Tom Herman knows he lives in a world of unique expectations.
Throughout college football, the “offseason” is the Mystery Season. Tucked away from prying eyes of fans and media, teams conduct workouts and quarterbacks run seven-on-seven drills. The objective is to raise preparedness for the start of preseason practice.
The time is particularly crucial for a new coaching staff. Few coaches are expected to do more quickly as Tom Herman at Texas. Since going 13-1 and losing in the national championship game following the 2009 season, the Longhorns are a mediocre 46-42. Herman is the hire expected to restore the glory.
His main goal during spring practice was to establish the expectations for the players. Full commitment, effort and dedication is expected.
“The consistent execution of that want-to is where we fall short,” Herman said on this week’s Big 12 coaches’ spring practice teleconference. “I want them to learn to prepare every day like it’s fourth-and-inches, every second of every day. When they leave here, they need to be mentally and emotionally drained. If not, you’ve cheated your teammates.”
Herman will have his answers to the all-in buy-in when practice starts in August. Here are five more questions Texas faces this season.
Is the quarterback job open?
Yes, according to Herman. Despite a full season as a starter plus an impressive spring game performance wasn’t enough for Herman to name Shane Buechele as the starting QB. Herman wants to continue what he considers a “healthy competition” for the job during the summer.
Freshman Sam Ehlinger is the only other scholarship quarterback currently on the roster. It’s unfair to judge Ehlinger on the spring game – he was constantly under pressure as the second-team offensive line was a sieve against the first-team defense. Ehlinger was an early enrollee, so his participation in spring practice boosted his chances.
Buechele would appear to have the clear edge based on his experience and familiarity with the Longhorns’ receivers. As Herman establishes his program, making Buechele earn the starting job is part of the psychological message sent to the team.
Who replaces D’Onta Foreman?
Perhaps the only positive in last season was the emergence of Foreman as one of the nation’s top running backs. The consensus first-team All-American was the Doak Walker Award winner, he rushed for 2,028 yards in 11 games. Foreman skipped his senior season to declare for the NFL Draft.
A major factor in Foreman becoming a workhorse was the injury that sidelined Chris Warren III after four games. Warren started two of those games and the Longhorns were apparently headed toward splitting the carries between Foreman and Warren.
At 6-foot-3 and 250-pounds, Warren is nearly a Foreman clone. The question is if he can match Foreman’s productivity.
Kyle Porter, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound sophomore, got the attention of the UT coaches with his efforts during spring practice. Warren and Porter will likely battle for the starting spot although both are likely to be the top two running backs. Both missed the spring game with injuries so there is added mystery to how the position will shake out.
Who will be the defensive playmakers?
Junior linebacker Malik Jefferson is likely entering his final season in Austin. After a so-so sophomore season, will he head into the NFL Draft as a coveted draft pick? That will be answered by how defensive coordinator Todd Orlando utilizes his skills. Jefferson will likely line up as an outside linebacker and be turned loose to attack ball carriers and quarterbacks.
Last season, Breckyn Hager and Malcolm Roach shared the “fox” position, which was a hybrid linebacker/defensive end. This season, both have defined roles. Hager, whose father was an outstanding linebacker at UT, has moved to inside linebacker. Roach is a full-time defensive end and was one of the more impressive players during spring practice.
Last season, when he worked from the edge, Hager earned second-team All-Big 12 honors. He was first in tackles for loss (13.5) and sacks (6) and second with 64 tackles. What’s unknown is if his “bull-in-a-china-shop” playing style will translate to playing in the middle of the defense.
Is there enough depth on both lines?
Probably not. One of Herman’s main comments after the spring game pointed out that defensive linemen can’t play 80 snaps. If forced to, their ability to rush the passer in the fourth quarter becomes limited. The Longhorns’ starting D-line is talented, but developing backups will be crucial.
The same goes for the offensive line. The weakness of the second unit was evident in the spring game when it was overmatched by its first-team defensive counterparts. Texas was missing two first-string starters and that watered down the second team.
Has the kicking game improved?
That won’t be answered until Joshua Rowland makes a pressure field goal. A junior-college transfer, he connected on 25 field goals the last two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Rowland made three of four field goals in the spring game but he didn’t appear to have a strong leg.
The kicking game was a disaster last season and a major reason for a regime change on the Forty Acres. Trent Domingue, a graduate transfer from LSU, was the Longhorns’ kicker last season. He missed field goals in three-point losses to Kansas State and Kansas. He had a field goal blocked in a 24-20 loss to West Virginia.