Football

Injuries starting to emerge: Texas LB Gary Johnson out 6 weeks with strained groin

Johnson, Freeman both hurting at the moment; Cameron Townsend moves over to offense as Horns look for productive running backs

Posted March 29th, 2018

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Texas coach Tom Herman said last week that “nobody’s going to be put in a glass case in this program.” No, but bubble wrap in March and April might be nice.

It turns out that linebacker Gary Johnson’s strained groin will sideline him for six weeks, which effectively ends his spring. Herman said Thursday that Johnson had the same type of injury former linebacker Jordan Hicks battled through in 2012.

In Johnson’s case, it’s considered a grade-3 sprain where the adductor muscles gets torn or ruptured from being overstretched.

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“Hurt for him,” Herman said of Johnson. “He was really coming along as a leader, but he can still lead in other ways. It’s a good way for some of these young guys to get reps.”

Johnson’s backup, Edwin Freeman, is also sidelined with a triceps injury. Herman said Freeman suffered the injury originally during the Christmas break and then aggravated it during practice.

In Thursday’s practice, Jeffrey McCulloch worked at middle linebacker while Malcolm Roach was at weak-side linebacker.

Running back Kyle Porter (ankle) will also miss 10-14 days, and transfer offensive lineman Mikey Grandy is out with a concussion. Receiver Jordan Pouncey also rolled his ankle late in Thursday’s workout, Herman said.

Tryouts at RB: Running backs Toniel Carter and Danny Young had a solid day during team drills, Herman said. Neither player fumbled.

Still, Herman said linebacker Cameron Townsend has moved over to the offensive backfield as the Longhorns search for someone who will secure the ball.

“Right now, there are open tryouts at that position,” Herman said. “We did not fumble one time today. So I was encouraged by that. You can get happy. I’m not. We did our job. At least it’s an improvement from not doing our job.

Herman agreed that one fumble is too many. The only two things demanded in the Texas football program, Herman says in an oft-repeated phrase, is “effort and ball security.”

“One is more than enough,” Herman said. “We made a point that we’ve got to improve at that position, whether that’s development of the current guys or whether that’s new guys coming in.

“Cameron is just like (incoming freshman) Keaontay Ingram, if you will,” the coach added. “If he can come in and improves that position more than the development of the guys already here have improved that position, we’re better off for it.”

Offensive line coach Herb Hand shows his players the way during practice on Thursday, March 29, 2018. AMANDA VOISARD / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Hearing Hand: New offensive line coach Herb Hand, a 27-year coaching veteran, is easily one of the most vocal assistants on the practice field. In the 20-minute window open to reporters, Hand is always shouting instructions to his charges and showing them things that worked the last two years at Auburn.

“You can hear him on the other side of the field,” guard Patrick Vahe said.

Hand is the fourth offensive line coach Vahe has played for during his time at Texas. If fans think the constant turnover at offensive coordinator has been disruptive, imagine what it’s like for the offensive linemen.

“It’s part of the game. It is what it is. Coaches come, coaches go,” Vahe said. “That’s what I’ve learned over the years. At the same time, I’ve got to make sure I take a piece from each coach and use it to my advantage.”

Shane Buechele, left, and Sam Ehlinger, right, practice on Thursday, March 29, 2018. AMANDA VOISARD / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

QBs progressing: For now, Herman is downplaying all questions about the quarterbacks. Thursday was just the fifth workout this spring. “They’re progressing like I hoped they would have,” Herman said.

Herman did allow that Sam Ehlinger, who has been working with the first-team unit, had two excellent throws inside the 20-yard line on Thursday. The coach said they were “his two best throws within a span of five minutes since he’s been here in an 11-on-11 situation.”

As for freshmen Casey Thompson and Cameron Rising, Herman continues to be impressed.

“I’m used to when your fourth-string quarterback goes in, you might as well turn your back and get a water and let it play out,” Herman said. “You’re not going to move the ball. but we moved the ball with those two guys in there.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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