The Charlie Strong era officially kicked off Saturday when Texas held its spring game at DKR. Despite it being Easter weekend, and televised on the Longhorn Network, the game drew a good-size crowd. Many folks wanted to witness what the new coaching staff has accomplished in person.
They saw some good, and some bad. Here are a few takeaways from the scrimmage.
There was no David Ash. No doubt fans wanted to see how Ash was progressing this spring. It’s a shame he was injured and couldn’t participate. It did, however, open the door for Tyrone Swoopes to get all of the first-team reps. Was Swoopes the second coming of Vince Young?
Not even close. Swoopes struggled mightily in the first half. His passes were erratic. He overthrew receivers repeatedly. Swoopes could not find much running room, and was touch-sacked several times. In his defense, in a real game he would have shrugged off those sacks and could have made plays with his legs. Swoopes settled down late in the first half and starting to pick up steam early in the second half. He hit on a long touchdown pass to Jaxon Shipley that showed fans he can throw the ball. Still, there were probably many fans wishing Jerrod Heard or Max Wittek was here to line up under center.
Bottom line though, Texas needs a healthy Ash if it wants defenses to respect the pass and not stack the line to stop the run.
Texas defenders were in the backfield all day. The line is definitely a work in progress. Desmond Harrison was routinely beaten by either the defensive end or linebacker. The group could not give Swoopes much time to progress through his reads or open holes for Malcolm Brown. Joe Wickline has a lot of work to do with this group before they are game ready. Texas quarterbacks may have a hard time staying healthy this season if the line does not improve.
Malcolm Brown couldn’t find many holes on Saturday. But the senior ran hard and punished tacklers. He did have a nice touchdown run in the second quarter when he muscled his way into the end zone. Brown is obviously the focal point of the offense at this point. Jalen Overstreet ran extremely well against the second-team defense. He showed good vision at times and made a couple of cutback runs to gain positive yardage. Johnathan Gray was in shorts Saturday while Joe Bergeron was presumably studying.
If was hard to tell if the defensive line was that dominant, or that the offensive line was that bad. Numerous defenders had pressure on the quarterbacks all game. Cedric Reed, Malcolm Brown, Shiro Davis and Caleb Bluiett disrupted the offensive rhythm throughout the first half. This group will definitely be a strength this season.
Saturday was the Jaxon Shipley show. Swoopes is definitely comfortable looking to number 8. Shipley caught everything he could get to (Swoopes missed him badly on several throws) and his touchdown catch between two defenders was a crowd pleaser. Shipley could be more valuable to this team than his brother was with the Colt McCoy-led Texas teams. Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders didn’t get many targets. Second-team receivers Jacorey Warrick and Montrel Meander got some looks from quarterback Miles Onyegbule. Meander had a perfectly thrown pass bounce off his helmet. Daje Johnson had a fairly quiet game outside of his touchdown catch to end the first half. Geoff Swaim was the only tight end with any significant action. He had a couple of nice catches.
It was hard to grade the secondary because of the duress the quarterbacks were under. Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner had interceptions – Thompson returned his for a score. Safety depth looks suspect. Quandre Diggs, Duke Thomas and Bryson Echols all were solid at cornerback.
This team is a work in progress. What fans saw on Saturday will be a far cry from the team that lines up on Aug. 30. There is a lot of work to be done between now and then. Strong and his staff had 15 practices to get this team ready for Saturday. The true test will be the season opener versus North Texas.