Texas Longhorns: Charlie Strong

Spring game preview: Texas

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The first Texas football game of the Charlie Strong era will look a lot more like a practice.

The Longhorns hit the field this weekend for the first time since Strong arrived. Even though fans can expect a more scrimmage-like approach to the annual Orange-White spring game, there will be plenty worth keeping an eye on.

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMISophomore QB Tyrone Swoopes will get a chance to work with the No. 1 offense in a game setting Saturday.
What to watch for:

  • Swoopes' confidence: The last time we saw Tyrone Swoopes in action, he looked like a flustered freshman (he was, in fact, a freshman) trying his hardest not to mess up amid a beatdown from Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl. He wasn't afraid to take some shots, and he scrambled for a 28-yard gain, but all in all it was a tough ask for a first-year QB who still had a lot to learn. With David Ash sidelined, Swoopes gets a chance to run the No. 1 offense in the spring game and show how far he has come in 14 practices with Shawn Watson, Texas' new quarterbacks coach. Watson is enthusiastic about the sophomore's future and praises his work as a student of the game, but this is a chance to see how well he can execute with a crowd watching and a No. 1 defense coming after him. Strong says the key to Swoopes' play is confidence and playing within himself. Everyone in attendance on Saturday will want to see if he can do just that.
  • New-look defense: This is going to be a vanilla ballgame on both sides of the ball. Both coordinators acknowledged that after their final practice Thursday. Why give up the good stuff when any Big 12 opponent can DVR the game on Longhorn Network and pick it apart? Even fiery defensive coordinator Vance Bedford will show restraint. But how he lines this defense up, both in scheme and personnel, will be intriguing. Texas coaches say this will be a multiple defense capable of lining up in 4-3 or 3-4, and you could see a little bit of both on Saturday. No, the defenders can't touch Swoopes. But you better believe Bedford will demand they get after him and put up a fight.
  • Playmakers on the outside: The hype is building for this Longhorns receiving corps, and their coaches have had nothing but good things to say about a group that must make up for the loss of deep threat Mike Davis. Nobody will be surprised if Marcus Johnson is the breakout player of the spring game. He's a star in the making. Jaxon Shipley, Kendall Sanders, Daje Johnson and Jacorey Warrick are all said to have had a big spring as well, and don't be shocked if you see tight end Geoff Swaim do some things in the passing game after primarily serving as a blocker in 2013.
  • Rising returnees: A new coaching staff means a clean slate for these Longhorns, and that means a fresh start for players who either weren't playing or were underperforming. The differences will be far more noticeable by August after a long summer of lifting and drills, but there will be some new standouts on Saturday. Guys such as safety Mykkele Thompson, offensive guard Taylor Doyle and linebacker Tim Cole have made an impression on the new staff and could do so again this weekend. Or perhaps it'll be someone nobody else is talking about, like how Duke Thomas caught everyone's eyes last year.
  • New sheriff in town: It's going to be a little strange to see someone other than Mack Brown on that sideline, isn't it? You know plenty of Texas fans will have their eyes on Strong for a glimpse of how he operates in a game setting and what he bring to the Texas sideline. You know the 100-plus recruits in attendance will care about that, too. For all the talk about how Strong is a stern coach out to lay down the law and whip the Longhorns into shape, let's see him have a little fun on Saturday.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong tried to play coy. Well, either that or he didn’t understand the question.

The question posed Tuesday was whether the first-year Texas coach can envision a quarterback joining this Longhorns program in the summer and competing for the starting job.

“I don’t know who that would be. You got somebody coming in for me?” Strong said before chuckling. “You got a secret guy coming here for me? We signed one in Jerrod [Heard]. He’s the only one.”

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMITexas QB Tyrone Swoopes will now run the first-team offense and coach Charlie Strong told him "This is your team and it's up to you to go lead."
This was, of course, a veiled attempt at the question Horns fans have been chewing on for weeks and, in particular, the past five days: Is Max Wittek coming to Texas?

