With a little less than a month remaining before opening day, the Longhorns opened preseason practice this week, culminating in an 11-on-11 scrimmage on Saturday morning. Here are three things we learned from week one of head coach Tom Herman’s first preseason camp.
Buechele taking the reigns:
By most metrics, sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele had a stellar freshman campaign in 2016. He started 12 games for the Longhorns, setting freshman records for yards and touchdowns. By season’s end, Buechele became the first Texas quarterback since Colt McCoy to have at least 2,500 passing yards and 20 touchdowns in one season.
As Buechele enters his second season as the Longhorns’ signal caller, Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck have implored him to take a greater leadership role. Buechele often let others on the team do the talking last season, taking a back seat to the veterans on Texas' roster. But that's no longer the case through the first week of preseason practice.
“We heard (Buechele) scream, which was really cool,” Herman said following Saturday’s scrimmage. “Both in enjoyment, and in disapproval... His voice is really powerful, and it can have a dramatic effect on the way that we respond whether it’s to success or to failure. What you say and how you say it should have an effect, and he’s taken that to heart.”
Longhorns looking slimmer:
Herman noted the improved conditioning he’s seen from the Longhorns throughout the week. And on Monday, he disclosed some impressive statistics compiled by strength coach Yancy McKnight.
“We’ve shed 500 pounds of body fat and added 380 pounds of lean muscle mass as a team since January,” Herman said. “It’s noticeable out there. (We have) much more stamina, and I don’t mean that from a lung standpoint. When you are strong, you can go and bend and change direction.”
Numerous Longhorns mentioned their improved physical state, including junior offensive lineman Patrick Vahe. The freshman All-American in 2015 said he’s shedded nearly six percent body fat since the winter, losing 15 pounds of fat and gaining eight pounds of muscle. Vahe praised McKnight for reshaping the Longhorns this offseason.
“He pretty much has everybody accountable,” Vahe said. “So if he asks you to do something a lot of players respect him so we’ll all do it... We trust him in that and that’s why we’ve all progressed to where we are.”
Skill positions still crowded:
While Buechele holds a firm grip on the starting-quarterback spot, the depth chart at Texas’ skill positions is murky. No running back on the roster tallied more than 500 yards last season, and while junior Chris Warren is the likely starter, there’s no guarantee he’ll earn a lion's share of the carries.
Sophomore Kyle Porter should test Warren, as will a pair of freshman backs, Toneil Carter and Daniel Young. Carter was a four-star recruit coming out of high school per 247Sports, arriving in Austin as the No. 10 running back in the nation.
The crowd is even larger in the wide receivers room. Sophomore Collin Johnson has emerged as Texas’ primary weapon, leaving a slew of receivers to fight for time below him on the depth chart. The Longhorns return five receivers who caught 20 or more balls in 2016.
Junior Jerrod Heard is one receiver looking to separate himself from the pack. The Denton product converted to wideout in 2016 after starting 10 games at quarterback the year before, tallying 24 catches and three TD’s last season. Heard is currently listed as Texas’ emergency quarterback, but said he’s focused solely on his duties as a wide receiver.
“I’m a receiver now,” Heard said. “I don’t even claim (to be) a quarterback anymore.”