We are going to hear a lot of promises between now and then, but what happens if the defense lays an egg again in Stillwater? Distractions about Bedford’s job security will be heightened, but would Strong really make a big change right before the OU game?

If a change is going to be made, it has to be now. Whether it’s Bedford actually making the change and improving his defense, or if it’s Strong making a change on the staff, it has to happen immediately.

For me, this year has been an “I’ll have to see it before I believe it” type year. I finally believe in the offense, but I can’t put any faith in the defense until I see some consecutive quality performances. And it’s not a player issue either. It’s a clear coaching issue.

We are going to hear a lot of promises in the coming weeks about an improved defense, but until I see some results otherwise, they are all false to me.

 

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo credit: Todd Dwyer, Flickr

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Let’s Pump the Brakes on Jerrod Heard

Amid several reports from last week that Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard was taking reps at practice as a wide receiver, coach Charlie Strong confirmed those reports over the weekend. Not only did he confirm them, but he had some great things to say about the quarterback-turned-receiver.

I personally have a love-hate relationship when it comes to Heard. He was highly recruited out of high school and was rated as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. I thought he had the perfect skill set as a quarterback that Texas so desperately needed, but there’s one thing that I didn’t know he lacked: work ethic.

The coaches gave him every opportunity to win the quarterback job away from Tyrone Swoopes as a redshirt freshman. In fact, they practically begged him to win the job last fall and again this spring. But it never happened.

So how can someone with so much athletic ability and talent not win the job in a wide-open competition? The answer is pretty simple.

He thought his natural ability would be enough to win the coaches over. It wasn’t.

He thought he didn’t have to practice hard because he would ultimately shine the brightest when the lights were turned on. He didn’t (most of the time).

People are excited about the possibility of having his speed and athleticism catching balls now for whoever his quarterback is going to be. I understand that. But we are talking about the same potential he had coming out of high school.

We’ve seen what he’s capable of at the collegiate level, but we haven’t seen it consistently enough. In fact, once he gets hit with some adversity, his confidence is clearly shaken and he relies on his athleticism to get out of a hole. It works against below-average teams, but not against the top teams in the Big 12.

Now I’ll give Heard credit for seeing the writing on the wall and applaud him for being a team player. The QB competition has been between Swoopes and true freshman Shane Buechele ever since Heard sustained an injury in spring practice. Instead of complaining about his limited reps and being a cancer in the locker room, he volunteered to try out at wide receiver to hopefully use his talents in other ways and help the team win. It’s tough to find that kind of team-first attitude in college football nowadays, especially when you’re talking about a guy who arrived on campus with the expectations of being the next great Texas Longhorns quarterback.

Heard shouldn’t have a problem learning the routes to run since he’s had to throw to his receivers during his time at quarterback. The problem I can see is whether he will work enough with his QB and receiving corps to get on the same page. If he just relies on his athletic ability again without putting in work in the film room and the practice field, then it’s not going to work.

I don’t mean to be completely negative about the situation. In fact, I support the decision to move him to wide receiver if he’s not going to be the quarterback. That type of elusiveness and talent has to be on the field somewhere. I’m just worried the hype is going to get to him again and we will be vastly disappointed.

Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, and it wouldn’t surprise me terribly if he does end up being successful at receiver. All I’m saying is Texas fans need to chill out a little bit before declaring Heard a success at his new position. Most players that go through a position change have a learning curve, and based on the sample size we have of Heard’s work ethic, I have my doubts.

I’m pulling for the guy and I’ll gladly eat my words if he turns out to be an impactful player for the rest of his career at Texas, but you won’t find me on the hype train until I see some results.

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo Credit: Flikr

Are The Stars Aligning for Charlie Strong?

Charlie Strong hasn’t had a pleasant experience in his short time in Austin in terms of on-field results. It seems like for the most part everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.

I’m a firm believer in trends and momentum, and the Texas program hasn’t had either of those in its favor over the past several years. It takes a lot to break negative trends, and Strong has been doing his best on the recruiting trail.

Let’s rewind for a little bit to really look at more of the struggles he’s had.