The Longhorns’ need for the former USC quarterback looms large now that David Ash has been lost for the spring. Right now, there’s a whole lot more interest in the three passers who won’t be playing in the Orange-White spring game this Saturday than the trio who will.

Finally recovered from the concussion-related issues that ended his 2013 season early, Ash was poised to once again take control of the Texas offense and he made a strong first impression on his new coaches.

Those efforts got put on hold when UT doctors discovered a fracture in his left foot that required surgery.

“It’s very tough because the injury for him, I don’t know how long he had it, but he said it had been bothering him,” Strong said. “He came in the other day, our trainers checked him and we were able to find out exactly what was wrong.

“You would’ve never known he had the injury with just how well he was practicing and the way he’s been carrying himself. He understands this: A team is going to come and go as its quarterback goes. He wants to be the leader.”

Strong won’t call Ash his clear-cut No. 1 quarterback, at least not publicly, and said he didn’t anticipate naming a starter this spring. That decision will come during fall camp. But Ash had learned the new scheme and terminology, and he’s led the offense before.

With Ash out, Texas is left with three passers for its Saturday scrimmage at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes will run the first-team offense. Walk-on Trey Holtz and converted tight end Miles Onyegbule, who prior to this spring hadn’t played QB since 2010, will get the backup snaps.

After the news of Ash’s injury broke, Strong told Swoopes to get ready to roll. This is, for the final week of spring ball, his offense.

“I told Tyrone the key thing for you is it’s all about confidence and it’s all about you just doing everything we ask you to do and play within yourself,” Strong said. “Now that you are the quarterback, just take the field and know this: This is your team and it’s up to you to go lead.”

In his six appearances as Texas quarterback last season, Swoopes played like a freshman. With the exception of three drives in a Valero Alamo Bowl loss to Oregon, the dual-threat quarterback with tantalizing size (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) and intriguing speed wasn’t asked to do much. He was inconsistent in the mop-up minutes he did receive.

Swoopes will remain a project until he gets more comfortable throwing the ball. His legs usually did the job while he thrived in small-town Whitewright, Texas, and he still has plenty to learn about beating Big 12 defenses.

But Strong saw enough last Saturday during a spring scrimmage to be encouraged, calling his performances “outstanding.”

“I don’t know his numbers, but he had really good numbers and threw an unbelievable ball to Marcus [Johnson] down the sideline where he beat one of our defensive backs, laid it out there and it was a big throw,” Strong said. “He did a really good job and he settled in. He took it and had the confidence and just had a different air about him, and did a really good job leading the offense.”

Still, quarterback is atop the list of Strong’s biggest concerns as Texas finishes off its first round of practices. The addition of Wittek, who has taken multiple visits to Austin and is expected to decide in the near future, would alleviate some of the worry.

So would a strong summer from Heard, a two-time state champion at Denton (Texas) Guyer who arrives the first week of June. Strong said he’ll get a chance to win the job like everyone else, but first he’ll have to master his playbook.

Heard will be in the stands on Saturday afternoon, with the thousands of other Longhorns fans. They'll be watching closely for the first round of a Texas quarterback battle, but the truth is, it hasn't even begun.
Even though almost 10 months remain until the next national singing day, teams across the Big 12 have jumped off to fast starts in putting together their 2015 classes.

To catch you up on all the recruiting storylines that have developed so far, we checked in with ESPN.com senior national recruiting writer Jeremy Crabtree and Big 12 recruiting reporter Damon Sayles for their takes:

Which team has impressed you the most with its 2015 recruiting?

Crabtree: With all of the questions West Virginia faced in the offseason and the product the Mountaineers put on the field in 2013, you would think they would be struggling out of the gate with the 2015 class. But it has been the exact opposite. WVU has 10 commitments, including from one of the best receivers in the country, Jovon Durante. West Virginia is selling kids on an opportunity to play early and make a big difference in getting the program back on track. Plus, it has gone back to its roots and mined the very familiar recruiting territory of Florida for some of its best pledges.

