The first day in full pads brought out all the lookie-loos, from Texas exes with Pro Bowl pedigrees to the graybeards judging whether Darrell Royal would’ve approved.
Jamaal Charles hustled onto the fields at the Whitaker Sports Complex. Brian Orakpo and Kasey Studdard, two other members of the 2005 national championship team, were already out there eyeballing the local 11.
Even former UT offensive coordinator Greg Davis couldn’t stay away. The coach who completely rewrote the school’s offensive record book was at practice in his role as an advisor.
By putting on full pads Wednesday, Texas is now settling into the intense grind of August preseason practice. These days, it’s not about who’s the toughest. The rest of this month is about who can take care of their body and simply make it to the season opener healthy on Aug. 31.
“There was a lot of chirping and talking, which was good,” head coach Tom Herman said. “They got a lot of guys out there wanting to prove how tough they are. And I don’t mean you prove it by talking, but you could tell guys were into the physicality of the day.”
Preseason practice is so radically different now, it’s almost unrecognizable. Traditional two-a-days are essentially outlawed. There’s an incredible emphasis on player safety, especially in this state where 100-degree summer days are the norm.
The Longhorns had their own heat scare last year with an offensive lineman. Patrick Hudson (6-5, 330) had to be rushed to the hospital on Sept. 5 when trainers could not get his body temperature back to normal levels. This came after Maryland’s Jordan McNair died during a summer workout. Hudson eventually chose to retire from football.
In these first few practices, it’s been noticeable how some players are mentioning the importance of knowing your own body.
“The main thing that I learned since I’ve been here is probably the treatment,” sophomore running back Keaontay Ingram said. “You know, you gotta let your body rest, you’ve got to get the right amount of sleep. (Last year) I wasn’t getting the right amount of sleep, I feel like. Little stuff like that matters.”
Ingram suffered hip and knee problems during his freshman season, injuries bad enough that they curtailed his workload. Herman said Ingram would be better suited this season with 20 more pounds of “armor,” courtesy of offseason work with strength coach Yancy McKnight.
“You know, I didn’t know everything. I didn’t know the ropes,” Ingram said.
Even the veterans must stay attuned to how they feel. “My body right now feels better than it ever has,” junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “And if I was taking too big of hits, you’d think that wouldn’t be true.”
Herman, his coaching and training staff stress hydration and physical therapy. Last August, the staff brought in a storage container, something you’d see being hauled by 18-wheelers, and turned it into an ice box. They also sent players out to local businesses specializing in cryotherapy.
As part of the school’s $175-million stadium renovation, Herman said all of that will soon be brought in-house. “You know, in our new facility, we’re going to have saltwater float tanks, cryo chambers, sleep pods, a UV bed to decrease inflammation,” he said.
This isn’t space-age stuff anymore. This is football in 2019.
Players are weighed before and after every practice. Linemen and linebackers wear extra padding on top of their helmets. The helmets themselves have concussion monitors, which alert trainers if someone taking a particularly jarring hit.
The training staff’s message must be hitting home. Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien recently praised rookie Charles Omenihu for his preparation in training camp. Omenihu was one of the most forward-looking Longhorns you’d ever hope to meet during his time at UT.
“He’s been out there, knock on wood, every day,” O’Brien told Texans reporters. The coach then launched into a commentary about how today’s younger players simply don’t understand hydration or nutrition.
“Everything is brand new to them,” O’Brien said. “The most important thing is you have to be on the field. I think any veteran player would tell you the only way you get better, and the main way you stick around in the league is you’re available. You’re an available player.”
Told that O’Brien praised Omenihu, Herman said, “That’s awesome. I’m proud of Charles.”
Herman said the structure of August workouts will be tailored to preserve the players’ bodies and energy. Some practices in full pads during the day may be shortened, and the coaches could spend longer time on walk-throughs late in the day.
What’s the point of wearing players out in August only to be dead-legged in the opening two games against Louisiana Tech and LSU?
“That’s what we call being a pro,” Herman said. “Guys in the NFL, they, they spend a lot of time and money on their bodies, because that’s their living. And we want to train them. Not just for their own success in the future, but obviously for the team. We tell them all the time, your body, in peak physical condition, is the greatest gift that you can give your teammates.”
Injury updates: Herman had two injury updates after Wednesday’s workout. Neither sounded too serious, but one name alone will cause fans’ hearts to sink.
Fifth-year senior Kirk Johnson, a running back who has done nothing but battle injuries during his time at UT, fell and suffered a shoulder injury. Herman said trainers were looking at Johnson’s clavicle.
His brother, wide receiver Collin Johnson, said one of the primary reasons he returned for his senior season was specifically to play with Kirk.
Also, defensive back DeMarvion Overshown has a mild foot sprain that could keep him out for a few days, Herman said.
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.