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FROM THE STANDS: Spring Game Things

Breaking rocks in the hot sun, I fought the law and the law won:

  • Soso Jamabo was arrested Saturday night. The UCLA recruit from Plano was leaving his prom, quickly, and apparently with beers on him. As the police tried to pull him over for speeding and passing other cars in the turn lane of the road he was on, he made evasive moves while the occupants of his vehicle tossed those beers (or “objects” according to the story) out the window. He was eventually pulled over and charged with multiple things: evading arrest, minor in possession of alcohol, consumption of alcohol by a minor, driving without a license, speeding and disregarding a stop sign. He spent prom night in jail and was released on $7,500 bond on Sunday. I’ll say this to Soso Jamabo: you are very lucky. You are lucky you weren’t in Plano (he was in Kemp). As a Plano teenager you know full well you can NEVER do anything you did in our hometown. You’d still be in jail. You are lucky you didn’t sign with Notre Dame or a host of other private schools who might just toss you right of school, Randy Moss-style, before you ever get there for violating their code of conduct. You are lucky you are leaving the state next year and not playing in the Texas/ou game, or at TCU, where the opponents’ fans would have lots of creative signs reminding you of prom night. Most importantly, though, you are lucky you and/or the occupants of your vehicle aren’t dead or fighting to live because you lost your mind and tried to run away. This likely just goes away with some community service and a fine, but it was far from the perfect start to your college career.
  • Oh my goodness Pierre Ingram, what did you do?
  • Florida redshirt freshman JC Jackson was arrested for armed robbery. Apparently Jackson and two others entered a home and stole two game consoles and $382 at gunpoint. Color me suspicious. That’s what they really stole? I think there’s more to it than that. Andre Jones and Robert Joseph say hello.
  • Speaking of Andre Jones, did anyone know this happened? Terrible.
  • The Tide are having a rocky off-season. Safety Geno Smith was arrested for DUI again and defensive tackle Jonathan Taylor was dismissed  for his domestic violence arrest. Taylor was kicked out of Georgia two years ago for domestic assault and Nick Saban took some heat for signing him. After he did it again and was dismissed, Nick Saban defended signing him for some reason. Man, Saban doesn’t like questions. At all.
  • The Fulmer Cup Standings for 2015 have two Big 12 teams in the top three: Iowa State and West Virginia. If you don’t know what the Fulmer Cup is, here you go. As for Iowa State and West Virginia: the Cyclones had two players arrested separately in one night, including the son of the head coach. Meanwhile in Morgantown, one player was tased and arrested. The state of Iowa must be the real life Road House, because the Hawkeyes are in a first place tie with Iowa State.

Spring Game Recap

I don’t know if you made it to the game on Saturday or were able to watch it on TV, but the Horns put on their annual spring show for the fans at DKR. I say “spring show” because that’s what it is, a show. Quarterbacks can’t really be hit but they run anyway, walk-on defensive backs are covering first team receivers, punts were all fair caught …. Still, this format is better than it has been in past. Things like Roy Williams lining up against a 5-foot-7 walk-on true freshman and catching bubble screen after bubble screen and Phillip Geiggar tying his own record for most spring game punt return touchdowns year after year are over, but it was still a show. You can’t get too excited or too upset about what was happening, but there were still plenty of takeaways. Let’s dive in.

Initial Reactions

  • First things first: this Texas team, even with its injury issues, would beat last year’s team by a touchdown or more. Of this I have little doubt. The entire team looked more confident from top to bottom. I don’t know how good they will be in the fall, but they are better right now than the team last year.
  • The offense looked more competent. The guys seemed to break the huddle/line up quickly and the quarterback got the play and called the play. So many times last year the offense looked lost. Literally. Like they didn’t know what the play was and the sideline couldn’t get it signaled in quickly enough, and then someone ran the wrong way and lined up on the wrong side, and then timeout. Not Saturday. Competence.
  • The kickers looked better than I expected.
  • Solid attempt at energizing the game day atmosphere in the stadium. No country music playing in the pre-game, no jetpack guy, no animatronic Bevos … I like where it’s going.
  • It wasn’t always great, but it wasn’t sloppy. There are always going to be times when things don’t look top shelf in spring practice, but for the most part everything was great effort and quality work.

Everyone looks more comfortable this year. Even the new guys who were not factors looked more comfortable this spring, which means the players and staff around them are more comfortable. That’s a great thing to see.

There was plenty more that was great to see. There were also some things I didn’t really like seeing. I’m going to break these things down: good things, bad things, in-between things.