When former Athletic Director Steve Patterson went to interview Strong in his home for the Longhorns football head coaching job, the rental car that he wanted to use had issues. Instead, he had to take a suspicious looking vehicle, which made his family question how serious Texas was to impress him. Not a big deal at the time, but it somewhat foreshadowed what was to come.

Then in his first season, he lost his starting quarterback and starting center in the first couple games. That began a downward spiral on the field, which caused a ton of negative momentum.

He could never get his offense on track and it lead to turmoil in the locker room as well as within the coaching offices. Patterson was fired (not necessarily a bad thing), and Strong’s future came into question.

Then something happened earlier this year.

In his search for yet another offensive coordinator, none of the top candidates wanted the job for a variety of reasons. When he got Sterlin Gilbert on campus, it seemed like he was going to be the right fit and just needed to sign the contract.

In a span of 24 hours, it went from basically a done deal to Gilbert now turning down the job and leaving Strong with no other targets. With the help of the President of the University and the Interim Athletic Director, the trio eventually convinced Gilbert to come.

That moment didn’t make national news, but it was really the first good thing that happened to Strong since he’d been at Texas. Even though Gilbert probably wasn’t the top target, he was a guy that Strong had to get.

He followed that up with yet another solid recruiting class this year, but he was still missing some pieces. He needed a couple offensive linemen, a speedy wide receiver and a kicker.

Not to make light of the Baylor situation at all, but Texas clearly benefitted from the fallout. This summer alone, they were able to sign former Baylor signees Devin Duvernay, Patrick Hudson, J.P. Urquidez and Donovan Duvernay. These signees filled most of the needs, but it also put the Longhorns at the scholarship limit.

Then wide receiver Ryan Newsome decided to transfer, opening up one more scholarship. Within a week, LSU kicker Trent Domingue announced he would leave the program and join the Longhorns as a graduate transfer and can play immediately.

Strong got all the pieces that he said he needed.

I’m seeing a trend of consecutive good things happening for Strong off the field, but we won’t know for another few weeks whether it will translate to on-field results.

After just a couple days of practice, those new enrollees are already making an impact. Most importantly, he has a quarterback in Shane Buechele that appears to be more accurate than he’s previously had at Texas, and a perfect fit in Gilbert’s offensive system.

It certainly appears like the stars are finally beginning to align for Charlie Strong, but it won’t mean anything unless the wins pile up this year.

Like Strong said this weekend, he’s got the talent that he needs, so there aren’t any more excuses to be made. The players have to be coached up and they have to believe they can win before they’re able to actually do it.

If that doesn’t happen, then everything that’s happened will prove to be nothing more than a false sense of hope.

E-mail Chase at  and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Will Texas Go Bowling in 2016?

The Texas Longhorns football program has been in shambles for most of this decade, but some of the burnt orange faithful may be seeing a little promise. They still have a long way to go to get back to prominence, though, considering they were a 5-7 team a year ago.

The team still has plenty of issues to deal with, but the talent level is beginning to increase after a couple of strong recruiting classes by third-year head coach Charlie Strong. With another difficult schedule in 2016, the Longhorns will have to be much improved to have a winning season. It’s tough to predict results without knowing who the quarterback will be, but I’ll take my best shot.

Week 1 – vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The fans wearing burnt orange will be screaming if their team gets embarrassed at home on national TV again. This time it would be worse, though, since the game is played on the Sunday of week 1—the only game played that day. It won’t be as bad, but there aren’t too many good feelings for Texas in this one.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34-20

Week 2 – vs. UTEP Miners

A win against UTEP wouldn’t be anything to brag about, but the Longhorns don’t have to brag about wins…they just have to win at this point. There will be a slight letdown at first because of the previous game against Notre Dame, but the Horns will bounce back and get their first win here.

Prediction: Texas 38-17

Week 3 – at California Golden Bears

Cal took care of business in Austin last year behind Jared Goff, and now Texas will be looking for some revenge. The Golden Bears won 45-44 last year, but I’m not expecting this one to be quite as high scoring. It was the perfect storm a year ago, but this could potentially be a sloppy game with both teams having quarterbacks that they are getting used to.