Sayles: As much as I like what Texas Tech and TCU have done so far, I have to tip my hat to what West Virginia has accomplished. The Mountaineers have a pair of ESPN Junior 300 players in safety Kendrell McFadden and Durante. The Mountaineers are recruiting the state of Florida well; five of the 10 pledges are from the Sunshine State. West Virginia is off to a fast start, and with the program fresh off a successful spring game, more big-time commits could be coming soon.

Who has disappointed?


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Charlie Strong called one in-state running back's coach with good news on Monday, so the tailback called back with better news.


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We've been doing something different with Friday's Big 12 mailbag. From now on, we'll be including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To submit a mailbag entry via Twitter, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You also still can send in questions the traditional way here, too.

To the 'bag...
Trotter: So far, Oklahoma State running back/receiver Tyreek Hill, TCU safety Kenny Iloka and Kansas receiver Nick Harwell. With his speed, Hill could lead the league in all-purpose yards. Iloka is going to be a key piece in the best secondary in the Big 12. And Harwell should finally give the Jayhawks that go-to receiver they haven’t had since Dezmon Briscoe.

Trotter: The Cyclones get K-State in Ames the second week of the season, which could be a dangerous game for the Wildcats, who might get caught looking ahead to that Thursday night clash with Auburn. Another team that must pay heed is Oklahoma. The Sooners go to Iowa State the week before hosting Baylor in a game that could determine the Big 12 crown. OU can't afford to be looking ahead, either.

Trotter: I'm going to set it at 1 1/2, and I think I would actually bet the over. The Jayhawks are going to be better this season, and quite possibly good enough to steal two conference wins.

Trotter: Right now, the Red Raiders have one on campus, and that's well below the national average. I don't see an issue. The way Davis Webb has improved in the last five months, he's going to be the guy the next three seasons barring something unforeseen. That would still give Jarrett Stidham three seasons of eligibility to be the starter, if he redshirted next year. Patrick Mahomes will get this chances, too. Seems like what TTU is going to do is be really good at quarterback the next six years.

Trotter: I have no inside info here, but if the game is at 11 a.m. again, hit me up in the fall and I'll share with you my shortcut to the Texas State Fair.

Trotter: It was a move that had to be made. Sams is too talented to be standing on the sidelines. He's not going to instantly become an All-Big 12 receiver. But if they can devise ways to get Sams the ball in space, the move could work out well. I see Sams getting a lot of his touches through flares, screens, reverses and maybe a handoff or Wildcat formation here or there. If they can get Sams the ball 10 times a game, that will only help the K-State offense. Think Trevone Boykin in TCU's offense late last year. That's how I see Sams best fitting in.

Trotter: Playing? Yes. Starting? No. I think Williams ultimately favors one side of the ball. The most likely scenario is he still keeps a major role at running back, then gives coordinator Matt Wallerstedt 15-20 plays at outside linebacker, which is more than I would have predicted at the beginning of the spring. Williams can really help the defense, but not at the expense of playing 130 snaps.

Trotter: Bob Stoops, Art Briles, Mike Gundy, Bill Snyder and Gary Patterson have ironclad job security. Paul Rhoads and Kliff Kingsbury have nothing to worry about, either, and Charlie Strong is too new to have to worry (though in Austin, that could change fast). That leaves Charlie Weis and Dana Holgorsen, whose seats are warmest among Big 12 coaches. I think Weis just has to show improvement this season. He can't go 0-12. Holgorsen is the most interesting to watch. Considering the brutal schedule, it's very possible West Virginia is better than last year and still goes 5-7, which might not be enough for Holgorsen to keep his job. But if the Mountaineers go, say, 7-5 against that slate, then I would think Holgorsen would be deserving of another year. West Virginia has been recruiting at an impressive clip, and the schedule will line up more favorably in 2015.


jrodxc07 in Dallas writes: Jake, love the blog, nice work sir. I think you could make a case for incoming Baylor receiver K.D. Cannon as Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Can you explain why you left him off your list?

Trotter: Appreciate it, sir. Cannon was actually on the poll for Offensive Freshman of the Year two weeks ago. The newcomer poll was for transfers, which is why you didn't see him there.


I only care about the Big 12 writes: Please go ahead and give us your way-too early power rankings? That is, if you haven't already...

