Strong

Head coach Charlie Strong is looking to senior linebacker Dalton Santos to be a leader on defense in 2015. The Longhorns defense has big shoes to fill after losing key players last season.
Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

It’s that time of year when the flowers begin to blossom, the temperature outside  warms up, and spring practice commences for the Longhorns.

Head coach Charlie Strong’s first season didn’t have the traction that was expected, and it ended with a 31–7 defeat at the hands of Arkansas.

Texas enters spring practice with a sense of urgency to get back to national relevance. Here are a few things to keep an eye on during the start of spring practice.

The quarterback situation

“Who will be the starting quarterback?” 

It’s the question everyone wants to know the answer to. Last season, sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes lacked consistency in his play, and by the season’s end, fans were ready to move on from the Swoopes era.

Strong made it clear both Swoopes and redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard, who hasn’t seen any action yet, will compete for the starting job.

“Going into the spring practice, we’re going to give them equal reps; give them a chance to compete against each other,” Strong said.

Players are often judged by their stats and how they perform on the field; it’s no different for quarterbacks, who are often in the eye of the storm. Swoopes and Heard will not be solely judged on their skill set and ability to execute but also on their ability to lead and unify the team.

“At that position you got to have leadership,” Strong said. “With these two quarterbacks, can we get the team to follow them?”

Defense

It’s an old saying: “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.” 

The Longhorns go into this spring season losing key players on the defensive end, including linebacker Jordan Hicks, cornerback Quandre Diggs and defensive tackle Malcom Brown.

Texas has the right personnel for a successful defense, but time will tell whether it will become elite. 

Texas is looking for leaders, especially in the middle linebacker position, which is regarded as the “quarterback” of the defense.

According to Strong, rising senior linebacker Dalton Santos is in place to start as middle linebacker. As the backup to senior linebacker Steve Edmond last season, he saw the field a fair amount, helping him gain the experience to take over. But spring practice will provide important reps for him with the first team.

Fans will also get their first glance at freshman outside linebacker Malik Jefferson, who is considered to be the star member of Strong’s recruiting class.

Team chemistry, leadership and intangibles

The Longhorns’ team chemistry, pride and leadership are all important for success, going hand-in-hand with each other.

“One thing [the coaches and I] talked about — the number one — and it’s very key is to go build us a football team,” Strong said. “A team with team chemistry.”

While pride of being on the team can create leaders that galvanize others on the team, Texas will look for its team chemistry to show.

Beyond the ‘X’s and ‘O’s, Strong and the Longhorns strive for the intangibles that make successful teams. Spring practice begins Wednesday, and fans will see whether Texas can begin to blossom like flowers are doing now.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

When head coach Charlie Strong first outlined his five core values, Texas safety Josh Turner understood them to be a solid guideline for him and his teammates — a set of rules to help steer the football team in the right direction.

It wasn’t until the senior, who likely doesn’t have a future in football, went out into the real world that he realized Strong’s values apply outside the bounds of the 40 Acres, too.

“[He] came to me the other day and said, ‘Coach, I interviewed for an internship,’” Strong said. “The guy who was talking to him, he was talking about core values. He was talking about just leadership ability. Josh [Turner] said, ‘When you step out in the real world, that’s really what’s going to happen to you.’”

It’s a small anecdote, but it’s a great example of the positive impact Strong has had on his players off the field, even if his first season at the helm has been a disappointment on it.

When he first arrived in Austin, Strong’s players were hesitant to buy into what he was selling.

Here he was, the new guy in town, telling them how to behave and challenging them in ways they had never been challenged by the previous staff. He quickly removed several players from the team, many of whom had established strong bonds with their teammates, who were certainly upset to see them go.

But as the season wore on and the new head coach has had a chance to develop relationships with each of his players, the student-athletes have grown to understand the method behind his madness.

“[The] first couple months, everything surprised me about Coach Strong, but now nothing he does surprises me,” senior defensive end Cedric Reed said. “Guys he is helping out right now, I thought it would take Dr. Phil to get through to them. But Coach Strong is helping them out, and I’m pretty sure it will help in the long run.”

In an era of collegiate sports when many coaches talk about the importance of academics and life outside football, it’s uncommon to find one who actually cares about anything more than wins and losses.

Given what his players have had to say about him over the past couple weeks, it appears Strong may be one of the rare few.

“He just tries to point guys in the right direction,” senior receiver John Harris said. “Make sure they go to class, get their education — everything that matters once you’re done with football whether you’re going to the next level or if you go get a job.”

More than anything, Strong and his staff have made themselves available to the players. They embrace an open door policy, which has encouraged players to come by and discuss everything from a given week’s game plan to their career goals.

“You can go up and speak to the coaches whenever you want,” Harris said. “The door is always open. They’re just fun to talk to. Outside of my teammates, they’re like big kids to us.”

So far, the on-field product hasn’t lived up to expectations, as Strong continues to stress that a five-loss season won’t be tolerated at the University of Texas.

But off the field, it is clear the new regime is making strides, and, according to Strong, that’s far more important than anything that goes on inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

“I never feel like winning isn’t important, but I also want to make sure you develop the young person too,” Strong said. “They have to understand that, once you leave here, then there’s issues. If you don’t know how to handle it while you’re in college, you will never be able to handle it once you leave here.”