Prediction: Texas 31-27

Week 4 – BYE

Week 5 – at Oklahoma State

Ask any Texas fan what they thought about the Oklahoma State game last year and see their reaction. At the very least, the Longhorns should have gone into overtime, but a botched punt allowed the Cowboys to nail a game-winning field goal in the final seconds. OSU could be favored to win the Big XII this season, so it’s going to be a tall task in Stillwater for Texas.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 27-13

Week 6 – Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl in Dallas)

Texas stunned the Sooners, along with the rest of the country, in this game last year. OU may have overlooked their rivals, but they surely won’t do that again. The Sooners should be a preseason top five team and will show it this year against the Horns.

Prediction: Oklahoma 37-23

Week 7 – vs. Iowa State

One of the most embarrassing losses for Texas last season came in a 24-0 shutout against Iowa State on Halloween. There’s no way they can suffer a letdown like that again, right?

Prediction: Texas 34-24

Week 8 – at Kansas State

Playing in Manhattan, Kansas is never easy. These teams may be more equally matched than people think, but the Wildcats still have a lot of work to do to find their playmakers.

Prediction: Texas 23-10

Week 9 – vs. Baylor

You can bet the Texas fan base will be rowdy for this one. The Longhorns upset Baylor on the last game of the season last year, and they aren’t too happy with what has gone on in Waco over the offseason. The Bears will have a target on their backs and Texas will try to impose their will on a team in search of an identity without Art Briles as the coach.

Prediction: Texas 30-24

Week 10 – at Texas Tech

The Red Raiders beat the Longhorns in Austin last season for the first time in what seems like forever. With Patrick Mahomes returning, Tech clearly has the advantage in the quarterback category. Texas has handled Tech pretty comfortably in Lubbock the last couple times they’ve played, but that could be a different story this year.

Prediction: Texas Tech 40-30

Week 11 – vs. West Virginia

The Mountaineers could surprise some teams in the conference this year and make a serious run at the league title. This has always been an entertaining matchup, and this edition should be no different. The Longhorns just won’t quite have enough to outlast West Virginia this time, though.

Prediction: West Virginia 27-24

Week 12 – at Kansas

Kansas is going to improve one day. They’ve shown signs of that by playing top opponents pretty tough in Lawrence the last couple of years, but they just haven’t been able to pull one out. Texas will get a scare here, but will ultimately come out on top.

Prediction: Texas 37-27

Week 13 – vs. TCU

The season finale against TCU should be a good one. The Horns got embarrassed in Fort Worth last season, so revenge will be on their minds. Now they don’t have to worry about facing Trevone Boykin or Josh Doctson, so the matchup will be a little more even. At this point, who knows what each of these teams will look like. As of right now, TCU is clearly the better team, so it’s foolish to pick against them. But I never said I wasn’t a fool.

Prediction: Texas 31-30

So there you have it. The Texas Longhorns will go to a bowl game in 2016 with a 7-5 record. If they win the bowl game to get to eight wins, then Charlie Strong will be back to coach in 2017. The magic number for wins this year seems like it has to be eight, regardless of how the team gets there. While 7-5 is an improvement from last season, it’s still not good enough to calm down the naysayers. But it should be enough to buy Strong one more year to try to build on his recruiting success at Texas.

E-mail Chase at chase [dot] holik [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo Credit: ESPN

The 2016 Quarterbacks of the Big 12

Quarterbacks are extremely important when it comes to football. The Big 12 has had some powerhouse quarterbacks throughout the years. The quick explosive offenses the Big 12 has been known for are highlighted by the quarterbacks that have gone through the league throughout the years. It looks like this year will be no exception, especially with a lot of high-powered quarterbacks returning for Big 12 teams.

The main returning quarterbacks that will make a big impact in the Big 12 this season are Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Baylor’s Seth Russell, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph. West Virginia has its quarterback, Skyler Howard, who was the number five quarterback in the league in passing yards per game. Howard threw for 3,145 yards and 26 scores. Iowa State also has its quarterback position filled with Joel Lanning, but Zep Noland looks like he could also compete for the starting job. These two quarterbacks might not have as huge of an impact in the Big 12 this season, but it is nice that their teams won’t have to worry about filling that position.

The rest of the Big 12 schools are still questioning who their starting quarterback is going to be. The main question for Texas is what quarterback will fit into the offensive scheme of the new offensive coordinator. There are three options for Texas with Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard and true freshman Shan Buechele.

