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Eyes on Texas: Film study sounds boring, but it’s laying winning foundation for Longhorns

Casey Thompson, Josh Thompson both credit film study for their winning plays. ‘But if you’re not looking for specific things and cues, it’s not going to help you.’

The Wonderful Mrs. Davis and I have been videotaping all of our daughter’s club volleyball matches the past few years. My wife needs something to help keep her calm. I can’t hold the iPad steady. We’re not the Spielbergs.

At 11, the girls didn’t care. It was more for the parents. 

At 12, the girls were interested in seeing replays of big points. Maybe a block here and there. Or whether a ball indeed went out of bounds.

Last year at age 13, they started rewatching entire matches. They were looking for clues as to what happened, their footwork and how the opposing team responded. They weren’t watching film. They were actually studying it.

My ears perked up the past few weeks listening to Texas players talk about the nuances they learned by studying film. Maybe the Horns studied film just as hard under previous coaches, but reporters never really heard about it.

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“On film, I try to study for tendencies, what receivers do, just small things,” cornerback Josh Thompson said. “At first I was just looking at film just to look at it, but now I'm actually watching it. So it’s different.”

Funny how winning enforces good habits, isn’t it? Are you willing to prepare mentally for practice and games when coaches aren’t around to hold you accountable? The deeper the Horns (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) go into their iPads, the more success they might have this season.

Quarterback Casey Thompson said he told Bijan Robinson that the running back would score on an inside draw against Rice just because of how the defense lined up on film. 

Texas running back Bijan Robinson gets around Rice defensive back Prudy Calderon to score a touchdown Sept. 18. Based on film of the defense, quarterback Casey Thompson told Robinson he would score before a play against the Owls.

Josh Thompson said he knew to jump the route last week just by reading the Texas Tech quarterback’s eye progression, something he had picked up during film study. The interception resulted in a pick six.

“When I first got here, I honestly didn't know how to even watch film,” Thompson said. “I was just relying on my athletic ability. But if you go out there and know what you're doing, by film study, it makes the game so easy, because you’ve seen it over and over and over. And once you get it out there in front of you, it just pops out.”

Sure, film study sounds boring. On some level, it is. But it’s part of the job of being an athlete. Fans have no concept how much time athletes spend each week with a school-issued iPad in their hands streaming football video from the cloud.

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If these Longhorns do anything remarkable this season, you should stand and applaud DJ Welte and his video staff, too. 

As director of football video operations, Welte oversees a small army of four full-time employees, seven part-timers who are students and two interns. The group is responsible for shooting every play at every practice in addition to the well-known press box and end zone camera angles during games.

Welte’s staff flies a drone over the players during practice to shoot what looks like video game footage. It’s basically a radio-controlled Skycam. Texas added two drones during the Tom Herman era.

And, of course, the staffers are responsible for collecting film on opponents as well, whether by hook, crook or the old-fashion trade system. There’s a 1,400-square-foot video office with multiple editing bays inside the practice bubble at Frank Denius Fields.

You want the famous All-22 shot that shows every player on the field? Of course, Welte’s staff has that. You want to just watch the linemen? No problem. Opposing quarterback? Yep. 

Typically, the video staff has each day’s entire practice broken down and fed to coaches within 30 minutes. Coaches and players can then go over footwork, technique, the good, the bad and the ugly.

“I still watch full game clips on Sunday and Monday,” Casey Thompson said. “On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I watch third down and red zone. And then towards the end of the week, on Friday, you know, getting on the bus and going to the hotel, I still just watch cut-ups and stuff and go through my playbook of the call sheet, my tips and reminders.”

Texas quarterback Casey Thompson takes film study of opponents and practices during the season very seriously.

You’d expect the quarterback to watch a ton of film. But how are other players, such as linemen or receivers and defensive backs, supposed to dissect all of this footage? Part of a coach’s job is to teach players how to watch film.

“You could spend hours upon hours of just watching tape,” UT head coach Steve Sarkisian said, “but if you’re not looking for specific things and cues, it’s not going to help you.”

Remember, coaches are allowed to spend only 20 hours a week working with the athletes, by NCAA rule. The players must spend countless more hours preparing on their own. 

“Can we teach them to prepare in a way that is time-efficient for them, where they feel like they’re getting quality information so that meetings make more sense with us as coaches and games make more sense when it presents itself?” Sarkisian said. 

“But I do think there’s a little bit of an art to it, and I do think our guys over the past five weeks or so have gradually improved in that area,” the coach added. “I think ultimately that has lent itself to a little better practice habits and obviously a little better performance on game day.”

Texas has cutting-edge video operations teams for all varsity sports. Every team can get breakdowns of practice and games practically by the time everyone is getting on the bus and heading home.

Texas coaches have routinely pulled out their iPads to look at replay angles of controversial plays before talking with reporters. Players can look at just about anything they want, too. 

It’s a fundamental cornerstone of being mentally prepared.

“Whatever your system is,” Sarkisian said, “you have your own way of watching the tape and what you’re looking for, so you’re watching it correctly.”

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

Saturday's game

Texas at TCU, 11 a.m., ABC, 104.9