Football

Nearing the spring finish line, Texas coach Tom Herman takes stock of his Longhorns

Herman rattles off a laundry list of players he's been impressed with this spring; Offensive line, running backs can always improve

Posted April 17th, 2018

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The Longhorns will finish up spring practice this week, culminating with Saturday’s Orange-White spring game, and the coaches will have to ask themselves a simple question:

Is this team better now than it was in late December?

There is no simple, straightforward answer.

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Texas lost key defensive players and the best punter in America. Neither quarterback has played well enough this spring for UT coach Tom Herman to publicly name a starter. There are some key injuries that will keep notable names like linebacker Gary Johnson and defensive back P.J. Locke III out of Saturday’s action.

Texas center Zach Shackelford (56) squeezes water on his head while taking a break during a Longhorns football spring practice at the Frank Denius practice fields in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Asked Tuesday who’s stood out this spring, Herman blurted out, “Malcolm Roach, the three young (defensive backs), the young quarterbacks, Patrick Vahe, Zach Shackelford, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Devin Duvernay, Brandon Jones…

“I’m sure I’m leaving guys out, and I apologize if I left anybody out that I shouldn’t,” Herman said.

For the uninitiated, Roach is a defensive end who got some practice time at linebacker. The three young DBs include early enrollees Anthony Cook, B.J. Foster and Caden Sterns. Freshmen quarterbacks Casey Thompson and Cameron Rising are earning their keep. Vahe and Shackelford are the leaders on the offensive line.

Humphrey could be one of the most versatile players on the field next season. Duvernay could get more action out wide than he’s seen in his first two seasons. Jones is a veteran in the defensive backfield heading into his junior season.

As for quarterbacks Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele, Herman said, “I’ve been really, really happy with their improvement.”

Herman typically does not call out individual players for poor play, but he will go after position groups.

“I’d hoped we would’ve made a little bit more progress with the (second-team) O-line and some of the tailbacks,” Herman said. “That’s not to say they regressed. I haven’t seen quite the level of improvement. They have improved, but not dramatically like some of those other positions. The rest of the guys, yeah, I’ve been happy.”

Herman’s second-team offensive line is plagued by a lack of depth. Patrick Hudson missed a majority of spring work while coming back from a knee injury. Other players haven’t progressed as fast as hoped. The Horns will finish spring practice with only eight healthy scholarship offensive linemen.

As for the running backs, Herman has been vanilla about Toneil Carter and Danny Young. Tristan Houston and Kyle Porter will both miss the spring game with injuries. Even linebacker-turned-running back Cameron Townsend is banged up, too. Incoming freshman Keaontay Ingram will not enroll until this summer.

The Horns will practice one more time on Thursday before the 15th and final spring event at Royal-Memorial Stadium. Admission is free. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

An expansion vision: The university has released a document outlining plans for a $140-million expansion and renovation of the Royal-Memorial Stadium south end zone. It’s got a laundry list of must-have requirements. What would Herman like to see?

“Everything would be about or players,” Herman said. “The first thing that comes to my mind, after we redid the locker room and the weight room and made those as state-of-the-art and first class as anywhere in the country, our training room is in dire need of that as well.

“My plan is to blow it out,” he added. “I’m talking as good as there is in the country because it directly impacts our student-athletes and their preparation and recovery.”

Texas officials have kicked around various ideas about what to do with the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center. Should the building be renovated? Should it be razed? The school spent $10 million last season on renovations, and there has been no serious talk of discarding all that.

As for his wish list, Herman said, “A very competitively up-to-date meeting room space and office space, recruiting room and players’ lounge. I think we need to get it to where we’re one of the top five or 10 in the country.”

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

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