UT football coach Charlie Strong speaks at a press conference during UT's media day at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Thursday, August 6, 2015. Shelby Tauber / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

BEVO BEAT Football

Charlie Strong, on spring football, the QB battle, the roster — and job security

Posted March 7th, 2016

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Charlie Strong’s spring football press conference has come and gone. Texas holds its first practice later this afternoon.

From the sound of things, these are going to be this spring’s major storylines:

1. Hello, new offense. New coordinator Sterlin Gilbert is installing an uptempo attack. Yes, we’ve heard this before (Major Applewhite in 2013, Shawn Watson in 2015), but the way Strong made it sound, that focus on tempo begins with Practice No. 1.

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“More than anything, the guys have got to be aligned,” Strong said. “It will be a different attack or us. I told our guys on defense, you’ve got to get the calls in and get going, hurry up. I want to see us uptempo and moving around. It’s more about getting aligned and making sure we get the calls in . I want to make sure we can get things accomplished the right way.”

Strong said the offense will need to be drilled and get things down the right way; if it looks like players are disorganized or not communicating, coaches will call the whistle to stop practice so that players can get aligned right.

2. Who’s the quarterback? Good question. The Horns don’t know. The new offense also means Texas is in start-over mode at quarterback. Strong made it sound like Tryone Swoopes, who’ll be a senior, and not Jerrod Heard, who started almost all of the 2015 season and will be a sophomore, has a slight edge. But he stressed a couple of times how open the competition will be, and that because of the new offense and the pace, it hopefully will separate the quarterbacks that can handle it with those who can’t.

“The slate is clean with these quarterbacks,” Strong said. “You’re gonna have a good battle, a good gauge where these guys are gonna be. It’ll be a different change, and so uptempo, we’ll know exactly where we are.”

3. The defensive line is thin. Unless you’re talking about Charles Omenihu, of course. He was a defensive end last year listed at 6-5, 236. This spring, he’s at 6-6, 262. He may switch over to defensive tackle.

Hassan Ridgeway, Desmond Jackson and Shiro Davis are gone. Back are Caleb Bluiett, Naashon Hughes, Paul Boyette, Poona Ford and Chris Nelson.

“I know there’s not many numbers there on the D-line, but I know help is coming,” Strong said.

Overall impressions on where this roster is at, based on what we heard from Strong:

Quarterback: Texas is hoping one of those five emerges in this new system before spring football is over. “I hope we’re not talking about it in the fall,” Strong said. “You hope by the end of the spring, you can say hey, I feel really comfortable with this guy.”

Running back: The Horns are moving to a power look, with D’Onta Foreman (6-0, 238) and Chris Warren III (6-2, 255) leading the way and incoming freshman Kyle Porter a change-of-pace guy.

“He’s so big and wide,” Strong said of Warren, who was listed at 232 pounds last season. “There’s no fat there. He can carry it. … But he’s just gotten so much stronger. This is the first offseason he’s been through. The other day, he said ‘Coach, none of my clothes fit me anymore.’ I said I hope not, you’re 15 pounds more. Him and Foreman are two big, good looking backs who can just pound people.”

Wide receiver: Looking for playmakers. “Who’s hands are we going to get the ball in?” Strong said.

Offensive line: Things look solid with LT Connor Williams, RG Patrick Vahe and RT Kent Perkins. But there’s some work to be done at left guard and center. Opportunity spots for guys like Terrell Cuney, Elijah Rodriguez or Garrett Thomas.

Defensive line: Thin. Very thin.

“You’ve got to start with the defensive front. Upgrade,” Strong said, when asked what his top spring priorities were. “You’ve got to have a good, solid defensive front. Last season, guys were able to run and throw the ball with ease on us. You’ve got to control the line of scrimmage.”

Linebackers: Sounds like Strong likes what he’s building with that unit. Malik Jefferson will play the middle, but also will be moved around to take advantage of his pass-rushing skills. Breckyn Hager and Anthony Wheeler are on the outside, and there are intriguing newcomers on the way like Jeffrey McCulloch and Erick Fowler.

Defensive backs: Again, Strong sounded comfortable with his secondary. Lots of veterans (Dylan Haines, Jason Hall) to mix with guys who are younger, but played a lot as freshmen (Kris Boyd, Holton Hill, Davante Davis and John Bonney).

Other highlights:

On having practice patience vs. battling a sense of urgency: “Just don’t get down on a guy. With a lot of guys, it’s going to take a little more time for them than others. Especially if he’s a player we’re counting on to play for us. Some days we may have to slow it down. At the end of the day, it comes down to fundamentals and teaching.”

On whether a true freshman like Shane Buechele has a chance to start: “If we feel he can take us where we need to get to, we’ll play a true freshman quarterback.”

Injuries: There are five guys out — MLB Dalton Santos, WR Ty Templin, DE Derick Roberson, RB Kirk Johnson and TE Blake Whiteley. Strong said Roberson would be “off and on” this spring. And Santos has a bad toe.

And wide receiver John Burt is running track.

On Strong’s personal expectations: “I am ready to go. This is a critical year for us. It’s our third year, there’s a standard here, and the first two years are behind us. It’s time to move forward now. We know this spring we have to build at some positions, but it’s about us moving forward. They understand what the vision is.”

And, later, on his job security: “This seat’s always been hot since I’ve been here, huh? (laughed) WE need to win. Come on. It’s an unbelievable program so rich in tradition. There’s a standard of excellence here. The first two years, it hasn’t happened. But we need to go out and compete at the highest level.”

Texas released its spring roster on Sunday. Of note, Shane Buechele, the Arlington Lamar quarterback who’s already on campus as an early enrollee, will wear No. 16. Until the day they finally retire James Street’s jersey, that is.

Freshman wide receiver Collin Johnson, the younger brother of running back Kirk Johnson, will wear No. 85. He checks in at 6-6, 212.

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