As spring practice begins, Texas coach Steve Sarkisian sensing buy-in from Longhorns
All positions up for grabs, including QB, as coaches start to learn what players can do.
Texas coach Steve Sarkisian doesn’t describe himself as anxious to start spring football practice on Tuesday.
“Anxious to me tells me I’m biting my nails, I’m worried about it,” Sarkisian said Monday. “I’m more, hey, our guys have put in a lot of work. Now it’s a chance to get on the field and do more work.”
There will be lots of moving parts and growing pains, the new coach stressed.
“I don’t expect us to go out tomorrow and just look like a well-oiled machine,” Sarkisian said. “But I’m excited for it, because that’s when teaching comes in.”
The Longhorns have spent the last two months going through offseason, doing only the allowed agility and weight room work. Starting Tuesday, NCAA rules allow them to use an actual football, helmets and shoulder pads. Texas will have 15 workouts this spring, including the annual Orange-White spring game on April 24.
During a 30-minute Zoom call, Sarkisian noted several times how the players have bought in to the new coaching staff’s methods. How can he tell?
“You know, I was a sociology major in college,” Sarkisian said. “And that wasn’t out of choice. I kind of had to be, I was a junior college transfer. And I never knew that being a sociology major would apply so much to coaching.
“You really are trying to study people, and you're reading people. You're reading body language, trends and habits. A locker room’s not a lot different than society. I think a football locker room, when it’s healthy, we should all wish our society would act like that.”
Sarkisian, the philosopher, quickly added “but that’s for another time.”
In the here and now, Sarkisian and his staff will give everyone ample opportunity to strut their stuff. The coach is eyeing some players for position changes but noted that all players deserve a chance to play in their current spots for now.
“The depth chart piece, I actually talked to the players about this today, it’s really fluid,” Sarkisian said. “We don’t know everything about these players. And so a guy may be a three tomorrow on the depth chart, he may be a one come Thursday or Saturday. A guy may be a two and he may become a one. A one may go from a one to a two or a three. I don’t know.
“We’ve got to get a gauge for these guys playing in our system, in our schemes,” he continued. “Being coachable is a key component to it. Giving effort first is a key component to it. But the reality of it is, I think naturally will start to shake itself out as we go.”
Sarkisian did not address any specific players, only touching on those who will be held out to rehabilitate injuries.
Center Derek Kerstetter is still healing from the season-ending ankle injury suffered against Kansas State. Linebacker Derrick Harris and punter Ryan Bujcevski have knee issues.
Linebacker DeMarvion Overshown posted on social media that he just had right shoulder surgery. “It’s nothing an armband can’t fix,” he tweeted. “I’ll be back.”
Defensive lineman T’Vondre Sweat, tight end Brayden Liebrock and deep snapper Justin Mader are all working through shoulder problems.
Receiver Troy Omeire will still be limited to noncontact work, Sarkisian said. The 6-foot-3 standout from Sugar Land had a dynamite start to training camp last year before suffering a torn knee ligament.
It figures that Sarkisian will spend considerable time with quarterbacks Casey Thompson and Hudson Card as the battle to replace Sam Ehlinger begins in earnest.
“These guys are both very driven, very focused,” Sarkisian said. “They’ve got a high football IQ, they really study, they prepare. When we give them something on one day, they come back and have the right answers on the next day.
“Both are really good leaders, they like to be in front, they like to take charge, which is kind of a weird trait you have to have at that position,” Sarkisian added.
Sarkisian said the coaches are well into installation of schemes and offensive plays. “I really believe if you want it to work, you have to give it to them, and you have to give them a chance to digest it and then ultimately try to go out and perform it,” he said.
“What we decide to run in game are the things that we do well, and sometimes especially early on, as with a new staff and a new scheme, you don’t know exactly what you’re good at yet,” Sarkisian said. “There may be some things we did at Alabama that we were not very good at than here at Texas now.”
Sarkisian said he spent little time “digging into guys” about why things did or didn’t work under former coach Tom Herman. He simply wants to look forward, same as Herman did when he took over for Charlie Strong.
Roster makeup is still a challenge, it sounds like. Sarkisian said this team has a lot of receivers and defensive backs. “As we move forward, we just have to recruit more big people, whether it’s on the O-line, D-line, defensive ends, outside linebackers. I mean, that body type for us is important for our style of play.”
Traditionally, new staffs don’t like to make any pronouncements about personnel. So Sarkisian may keep his cards close to the vest. Nobody has won a national title on the first day or first week of spring practice.
For Sarkisian, the former Alabama offensive coordinator, his program is discipline and accountability, on and off the field. It’s a good bet Nick Saban runs his program the same way.
“We don’t pick and choose when to be disciplined. We don’t pick and choose when to be accountable. We don’t pick and choose when to be committed to the program,” Sarkisian said. “It’s an all-encompassing deal.”