Be “Relentless,” have “Intensity,” “Sacrifice” in order to achieve “Swagger” and play with “Emotion,” or R.I.S.E., is the slogan that the Longhorns are living by as they prepare themselves for the upcoming fall football season, head coach Mack Brown said at a press conference Wednesday.
After winning just 13 games over the course of the past two seasons, everyone around the Forty Acres is looking forward to September and the start of a new chapter in Texas football, he said.
This year’s slogan arose from the belief that eight wins, while better than five, are not enough for the Longhorns. This summer, Brown said, the team believes they can R.I.S.E up above eight wins and are hard at work trying to prove that.
The Longhorns concluded spring workouts and are diligent in the weight room and on the practice fields for a summer of player-led workouts, Brown said.
With the start of summer workouts comes a new freshman class that has both the coaching staff and upperclassmen excited. So far, Brown said the freshmen are fitting in well during summer workouts.
“The varsity guys are already buzzing about the freshman class,” Brown said. “They think they’re really good.”
After spring practice, Brown had a laundry list of concerns for when the team reconvenes in August, a list that keeps him up at night. Among those concerns are who will step up at tight end, how the Longhorns will deal with the loss of kicker Justin Tucker and whether or not he can keep his team healthy. Above all, Brown said he is hoping to improve his offense’s passing game and return to an elite status as a program.
“We need to get more explosive plays. We need to throw it more often, and we need to throw it better,” Brown said. “We got all over the place offensively last year, because we had people hurt at receiver, we had people hurt at running back. We were shuffling quarterbacks...it was really hard to do anything except try to win a game. You couldn’t build in a certain area and get a lot better.”
Next year looks to the emergence of a new position under the label “T and Z,” Brown said. Offensive Coordinators Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite and Receivers Coach Darrell Wyatt are developing a new offensive position that combines the tailback and Z receiver. The position is designed to utilize the talents of senior running back D.J. Monroe and freshman athlete Daje Johnson, both of whom Brown said are exceptionally elusive athletes that will push each other for playing time come fall.
“We feel those guys are speed guys and can get the ball in their hands and help us with explosive plays,” Brown said. “They’re working hard this summer on getting packages to get [Monroe] more involved and [Johnson] to get him involved early in the process, because we think he has a chance to be a good player with his explosive speed.”
The attrition of several players due to transfer and injuries, notably two offensive tackles, does not worry Brown, who insists that the losses don’t hinder the Longhorns’ offseason progress. However, Brown had little to say about the starting quarterback position and who had the upper hand at the conclusion of spring workouts.
On the other side of the ball, Brown said the coaching staff is focusing on creating turnovers and developing better quality depth at each position. With the loss of four-year starting linebacker Emmanuel Acho and safety Blake Gideon, the defense is also still searching for a leader on the field.
“We’ve got to have ends that can pass rush. We have to have tackles that can pass rush,” Brown said. “You have to have enough depth to go five and six defensive backs and still have the linebackers that can cover if they’re throwing it on the early down. Our staff is continuing to work on that.”
On special teams, the arrival of Duke transfer Alex King is helping to ease the pain of Tucker’s departure, Brown said. King, along with sophomore William Russ and freshman Ben Pruitt, will be competing for kicking duties when camp resumes in August.
Fall camp begins August 2, a month before the Longhorns season debut against Wyoming.
“It’s always amazing to me when people say, ‘How is your team going to be?,’” Brown said. “Nobody really knows...If they work, yes, we’ll be a top team. If they don’t, we won’t be. We have a tough schedule. We’re going to have to play well, be physical, tough and confident.”