Sharp whistles pierced the calm morning air, yet Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium stood quiet. The real action was a quarter mile up the road at Frank Denius Fields, where the Longhorns were holding spring practice.
“This seat’s always been hot since I’ve been here,” Strong said with a laugh during the spring press conference. “We need to win. … The first two years it hasn’t happened. We need to go out, and we need to compete at the highest level and put a product on the field that everyone is pleased with. A very competitive product.”
If Strong hopes to make this season different, he’ll need to see development and leadership on both sides of the ball. Texas played a nation-high 16 freshmen last season, including linebacker Malik Jefferson, one of the young highlights for the program.
“Everybody expects a lot out of [Jefferson] because he plays that middle linebacker position,” Strong said. “He’s very versatile. … We move him around a lot. When you talk about going and winning one-on-one, he’s a guy that can rush from the outside and do that.”
At defensive tackle, Texas will bring in much-needed talent with five signees. These players won’t arrive until summer, though, so it will be up to senior Paul Boyette, junior Poona Ford and a few other rotating players to hold down the position for spring practice.
“If you look at us last season, people were able to run the ball and throw the ball with ease on us,” Strong said. “You have to control the line of scrimmage. … The help is coming — we just have to wait for it to get here and get through this spring.”
The most notable competition, though, is at the quarterback position. Redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard assumed the role for the majority of the 2015 season, though senior Tyrone Swoopes was still important for several offensive packages. With the new addition of Sterlin Gilbert as the offensive coordinator and play caller, there remains uncertainty as to who will start come September. The decision may not take long, though.
“There’ll be enough reps that we’ll know fairly quickly who the [quarterback] will be,” Strong said. “With the way we practice and the tempo we practice at, we’ll be able to see it.”
Strong will have five quarterbacks at his disposal this spring between Swoopes, Heard, freshmen Kai Locksley and Matthew Merrick, and early enrollee Shane Buechele. For Charlie Strong, the decision could make or break his third season in Austin.
“The team will go as the quarterback goes,” Strong said. “We have the numbers there. It’s about who’s going to really step up and be that guy. … If we feel like he can take us where we need to get to, we could play a true freshman at quarterback.”
The public will get its first look at the new team in the annual spring game on April 16.