Let’s jump right into it. Here are five things I am looking for on Saturday afternoon during Texas’ Orange-White Game.
Byron Murphy continuing to be “unblockable”
The Longhorns should be able to absorb the professional departures of Keondre Coburn and Moro Ojomo thanks to the return of T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy. Inside Texas has written extensively in its practice intel about how the interior defensive line has been making life difficult for Texas’ offensive guards and centers, regardless of who lines up bordering the A-gaps
But although Sweat and Murphy as a tandem have been lauded, there has not been as much individual praise heaped upon Murphy. Steve Sarkisian decided to do the task himself on Tuesday.
“One guy that stands out to me, and at times I feel he’s unblockable, is Byron Murphy,” Sarkisian said. “That’s internal pressure. This guy is so active, he’s so strong, he’s so quick, and he’s very smart. He has presented some real issues.”
Jordan Whittington made up for the lack attention on the “unblockable” defensive tackle when he spoke to the media on Thursday.
“Everybody knows Byron Murphy, but I love Byron Murphy,” Whittington said. “I’m shouting him out. Y’all are going to tweet this too, right? He says I never say nothing. Byron Murphy is going to have an amazing year.”
Hopefully this will suffice.
The internal pressure Sarkisian is referring to can wreak havoc on offenses. If the blocker closest or second-closest to where the ball is snapped is walked into the backfield or not allowed to climb to the next level, it can throw off an entire run play. Pass plays can be stymied before routes even have time to develop. When a quarterback has immediate pressure in his face, especially quarterbacks 6-foot-0 or shorter (which the Big 12 has a handful of), it makes life difficult for offenses.
Poona Ford has earned a lot of money doing just that.
There’s going to be plenty of attention given to the EDGEs, specifically Barryn Sorrell, Ethan Burke, Justice Finkley, and J’Mond Tapp. That all makes sense when thinking about pass rush, which was one of Sarkisian’s biggest emphases this spring.
Don’t forget about how the internal defensive lineman can help in that area, especially when Sarkisian climbs to the top turnbuckle and drops an “unblockable” when describing a player.
Right reads, good mechanics from the quarterbacks
ESPN’s Adam Schefter stirred the football world and Texas internet into a frenzy on March 6, the day of Sarkisian’s first press conference of the spring.
Unfortunately for Schefter (and Dave Wilson’s mentions), the quote was given in the context of there being competition at every position on the roster. That included quarterback, where Quinn Ewers started 10 games. That included left tackle, which saw Kelvin Banks man the spot for all 13 games. That included center, where Jake Majors has been a mainstay at the position for several years.
Still, the level of talent in the quarterback room where Ewers, Maalik Murphy, and Arch Manning reside was rightfully presented as one of the top storylines of camp. Ewers played up-and-down in his debut season but finished with a solid performance in the bowl game.
With last year’s rushing production off to the NFL draft, much of the offense is likely to run through Ewers’ right arm this season. That made this spring an important one for Ewers’ own development, a spring where two quarterbacks recruited out of the high school ranks by Sarkisian are champing at the bit to unseat Ewers.
No. 3 decided to chop off the mullet after the 2022 season. While that won’t have the ability-draining effect it once had on Samson, it is the best outward expression of Ewers taking mechanics, fundamentals, and the little things far more seriously after a season where those admittedly weren’t a focus.
“The mundane” is how I’ve described what Ewers needs to lock down, because he has the arm to achieve the spectacular. If Ewers can show he has the mundane down, and there should be a good amount of it in a televised scrimmage featuring a Sarkisian team, that’ll serve as the best public evidence that the proverbial light turned on for Ewers.
The two QBs behind him are worthy of mention, too. Texas fans haven’t seen Murphy do much more than warm up prior to games. This will be his first opportunity for live-ish action in front of a crowd at Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium. He has an immense physical presence and tools others on the roster might not possess. This chance for him to show it is as exciting as anything else. Everyone loves the backup quarterback, after all.
In 2023, people love the Texas third-string quarterback. Manning’s first action in front of a crowd will draw national eyes and headlines. Who knows which receivers he’ll be throwing to, but him throwing to receivers at Texas on Campbell-Williams Field for the first time will be something I pay attention to.
Quality play from tight ends NOT named Ja’Tavion Sanders
Of course, I do want to see quality tight end play from Ja’Tavion Sanders. I can expect that at this point.
Quality tight end play from someone not named Sanders will have a greater effect on the shape of the 2022 offense. Last year, Texas ran a lot of two tight end sets, but one of those tight ends was often converted O-lineman Andrej Karic, who has transferred to Tennessee.
Even with a projected emphasis on 11 personnel that’ll feature Sanders as the only tight end on the field, Sarksian wants to be able to use 12 personnel when the situation calls for it. To do so, he’ll need improved play from the scholarship tight ends currently on the roster during spring: Gunnar Helm and Juan Davis.
Helm played in all 13 games with four starts last year, and Sanders has seen him improve his game over the course of spring.
“He’s definitely taken his game to another level, and that’s making me work even harder,” Sanders said last Thursday. “I hope I’m making him work harder as well. I just can’t wait to show what we can do on the field.”
For Davis, who was spotted going last during individual drills during media viewing portions of spring practice, it sounds as if it’s taken longer for the third-year player to understand the responsibilities of his position.
“Juan is definitely coming along,” Sander said. “He’s starting to get it. It’s taken him a little while, but he’s definitely started coming along. I’m happy for him that he’s starting to feel himself and get back in that mode.”
Sanders is as close to a sure thing as a tight end can get. I’m looking to see if others can approach joining him in that status.
Freshmen having fun
Manning, Anthony Hill, CJ Baxter, Johntay Cook, Malik Muhammad, Colton Vasek, DeAndre Moore Jr., Derion Gullette, Jaydon Chatman, Sydir Mitchell, Liona Lefau, Payton Kirkland, Connor Stroh, and Andre Cojoe all enrolled early. All are likely to see action, save for Gullette as he rehabilitates a knee injury.
As Scipio Tex will tell you, the strategy of using a number of ‘freshman saviors’ is not a sound one. Luckily for Texas, this roster doesn’t need freshman saviors.
The best thing these early enrollees can do is show they aren’t out of place. They may make a mental mishap, which Sarksian mentioned he doesn’t want to see much of on Saturday. Those would be understandable from guys who should be getting ready for prom, to pile on with an overused figure of speech.
If those freshman can prove they physically ‘have it,’ especially at skill positions, then that’ll be a positive sign in my eyes.
Cohesiveness at the communicative positions
With the Orange and White teams put together via a Sarkisian-led draft, there may be a collection of first-stringers playing with backups on both teams.
Let’s say, for instance, incumbent starter Jerrin Thompson is in a safety tandem with redshirt freshman Larry Turner-Gooden. Those two may not see much action together, whether that be on the practice field or in live game situations.
But on Saturday, it could happen in the context of the spring game. How do the two communicate? It should be no problem for Thompson, but will Turner-Gooden be able to send the right message to whoever is playing Star or to the cornerback on his side of the field?
This is something that’ll apply not just in the secondary, but also at linebacker and along the offensive line.
If the busts are few and far between, it’ll be a good indicator of communication among players who may not have a ton of familiarity with one another.
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