A new era is about to begin for the Texas Longhorns. For the first time since 1998, the Longhorns will begin the college football season with a new head coach leading the charge.
The Charlie Strong era will debut Aug. 30 against North Texas, and the Texas football nation is eager to see if Strong can bring the Longhorns back up the college football ranks.
But the task will not be easy in his first season.
Strong has spent the last eight months implementing new schemes on both sides of the ball while trying to work the talent he inherited from Mack Brown into those schemes.
He has been clear about his goals for the Longhorns, which are primarily centered on bringing toughness back to Texas football.
Now is the time for the public to see if Strong's no-nonsense, tough approach will be emulated by his players on the football field.
New Regime in Austin
|2014 Texas Longhorns Coaching Staff|
|Title||Name||Years on Team|
|Head Coach||Charlie Strong||1|
|Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach||Joe Wickline||1|
|Defensive Coordinator||Vance Bedford||1|
|Quarterbacks Coach||Shawn Watson||1|
|Running Backs Coach||Tommie Robinson||1|
|Wide Receivers Coach||Les Koenning||1|
|Tight Ends Coach||Bruce Chambers||17|
|Defensive Line Coach||Chris Rumph||1|
|Linebackers Coach||Brian Jean-Mary||1|
|Defensive Backs/Special Teams Coach||Chris Vaughn||1|
The Texas football program went through a complete overhaul in January. Following Strong's hire, he bought in a new group of assistant coaches to aid him in his journey of bringing Texas football back to national prominence.
Strong brought three assistant coaches with him from his staff at Louisville, including his offensive and defensive coordinators.
Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has a unique and much deeper tie to the Longhorns compared to most of his colleagues. Bedford is a Texas alumnus and played defensive back for the Longhorns between 1977 and 1981.
His coaching background includes two national championships at Florida and Michigan and coaching 1997 Heisman trophy winner Charles Goodson.
Bedford helped turn Louisville into one of the top defenses in college football. The Cardinals led the nation in total defense, rushing defense, fewest first downs allowed, sacks and third-down conversion defense during his final season coaching at Louisville.
The combination of Bedford and Strong's defensive minds is a force to be reckoned with. They are the perfect duo to fix the Longhorns' recent defensive woes.
Former Louisville offensive-coordinator-turned-Texas-quarterbacks-coach Shawn Watson has a decent track record of coaching successful offenses. His most recent success story is 2014 first-round NFL draft pick Teddy Bridgewater, who was the starting quarterback for the Cardinals from his true freshman season in 2011 until 2013.
One of the bigger offensive hires came in offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Wickline, who spent the last nine seasons coaching at Oklahoma State. Wickline is often regarded as one of the best offensive line coaches in college football.
Strong made it a point to surround himself with some of the best coaches in the game, and the future is bright for the new group leading the Longhorns.
What to Watch for on Offense
|2014 Texas Longhorns Projected Offensive Depth Chart|
|Position||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|QB||David Ash||Tyrone Swoopes||Jerrod Heard|
|RB||Johnathan Gray||OR Malcolm Brown||Donald Catalon|
|WR||Jaxon Shipley||John Harris||Jake Oliver|
|WR||Marcus Johnson||Armanti Foreman||Lorenzo Joe|
|WR||Daje Johnson||Jacorey Warrick||Ty Templin|
|TE||Geoff Swaim||OR M.J. McFarland||Blake Whiteley|
|C||Dominic Espinosa||Jake Raulerson|
|OG||Kent Perkins||Alex Anderson||OR Elijah Rodriguez|
|OG||Sedrick Flowers||Taylor Doyle|
|OT||Kennedy Estelle||Marcus Hutchins|
|OT||Desmond Harrison||Darius James|
|PR||Quandre Diggs||Jaxon Shipley||Daje Johnson|
|KR||Daje Johnson||Mykkele Thompson||Marcus Johnson|
The Longhorns offense will be heavily focused on running the ball, which is a wise plan when one considers the talent Texas has at running back.
Running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown are arguably two of the best backs in the Big 12, and a lot of the offensive load will be put on their shoulders.
How Watson and Wickline will divide the reps is still unknown, but Strong said he doesn't think it matters who is the starter because both guys will get their fair share of carries.
