As I mentioned in my Tuesday insider practice notes, Marcus Johnson did practice but he tweaked his ankle at one point running a route.
Jay Norvell is hopeful he’ll be ready for Saturday.
“He’s getting better,” Norvell said. “He’s working through practice. He’s not quite there yet. We still have a few days before Saturday so we hope he continues to improve.”
Confidence is definitely growing for the young Longhorns, at least offensively, and that has Texas’ play-caller feeling pretty good.
“I think the dynamic has changed,” Norvell said. “The success that we’ve had moving the ball has affected the way we practice, our confidence. We just have so many young players that we have so much room to grow. Every time we practice, we get better. We learn from every experience whether it’s exciting or bad.
“We’ve been focusing on the details. We really want to focus on the details of each play and play with great effort.”
To Jerrod Heard’s credit, he’s done a nice job of taking what defenses are giving him.
“We have many designed runs for him but we also talk through our passing situations and tell him where the opportunities to run are,” Norvell said. “When you have a guy like Jerrod, any time a team wants to matchup and play man, and they are running with receivers, you are giving up green grass. We teach him how to take advantage of those opportunities.”
The quarterback draw, not surprisingly, has been a play UT has gone to the well a few times for. That was the call on Heard’s 45-yard touchdown run that would have tied Cal had Nick, ah, well you know the rest…
“When people want to play coverage like that, and blanket coverage, it’s a great advantage to have a QB that can run,” Norvell said. “We can’t run him to death either, we have to be smart about it.
“This is not a new experience for him. We want to let him be who he is and build around his strengths.”
Norvell came to the stadium last week and immediately watched Cal’s overtime game with Colorado. The score, at one point, was 56-all in overtime.
“So I thought we had to push to take advantage of very opportunity to score,” he said. “This game will be no different. We have to play smart. We have to be aggressive. We are starting to develop that mindset. The kids are starting to understand that we are going to attack. We are going to go downfield and go sideline to sideline.
“I just told them I wasn’t going to go to bed Saturday night regretting not calling something. That’s the way it’s got to be in this league to give yourself a chance. Every game is going to be that way.”
If you’ve been a fan of the deep shots Texas has taken down field, you’re in luck. It looks like that’s something Norvell wants to continue to do.
“I just don’t think you can be conservative to the point where you paint yourself into a corner,” he said. “You have to have chunk plays along the way consistently and to get point. You have to design your game plan to get some chunks. We are continuing to look at ways to get chunks.”
Several of those deep balls have gone to Daje Johnson, who continues to impress the coaching staff.
“He is working his tail off,” Norvell said. “I think for the first time in his life football is his priority. He’s a senior. He loses a day of his senior year every day he comes here. He’s working really hard and it’s starting to show in his play.”
To continue on with the deep ball theme, Norvell has been really impressed with Heard’s ability to make throws to all areas of the field.
“One of the most impressive things about Jerrod Heard is he’s hit about every part of the field throwing the ball,” he said. “He’s thrown deep, the outside lanes. He threw a couple of wheel routes that were not easy throws. That’s as impressive as anything is the way he’s throwing the deep ball.”
Norvell said Texas completed 7-of-9 play-action passes against Cal, which is really impressive.
Johnathan Gray has rushed 27 times for 94 yards (3.5 yards per carry). That’s not what people were expecting from the senior RB this season.
Norvell and Co. aren’t going to give up on Gray, obviously, but he needs everyone to be better, Gray included.
“We need to get Johnathan going and Johnathan has a hand in that to,” he said. “We’d like to get all of our backs going. As we move along they’ll have more opportunities to run the ball more effectively. He’s a big part of what we want to do. He’s a leader on offense and is capable of being very, very productive. We really don’t want Jerrod to be our leading rusher to be honest with you. We would prefer our backs to be the leading rusher.”
Norvell said he is hopeful Chris Warren will be ready to go by Saturday. I’d first reported on Sunday morning that Warren had injured his ankle and had to get X-rays taken.
An interesting note here: Norvell said Heard has been studying Russell Wilson a lot lately.
“[Wilson] runs a lot of the same zone read runs and gets to the secondary,” he said. “When he doesn’t have any more running room he goes down. Jerrod has been studying that. He’d done a really good job of getting up field and protecting himself.
This quote should make you happy:
On Jeff Traylor:
“Jeff and I think alike. He’s been a very close friend of mine. You need to ask Jeff Traylor about the “Andy Griffith” offense. We think alike. He’s a great help. We have a lot of common experiences. He’s got great ideas and is a good football guy. You don’t win three state championships without knowing football.”
Norvell and the rest of the staff are fully aware that Big 12 defenses just aren’t going to allow Heard to run free like he did against Cal. They’ll have to adjust.
“People aren’t just going to let him run free like that. He has to understand that and be ready for a physical Big 12 Conference,” Norvell said. “He’s going to have to react to different things. It was a great credit to him, the Rice game they threw the kitchen sink at him. They blitzed more in that game than they had in three years, and he handled it. We are well aware of the quality coaches in this conference. They are going to make him work to get yards. It won’t be as easy as it was last week.”