Herman gives key injury updates, talks offensive line struggles

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Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

Head coach Tom Herman met with the media for his weekly press conference on Monday inside Bellmont Hall at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Among the topics discussed, Herman provided some key injury updates and talked about the offensive line’s struggles.

Injury updates

In a bit of an odd turn of events, freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger did not partake in warmups before the TCU game on Saturday night. Instead, Ehlinger came out wearing shorts and did not suit up. It was originally announced earlier in the week that Ehlinger was cleared from a head injury, which he suffered in the Oklahoma State game a couple weeks ago, and available to play against TCU.

But after the loss to TCU on Saturday, Herman said Ehlinger experienced a setback with what he described as an “inner ear issue.”

Herman said Ehlinger practiced non-contact on Sunday and was scheduled for an evaluation on Monday at 4:30 p.m. Herman was asked on Monday if it was possible that Ehlinger could miss the rest of the season.

“I have not heard that, no,” Herman said. “This type of injury is not one that is typically more than a couple weeks, if at all.”

Sophomore center Zach Shackelford and freshman running back Toneil Carter both practiced on Sunday and were non-contact. Both are expected to be fully cleared for contact for Tuesday’s practice.

Carter sustained a head injury in the Baylor game and did not play against TCU. Shackelford sustained a head injury against Oklahoma State and missed both the Baylor and TCU games. Like Ehlinger, he was originally cleared to play against TCU but was ultimately held out.

Herman said junior nickelback P.J. Locke III, who suffered an ankle injury against Baylor and missed the TCU game, is doubtful for Saturday’s game against Kansas. Sophomore linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch suffered a high ankle sprain against TCU and is out for the Kansas game, with Herman saying he’ll probably be out a couple weeks.

Offensive line forced to “mask the deficiencies”

The weakest unit for the Longhorns this season, and thus the one likely holding them back the most, has been the offensive line. Junior right tackle Elijah Rodriguez was lost to an ankle injury in preseason camp, and junior left tackle Connor Williams suffered a knee injury against USC on Sept. 16 and hasn’t played since.

Shackelford and junior right guard Jake McMillon have also missed time due to injuries. Texas has been forced to thrust inexperienced players into starting roles this season, including freshman Derek Kerstetter, sophomore Denzel Okafor and junior Terrell Cuney. None of those three had ever started a game for Texas prior to this season.

Texas’ offensive line has struggled greatly in pass protection and hasn’t been able to help the Longhorns establish a running game — a bad combination for a team desperately seeking a bowl bid.

“I think fixing the problem is probably a very tall order to expect in three weeks,” Herman said. “Derek Kerstetter is not gonna gain 20 pounds in the next three weeks. All of the issues aren’t gonna be solved. They’re gonna be solved through bowl practices, winter offseason, spring football and all of that. So I think the biggest thing that we can do as a staff is mask the deficiencies as best we can.”

In order to do that, Herman suggested the ball will have to get out of the quarterback’s hand quicker and onto the perimeter and the offensive line will need less one-on-one blocking assignments. But with just three games left on the schedule, Texas will have to make do with what it has.