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Texas coach Steve Sarkisian sorting through who has big-play potential for new offense

Receiver Jordan Whittington "showed up today" in UT's scrimmage Saturday, according to coach Steve Sarkisian. Whittington, fighting for yardage against Iowa State last season, is a potential big-play threat for the Longhorns.

Steve Sarkisian had players at Alabama who turned average plays into nice chain-movers. Longer catches went for home runs. The offensive fireworks were nonstop at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

And it’s interesting to note who really maximized their chances. 

DeVonta Smith was the headliner in 2019 who averaged 18.5 yards on 68 receptions. But Henry Ruggs III averaged 18.7 yards on just 40 catches. Jaylen Waddle averaged 17 yards on 33 grabs.

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Then last season, Smith averaged 15.6 yards on 117 catches en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. John Metchie III averaged 16.7 yards on 55 catches.

Texas has talented receivers with big-play potential. There’s little in Sarkisian’s background to indicate he cares about who’s double-covered, as his predecessor did. Elite receivers don’t care, either. Did SEC defenses double-cover Smith? Probably. He still broke teams’ backs.

To compete for championships, the Longhorns need to make moves out wide and start moving in larger chunks.

“I hate to lump everybody into just one category,” Sarkisian said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “I think we have some players on our roster that do have some big-play capability.”

Marcus Washington, catching a pass against UTEP last season, is another receiver being counted on to bolster UT's big-play capabilities.

Sarkisian used a baseball analogy. The .380 hitter who just hits singles and doubles would be considered a possession receiver. The .200 hitter who blasts home runs in all-or-nothing fashion would be labeled just a big-play guy.

“You know, ideally, I’d like guys that you can count on because they’re consistent, but also have the capability of hitting home runs,” the coach said. “That’s your .300, .315, .320 hitter that can also hit home runs. That’s kind of the sweet spot we’re looking for.”

Saturday’s scrimmage might have been a step in the right direction. After the closed scrimmage, Sarkisian said Jordan Whittington, Marcus Washington and Kelvontay Dixon all “really showed up today.”

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He then dropped a little newsy nugget that “it was good to get Troy Omeire involved in the scrimmage today, and that was positive.” It was thought that Omeire, a dynamite redshirt freshman from Sugar Land, would miss all of spring drills rehabilitating a torn knee ligament. 

To compete in the Big 12, teams need elite, explosive receivers. Texas had mixed success on that front the past four years. 

Collin Johnson was always catching balls while heading out of bounds. Lil’Jordan Humphrey became a 1,000-yard receiver on sheer will, carrying multiple defenders forward at time. Devin Duvernay became a 1,300-yard receiver in 2019 after a position change.

One of the reasons Brennan Eagles left Texas was he didn’t feel as if his talent was being maximized by the previous coaching staff. Obviously, that’s subjective, because Eagles did average 16.8 yards on just 28 mostly deep throws last season.

To use Sarkisian’s analogy, Eagles was the .200 hitter who was home run or bust. Even the .200 hitter still has to know the playbook, too. 

Joshua Moore was tied for the Big 12 lead with nine receiving touchdowns last season. He also averaged 15.8 yards on 30 catches. Sarkisian hasn’t mentioned Moore all that much in his press availabilities, though.

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QB updates: Sarkisian said both quarterbacks Casey Thompson and Hudson Card did well extending drives and scoring inside the 20-yard line. However, “there’s still a lot to do at that position.”

“I think Casey and Hudson both really, really played well today. They really did,” Sarkisian said. “I’m just kind of recapping it in my brain. I would say for the most part, they played really well. But we have right now, at that position, we have too many kind of negative plays. They take the brunt of it.”

Sarkisian said it’s somewhat situational in nature. Taking sacks on first down creates long second-down plays, for example.

“We’re trying to cut down on those plays, which I think we did from a week ago,” he said. “But we're also trying to spotlight those plays to let them know even a few are not acceptable.”

Spring game next: Texas will close out spring practice next Saturday with the Orange-White spring game at Royal-Memorial Stadium. Kickoff will be at 1 p.m. Admission is free. 

Currently, UT still requires that all visitors wear masks on campus as one of its COVID-19 protocols. The Longhorns are planning to have full stadium capacity at events in the fall, though.

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