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Texas coaches learning ‘who’s really in their playbooks and who’s not’ this spring

A former QB, Roschon Johnson feeling truly comfortable at RB: ‘If anybody asks me, I say I’m a football player.’

Texas running back Roschon Johnson said new coach Steve Sarkisian's offensive playbook "has been a bit of a load" to absorb. "At the end of the day, the people who really care about it are the people who really want to make strides to get better and win championships," he said.

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said the only way to teach players a new offense is to just “give it to ’em.” Don’t nibble. Take huge bites.

The coaching staff is starting to see which Longhorns are quick learners.

“It has been a bit of a load,” running back Roschon Johnson said Tuesday, “but at the same time, he’s going to find out who’s really in their playbooks and who’s not.”

Sarkisian’s offense is no more complicated or simplistic than anyone else’s, per se. Players simply need to learn new formations, terminology, route combinations and blocking schemes. Part of playing at a high level is preparing at a high level, too.

More:Texas coach Steve Sarkisian set to receive six-year deal worth $34.2 million

“At the end of the day, the people who really care about it are the people who really want to make strides to get better and win championships,” Johnson said. “They’re going to be the people who come in the next day knowing the signals, knowing the plays, knowing where to line up, knowing their assignment, technique and all that.”

Perhaps most interesting is that players are now getting a full-blown look at Alabama’s system design that helped the Crimson Tide win a national championship while producing a Heisman Trophy winner.

Before he was Alabama's offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian was an analyst for Nick Saban on the way to helping the Crimson Tide win another national championship. After earning the Texas job, he raided Saban's staff to pick up three assistants.

With Sarkisian calling the plays last season, Alabama was second nationally in scoring (48.5 ppg), fourth in total offense (541.6 ypg) and first in third-down conversions (58.9%).

“I would just say there's a lot of different aspects of the playbook that you see that you can take advantage of as far as motions and getting certain matchups,” Johnson said. He then rattled off all the offensive standouts on last year’s Crimson Tide offensive machine.

One of Sarkisian’s strongest ideologies is hitting receivers on the move, whether that’s in the form of crossing or deep routes. He also loves the wheel route, which allows running backs to catch the ball coming out of the backfield.

“With this offense, coach Sark really does a great job of taking advantage of those types of situations where guys can really just utilize their talents and be special,” Johnson added.

Johnson said in terms of tempo, Sarkisian’s offense is “more methodical.” He called it “strategic in that aspect.”

More:New Texas coach Steve Sarkisian set to unleash multiple Alabama weapons vs. Ohio State

Last week, Sarkisian said there are “varying stages” of determining whether a player can be successful:

“Some guys, you can really start to tell natural instincts, understanding the big picture, not just a specific play, but big picture what we're trying to accomplish. And then I think you need to get them into some scrimmage formats to make sure from a physicality standpoint that they’re OK.

“Other guys, you may not know. They might not be great practice players,” Sarkisian added. “Then they start to show up in a scrimmage, and you know, it’s like whoa.”

As for himself, Johnson said he feels natural at running back nowadays. He came to Texas to play quarterback but shifted into the backfield when depth issues surfaced. “If anybody asks me, I say I’m a football player,” he said.

More:All gas, no brakes, one possible broken foot on Texas’ first day of spring practice

New faces, new energy: Defensive back Josh Thompson had high praise for two graduate transfers that have joined the roster — linebacker Ray Thornton (LSU) and defensive back Darion Dunn (McNeese State).

“He came in with high energy,” Thompson said of Thornton. “He’s just one of those leaders that comes in and everybody feels him.”

The Horns could’ve used more depth at linebacker last year. Thornton, originally from Killeen, played in 41 career games with LSU and recorded 45 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.

Dunn was named to the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl Top 250 Watch List. He played in 29 games at McNeese State and had 83 tackles along with seven interceptions.

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.