Trotter: I actually released a power poll in January that went this way: OU, Baylor, K-State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Tech, TCU, Iowa State, West Virginia, Kansas. I'll be updating it, though, after spring ball concludes.

Athlon ranks the Big 12 coaches

April, 10, 2014
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Athlon Sports has always been big on lists. And this week, Athlon’s Steven Lassan ranked all 128 FBS coaches. He also pulled out the top 10 Big 12 coaches.

As a disclaimer, this is NOT our list. This is Athlon’s. So forward all hate tweets and emails to them. Not me. I already get enough.

[+] Enlarge Art Briles
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesArt Briles' status has grown in the eyes of Athlon.
Without further ado:

1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

2. Art Briles, Baylor

3. Bill Snyder, Kansas State

4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

5. Gary Patterson, TCU

6. Charlie Strong, Texas

7. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State

8. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

9. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

10. Charlie Weis, Kansas

Some observations:

  • Athlon prefers coaches who win conference championships. Briles, Snyder, Gundy and Stoops, the top four on this list, have won the past four Big 12 titles.
  • I went back and checked and noticed some interesting changes. Snyder was No. 1 in 2013, but dropped two spots this year (why, I’m not sure; K-State did win six of seven to close out the season). Mack Brown was No. 6 -- the same slot that Strong opened up here. Kingsbury moved up only one spot after going 8-5 in his first season.
  • In the eyes of Athlon, Patterson’s stock is falling. He was the No. 2 coach going into his first year in the Big 12 and was ranked third going into last season. On the flip side, Briles has made the biggest rise in the last two years, going from sixth to second after winning the Big 12 last season.
  • Athlon actually had Snyder fifth in 2012, which is hard to believe. We’re talking about one of the best coaches of all-time, right?
  • As you can see, I have a bigger beef with the 2012 and 2013 rankings than the 2014 one.
  • Kingsbury has the potential to ascend the most of anyone on this list. I don’t know that the No. 8 spot is completely unfair, considering he’s only been a head coach one season. But if he can turn Texas Tech into a Big 12 contender on a quasi-regular basis, he could jump several spots.
  • This is obviously not an easy list to compile. How do you weigh what Briles has done the last five years against what Snyder has the last 25? It’s all a matter of subjectivity.
AUSTIN, Texas -- In his meeting with reporters Tuesday, Texas athletic director Steve Patterson addressed a wide range of topics on Longhorn and college athletics. His comments on Texas A&M got understandable attention (you can find those here), but Patterson was far more passionate when it came to the topic of the Northwestern labor lawsuit.

As a college administrator who’s also been a pro sports executive and general manager, Patterson has experience on both sides of the fence here on professionals vs. amateurs.

While Patterson does support the push to raise student-athlete compensation to full cost of attendance, that’s about as far as he’ll go. Patterson is not on board with the Northwestern football players’ attempt to unionize.

Here’s what Patterson had to say when asked if student-athletes should be considered employees:

“When you get into an NLRB process, the presumption is that the plaintiffs are employees and you have to overcome the assumption they are employees. I think it probably was some smart lawyering on the part of the plaintiff’s side, in the path they took and the way they classified it.
“The reality is, though, professional athletics is something completely different. And if you want to go play minor league baseball out of high school, on your way up to the majors, you can make that decision. You can go ride the bus from Biloxi to Beloit, and stay in the hotels that they stay in, and you cannot get an education and you can live on $12,000 a year, if you decide that’s a better existence and a better path to a long-term outcome for your career in baseball and after baseball.
“Even if the one percent of the student-athletes that go to the pros go there, their average career is four years. So they have a half a century, on average, after they’re done. And what are you going to do with that second half-century of their life? If you want to decide that’s a better life, then come to the University of Texas -- even if Augie [Garrido] might get on your tail a little occasionally. God bless you, go do it, knock yourself out.
“If you’re a football player coming out of high school that decides you want to go to the pros, go take your issue with Roger Goodell and the owners and the union. That’s your place to go if you want to go play professional football, if you want to be an employee.
“If you want to go play professional basketball, go to the D-League, knock yourself out. And then go in the draft to the NBA. That’s your place if you want to be an employee, if you want to be a professional.
“This is not your place. And this is a free country, you can make that choice all day long. Knock yourself out. This is student-athlete athletics.”


