Texas Football: 5 Things We've Learned About the Horns Through Fall Camp So Far
The first week of fall camp is in the books for Charlie Strong's Texas Longhorns, with a rejuvenated David Ash leading the way.
It's "Phase Four" for Strong and his staff, who have taken to sleeping in the dorms with their players as they try to build the final product. And, of course, the effort of making the team earn its identity continued with practice uniforms and helmets being stripped of the Longhorn logo.
Though Strong's motivational tactics will continue to grab headlines, the real excitement is happening on the field for the first time since April. Almost all of the freshmen are practicing, and only a few players are still nursing major injuries, so we're finally seeing where all of Strong's efforts are truly leading.
So far, it's a walk-on starting at safety, a quarterback making a major comeback and important skill positions that need a freshman to step up.
David Ash Hot on the Comeback Trail
David Ash is having a great fall camp for the Longhorns, setting himself up for a major comeback season.
Both Horns247's Jeff Howe and SB Nation's Michael Pelech agree that Ash has been Texas' best player in camp. Quarterback coach and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson echoed those claims when he spoke to the media on Friday, stating the following about where Ash is at this stage:
I think he's poised and confident in what he's doing. He's really worked hard and he had a great summer, a great summer. He's poised. He's playing at a very efficient rate right now, and it's always a work in progress. You're never done.
It's great to see Ash hit the ground running, especially after his spring was cut short by a foot injury. That said, health remains a major concern for him, and reports out of camp regarding his backups are cause for concern.
Pelech and Howe also noticed that Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard are far from nipping at Ash's heels. Swoopes appears to have a decent grasp of the offense but continues to struggle with the finer points of the position. Heard is the opposite, looking less and less ready for the college game the more the coaches test his considerable arm talent.
Things will slow down for someone as talented as Heard. Until then, Ash's ability to hold up will keep fans on edge.
The Skill Positions Need Guys to Step Up
Johnathan Gray is almost all the way back from his Achilles injury. Other than that, Texas has concluded its first week of camp lacking playmakers at the skill positions.
Reports about Texas RB Johnathan Gray's quick recovery from Achilles tear look to be accurate. Gray said today he's "95 percent."
Third-string running back Donald Catalon and senior wideout Jaxon Shipley are dealing with injuries, according to The Austin-American Statesman's Brian Davis. Catalon's injury leaves Malcolm Brown as the only fully healthy tailback on the roster, while Shipley's has forced walk-on Ty Templin into some first-team reps, per Pelech's report.
Now that Joe Bergeron has been dismissed, the Horns need size in the backfield to keep Malcolm Brown from getting killed between the tackles. The hole behind him, even once Catalon gets healthy, makes the impending decision on 215-pound D'Onta Foreman an important one.
At receiver, there's a straighter path to filling the void. Freshmen Armanti Foreman and Lorenzo Joe have each made a case for early work, and Pelech firmly believes that Foreman is "one of the 3 or 4 best WRs on campus right now."
Hitting the trifecta with the Foreman twins and Joe seems like the best possible scenario until we get more word on Shipley and Catalon.
Walk-on Dylan Haines Looks Like a Starter
Perhaps Tyrone Swoopes' interception to Dylan Haines in the spring game won't look so bad when the walk-on becomes one of Texas' starting safeties.
Haines has run with the first-team every single practice this week. It's not a gimmick or a motivational tactic—the guy is going to play. On Sunday, the coaches even tested him as the lone safety when incumbent Mykkele Thompson slid down to corner, according to AM 1300's Sean Adams.
And it's not just the coaches who like Haines. Star defensive end Cedric Reed told Horns Digest's William Wilkerson, "We've got room for Dylan Haines. Hard work pays off."
Adrian Colbert has seen some increased run, and freshman Jason Hall has been a great surprise (per Horns Digest's William Wilkerson), but Haines is proving to be a steady option where Texas really needs one.
Offensive Line Taking Shape
Per Howe and Pelech, Texas' first-team line on Sunday consisted of Kennedy Estelle, Sedrick Flowers, Dom Espinosa, Kent Perkins and Desmond Harrison. That's a group fans can live with so long as Estelle and Harrison survive their suspensions.
Joe Wickline told reporters that he will continue to work different guys in and that his ultimate goal is to establish his best eight guys who will do most of the work in the trenches. Espinosa and Flowers will certainly make that group, as will Perkins, based on the praise that he has been receiving.
Darius James, who was among those who sat out on Sunday, and Jake Raulerson should also be considered in because of their versatility. Depending on where Estelle and Harrison end up, the last spot will be between spring-game starter Taylor Doyle, Rami Hammad and Camrhon Hughes.
There's still a lot of evaluating left for Wickline, but surely he noticed that Sunday's first-team boasted an average height of almost 6'5".
Defensive Line Living Up to the Hype
Thanks to Cedric Reed and Malcom Brown, there has been little doubt that Texas' starting defensive line is going to be good. The depth of this group was a concern, and one that is being alleviated early in camp.
Senior Desmond Jackson continues to receive resounding praise from the staff, further ensconcing himself next to Brown at tackle. He has been solid all offseason, and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford told reporters, "I like his energy, his motor. He's a leader."
The one truly open spot here is at weakside defensive end, where Shiro Davis continues to take first-team reps over Caleb Bluiett. We know Bluiett will provide a spark whenever he gets on the field, so seeing Davis fend him off means that this spot should have quite the productive rotation.
Joining Bluiett as another solid backup is Hassan Ridgeway, who has made a major impression this fall. "The Green Mile", as Charlie Strong calls him, is 307 pounds of brutal power. If he's been as good as his coaches claim, he's going to be unblockable for the next three years.
These guys, along with the deep linebacking corps, will carry this defense in 2014.