Who's at QB?
With all of the glowing scrimmage reports about freshman quarterback David Ash — and the less-than-glowing reports about incumbent Garrett Gilbert — a common question for all of the players made available Tuesday focused on who was leading the race to become the Longhorns' signal caller.
Almost everyone avoided the question with the exception of offensive tackle Tray Allen. When he was asked whether Gilbert was "still the man" at quarterback, Allen responded by saying "as far as I know, he is." Allen went on to say that whomever the coaches chose he would have confidence in, a thought echoed by several other players.
While the defensive players also declined to put an opinion forward, safety Blake Gideon did say that he was impressed with the players at that spot, and more specifically with their ability to respond in pressure situations.
Gideon said that offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bryan Harsin was tracking every throw the players made, even in warmups, and was giving out high-pressure tests in the film room.
Offensive line coming together
Another common thread from Tuesday's media availability was the improved play of the offensive line. That line was buoyed by the return of Allen and Dominic Espinosa from injuries, with those parts added to David Snow, Mason Walters and Trey Hopkins, each of whom started games a year ago.
Allen said that "for now" he's the first-teamer at left tackle, and he's paired with Trey Hopkins on that left side, a duo that Allen called "the thinkers" because the other three were more vocal. Espinosa's emergence at center has allowed the Longhorns to move Snow to right guard, with Mason Walters moving from last year's starting guard spot to right tackle.
Allen said the line was doing a better job of communicating, and said they had begun to jell.
Gideon said he noticed a difference in the physical playing style of the linemen, especially within the framework of the new offense. He said last year's offense had been more of a "soft-setting zone team," one that ran the ball horizontally to look for vertical seams.
This year, he said, was different.
"They're pulling 600 and 650 pounds around on a 170, 180-pound corner and seeing how he's going to respond to that," Gideon said.
Defense playing well
The defense had a strong first scrimmage, forcing three turnovers and causing confusion for the offense. And that's the goal according to Gideon, who described the Diaz defense as "fast, just chaos."
Gideon said that it was more difficult to play the defense in the spring because the players were more concerned with lining up correctly than disguising their intentions. Now that the players know what they're doing, he said it was difficult for the offense to respond. He cited a potential series of plays where linebacker Keenan Robinson might align as deep as a free safety spot. On some downs, he said Robinson would come up like a typical linebacker. And on others, he might actually play a free safety-type role. The same, he said, went for the safeties lining up near the line of scrimmage.
But the most important part of seeing the defense go full speed was a simple one, Gideon said.
Desmond Jackson impressesSeveral players mentioned freshman defensive tackle Desmond Jackson as a young player who stood a great chance of competing for a starting spot.
Tank's doing great. I think he's going to be a guy that's going to be able to help us right away.," Gideon said. "We could see that with how he would compete in the summer. We would have different competitions and stuff and he's a guy that hates to lose and he's stronger than an ox and probably one of the strongest guys on the team already.
"Any time you get a guy that is that strong at that position and will run around and hit people and takes it seriously … any time you have a guy like that, he's going to play."
Texas A&M to the SEC
None of the players seemed to concerned about Texas A&M leaving to go to the SEC, with Emmanuel Acho saying flatly "that's their decision."
Allen took it a step further, saying that he didn't care if the Longhorns played the Aggies.
"If they go to the SEC, let them go to the SEC," Allen said. "If they want to stay in the Big 12, we'll show them what they usually see when they stay in the Big 12. We've got other things to think about."