A lot of questions surround quarterback David Ash and his ability to stay healthy. After being sidelined for the majority of the 2013 season with recurring concussion symptoms, Ash returned to the team in time for spring practice. But the injury bug bit him once again when he suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot and missed the second half of spring ball.
Ash has been injury free during fall camp, but that does not erase the concern about his health. He has not faced contact since before halftime of the Kansas State game last season, so many spectators will cringe when he takes the first hit of the season.
If the injuries are a thing of the past, there's a chance the Longhorns offense will be pretty solid with Ash at the helm.
The Longhorns have a lengthy list of talented wide receivers, but the group is mostly young and inexperienced.
Texas has two automatic starters in senior Jaxon Shipley and junior Marcus Johnson. Shipley is the most experienced of the receivers and leads the group with 1,933 career-receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 36 games.
Johnson proved to be a reliable option for the Longhorns last season, starting four games and bringing in 22 catches for 350 yards and two touchdowns.
The third position is somewhat open but will likely be nabbed by redshirt freshman Jacorey Warrick or fifth-year senior John Harris.
One of the most explosive players for the Longhorns is wide receiver/running back Daje Johnson. He will likely play in the slot, but wide receivers coach Les Koenning said he has been working at both inside and outside receiver.
The question that surrounds the speedster is whether he can stay out of trouble off the field. He will be suspended for at least the first game of the season for violating team rules. Strong has not decided if his suspension will go beyond Week 1.
If Johnson can stay out of trouble, he has the talent to be a difference-maker for the Longhorns this season.
The offensive line is still a work in progress. Wickline is known for mixing up his linemen until he finds the perfect fit for the offensive game plan, and the shuffling on the line will likely continue throughout the first half of the season. It will be interesting to watch if Texas can come up with the right mix to help protect Ash and open up holes for the running backs to do work.
What to Watch for on Defense
|2014 Texas Longhorns Projected Defensive Depth Chart|
|Position||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|DT||Malcom Brown||Hassan Ridgeway||Chris Nelson|
|DT||Desmond Jackson||Alex Norman||Poona Ford|
|DE||Cedric Reed||Bryce Cottrell||Jake McMillon|
|DE||Shiro Davis||Caleb Bluiett||Derrick Roberson|
|OLB||Peter Jinkens||Naashon Hughes|
|MLB||Steve Edmond||Dalton Santos|
|OLB||Jordan Hicks||Demarco Cobbs||OR Timothy Cole|
|CB||Quandre Diggs||John Bonney||OR Jermaine Roberts|
|CB||Duke Thomas||Bryson Echols|
|S||Mykkele Thompson||Josh Turner||OR Adrian Colbert|
|S||Jason Hall||OR Dylan Haines|
|P||William Russ||Michael Davidson|
"The Texas defense is soft" is a phrase the Longhorns have heard for the last two seasons. But there's a chance that label will be a thing of the past under the new coaches.
The strength of the defense starts up front. Defensive end Cedric Reed is up for numerous preseason college football awards and is the No. 1 senior defensive end for the 2015 NFL draft, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. But Reed is not the only lineman with a lot of potential. Defensive tackles Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson are two of the best tackle tandems in the conference and will be key components in shutting down the run game.
The one question mark will be Shiro Davis, who will line up opposite of Reed. Davis has earned the starting nod but will have to step up his game, as opponents will likely place more of an emphasis in covering Reed.
The linebackers have been one of the weaker positions on the defense since the 2012 season, but the time for the group to play to its abilities could be right around the corner.
Fifth-year senior Jordan Hicks returns to the group after missing the previous two seasons with injuries. One could argue the defense is better when Hicks is healthy, not only due to his skills, but because he gives the defense a coach on the field. He is obviously talented, but his role as a coach on the field is invaluable for the team.
The featured defensive back is senior Quandre Diggs, who has high expectations following him into his final season at Texas. The talented cornerback is not the biggest guy on the team but plays like he is, which is why he earned the nickname Quandre the Giant as a freshman.
