Texas is just halfway through spring practices, but things appear to be coming together in an off-season filled with change.
Head coach Charlie Strong’s staff is still implementing a new spread offense, but the unit looked fluid during Monday's practice with several successful drives in 11-on-11 drills. Strong said after practice that the offense looked particularly good during Saturday’s scrimmage, and it appears that the unit is starting to gel operating without a huddle.
Though Texas’ offense has shown improvement through spring play, the Longhorns will only go as far as their quarterback come fall. Currently, rising junior Tyrone Swoopes is taking the majority of the first team reps, but the quarterback battle seems to be tightening.
Redshirted freshman Jerrod Heard has made some serious strides since the first practice. He completed several downfield passes through tight windows, which is something he failed to do in the opening part of the spring and through much of the 2014 season. He also showed off his speed with a long scramble up the middle and some lengthy runs on options and other designed quarterback runs.
Swoopes looked sharp at times, but he also made some poor throws and was clearly not on the same page with his receivers on a few occasions. After practice, Strong said that Heard played better, but that Swoopes has been more consistent overall through spring. He also said that he hopes both quarterbacks will be ready in the fall.
While Heard impressed, Monday's biggest takeaway may be the improvement in the receiving corps, which struggled often struggled gaining separation last season leaving Swoopes and the offensive line vulnerable to opponents’ pass rush. Specifically, rising junior Jacorey Warrick and rising sophomore Dorian Leonard stood out as potential difference makers on the outside for next season.
Warrick ran crisp routes, made impressive catches and showed explosiveness taking a number of screens and flat routes for touchdowns. Leonard used his six-foot-three frame to box-out defensive backs and make tough grabs in traffic. Both players took almost all of their reps with the first team offense and should compete for starting spots come August.
Though the offense often shined with electrifying plays, the defense, which has been decimated with injuries this spring, also showed improvement. The unit mostly lined up in the nickel with four down linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs.
Both redshirted freshman linebacker Edwin Freeman and rising junior linebacker Timothy Cole showed off their instincts and athleticism in pass coverage while filling in for injured senior linebacker Dalton Santos. Freshman Malik Jefferson also impressed in his quick transition to inside linebacker after playing mostly outside before Santos’ injury.
In the secondary, rising sophomore safety Jason Hall made some big hits, while rising sophomore cornerback Antwaun Davis showed his ball skills breaking up several passes on the outside.
Overall, Strong says that he believes that the team is accomplishing its goal of improving each day, and that’s the most important part of spring practice. The Longhorns still have a few weeks to keep improving before they’re put to the test at the Orange-White game on April 18.