The Texas Longhorns enter spring practice off a winning season for the first time since 2014. A victory in the Texas Bowl over Missouri propelled the team to a 7-6 finish and gave UT an opportunity to capitalize on some positive momentum this offseason.
Of course, seven wins only go so far at a place like Texas. Tom Herman and his staff can’t afford to squander any of that positivity this spring as they try to get the ‘Horns back in contention for a Big 12 title.
With Texas heading back to the practice fields for the spring session, here are some of the key stories to follow in Austin.
5 Storylines to Watch During Texas’ Spring Practice
1. Hand’s in on the offensive line
The moribund state of Texas’ offensive line for the last decade epitomizes everything wrong with the Longhorns during that period: a little unlucky and a lot more disappointing. Herman hired veteran Herb Hand away from Auburn in the offseason as co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach to oversee the latest effort to rebuild the unit, a goal that has eluded multiple predecessors.
UT’s OL is looking at filling a major void with the departure of tackle Connor Williams, a potential first-day selection in the upcoming NFL draft. Hand’s chief challenges go beyond replacing just one player, though. Broadly speaking, he will be tasked with molding a group of undistinguished blockers into a functional five-man unit capable of creating holes in the running game and giving Texas’ quarterbacks time to operate. Both were in short supply last season.
2. Finding consistency at running back
D’Onta Foreman departed Texas early for the NFL draft after rushing for more than 2,000 yards in 2016, and the Longhorns never found a capable replacement last season. Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger led the team with a meager 381 yards on the ground.
A handful on last year’s contributors return in the backfield this season, including junior Kyle Porter (above, right) and sophomore Daniel Young. They will have a chance this spring to make the position their own.
3. Replenishing the secondary
Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando shifted to a base set last season that was heavy on defensive backs. The Longhorns often played six DBs on the field at the same time to combat the Big 12’s pass-happy offenses.
The bad news for Orlando is that arguably the two best players from last season’s secondary, early NFL departees DeShon Elliott and Holton Hill, are gone. So are veterans Jason Hall and Antwuan Davis.
The good news is that the Longhorns have loaded up at DB in recent recruiting classes. Early enrollee Caden Sterns, one of the top recruits in the country in 2018, is just one of a host of youngsters who will vie for playing time during spring drills.
4. Looking for leadership on defense
The Longhorns have other glaring holes to fill on defense at linebacker and tackle following the departures of all-conference players Malik Jefferson and Poona Ford. As multi-year starters, the two provided steadying presences for the defense last season. Rising seniors such as Charles Omenihu and Gary Johnson now have a chance this spring to stake their claims as leaders on D heading into the fall.
5. Rejuvenating the offense
The issues being addressed this spring at running back and offensive line speak to a larger problem for the Longhorns: a severe lack of pop on offense. Texas eked out 24 points or fewer in five of its nine conference games last season. That’s living dangerously Big 12 country, which is home to some of the most explosive offenses in the nation.
Put simply, Herman can’t afford to go into another season counting on a salty defense to save an average offensive attack. (Notably, UT also lost all-world punter Michael Dickson in the offseason to the NFL.) Whatever Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck plan to do to get the ball moving on O has to start immediately this spring.
— 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.