Texas' Steve Sarkisian can see progress in the Longhorns as April hits the midway point. The pieces are there, but the product is far from finished.
Texas completed its second live scrimmage Saturday morning, and the Longhorns coach is pleased with the development of multiple positions. Individually, Sarkisian sees improvement in the player's progression of his system and the team's understanding of the concepts.
However, there still is work to be done on Tuesday and Thursday before the Orange-White game next Saturday.
"We're not where we need to be yet," Sarkisian said Saturday afternoon via Zoom. There's a lot of areas we need to get better at. The encouraging part is we knew this was going to be a big week from a developmental standpoint and I think the guys really responded."
Some positions are closer to being complete than others. Several players have been highlighted for their roles in camp. Here's several quick hits on what Sarkisian said about Texas entering its final week of spring.
1. After two years of working with four first-round wide receivers prospects in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Sarkisian's offense was going to implement more to the passing game. Last season, Texas didn't have a target record more than 30 catches or 500 yards.
Sarkisian has been pleased with sophomore wideout Jordan Whittington's progression and consistency. Last week, he told reporters that of the pass-catchers, the former five-star talent was the "furthest along" understanding the offense.
Whittington wasn't the only receiver thought that Sarkisian was impressed with on Saturday morning.
"J. Whitt really showed up, Marcus Washington showed up today," Sarkisian said. "It was good to get Troy Omeire in the scrimmage today and that was positive. Kelvontay [Dixon] showed up today."
Omerie should be a name to watch for come early August. The 6-foot-3 speedster from Fort Bend Austin was expected to be a vertical option last season, but was sidelined due to a torn ACL.
He is not expected to play next Saturday.
2. Although Texas is improving learning a new system, Sarkisian holds the staff to a higher standard. In his eyes, the Longhorns have developed into a quality roster, but he equates the finish product to where he hopes the team to be come Week 1.
Overall, Sarkisian said he's pleased where the team is for the moment. That's in large part due to the strides made from the first practice to Saturday's ending. It's now about being smoother in the communication on both sides of the ball come Saturday.
"We're not all there all of the time," Sarkisian said of the timing aspect. "Then when we make those mistake, when we have a breakdown in communication or a breakdown in adjustment, clearly that's when you get hurt. That's no different for when the fall rolls around."
After spending two seasons learning under Nick Saban, Sarkisian wants "clean discipline" and "unison" with his roster all on the same page. Any breakdown can lead to mistakes in a game. That one mistake could be the difference between contending for the Big 12 title and falling out of the conversation altogether.
3. The Longhorns for the majority of the spring have been healthy. Four players though will not participate in practice after suffering injuries that required surgery or rehabilitation.
Linebacker DeMarvion Overshown (shoulder), defensive lineman T'Vondre Sweat (shoulder), wide receiver Jake Smith (foot) and offensive lineman Derek Kerstetter (ankle) all are expected to be key contributors at their respective positions.
With a new system, injuries could hurt the progress as a whole. Sarkisian said that the more they are engaged in meetings and on the sideline during practice can help them internally develop and learn their assignments,
"When you're injured, it's easy to kind of drift off and not be engaged and not be involved," Sarkisian said. "The challenge for us as coaches and the challenge for them as individual players is really keeping them engaged or staying engaged from a player's perspective."
4. Earlier this month, defensive back Josh Thompson spoke highly of freshmen cornerback Jamier Johnson and safety JD Coffey. Both 2021 four-star recruits are expected to be long-term options at positions Texas has been known to produce at the next level.
Sarkisian said that early on, one can see the "highlight plays" in practice. The challenge he's hoping for the duo to work on next is consistency. "Great players really start by being great by being where they're supposed to be and making the plays they're supposed to make," Sarkisian said.
The Longhorns also are expecting immediate contributions from McNesse State transfer cornerback Darion Dunn. As a unit, Sarkisian wants consistency in the back end "over and over" and then make the highlight or marquee plays when the opportunity presents itself.
5. Heart and grit were two traits prioritized at Alabama. They'll be needed for Texas to claim its first conference championship in over a decade during this new era.
According to the first-year coach, work ethic is not the problem for Texas and its players. And while he said that there's many guys that bring it, two players were highlighted. "Cade Brewer jumps out, Roschon Johnson jumps out," Sarkisian said.
Johnson has been a name to watch for this past month. Sarkisian gave the quarterback-turned-running back high praise on his quick development at a position he's never played.
6. Defensive back Anthony Cook has been a spotlight name for Sarkisian in press conferences this spring. In Pete Kwiatkowski's 4-2-5 system, the senior is expected to spilt reps with Chris Adimora as the "Spur" defender.
The nickel defender role has become essential in pass-heavy systems at both the college and NFL level. Sarkisian though is more so pleased with the versatilely both Adimora and Cook can provide across the roster.
"They're different types of players, but they're versatile players," Sarkisian said. "They're tough, they're physical, they have man to man capabilities, they have capabilities of playing the safety position. They give us some multiplicity at that position."
Cook has played both inside and out while Adimora is more of a big nickel-safety type player. As injuries occur, both will be considered to expand their roles for the season. It's a trait Sarkisian says every team needs so they won't be one-dimensional.
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