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Hard to gauge the Texas quarterbacks when the defensive line keeps making life miserable

Coburn: ‘The people that really stand out the most on defense is D-line for sure.’

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian has been full of praise for the defense this spring, and on Saturday he crowed about the line. Of defensive tackle Keondre Coburn, he said: “I love that guy. He brings it every day."

Coaches normally come out of the first spring scrimmage gushing about the offensive plays, the team’s overall athleticism and all the weapons at their disposal.

And Texas coach Steve Sarkisian did that Saturday, to a point. 

But so far this spring, it’s the defensive line that appears to be making strides and shaking up the quarterback race.

“Thought for the most part, we threw the ball pretty accurately today,” Sarkisian said after a 100-play scrimmage that was closed to reporters and outsiders. Sarkisian didn’t rave much about the individual quarterbacks, Casey Thompson or Hudson Card, opting instead to talk about them collectively.

“You know, we missed a couple throws here and there,” he said. “But I thought both of them moved the ball pretty well, especially when they were operating with the first offense. Both of the guys stepped in, had good command, moved the ball, created some explosive plays.”

It’s what Sarkisian said next that should raise eyebrows.

“I think the biggest thing that we’ve got to improve on offensively, part of which falls on the quarterback, is just too many sacks right now,” he said. “Our pocket presence and awareness needs to improve, which is pretty natural in your first scrimmage.”

Reporters have not been granted any access to watch spring practice, and all interviews are still being conducted via Zoom. It’s impossible to get any feel for how things are really going up at the Frank Denius Fields. 

That said, every Zoom call features someone talking up the defense, specifically what’s happening up front and how it affects things on the back end.

“The people that really stand out the most on defense is D-line for sure,” defensive tackle Keondre Coburn said Thursday. “Jacoby (Jones), every other play, he’s getting some kind of sack or (tackle for loss). Ray (Thornton), too. 

“And Josh (Thompson), every day he’s getting a pick for some reason,” Coburn continued. “I don’t know how he’s getting the picks every day, but he’s doing it. It’s exciting because it’s helping us get off the field faster.”

Like at all spring practices, hitting the quarterback is off-limits. Still, Sarkisian said defenders are “getting home.” The one-time BYU quarterback sounded a little frustrated that his new burnt-orange quarterbacks aren’t stepping up in the pocket. 

Texas finished second in the Big 12 in sacks in 2017 with 31. The Horns were fourth in 2018 but drifted down to sixth in 2019 and tied for eighth last season despite switching the defensive alignment. Simply put, the Horns haven’t been “getting home” enough.

New defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski and defensive line coach Bo Davis must find a way to get the Horns’ best players on the field and turn them loose.

As for Coburn, Sarkisian said, “I love that guy. He brings it every day. What he does well is defend the run, but he does have some quickness and does a nice job in the pass rush.”

Sarkisian then said Alfred Collins has “really come on here, kind of even the second half of this past week.”

“Vernon Broughton has been another bright spot,” Sarkisian quickly added. “Another big, long guy who has some quickness, who’s been encouraging.”

“And then the two guys coming off the edge right now clearly are Jacoby and Ray,” the coach said. “Those two guys were a problem today, and it’s been a problem so far throughout the first week of spring ball with Jacoby on one side and Ray on the other that they’re a handful.”

Whittington’s clean slate: Jordan Whittington’s Texas career has been a battle of fits and starts. Just when it looks as if he finds a rhythm, he has suffered some kind of injury.

While Sarkisian might be holding back praise for some, he’s been impressed with the sophomore from Cuero. 

“I really like Jordan,” Sarkisian said. “From the day I got here. He's done everything I've asked.” Whittington is on the team’s leadership committee and is well respected in the locker room.

Sarkisian said Whittington has been a solid playmaker at multiple positions. It’s hard to imagine this creative staff not finding a way to use him. 

“We’re aware of some of the injuries he's had in the past,” Sarkisian said. “But again, like I said when I first got here, it was a clean slate. And what you are now is who you are in our eyes, and Jordan has been off to a great start for us.”

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