University of Texas football: Five things to watch

AUSTIN — Texas football opens preseason practices Wednesday afternoon. Here are five things to watch as coach Steve Sarkisian heads into his second year with the Longhorns.

The question had to be asked. But no, Sarkisian did not choose to name a starting quarterback during Tuesday’s press conference at the Royal-Memorial Stadium.

Redshirt sophomore Hudson Card, starting in Weeks 1 and 2 of last year, and redshirt rookie Quinn Ewers, the nation’s former No. 1 rookie and transfer from Ohio State, are still battling to start against Louisiana- Monroe at the September 3 season opener.

Sarkisian carefully monitored Card’s comfort level during his second year in the system. And if having a better understanding of offense, play calls and the thought process of Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Kyle Flood translates to better composure and leadership on the pitch.

As for Ewers, Sarkisian wants to see how he translates all the film studies and off-screen advice to the location. The Southlake Carroll wonderkid is yet to succeed at college level, and despite being widely regarded as one of the hottest prospects of recent years, Card still has an edge when it comes to experience.

“For Quinn, it’s the knowledge base of the system,” Sarkisian said. “And it’s one thing to talk about the offense and talk about it in a boardroom. It’s another to actually do it and then do it consistently on the football pitch. I give him a lot of credit. Anything that he was asked to make a correction overnight, he really worked on it and tried to do it.

Sarkissian is not expected to name a starter this week. But in the meantime, he’s “excited for these two guys.”

Can anyone get to the quarterback?

With an abundance of self-awareness, defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski provided the most comedic moment of Tuesday’s press conferences when answering a question about Texas’ toothless passing rush.

“What hobby? Kwiatkowski joked mid-query.

It was a cheeky moment from the soft-spoken West Coast import. It was also the truth.

Texas rarely affected the opposing quarterback last season. Alabama transfer Ben Davis led the team with 2.5 sacks despite playing the 11th most snaps of any defensive lineman. Overall, Texas pressured the quarterback 26.3% of the time last season, ranking 103rd in the nation.

“We need to be better coordinated,” Kwiatkowski said. “We have to shoot the ball better. We must be relentless. And then we had to do a better job of overcoming hands and pushing the pocket and collapsing the pocket with guys inside and outside.

Redo Special Teams

Special teams coordinator Jeff Banks can’t remember a time when he ever had to replace so much lost production.

Cameron Dicker, who signed with the Los Angeles Rams in May, handled kickoffs, punts and field goals for the Longhorns in 2021. Now those duties will be split.

Austin Regents freshman Will Stone and redshirt freshman Bert Auburn are both competing to handle kickoffs and field goals. And redshirt rookie Isaac Pearson is expected to handle punting duties, although Banks will bring a walk-on to keep him competitive throughout August.

“Isaac had a phenomenal spring ball,” Banks said. “He’s mature because he’s a bit older to be an Aussie who’s not in the traditional high school to college scenario. And he’s the hardest worker we have in our team.

At least Banks doesn’t have to locate a new long snapper. Zach Edwards is back for his fourth season after holding for Dicker in nine games last year and two games in 2020.

Time to shine?

The only five-star signer in Texas’ 2021 recruiting class, Ja’Tavion Sanders was a two-way star at Denton Ryan who spent the last year learning the intricacies of tight play in Sarkisian’s system.

Sanders played mostly on special teams as a true freshman and his next take on play will mark his first for Texas. Still, Sanders, along with fellow sophomores Gunnar Helm and Juan Davis and Alabama transfer Jahleel Billingsley represent the most dynamic and exciting group of tight ends Texas has had on campus in years.

And the offensive line?

Texas fixed one of its biggest weaknesses this offseason by signing seven offensive linemen.

Five-star freshmen Devon Campbell and Kelvin Banks lead that group, and offensive line coach Kyle Flood might need to rely on one, or maybe both, to get started. this season. Early draftee Cole Hutson should also be in the mix after a strong spring.

Center Jake Majors, left guard Junior Angilau and tackle Christian Jones all look locked in starting spots. But the other two positions will be contested by a number of players, including beginners.

“Do I think we have a talented freshman class? Me yes,” Flood said. “Do I think some of these guys are going to be able to contribute this year? I do.”

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