Andrew Beck

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

From nearly three hours before kickoff until the final whistle, Texas wanted to send a message — and that didn’t have to necessarily be left solely on the field.

Two concerts, a live radio show and a postgame player autograph session were part of just some of the festivities at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium during Saturday night’s Orange-White spring game. The White team took home a 23-13 win to wrap up the 15th and final practice of the spring season.

“I need to thank our fans … showing out as well as they did, as enthusiastic as they were … really felt it,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. “I think we’re slowly but surely getting to the point where I think we’re going to see the stands packed the way that we all hoped that they do.”

Saturday night’s game focused primarily on the offense and its ability to make big plays in both phases of the game. While the Longhorns didn’t unveil their entire offensive package, they did pull a few tricks out of the bag.

Texas’ running game found an unexpected spark from junior wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Humphrey was prominently featured in Texas’ goal-line packages, running in for two touchdowns on the night.

Humphrey also tallied 100 receiving yards on seven catches, linking up with sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger on multiple occasions.

“(Humphrey) is about as versatile an offensive player as I’ve ever been around,” Herman said. “When you see a guy like him have the amount of catches he has, that means the quarterbacks believe in him.”

On the other side of the ball, junior wide receiver Collin Johnson had his fair share of highlights. Two tip-toe grabs — one in the back of the end zone for a touchdown and another along the sideline — showed fans what they missed last year.

A six-catch, 91-yard performance with many big grabs showed why Johnson is one of the best one-on-one receivers in the country. His ability to form chemistry with any quarterback, including freshman Cameron Rising, will make him an even bigger threat in 2018.

“I don’t know that we ever didn’t see that version of Collin Johnson,” Herman said. “You get your best players the football.”

Behind those receivers, fans also got to see how the quarterbacks have developed over the spring. Neither disappointed, as junior Shane Buechele and sophomore Sam Ehlinger combined for 281 yards through the air.

In Saturday’s affair, both quarterbacks earned their stripes with the long ball. Seam routes down the middle, deep posts and a few go routes in the mix provided a measuring stick as to where each quarterback was.

“I told the quarterbacks, experiment, rip it in there, man,” Herman said. “Try to fit it in the tight windows, because I want you to have that confidence when you do.”

Texas’ early enrollees also got their first glimpse of in-game action since coming to Austin. Freshman defensive back B.J. Foster made his presence known early, nearly reeling in a one-handed interception in coverage. The duo of freshman quarterbacks, Casey Thompson and Cameron Rising, also made their respective debuts with a couple of nice tosses on the run.

“They’re a really good group,” senior tight end Andrew Beck said. “None of them are problem guys. They all came in and put their nose to the grindstone and just went from day one.”

Through the stats and impressive plays Saturday night, it wasn’t difficult to tell Herman, the players and his staff had the culture in place to help Texas turn the corner.

“We’re excited about what we have going on right now,” Beck said. “We’ve seen the fruits of our labor, how good we can be and now it’s just continuing to develop.”

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

In the multi-faceted world of Texas football training, coaches hold an all-freshmen practice each preseason to identify young talent. Watching as the newcomers run a series of drills, the coaching staff looks to nail down where each freshman will best contribute to the team.

This year, one drill stood out — the cross-field catch drill, which players also run at the NFL combine.  

“You’ll fire about six balls at them, and they have to rapid-fire catch them,” said Shawn Watson, assistant head coach for offense/quarterbacks. “They have to move because they’re flying across the field.”

Though the drill generally caters to receivers and other offensive players primed to catch, Andrew Beck, who was recruited to play linebacker, excelled beyond the coaches’ expectations. As Beck showed “the best hand-eye coordination of the whole group,” according to Watson, the coaching staff began to reevaluate.

“I started politicking right away,” Watson said. “I ran up to [head coach] Charlie [Strong] and said, ‘Hey, 47 has got unbelievable hands, and he can run.’”

It was no secret that Texas’ offensive line was weak. With building suspensions and, later, the season-ending injury of senior center Dominic Espinosa, the offensive line needed far more help than the defensive line did. As the coaches began to piece together their strengths and weaknesses, they decided that Beck would best contribute as a tight end. As his relevance on the team skyrocketed, so did the breadth of his responsibilities.

With a new and learning offensive line, senior running back Malcolm Brown said he and the running backs rely on Beck and senior tight end Geoff Swaim to open the field.

“Those guys — they’re running routes; they’re pass-blocking; they’re run-blocking. … They’re getting in the backfield with us sometimes,” Brown said Nov. 4. “They’re doing so many things with this offense; and they’re so important to this offense; and they know that; and they’ve been doing a great job handling it.”

Beck didn’t enter the tight end position completely blindsided. He played some tight end his senior year at Plant High School in Tampa, Florida, but his success at linebacker garnered him attention. ESPN ranked Beck the No. 46 outside linebacker in the country, and 247 Sports deemed him the No. 66 player in Florida.

Even so, Beck has adapted to his position, making his first start on offense against West Virginia. Statistics don’t tell the story of Beck’s contributions, since his quality of play enhances others’ games rather than helping just himself.

“The Texas Tech game was where he got his most time — that’s the first time we felt like [he] had an intimate knowledge of what we were trying to do,” Watson said. “You could see him executing it during the week on film. He’s been really good since. His confidence level has skyrocketed since that game.”           

As sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes continues to develop and Texas’ running game offers greater certainty, the Longhorns are likely to look for production on the ground. The running backs can’t produce without solid blocking, but Brown feels confident the tight ends will do their part. He knows the skill their role requires.

“Those guys have been grinding it out,” Brown said. “They have a tough job. Those coaches expect a lot out of them, just like the rest of us.”

Texas’ defensive recruiting roll continues

Last week it was the defensive line, this week the Longhorns made splashes at the linebacker position. Otaro Alaka of Cypress Falls committed to Texas on Monday and the very next day, top Florida linebacker Andrew Beck made the pledge.

Alaka, particularly, is a huge get because he chose the Longhorns over Texas A&M, giving Texas a much needed win against their heated rivals. The 6-foot-3 205 pound Houston native is fast and versatile but best suited to play on the outside.
Beck’s commitment came as a bit of a surprise. The Longhorns rarely reach into the state of Florida for recruits (they haven’t had one since 1992) and the Tampa native declared Stanford as his favorite just a few days before his commitment. It’s quite the coup for Texas, the #20 ranked inside linebacker prospect according to rivals.com, led national football powerhouse Plant High School in tackles last season.

Alaka and Beck, both 2014 recruits, became the fourth and fifth defensive players in their class to commit in an eleven-day span, joining defensive linemen, Trey Lealaimatafao of San Antonio Warren, Jake McMillon of Abilene, and Courtney Garnett from Saint Augustine (La.).

They also are the second and third linebackers to commit in their class, joining Dallas Carter’s Cameron Hampton, who committed in early February.

The Longhorns now have 14 commits for the class of 2014 after having only 13 for all of last year.