This spring, Texas is delivering change you can believe in.
Remember that hastily arranged spread offense the Longhorns installed at this time last year? Just one week into the season, it proved a fraud in a bad loss to Notre Dame and is now being scrapped for the promise of Sterlin Gilbert’s more proven spread, whose branches last year produced offenses that ranked No. 1 (Baylor), No. 4 (Bowling Green) and No. 13 (Tulsa).
The initial peek at Gilbert’s new vision for scoring points comes Monday when Texas opens spring ball with its first of 15 practices. Gilbert’s players will be on high alert to move at rapid speeds to maximum the number of plays the Horns can squeeze into each session, so luckily for them, this week’s forecast calls for balmy temperatures and some showers.
For the second spring in a row, an offensive reboot is the main storyline of Charlie Strong’s camp. Play-caller Shawn Watson spent last offseason touring other schools and NFL teams to bring Texas’ offense up to date in the explosive Big 12. It all sounded great until the spring game, when the quarterbacks struggled and the offense’s tempo was no quicker than the one that produced less than 60 yards in a bowl game loss to Arkansas three months earlier.
Then the season came, and the Horns mustered only a field goal in an embarrassing 38-3 loss in South Bend. The following week, Watson was relieved of his play-calling duties, quarterback Tyrone Swoopes was benched for Jerrod Heard, and seeds were planted for another reset at the end of the season.
Without a bowl game to prepare for, Strong went shopping for a new offense and made a push for TCU’s Sonny Cumbie before settling on his second choice, Gilbert, the former Tulsa assistant who is relatively inexperienced as a play-caller but was valued for his knowledge of the offense Art Briles has made famous at Baylor.
In theory, Gilbert will strive for balance between runs and short passes and take frequent shots down the field.
“It’s about progression,” Gilbert said at his introductory news conference. “That’s what we’re looking at from day one. When we start, there’s always a base, and it’s always where we are trying to go. So, it’s a steady progression — always progress, never regress.”
To make room for Gilbert and new offensive line coach Matt Mattox, Strong dismissed Watson and Joe Wickline. Weeks later, running backs coach Tommie Robinson left for USC. Jay Norvell, who took over for Watson and called plays in the final 11 games, accepted a position at Arizona State after signing day, leaving tight ends coach Jeff Traylor as the only holdover from last year’s offensive staff.
All of this change means Gilbert will have to teach his system to not only his players but also to new assistants Charlie Williams (receivers) and Anthony Johnson (running backs). Mattox, who worked with Gilbert the past three seasons at Tulsa, Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois, will be around to assist in the installation.
After last year’s tease, there is finally newness in the spring air.