TCU has to replace its biggest play maker in Trevone Boykin. Quarterback Bram Kohlhausen made a huge impact in the Alamo Bowl at the end of the season, but unfortunately he graduated after that game. Now the battle of quarterbacks consists of Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill and former four-star recruit Foster Sawyer. It will be a big battle, and it will be very interesting to see who Gary Patterson will chose to start the first game.

Kansas State is the next team in the Big 12 that has questions about its starting quarterback. Luckily for the Wildcats there is no shortage of choices for people who play that position. Last year the Wildcats caught some bad beaks with injuries and sickness. This year the Wildcats return Jesse Ertz from his ACL injury, co-starter Joe Hubner, red shirt freshman Alex Delton and top recruit Skylar Thompson. I could see Coach Snyder waiting until the day before the first game to announce who he will pick to start at quarterback for the Wildcats.

The Kansas Jayhawks are the last team that still doesn’t know who their starting quarterback is going to be this season. The Jayhawks have more questions that that though.  KU has to choose between Montell Cozart, Ryan Willis and Tyriek Starks. Both Cozart and Willis played last season but neither quarterback really stood out. Willis is a better quarterback when it comes to David Beaty’s air raid offense. Willis did get hurt this sprig playing basketball, but they are hoping he is 100% by fall. Starks was offered a scholarship even though Kansas was set for this season. The Jayhawks staff did not want to pass this opportunity up, even though their scholarships are limited. IT will be interesting to see who Beaty will choose to start the season, but it probably won’t be the same person that finishes at quarterback for the Jayhawks.

 

Image: Google

Big 12 Links: Three Random Shirtless Dudes…WHY?

Art Briles was named in a federal lawsuit by the rape victim who claims the school ignored warning signs surrounding sexual assault complaints. The player that was in question was Tevin Elliot. Tevin was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Jasmin Hernandez is claiming that Briles and other athletic officials failed to act when they brought Elliot on campus. Baylor University hired more staff to make sure nothing like this would happen again in the future.

Last week Texas sophomore quarterback Jarrod Heard suffered a shoulder injury during practice. No details have been released as to how serious the injury is. Rumors are that he might be out for a while which could really hurt his chances at getting the starting position. As of now there is a three-way competition for the starting quarterback job. Heard started most of the season last year, but Tyrone Swoops is the front-runner to win the job this year. It will be interesting to see just how injured Heard is.

Some current and former Iowa State football players were in South Padre Island, Texas for spring break. The last thing they thought would happen would be rescuing an intoxicated woman from her car. The Woman drove into a canal and as her car filled up with water the boys broke a hole in her windshield and pulled her out with a minute to spare. It wasn’t easy, but now they are heroes.

Baylor’s 2017 recruiting class has taken two huge recruiting blows. Their top two recruits in that class have de-committed.  4-Star wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon tweeted that he was de-committing. This comes after 5-Star linebacker Baron Browning de-committed last month.

West Virginia hired a new wide receivers coach this week. Coach Tyron Carrier will be in charge of the Mountaineers receivers. Carrier was a receiver and returner under Holgorsen when he was the head coach at Houston. Carrier knows the Big 12 because he was a grad assistant at Baylor in 2015. He worked with one of the top receiving corps when he was with the Bears. Carrier was a record setting returner at Houston. He finished at Houston with an NCAA record seven kickoff returns for touchdowns. He also set an NCAA record for making two or more receptions in all 53 games of his career. He will be a very good fit at West Virginia.

Spring Football is in the Air

Spring football is in the air. Spring games have started around the Big 12. Most of the time these games don’t really mean much, but with some teams it will be interesting what some players can do and who will win the starting positions.

http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/eye-on-college-football/25496123/college-football-2016-spring-practice-and-spring-game-dates

On Friday April 1TCU was the first team in the Big 12 to have its spring game. The big question for the Horned Frogs is who their quarterback is going to be next season. During the spring game no quarterback stood out as a starter. Both Kenny Hill and Foster Sawyer completed about half of their passes, but neither threw for a touchdown. Hill got to throw to competition for the first time in two years and did not look that bad. The only touchdown thrown during the game was by the third string quarterback Grayson Muehlstein. It will be interesting who wins the starting QB job at TCU and if they will even come close to competing in the Big 12 like Boykin did.