Good Things

Quarterbacks — Jerrod Heard was everything I thought he would be: elusive, quick and dynamic running the ball. On the touchdown run he had in the first half, he looked a bit like Vince Young with his ability to make something out of nothing. The pocket collapsed around him as he dropped back to pass and he smoothly and coolly glided around the defenders and found a seam for about a 16-yard touchdown run. You can’t tackle the quarterback in spring practice, but if that was live contact against an opponent, that’s still a touchdown. He flashed some terrific athleticism and a stronger arm than I was expecting. He made some nice throws, some nice reads and was generally about where I thought he’d be as a freshman in the spring game, but he looked much quicker and athletic than I expected.

I tip my hat to Tyrone Swoopes. He’s definitely been in the weight room and looks monstrous now. He also has a new-found confidence, evidenced by his hot start. His arm has always been big, but he was more accurate than at just about any time last year and he ran well on those bootlegs they used last year. But I don’t give him the same credit on his touchdown run I gave Heard, because in a real game I think Malik Jefferson gets him down, but the freshman wisely pulled up and let him go. Still, this Tyrone Swoopes is better than the 2014 Swoopes, and the push from Jerrod Heard is making him sink or swim. And from what I saw on Saturday, he’s swimming more than sinking.

I hope the competition keeps going into the summer and fall and both guys are laser-focused and spot-on when the lights come on.

D’Onta Foreman — When we talked about the skill guys last week, I said that D’Onta Foreman was the wild card because he could be a guy that handles more than just short yardage plays if he showed he could catch the ball and get outside. With Jonathan Gray established and out of the game after a series, Foreman got to show off his game and he did that very well, busting through open holes and showing a burst and acceleration that was surprising for a guy his size. He showed great hands, too, making a nice catch and gain. I liked what I saw. Of the backs auditioning for playing time in the public eye, Foreman was definitely the best of the group. If he can continue that play, he gets into the running back rotation.

New Defenders — The nickel package will be standard issue for Texas in the pass-happy Big 12 (four dl, two lb, five db) and the new guys stepping into new roles are going to be dynamite. Nickel back John Bonney looks like a smaller Kenny Vaccaro out there the way he attacks the running game and makes plays. Big plays like this. His ability to come down and be a third linebacker or drop into coverage on the slot receiver is terrific and I think he’s locked up that spot going into the fall. He looks like a multi-year starter out there to me.

As for the two linebackers, let me introduce you to Malik Jefferson and Edwin Freeman. The 6-foot-1, 238-pound redshirt freshman Freeman and the 6-foot-3, 217-pound soon-to-be-freshman Jefferson are as athletic as any two linebackers Texas has put on the field at the same time that I can remember. Freeman redshirted after coming in as a 4-star safety and bulked up and spun down to lb, and Jefferson is, well, he’s Malik Jefferson. Originally playing outside, he moved to middle linebacker after Dalton Santos went down and, by the looks of things, he’s not going anywhere else. His ability to move sideline to sideline and read the play simultaneously is not something you can teach; you can do it or you can’t, and boy can he do it. He had his freshman moments early on (Foreman trucked him), but he showed why he was a five star high school player on the forced fumble. Texas ran a bubble screen to Daje Johnson and, while rushing the passer, Jefferson saw the play and immediately reacted, racing back as the ball was thrown and catching Johnson from behind and stripping the ball. That type of play and that strip were trademarks of Texas great Derrick Johnson, who was on the sideline, and that’s exactly who Jefferson looked like. And then Freeman scooped up the ball and raced 35 yards for the touchdown with a convoy of blockers. A terrific play from Jefferson and a great run from Freeman. The incoming freshmen lb’s are going to have to work very hard to unseat these two.

Up front, Poona Ford is making a name for himself behind Paul Boyette and Hassan Ridgeway. Just like baseball you have to be solid up the middle to shut down a good hitting team, you need to be strong up the middle to stop the run. That means a pair of good tackles, a strong middle linebacker and a strong safety. With Malik Jefferson and Jason Hall/Dylan Haines, Texas seems pretty stout in the back end. Ford had a solid game and is so quick and strong he’s hard for one man to contain. Up to 286 pounds now, he’s able to hold his ground in the running game and use that speed to go sideline to chase it down or rush the passer. He’s definitely working his way into the rotation.

The Texas defense has some playmakers.

