A crucial spring is on tap for Texas coach Steve Sarkisian after a disappointing 5-7 debut in Austin last year. The Longhorns will garner some preseason top-25 consideration, but Sarkisian’s team is likely to enter 2022 picked in the middle of the Big 12.
Related: Spring 2022 Big 12 Power Rankings
Lower expectations may not be a bad thing for Texas, as although Sarkisian brought in a standout recruiting class, there’s significant work to do this spring. Both sides of the ball were factors in last season’s losing mark, and the offseason to-do list is lengthy.
Offensively, Sarkisian has to get more consistency at quarterback and develop the line of scrimmage. The trenches are also a concern on defense and overall improvement is needed after allowing 31.1 points a game in ’21. Also, this is the first spring and opportunity for new assistants Brennan Marion (receivers) and Tashard Choice (running backs) to work with Sarkisian’s offense.
Although Texas has plenty of roster concerns, talent on both sides of the ball is still plentiful. With the right development this spring, the Longhorns could get back on track in Sarkisian’s second year.
What’s on tap for Texas this spring? Here are five things to watch in Austin:
5 Storylines to Watch During Texas’ Spring Practices
1. A Quarterback Battle?
Overall performance and inconsistency plagued the quarterbacks at Texas last year. As a team, the Longhorns threw for 29 touchdowns and ranked seventh in the Big 12 in passing yards per game (225.4). However, 17 of those passing scores came over three games, and the offense managed seven efforts of fewer than 200 yards through the air. Total passing yards isn’t necessarily the best way to judge the effectiveness of an offense, but it’s obvious Sarkisian wants more consistency and needs better overall play from his signal-callers. Help is coming in the form of transfer Quinn Ewers from Ohio State. The former five-star prospect played a couple of snaps for the Buckeyes after passing on his senior year in high school to enroll in Columbus. Ewers doesn’t lack for talent or ability, but he will have to hold off a charge from Hudson Card this spring and Maalik Murphy later this offseason. All signs point to Ewers claiming the job, and this spring is the first opportunity to entrench his name atop the depth chart.
2. Development in the Trenches
The quarterback battle will garner most of the preseason attention in Austin, but the offensive line’s development might make or break how much the offense improves in ’22. The Longhorns ranked seventh in the Big 12 in sacks allowed (27) and ranked No. 72 nationally in pass blocking according to Pro Football Focus. Also, just one lineman (right tackle Derek Kerstetter) earned All-Big 12 honors. Line coach Kyle Flood has three returning starters to work with – left tackle Christian Jones, left guard Junior Angilau and center Jake Majors – with holes to fill at right guard and right tackle. Of course, the starting five and returning starters might be in different spots by the fall. Five-star prospects Devon Campbell and Kelvin Banks are expected to push for snaps, with Hayden Conner, Andrej Karic, Jaylen Garth and converted defensive lineman Sawyer Goram-Welch also looking to fight for playing time.
3. More Weapons in the Passing Game
Texas returns the Big 12’s No. 1 receiver in Xavier Worthy (62 catches for 981 yards and 12 TDs last year), but depth at the position was an issue last season. Sarkisian dipped into the portal for help and reeled in Wyoming transfer Isaiah Neyor. The Texas native caught 44 passes for 878 yards and 12 touchdowns in a run-first offense in Laramie last year and should be an impact performer in Austin. Jordan Whittington also returns after missing four games due to injury last fall. Worthy, Neyor and Whittington form a talented and likely very productive trio, but Sarkisian could use more options to emerge. Kelvontay Dixon and Marcus Washington are experienced players looking to fight for playing time behind the starting group and extra help could come from the ’22 signing class. Alabama transfer Jahleel Billingsley is an x-factor to watch as a hybrid receiver/tight end this fall.
4. Defensive Front Development
Major improvement is needed on this side of the ball. Texas struggled mightily on defense in ’21, allowing more than 200 rushing yards a game (201.6), giving up 6.03 yards a snap, and 31.1 points per contest last year. This unit struggled to get off the field on third downs and generated only 20 sacks over 12 games. Sarkisian maintained the status quo on the staff but brought in former TCU coach Gary Patterson in an off-field role. What tweaks are on tap for this defense in ’22?
Up front, the interior is solid with Moro Ojomo and Keondre Coburn returning. However, help on the edge – perhaps from the portal? – is needed. The need for better play continues at linebacker. Luke Brockermeyer is out this spring due to injury, while DeMarvion Overshown is back on the weak side as a returning starter. Ovie Oghoufo could man the strongside position once again, while Jaylan Ford is the front-runner in the middle.
5. Filling Out the Secondary
The Longhorns finished ’21 fifth in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense and opposing quarterbacks connected on 67.6 percent of their throws against Texas' D. How big of a step forward can the secondary make in spring ball? D’Shawn Jamison, Ohio State transfer Ryan Watts and Terrance Brooks form a solid trio at cornerback. The outlook at safety is cloudy after last year’s starters Brenden Schooler, B.J. Foster and Josh Thompson have moved on. Jerrin Thompson, Anthony Cook and JD Coffey were the backups and return to battle for the starting nod in ’22.
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