http://www.star-telegram.com/sports/college/big-12/texas-christian-university/article69573547.html

Baylor is the other team in the Big 12 that has also had its spring game. Well at Baylor it is just an open practice. The Bears defense dominated the scrimmage recording 12 sacks and limiting the Baylor offense to 20 points on 117 snaps. Baylor’s running backs also looked really solid during the scrimmage. Jamycal Hasty looked really good. He has four more years in a Bears uniform so he could be  huge threat for them.

http://baylor.247sports.com/Bolt/WATCH-Baylor-Football-Spring-Showcase-44615731

The next spring games are on Saturday, April 9. Kansas will play at 2 p.m. and Oklahoma will play at 3 p.m. It will be interesting to see what Coach Beaty can do with the Jayhawks this year. I know nothing will really be shown during the spring game, but you will still be able to see how some of the players perform. When it comes to Oklahoma it will be interesting to see how its defensive line performs and the impression that Baker Mayfield has.

On Saturday, April 16 Texas Tech, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas have their spring games. In the last Texas Tech spring practice Cameron Batson was mostly relegated to punt return duty. Batson had five catches for 83 yards and a TD. Quick running back Justin Stockton only had three carries, but had 44 yards and three touchdowns.

http://redraiders.com/filed-online/2016-04-02/out-shadows-batson-stockton-excel-texas-tech-spring-scrimmage#.VwMeCOIrLIU

On April 23 the last of the Big 12 spring games will be played. West Virginia will play at White Sulpher Springs and K-State will be back in Bill Snyder Family Stadium this year. It will be very interesting to see how the Wildcat quarterbacks perform after the two main starters were both injured last season. It will also be interesting to see how the defense performs after losing some key starters.

None of these games and practices mean anything, but it is still nice to see how each team will perform and hopefully no one will get hurt during them. This just means football season is one step closer.

Things to Watch for in Spring Practice for the Longhorns

Spring Break is here and the first week of spring practice is in the books. The storyline of the first week for Texas was speed and tempo in new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s system. A lot of the same stories were written about the quarterbacks improving, players gaining weight and looking in better shape, but any Longhorn fan that follows the team closely has read those same stories every year.

Spring practice usually doesn’t mean much, but it’s actually pretty telling based on recent history with the Texas program. There haven’t been many players that improve drastically from the spring to the fall. So what you see is most likely what you’re going to get. In order to see improvement in the fall, there are a lot of things that have to be addressed in the spring. Here are just a few of the top issues to watch for this spring.

Quarterback competition

It seems like there’s been a quarterback competition every spring since Colt McCoy graduated. Fans have been fed the line that competition will make both quarterbacks better. Well, how has that worked out?

Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard were both given the opportunity to seize the job during the season, and neither prevailed. Both were benched because of ineffectiveness at different times during the season. The other names to watch out for this spring are Shane Buechele, Kai Locksley and Matthew Merrick. Locksley and Merrick are redshirt freshmen and Buechele is a highly recruited true freshman that enrolled early.

Strong wants to know who his quarterback is by the end of the spring. That may be a lot to ask since they are all learning a new offensive system.

Wide Receiver Star Power Needed

Receivers were underwhelming for the Longhorns last season. The only real threat to opposing defenses was true freshman John Burt. Burt appears to be ready to take his game to the next level, but he won’t be able to do it alone since he will attract defenders.

The quarterback, whomever that may be, needs a guy they can rely on and just throw the ball up to them. That guy might be early-enrollee true freshman Collin Johnson. He was the talk of the first week of practice and could emerge as Texas’ biggest playmaker on offense. His big frame should make life a little easier for the quarterback.

It’s also time for Armanti Foreman to live up to his potential. Keep an eye on Ryan Newsome as well, who seems to be fitting in well with Gilbert’s offense and could see a lot of playing time in the slot position.

Youth Movement Continues

Texas and Alabama tied for the most true freshmen All-Americans last season. But those playmakers are now sophomores and are expected to be the leaders of the team. Malik Jefferson is ready to take on that role, but guys like Davante Davis, Kris Boyd, Holton Hill and Deshon Elliott are also primed for big seasons.

