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New quarterbacks, new offense, new stadium all on display during Texas’ spring game

Sarkisian: ‘Every guy is going to get an opportunity to get out there and do his thing and run around, fly around and make plays.’

It’s best to issue the standard disclaimer heading into Saturday’s Orange-White spring game.

Remember, Texas fans, it’s nothing more than practice.

First-year Texas coach Steve Sarkisian says Saturday's Orange-White game will be a "very, very, very paired down version of our offense and defense," but there should be plenty of intrigue to watch between the two quarterbacks battling for the starting job and a new offense and defense.

“We’ll play a game. We’ll keep score,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said during a Thursday radio interview on 104.9 The Horn. “The kicking game will not be live, but we’ll tackle when we’re on offense and defense. 

“But the reality of it is, it’ll be a very, very, very pared down version of our offense and defense.”

Quarterback competition, new offense among reasons to watch Texas spring game

It’s still April, but fans have plenty of reasons for a look-see Saturday at Royal-Memorial Stadium. There’s a legitimate quarterback competition for the first time in years, a new offensive scheme and a new south end zone project that’s almost finished. 

Admission is free, and social distancing measures will be in effect. Gates open at noon, and the event starts at 1 p.m. UT officials still require visitors to wear a mask on campus even though players, coaches and staff have been getting vaccinations.

Texas running back Bijan Robinson breaks away from Colorado linebacker Akil Jones during the Longhorns' Alamo Bowl victory last season. Robinson is UT's starting running back.

If nothing else, mask up to come see Bijan Robinson.

“They’re going to see a lot of excitement,” quarterback Hudson Card said. “Pushing the ball downfield, taking shots. Keep taking shots over and over, because that's what we like to do.”

Card said Sarkisian likes to use tempo at times. Still, Texas will unveil “a really exciting offense with a great cook calling the plays and just get the ball to our playmakers in space and have them go to work.”

Card, a redshirt freshman, is battling Casey Thompson, a third-year player, for the starting job previously held by Sam Ehlinger. When Texas fans last saw Thompson, he was blowing up Colorado in the second half of the Alamo Bowl.

RELATED: Texas' Casey Thompson has a new coach, new number and, he hopes, new role as starter

Hitting receivers on the move key for quarterbacks in Texas spring game 

The question is how he will handle Sarkisian’s new offense, one that relies on hitting receivers on the move. Sarkisian has made no bones about how he dumped the entire playbook on the quarterbacks. Frankly, he wanted to see who could absorb the information and execute.

“We put a lot on these guys this spring,” Sarkisian said. “We took the training wheels off from the beginning. We really went for it, and it was good. Again, it was not perfect, but we got a lot of cool things to teach from and to learn from and to help us next time when we go install it again with them here this summer.”

Thompson described the “overall volume of the offense” as something that required adjustment. 

“We run everything that there is to run pretty much in football,” Thompson said. “But there hasn’t really been too much of a difficult time for me to pick it up. I’ve done pretty good at that. And then my favorite part about the offense is that it's very creative.”

Texas' best playmakers to feature in new offense

This new offense figures to prominently feature Texas’ best playmakers, starting with Robinson, the electric running back from Arizona. He was under-utilized last season but finished the year with 443 all-purpose yards against Kansas State and Colorado. 

Robinson became the first FBS player in 25 years to have two games with 200 yards or more from scrimmage on 12 or fewer touches. He was also the first UT freshman to lead the Horns in all-purpose yards since Cedric Benson did it in 2001.

Robinson will still rotate with the dynamic Roschon Johnson, who had 418 yards last season. Defenses will have to think whenever they see those two in a split back formation. But Sarkisian, a coach who wants to “run the running back,” likely isn’t going to rotate players for the sake of a rotation.

“Whatever we’ve got, we’ve just got to execute it at a high level,” Robinson said. “Whatever (the coaches) decide to do, we have to come together as a unit and be the best that we can for every time we do get the ball or get those touches.”

The Horns have solid receiver candidates, like Jordan Whittington and Joshua Moore. Troy Omeire has come back from a knee injury faster than previously thought, but Jake Smith is still out with a broken foot. The Horns need someone to emerge as a consistent threat.

RELATED: Texas WR Jordan Whittington trusted his mind, body and faith while battling injuries

The offense line isn’t as much of a reconstruction project as feared, with Jake Majors excelling at center. 

Defense more of an unknown going into Texas spring game

The defense is more of an unknown with this new staff led by coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who is not allowed to speak with reporters on Sarkisian’s request. 

Top linebacker DeMarvion Overshown has missed the spring recovering from shoulder surgery. But Sarkisian has raved about LSU transfer Ray Thornton’s aggressiveness and the pass rush from the defensive ends. Defensive back Josh Thompson was also mentioned in several of Sarkisian’s post-practice media scrums for his ball-hawking capabilities. 

Texas linebacker DeMarvion Overshown celebrates making a sack against West Virginia last season. He's recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and won't play in Saturday's Orange-White game.

Despite going 7-3 last season, Texas does not lack talent. One of the reasons why school officials made a change was because they lost faith in Tom Herman’s ability to squeeze more from the talented players already assembled.

Some will forever blame Herman’s response to “The Eyes of Texas” controversy and the social justice summer of 2020 as reasons for his dismissal. But none of that would’ve mattered had Texas not lost close games to TCU, Oklahoma and Iowa State.

Sarkisian is here because top UT officials believe he can take Texas to the next level. He’ll get more from Robinson and Johnson, more from the quarterback position and more from a defense that slipped under Herman as time passed. Well, that’s what those in the Tower hope, anyway.

Texas spring game: A public practice

Just don’t expect all of that to happen Saturday during what amounts to a two-hour public practice. The season opener is still Sept. 4 against Louisiana. Then comes a rugged road test at Arkansas (Sept. 11). Make no mistake, Sarkisian’s first two games are harder than they appear.

But the spring game is usually an excellent barometer of where things stand — a mile marker, if you will, on a long journey.

“It’ll be a very conservative style of play, in essence not showing a lot, but it should allow our guys to play fast,” Sarkisian said. “You know, I want them to compete. They’ve put in a lot of work. 

“They deserve to go out and play, and every guy is going to get an opportunity to get out there and do his thing and run around, fly around and make plays,” the new coach added. “And it should be very competitive in the end, and that’s the whole idea.”

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