Spring takeaways: Offensive mystery

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
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Editor's note: This week we're taking a closer look at five key takeaways from Texas' spring practices and what they mean for the summer and beyond.

AUSTIN, Texas -- With all the talk about culture change and the confusion over coordinators and the conundrum at quarterback, an important question didn’t really get answered this spring.

What is Texas’ new offense going to look like?

You have to wonder how the Longhorns' offensive leaders are handling a third consecutive year of transition. They've played in a pro-style offense for Bryan Harsin and an up-tempo spread under Major Applewhite that got scrapped for a run-heavy attack. Now they have to master a brand new playbook constructed by two coaches.

[+] EnlargeJaxon Shipley
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJaxon Shipley is among the Texas veterans adjusting to another new offense this spring.
Shoot, even the veterans like Malcolm Brown and Jaxon Shipley made their verbal commitments out of high school with the intention of playing for Greg Davis. They've been in for change on a near-annual basis ever since.

Perhaps that's why assistant head coach Shawn Watson focused on bringing Texas' offense back to basics this spring.

"Getting our base formations, personnel groups, the base run taught, the base protection, the base pass," Watson said. "We haven't gone much past that because we wanted to bring that to detail."

Bringing everything "to detail" is a concept Watson throws around a lot when talking about where the Longhorns are and where they need to be. It's not about starting from scratch. It's about learning to execute the new plays exactly as they're drawn up. Master the minutia first.

"Everyone has really stepped up to the challenge," Shipley said after the spring game. "We’ve put in new stuff throughout the whole spring and this was the first time to really go through all of the plays. This is not going to be all of it, we’ll have more stuff to put in and it’ll improve."

The new staff intended to stay especially vanilla in its Orange-White spring game. They showed nothing groundbreaking, and would've been hard-pressed to anyway with just one true scholarship quarterback available. But center Dominic Espinosa expects a number of new wrinkles by the end of August. No need to show off now.

"That was a little taste of what we’re trying to do," Espinosa said after the scrimmage.

Knowing what to reasonably expect from this unit in 2014 is tricky. At Louisville, Watson says it all came together in Year 2. Over his three-year stint, the Cardinals ranked No. 3 in FBS in completion percentage, No. 2 in fewest turnovers and top 10 in yards per attempt.

Teddy Bridgewater can take credit for much of that efficiency, but he thrived in part because his offense was built on a sturdy foundation.

Pair that with the philosophies of Joe Wickline, whose Oklahoma State offensive lines paved the way for one of the nation's best spread run games, and you can put together a picture of a powerful system.

Envision an offense that pounds inside-outside with the run to set up a four-wide passing game, one that can also go under center and grind with two tight ends. And, on top of that, a capability to go tempo and adjust on the fly when its quarterback heats up.

Or maybe Watson and Wickline have something entirely different in mind. They have a long summer to concoct something special for an offense that's unmistakably loaded at running back and receiver.

After two years of transitions, mixed messages and changing demands, there's merit in taking it slow and doing this right. That was Watson's mindset going into the spring game.

"It is more about the players right now and putting them out there and seeing what we have now," Watson said.

The next few months are a different story. Watson and Wickline know what they've got in these players. Now they must figure out what to do with them.

Max Olson | email

Texas/Big 12 reporter

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