The youth movement is also present on offense, with Collin Johnson expected to start from day one. Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe started on the offensive line as true freshmen last year, and early-enrollee Zach Shackelford appears to be primed to start at center when the season kicks off.

The difference between this year and last year is the experience level of the best players on the roster. They can be considered young, but that’s no longer an excuse due to the experience level.

Depth is Desperately Needed

Unfortunately, the depth issues may not be solved in the spring, but help is on the way. There virtually is no two-deep depth chart for the defensive line, which is a critical position for the Longhorns this season. They lost some key talent upfront, but still have some experienced guys coming back. Five freshmen defensive linemen will be arriving in the fall to provide some depth. Until then, we will be looking for guys to step up just like everyone else.

Can Someone Call a Kicker?

Nick Rose graduated and Nick Jordan gave up his last year of eligibility. That means Texas doesn’t have a kicker that has attempted a collegiate kick. As we saw last year, the kicker position was vital to the team’s success or failure. For an offense that struggled to get in the end zone, a missed kick did a lot more damage to the team’s morale than it should have.

The kicker position likely won’t be filled this spring, and don’t be surprised if Texas’ kicker in the fall isn’t currently on campus. If you can kick a field goal, then head down to the 40 acres. You may be on the team this season. Just kidding…sort of.

E-mail Chase at chase [dot] holik [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Wikimedia

Texas Longhorns Athletics is Trending Upward

The Texas Longhorns have been in a downward spiral as a program, especially in football. Aside from women’s volleyball and swimming and diving, nothing Texas has done recently has been relevant on a national level.

What’s been an interesting trend for anyone who follows the program closely is that the major sports are good at one time or bad at one time. In 2005, both the baseball and football teams won national championships. A few years ago, the basketball team made a rise to the number one ranking in the nation, while the football team was still relevant nationally and baseball was also making a run to the College World Series.

But since those glorious times, it’s been tough in Austin. Baseball made the College World Series last year as a surprise, but other than that, nothing has been too impressive since 2010.

Things could be changing in the near future, especially for the football program.

Charlie Strong is already on the hot seat after back-to-back losing seasons in Austin in his first two years. What’s saving him is the fact that he has pulled in two solid recruiting classes. In other words, his excuses are running out.

The good thing is that the positive momentum on the recruiting trail is giving fans and players hope that good things are on the horizon. He has overhauled virtually his entire coaching staff this off-season in hopes of creating a spark, especially on offense.

The parallels across the entire Texas athletics program also give fans hope.

Shaka Smart has the basketball team playing at a high level in late February, which is unusual for Longhorns fans to see. The team may not be built for a deep run through March, but at least there is some excitement and optimism in the program. Making the Sweet 16 or further could be a sign of things turning around at the University of Texas.

One thing that we know for sure is that Smart and Strong are two of the most influential people in the program. They have said all the right things during their respective tenures, and now it’s time to start showing the results on the field and court.

What has many fans optimistic about football is the level of talent that Strong has brought in. That is actually ironic in itself, because Strong was known as more of a player developer rather than a recruiter. So far, that seems to be the opposite in Austin. But if he is able to develop the talent that he has brought in during his two years, then this Texas team could be relevant again quickly.

Longhorns fans know that Strong likely won’t be around in 2017 if he has another losing season this year. But even if Strong gets fired, the next coach will have a stockpile of talent to be able to win immediately. That wasn’t the feeling when Mack Brown moved on. That’s also why Strong may have a longer leash.

So what will it take for Strong to keep his job after this year and declare that Texas is trending upward? Probably 8-9 wins in 2016. He may survive a 7-5 season with a bowl victory, but he will be firmly on the hot seat again if that happens.

He has gone all-in with his new coaching staff and he knows that the time is now to create results and victories. With victories over Baylor and Oklahoma last year, fans know that their team has the potential of being good. Now it’s just the question whether the coaches can get them to play at that level every single game.

Time will tell whether the Texas program is actually trending upward, but all signs are pointing to momentum being in their favor. But momentum will only continue if it translates into wins on the field.

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Randy Chancellor/Flickr.