Texas’ latest fresh start begins in earnest this spring under new head coach Tom Herman
Texas’ football program has slogged through a long seven years.
Since the Longhorns played for the national championship at the end of the 2009 season, they’ve occasionally sniffed respectability. Three years ended without a bowl trip, and a 9-4 record in 2012 represented the high point of the stretch.
The malaise ended Mack Brown’s historic tenure after the 2013 season and then claimed Charlie Strong after three lackluster years. The athletic department wasted no time in hiring rising star Tom Herman to reinvigorate the program. The spring game will give Longhorn faithful their first look at how he plans to get things back on track.
Podcast: The 2017 Big 12 Primer
5 Storylines to Watch During Texas’ Spring Practice
1. Buying into the new regime
Mack Brown had his own way of doing things. So did Charlie Strong. Tom Herman does too.
Herman now has to figure out who is on board with his style and who isn’t. The players recruited by Strong also need to know if they’re down with the new sheriff in town.
The feeling out process starts this spring.
2. The quarterback
A strong start to Shane Buechele’s freshman season left a good first impression about the future of the quarterback position for the Longhorns. The finish raised plenty of doubts.
In the final four games of Texas’ 2016 season, three of which were losses, Buechele threw four touchdowns against five interceptions. He averaged a meager 6.2 yards per pass attempt. The stretch included a nightmare performance in a humiliating loss to Kansas.
As much as anyone on the roster, Buechele needs to impress his new head coach this spring.
3. Evaluating the running backs
D’Onta Foreman frequently carried the Longhorns on offense last season, and that’s no exaggeration. He averaged 29.4 carries per game, the highest mark in the country by a full five attempts.
Coming back from a season-ending injury, Chris Warren appears to be first in line to take on Foreman’s workload. Kyle Porter also will look to stake a claim to some carries in spring ball.
4. Where’s Malik Jefferson’s head?
Jefferson didn’t quite make the leap between his freshman and sophomore seasons that was expected of such an impressive prospect. Even before he struggled with his health down the stretch, the talented linebacker lacked the spark he showed during his rookie year.
Maybe the change at the top will re-energize Jefferson in what could be final season in burnt orange.
Speaking of which...
5. Fitting into the new defense
As Herman’s defensive coordinator at Houston, Todd Orlando oversaw a hard-hitting, aggressive unit that thrived on causing chaos. The Cougars’ blitzing style led to plenty of stops in opposing backfields.
Orlando has the spring to assess how the personnel he is inheriting will work within his preferred philosophy.
Pre-Spring Outlook for Texas in the Big 12
Five losses by seven points or fewer in 2016 made the difference between ‘17 being Charlie Strong’s fourth season on the 40 Acres and Tom Herman’s first. As such, Herman isn’t inheriting a roster bereft of talent.
On the other hand, there’s a reason why the Longhorns haven’t been to a bowl in two years. Strong’s teams played sloppy ball on defense and lacked a clear direction on O.
Herman needs to hope that what worked so well for him at Houston translates to his new gig. That’s not always easy when you’re replacing a head coach who was as popular with his players as Strong was. Most notably, this will be the third offensive scheme for UT in three years, and the jury is out on Shane Buechele’s ability to do what Herman usually asks of his quarterbacks.
Per usual, Texas will field one of the most talented squads in the Big 12 this fall. Yet, the residual effects of all the recent upheaval in and around the program will probably make the upcoming season a bridge year to bigger and better things in the near future.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.
(Tom Herman photo courtesy of www.texassports.com)