Texas Football: Charlie Strong's Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice
Spring football may be over for the Texas Longhorns, but Charlie Strong has no shortage of concerns as he gears up for the summer. None being bigger than David Ash's foot.
The Orange-White scrimmage exposed some major weaknesses within Strong's new team, especially at the quarterback position. Tyrone Swoopes recovered from a rough start to turn in a strong performance, but the lack of depth behind him could spell trouble if Ash's health troubles extend well into the season.
At least it's not the safety position, where at least one sieve is masquerading as a strong safety while an underclassman tries to grow into the role.
These issues were to be expected, and have been chief concerns since the end of last season. However, the deficiencies at running back and along the offensive line, which were supposed to be strong points, have just as much potential to keep Strong up at night.
David Ash is out until the fall, Max Wittek has yet to decide where he will transfer and Jerrod Heard doesn't arrive until the summer. Until any of that changes, quarterback depth will remain an issue for Strong and the Longhorns.
In the spring game, Tyrone Swoopes showed enough potential (17-30, 229 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT) to remain part of the starting quarterback discussion. The issue is that if he goes down, the only options are former tight end Miles Onyegbule and walk-on Trey Holtz, who are practice squad players at best.
This should take care of itself by fall, but Ash's situation ups the urgency for getting Wittek on board and Heard up to speed. The senior quarterback played his last full game on August 31, was unable to finish spring practice and his concussion history means the next big hit he takes could be his last.
All factors considered, Strong needs to get every live arm he possibly can on the roster.
Lack of a Strong Safety
Texas is in solid shape on defense. Anchored by Cedric Reed, the defensive line will be one of the best in the Big 12, and the linebackers are a legitimate two-deep group with experience at all three spots.
The main question is in the secondary, where a legitimate strong safety is yet to emerge. Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner performed well in the spring game, forcing three turnovers between them playing against the second team. But with Thompson's past tackling issues and Turner's slight 180-pound frame, neither can be counted on to make plays in the box.
While there is time to sort this out, the options here are severely limited. Adrian Colbert allowed two touchdowns last Saturday, including one on a Hail Mary, and Chevoski Collins failed to record a single tackle in the game.
Malcolm Brown's Backup
As talented as he is, Malcolm Brown needs a backup capable of both spelling and complementing him to keep him fresh throughout the season. The players best-suited to do so are unavailable until at least the summer.
Running back depth has been one of Texas' calling cards the past few seasons. That changed when Johnathan Gray went down with a ruptured Achilles and Joe Bergeron got himself suspended this spring. Gray is expected to return for the season opener, while the latter could be reinstated as early as the summer.
Since neither date is set in stone, Strong has to move forward with Jalen Overstreet as his lone backup and prepare Donald Catalon for significant carries as a freshman. Neither is built to pick up yardage between the tackles, so Brown will be in for a beating until Gray or Bergeron can get back into the mix.
With top-25 matchups against UCLA, Oklahoma and Baylor in the first six weeks of the season, missing either of them for longer than expected would be tough to overcome.
The Offensive Line's Progress
Texas may as well have split the atom when it hired Joe Wickline to mentor an offensive line jammed with 4- and 5-star recruits. So how did the Longhorn defenders rack up eight total sacks in the spring game?
Following a format that pitted the first-team offense against the second-team defense, and vice versa, both lines struggled to contain the opposing pass rush. The starting group gave up four sacks to the backups, getting burned by defensive end Caleb Bluiett all afternoon. On the ground, that same group of linemen could only pave the way for 2.4 yards per rush.
Some of this can be attributed to Tyrone Swoopes' lack of experience throwing from the pocket, as well as a talented crop of defensive linemen. Still, you expect more from a first-team group that is being coached by one of the best in the business.
Implementing Wickline's zone blocking system takes time, so most of the kinks should be worked out by the start of the season. The adjustment period notwithstanding, this group must perform at a higher level.