Kickers — Hello, Mitchell Becker. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound sophomore from Clear Lake seems to have won the punting job, kicking five times for both teams with two downed inside the 20. He wasn’t holding onto the ball too long as the punters often do in the spring game with no rush on and looked comfortable and confident. I was happy.

Nick Rose was a solid 4-5 on field goals with his only miss coming when he posted a 43-yard field goal. I certainly don’t want any field goals missed, but I’ll take 4-5 and after last year it’s about 1000x better.


Non-Good Things

Offensive Line — If they blew the whistle when they should have, the defense has about 10 sacks. That’s the only reason they are on here. I think some of it was scheme (super vanilla) and a lot of it was a defense that has been running against the same plays for three weeks (these guys know the formations and know what’s coming), but even if both sides know what’s coming, the ol needs to win those one-on-one battles. TCU, ou and Baylor are going to be bringing lots of pressure, and the ol will need to pick it up. I am not all throwing my hands up in the air and saying they are bad; quite the opposite. I think this will be the surprise unit of the year on the Texas team (surprise in a good way), but it wasn’t very good in pass protection Saturday afternoon.

Wide Outs — Lorenzo Joe had a good game, but there were a ton of drops, bad routes and fumbles from everyone else. Armanti Foreman tweeted out after the game that he and the other veteran wide outs on the team were not going to hand over the wide receiver jobs to the incoming freshmen; but they didn’t do much to show them that on the field. I said last week that with the exception of Marcus Johnson, no single wide out had a job locked down. After Saturday I stand by that statement. Every spot but Johnson’s is up for grabs.

Stalls — In the classic spring game good/bad scenario, the five punts from Mitchell Becker were good, but that means the offense stalled out five times, too. There were some bad throws and missed blocks that killed drives. Even in the new up tempo offense, you still have to execute and there were a few times when Texas just didn’t. Again, the defense has the edge because they know the plays coming, but sometimes that’ll happen in a real game and you just need to make a play.

Injuries — The problem with hard, intense workouts in the spring is the injuries that result. Texas took a big hit losing Dalton Santos (ankle) and Jermaine Roberts and Sheroid Evans (both with knee injuries) early in the spring. No timetable has been set for any of their returns, but it looks like Evans, a starter at corner before the injury, could be the most serious. Also out for the spring game were Marcus Johnson and Duke Thomas, two other starters (wr and cb) that were injured as well. It’s a violent game and that violence leads to injuries. Get better, fellas.

Meh Things

Decision Making — Both quarterbacks had good moments, but there were a few bad decisions as well that resulted in interceptions on consecutive drives. It isn’t the end of the world, especially for Heard, but that cannot happen. Texas doesn’t need Marcus Mariota-in-2014 at the qb spot (though it would be nice), but it has to be better than the last two games of last season and those decisions were reminiscent of that. Again, the defense knows what’s coming, but the qbs should know that they see it as well and act accordingly.

Duke Catalon — Not much from the redshirt freshman that I expected to see get the bulk of the carries. It was a good day for Foreman, and walk-on Gaston Davis seemed to get a lot of carries too. Catalon has been hurt on and off this spring and likely the staff thought it wise to shut him down. Get healthy Duke, Chris Warren is coming.

The Guys in Front of Me — I don’t know them. Maybe what they were saying was an inside joke. Maybe it was for the benefit of everyone around them. Maybe it was a bet they lost. Whatever it was, it was annoying. Every time someone’s name was called at the game, one would ask the other, “Is he Mexican?” and then they’d go to their phones to seemingly look it up. Every. Single. Time. I don’t know what that was and the fact I don’t know what that was keeps this here and not in the Non-Good Things Category. Just shut up already.

Making the Spring Game a Final Exam — Again, this was the spring show and while you hope guys have their best effort/performance in the final practice of spring ball, it’s the body of work over the course of spring and off-season (and the next 3 ½ months) that will decide who gets on/off the field. It’s hard to remember that it’s a show when the clock is on, plays are being run and the band and crowd are watching, but it is.


So …

The team now goes back underground and into the off-season before breaking for the semester and starting the summer workout period, which is when the rest of the freshmen arrive. There is work to be done in that time, but I like what I saw and this team looks much further along than they did last year, even at the end of the season. If the ol improves, the quarterbacks make a few less mistakes and everyone gets healthy, they look really nasty going into the fall. The defense will be there, the kicking game seems to be trending to good and you know the staff is locked in. I’m ready to see the wide out battles with the new guys and if Jerrod Heard can truly catch Tyrone Swoopes.

Back next week to talk about the offensive line and (hopefully) baseball news that is good.

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