The Longhorns have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball. If the defense plays up to its abilities, it could erase the soft label this season.
|Texas Longhorns Injuries|
|Player Name||Injury||Expected Return Date|
|Miles Onyegbule||ACL||Out for the season|
The most veteran wide receiver may not be at full speed when the Longhorns kick off the 2014 season Aug. 30. No timetable was set for Shipley's return after he suffered a hamstring injury the first day of fall camp.
He has not practiced since Aug. 4.
Shipley was in a similar situation last season. He suffered a hamstring injury, which held him out of fall camp, but he was ready to go the first game of the season.
But this injury may not be the same as last year. Strong said it is currently unknown if he will be part of the game plan against North Texas.
"I don't know if it's worse than the injury he had last year. It's not so much the injury, but he just hasn't had the reps at practice. It's about being game-ready because he hasn't been in the practice mode," Strong said. "We need to get him back. I don't know if he will be at full speed in Game 1."
If Shipley is not healed in time, the Longhorns will likely feature Harris, Marcus Johnson and Warrick as the starting wide receivers, leaving Johnson as the only receiver with starting experience.
A number of players have the talent to be the Longhorns' X-factor this season. Running backs Brown and Gray could combine to be the X-factor on offense.
But one player who has the chance of having a monster season is cornerback Diggs.
The strength of this defense is on the line. Bedford and Strong's defenses feature a lot of aggressive traits and heavy pass rushes, which helped Louisville rank No. 1 in rush defense in 2013.
If the defensive line plays to its strengths to stop the run and put pressure on opposing quarterbacks to get rid of the ball, the backfield will have the chance of picking up turnovers.
And that's where Quandre the Giant comes into the picture.
Bedford has put a lot of pressure on Diggs to be a playmaker this season, and the coach expects to see the player's interception and tackle numbers increase as a senior.
"His interception ratio needs to go up. His tackles need to go up. When you play nickelback, especially in this conference, that position needs to be the most productive position on the football field," Bedford said of Diggs. "If he has a productive year at that spot, whether it be tackles for loss or interceptions, then we'll probably have a pretty solid season on defense."
|Texas Longhorns 2014 Schedule|
|Aug. 30||North Texas||Austin, Texas|
|Sept. 6||BYU||Austin, Texas|
|Sept. 13||UCLA||Arlington, Texas|
|Sept. 27||Kansas||Lawrence, Kansas|
|Oct. 4||Baylor||Austin, Texas|
|Oct. 11||Oklahoma||Dallas, Texas|
|Oct. 18||Iowa State||Austin, Texas|
|Oct. 25||Kansas State||Manhattan, Kansas|
|Nov. 1||Texas Tech||Lubbock, Texas|
|Nov. 8||West Virginia||Austin, Texas|
|Nov. 15||Oklahoma State||Stillwater, Oklahoma|
|Nov. 27||TCU||Austin, Texas|
Unlike the NFL, every week matters in college football, which makes every game a make-or-break situation.
But two games that will stand out most for the Longhorns are Baylor and Oklahoma, which just so happen to fall on back-to-back weeks.
The Longhorns do not have a cupcake nonconference schedule this season. Texas will look to seek revenge against BYU, which embarrassed the Longhorns last season and then will face preseason No. 7 UCLA the following weekend.
There's a decent possibility Texas will lose at least one of the nonconference games. And if that happens, the pressure will be on the Longhorns to upset No. 10 Baylor and No. 4 Oklahoma to keep the season alive.
Texas has some positive momentum heading into the 2014 season, but expecting anything more than an average season might be premature.
The Longhorns have an entirely new scheme on both sides of the ball and nine new coaches trying to piece it all together. The roster obviously has talent, but a lot of offensive positions remain works in progress.
It's no secret that the best football teams are the ones that can keep their defense off the field, and the Longhorns may struggle to do that in 2014.
The schedule does not help the situation. If the AP poll is accurate in its preseason rankings, Texas will face three Top 10 teams in the first six games of the season.
Does this mean Texas will be a complete failure in Year 1 of the Strong era? No, but it's difficult to imagine it being among the top teams in college football at the end of the season.
A positive season for Texas will be to upset at least one of its higher-ranked opponents and maintain at minimum the same record as 2013.
Big 12 record: 6-3
Overall record: 8-5
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.
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