New offense provides optimism for 2016 football season

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Sophomore running back D’Onta Foreman runs the ball against Kansas State. Foreman appeared in nine games in 2015, averaging over seven yards per carry while racking up five touchdowns.

Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

When the Longhorns line up for the spring game this summer, fans will likely see yet another new look to the Texas offense.

Less than a week after finishing the season with a win over No. 12 Baylor, head coach Charlie Strong hired Tulsa’s Sterlin Gilbert to take over as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. 

Gilbert served as the co-offensive coordinator for the Golden Hurricanes with Matt Mattox, who will also be joining the Longhorn staff as the offensive line coach and run game coordinator. Their arrival left former quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson and offensive line coach Joe Wickline looking for other jobs.

Last season, Gilbert’s offense earned 507 yards per game, good for 13th best in the nation. Tulsa also finished No. 11 in passing and No. 21 in scoring. In comparison, Texas finished No. 100 in total offense, No. 122 in passing and No. 82 in scoring.

“We did a lot of research on both of them, and we know they will be the right fit for our staff,” Strong said in December. “I really feel we have two quality coaches who work well together, and they’ll do an outstanding job.”

Gilbert will have a multitude of options with the offense, especially in the running game.

Sophomore D’Onta Foreman and freshman Chris Warren III will both be returning at running back for the Longhorns. Foreman averaged a team-high 7.2 yards per carry last season while Warren had a breakout performance against Texas Tech with 276 yards and four touchdowns, breaking the school’s freshman rushing record.

The quarterback position will be a different story. Texas will have five quarterbacks on campus this spring. Redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard leads the group, returning to Austin with junior Tyrone Swoopes and freshman Kai Locksley. Highly touted prospect Shane Buechele has enrolled at the University to participate in spring practice, and freshman quarterback Matthew Merrick will also be available.

Texas heads into the final weeks before National Signing Day with momentum on the recruiting trail. Last season illustrated the impact young players can have, and the Longhorns have already received commitments from five four-star recruits and nine three-star recruits.

At quarterback, Texas earned a commitment from Buechele, the No. 2 dual-threat prospect per 247Sports. The Longhorns also picked up a commitment from four-star offensive tackle Jean Delance, who brings promise to a unit that struggled desperately last year. 

On defense, the commitment of three-star defensive end Andrew Fitzgerald should help the Longhorns, who recorded 37 sacks last year and looked unable to pressure the passer throughout the year. Texas still hopes to land Jeffrey McCulloch, the No. 4 OLB, and Brandon Jones, the No. 1 safety in the nation, per 247Sports. 

While the offense won’t be perfect for the spring game, Gilbert said he expects his players to be progressing toward the start of the 2016 season.

“When we start, there’s always a base, and it’s always where we are trying to go,” Gilbert said. “So it’s steady progression, always progress never regress.”