‘That sounded like football!’: What we saw in the first three days of Texas practice
The first two days of Texas football practice over the weekend looked rather routine. There was stretching, jumping jacks, fundamental drill work, whistles chirping and, yes, players cramping.
Kind of humdrum stuff out at Frank Denius Fields.
Then came Sunday night’s practice inside Royal-Memorial Stadium.
Those repetitive drills now had sudden urgency. Shoulder pads were popping, helmets were colliding, the overall pace was quicker. Linemen smashed into each other in the north end zone while defensive players did tackling drills all over the south side. Now we’re talking.
“That sounded like football,” offensive line coach Kyle Flood yelled to his charges.
To be frank, the first three days of UT practice didn’t look much different than August days of yore. The primary difference was the new coach carrying the biggest whistle. Steve Sarkisian prowled the grounds and kept close eye on the quarterbacks and those in the backfield.
Texas exes Vince Young and Jamaal Charles were on hand Saturday to gauge the Horns up close. Young would later give the players some straight talk in a team meeting by saying, “This is a huge opportunity for you guys. It’s not easy. Nothing in the world is easy, right?
“When y'all step into those meeting rooms, don't be in there wasting coach’s and their time,” Young told the team. “They give you the answers to the test for you to go outside and be great.
“Are you giving your best effort to the University of Texas and your teammates?” the UT legend continued. “Every day, for your family, your mama, your daddy, your sisters, are you doing it every day you wake up?”
Young’s comments were captured by the UT cameramen allowed behind closed doors. Reporters were allowed to watch about 40 minutes of open practice on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
During these open practice windows, there is rarely any 11-on-11 scrimmaging. In fact, players were in shorts and helmets the first two days, by NCAA rule, and only allowed to start wearing shoulder pads on Sunday.
Texas will have its first day in full pads on Thursday. Then, the Horns will have a closed intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday.
A lot of drill work was done against air over the weekend. Once the shoulder pads came on, there was more contact but still no full-blown tackling. Coaches generally do not permit defensive players to take the ball carrier all the way to the ground in preseason practice.
The first few days are mostly designed to knock the rust off and see who remembers what from spring practice. Still, there are bits and pieces you can glean from these settings even without seeing an old-school goal-line drill or the classic “bull in the ring.”
Watching the quarterbacks
For anyone wanting to know whether Casey Thompson or Hudson Card had the advantage, you’d be disappointed. Both were terrific in the windows open to reporters.
Thompson would throw a pinpoint pass to Xavier Worthy running an out route. Card would fire a deep bomb to Joshua Moore. Thompson would come back with a nice over-the-shoulder throw to the tight ends. Card would put the ball right where only a receiver could catch it.
Former UT quarterback Sam Ehlinger was right about one thing: Card does throw a prettier spiral. But turn on the Alamo Bowl tape and watch Thompson’s four touchdown throws again.
“Both of them slinging the rock,” Moore said. “If you come to practice, you see for yourself. It’s a strong battle right now. Whoever ends up winning the battle, they deserve it. Whoever the quarterback is, I’m fine with it. And I speak for all the receivers.”
Learning the defense
Saturday was a four-armband day for Agent 0. Linebacker DeMarvion Overshown, who missed spring practice with a torn labrum, said he spent time trying to get as many mental repetitions as possible. The entire defense is trying to learn a new system implemented by defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski.
“Just how they teach is, it comes out easy to me,” Overshown said. Kwiatkowski praised him during a drill when players wrestled with a tackling donut. “It’s quick to learn. Not only are they good coaches, they’re good teachers.”
Overshown, Luke Brockermeyer and Notre Dame transfer Ovie Oghoufo appeared to be working with the first-team defense. Up front, LSU transfer Ray Thornton and Jacoby Jones were lined up at defensive end. Keondre Coburn and Moro Ojomo were the tackles. But again, it’s too early to start pegging lineups.
Look at those tight ends
Physically speaking, the tight ends look impressive. Holy smokes, do they ever. Cade Brewer is back for a fifth season; he made a nice fingertip grab over the middle on Saturday. Jared Wiley scooted his 6-foot-7 frame down the seam for a nifty catch that should’ve left coaches salivating. More of that, please.
It’s impossible not to notice freshman Ja’Tavion Sanders, one of the biggest names of the 2021 recruiting class. He spent extended time with assistant Jeff Banks off to the side Friday practicing his footwork and hand placement. By Sunday, he was catching passes in full stride.
Friday marked the first day any UT coach was allowed to work with Sanders on the field. He looks every bit of a 6-foot-4, 256-pound frame. “We’re trying to put our players in the best position to be successful and practice is no different,” Sarkisian said.
Starting special teams early
It’s never too early to start working on special teams. Sarkisian’s staff carved out several periods in the open windows for special teams fundamentals. Those on the punt team worked on properly holding up their defender, then releasing after the kick and filling gaps while running downfield.
For anyone who’s played football, you’ll know this was garden-variety practice stuff but necessary. Ryan Bujcevski returns this season after missing the last three games last year. He suffered a torn knee ligament in the fourth quarter against West Virginia after averaging 43.3 yards per attempt during the season.
Kicker Cameron Dicker actually did a lot of the punting work Sunday night, booming kicks inside the opposing 20-yard line. D’Shawn Jamison appears to remain on track as UT’s primary punt return threat.
Coburn didn’t know how to respond to new linebackers coach Jeff Choate’s energy. “Snacks! Snacks!” Choate would call out, referring to the junior’s nickname. “Oh, I just rolled my eyes a couple of times,” Coburn said at Big 12 media days last month.
“I just like how these coaches, they feel like they love being here,” Coburn said. “They’re always happy. I’m not saying it’s weird. But in a way, when I come for a 6 a.m. practice, I’m probably not the happiest person. But he’s over there going, ‘Snacks, you ready for practice!’ I’ve got to be ready for practice and smile, too, because he’s smiling.”
The players certainly returned that energy the last three days. Receiver Troy Omeire refused to let a bulky knee wrap keep him from making impressive catches. Running back Bijan Robinson ran so hard through one drill, he knocked a giant pad out of assistant coach Stan Drayton’s hands.
New FieldTurf looks good
Sunday was the first full practice on the new FieldTurf artificial surface that cost almost $430,000. The surface features deeper burnt orange end zone coloring, a new midfield logo and just a hint of a new state of Texas outline on the 50-yard line.