Texas Head Coach Tom Herman speaks during a press conference as he updates the local media about recruiting and incoming players during signing day at Moncrief Athletics Complex on Wednesday, Feb 1, 2017. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

BEVO BEAT Football

Tom Herman: Fixing the defensive line is the spring’s biggest worry spot for Texas

Posted March 6th, 2017

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Texas kicks off its first spring football season of the Tom Herman era on Tuesday, and on Monday, he addressed the media to talk about the state of the Longhorns.

It sounds like he’s most concerned about the state of Texas’ defensive line. Followed by issues at tight end. But the line is definitely the bigger — actually, the biggest — headache.

He quoted Mack Brown in his opening statement. When a UT spokesman tried to start wrapping things up 45 minutes into the presser, Herman waved him off, wanting to take more questions. He was asked about the quarterbacks and the running backs and about offensive balance and about all the changes he wants to make to Texas’ locker room and weight room. Toward the end, he quoted Brown a second time. And Michael Jordan. And Greg Davis, whom he called his mentor.

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He gave us a peek or two behind the curtain — he said he’s called only one set of parents so far to literally thank them for having sent their son to UT, and that was safety P.J. Locke III; he said that he pulled Chris Warren III to the side one day and told him that he was going to make a lot of money playing running back someday — if he starts lowering his head and run through tacklers.

Texas’s Alex Anderson, Poona Ford and Chris Nelson walk off the field after losing to Kansas in overtime in Lawrence, Kansas on Saturday, November 19, 2016. Kansas beat Texas 24-21. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

About that defensive line:

“We’ve gotta find some D-linemen,” Herman said. “I’m not sure about the types of bodies we have there. We’ve gotta find some length.”

Later, he was asked again: “You just talked about the defensive line. You have numbers, so is this more about body types? Are you trying to work to it, or is the effort not there?”

Herman’s answer:

“Yes. All of the above.

“The effort, as a group, has not been to our … (pause) requirements here in this program. The body types, again I think we’d know a lot more if some of these fat guys lost some weight. What does their body look like? Right now I don’t know. … The last time I checked, you’ve gotta play with a defensive line. The cool thing about tight end is you can figure out cool formations where you don’t need one. In football, you’ve gotta play with a defensive line. It’s what we’ve got. They are who we’ve got and you’ve gotta make players out of them.”

Then, later: “We could go out and practice and make it the best position, I don’t know. I’ve seen things like that happen. But it is a concern knowing the league we play in. But I also know we’ve got four defensive coaches that are as good as there are in the country; I’ve seen Todd Orlando make chicken salad out of some lesser parts. So I have a lot of confidence in the staff and what they’re able to do with whatever talent we’ve inherited.”

Texas #7 Shane Buechele warms up before the game against UTEP Saturday September 10, 2016 in Austin. Rodolfo Gonzalez/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

For those interested in the Shane Buechele vs. Sam Ehlinger battle, Herman was asked what qualities we need to look for out of a “Tom Herman quarterback.”

“Competitive. Leader. Football smart,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys that are average students who are brilliant on the football field. You don’t have to have a 4.0 GPA. I think you’ve got to be a guy your teammates gravitate toward, that you make better through your play and your actions. And specific to the position — making great decisions, making them consistently, and then accuracy, ball placement, the speed at which you can translate the decisions from ‘ball out of my hand’ is important, too. There’s a lot that goes into it. A lot.”

Texas Head Coach Tom Herman speaks during a press conference as he updates the local media about recruiting and incoming players during signing day at Moncrief Athletics Complex on Wednesday, Feb 1, 2017. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Herman says he’ll share his evaluations of Buechele and Ehlinger with the quarterbacks coming out the spring, and likely will name a starter five to seven days into training camp in August.

Garrett Gray has been moved to tight end. Naashon Hughes looks to be moving from defensive end to an outside linebacker. Malcolm Roach probably stays at defensive end, though Herman backtracked on that a minute or two later.

It sounds like Texas will play a lot of nickel, especially in the Big 12. Locke and John Bonney are the early candidates for that role. And he’s spoken to Malik Jefferson about the linebacker’s leadership role on the team — “We’ve told him great leaders aren’t always liked by everybody. Don’t worry about being liked. Worry about being a great leader, about being vocal and being demanding of teammates.”

And Herman was asked about what he’d like to know about this team after spring’s over, and what he hopes this team knows about him.

“I want them to know what champions practice like. … There’s a famous quote by Michael Jordan; he talked about how he made practices so difficult that the games were easy. In a two-sentence quote, he used ‘practice’ seven times. Games are not won or lost on Saturday — or Friday, if you’re playing Texas Tech, or Thursday if you’re playing Iowa State.

“What do I want them to know about me? That we don’t miss. Winning championships is exhausting. Toeing the line is exhausting. But we as a staff are going to make sure that if a drill says full speed through the cone, that it doesn’t matter whether it is the 800th rep or if it’s hot or if you’re tired or if you’re sore. If you don’t go full speed through the cone, then there’s going to be consequences for that. You have to set the expectation level early when you’re developing a culture and a program. I’d hope after 15 practices, they know what that expectation is.”

All spring practices will be closed. The spring game is Saturday, April 15.

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