That stance seems to falls closely in line with what Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and other executives have offered on the topic of paying players.

For the record, Texas coach Charlie Strong said when he was hired in January that paying players is something to “look at” due to the large revenues of football, but also argued the value of a scholarship gets underappreciated.

“If we develop them the right way,” Strong said then, “their payday will be in the end, because they're going to have a chance to compete on the next level."

Texas signees anxious for big move

March, 31, 2014
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AUSTIN, Texas – Jerrod Heard has the date on his mind and on his calendar.

“June 3,” Heard said. “Then it’s showtime.”

The soon-to-be Texas quarterback was one of five Longhorns signees who returned to Austin to compete at the Texas Relays. It's one of his final visits before he makes the big move. It was a weekend off from a spring semester that can’t end soon enough. There are classes to complete and diplomas to collect, but the Texas campus is where they all want to be.

“It’s a teaser,” running back signee D’Onta Foreman said, “because we’re ready to graduate, ready to get up here and compete for a spot and be with our teammates and family for the next four years.”

[+] EnlargeJerrod Heard
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTexas signee Jerrod Heard worked out with quarterback guru George Whitfield on spring break.
It’s hard to appreciate in the heat of the annual January and February recruiting flurry, but the uncertainty of the coaching change couldn’t have been easy to navigate for Texas' commitments.

All five competing over the weekend -- Heard, Foreman, his twin brother Armanti Foreman, John Bonney and Donald Catalon -- committed to play for Mack Brown and watched that plan shatter in December. Charlie Strong rode in and inspired hope, but there was no way he could pick up all the pieces for these prospects in so little time.

Signing with Texas required patience, trust and, to some extent, a leap of faith. But they stuck with their pledges, and soon they’ll be back on the 40 Acres for good.

Heard is doing everything he can to prepare. He spent spring break in San Diego working with a handful of college quarterbacks with renowned quarterback coach George Whitfield.

The Denton Guyer star is dedicated to detail, and Whitfield is a pro at pointing out the little flaws. Heard is focused on improving his accuracy in any possible way, from how he holds the ball and bends his wrist to the balance in his legs.

“I think the smaller the things you can try to perfect, the more I can use my ability as a runner and thrower,” Heard said.

From an offensive standpoint, he’s comfortable with what’s coming next for Texas. At Guyer, he operated an offense that borrowed heavily from Oklahoma State’s concepts and playbook. That will make working under offensive coordinator Joe Wickline easier, and Heard likes the guru reputation that assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson brings.

As for how Strong is changing the Horns, Heard isn’t afraid of the head coach’s emphasis on discipline.

“That’s really going to mold us together. I’m all for it and really like it,” Heard said. “I think that’s why they’re starting out with the discipline, and I think that’s really going to change the team. We’re really going to shock a lot of people this year.”

Bonney has been able to witness the effects firsthand. By attending spring practice this month, the Houston Lamar safety received a clearer understanding of what it will be like to play for the new staff. One comment certainly got Bonney’s attention in his conversations with Strong.

“He says the defense is going to win the games this year for him,” Bonney said. “... That really struck a chord with me.”

Landing Bonney was a bit of a close call for Texas after he took official visits to Baylor and Auburn. Looking back, he said those trips were motivated by uncertainty. Watching defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and secondary coach Chris Vaughn in practice answered some of his biggest questions.

“They’re really cool,” Bonney said. “Coach Vaughn is more of a talker; he likes to coach you up that way, loves giving you visual things. Coach Bedford is so smart. It feels like he knows just about everything. I’ve been in meetings and his teaching film was real cool, real cerebral. You get the best of both worlds with those two.”

Bonney knows his best shot at playing in 2014 are on special teams and in nickel packages. Catalon doesn’t expect many carries as a backup to Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, but the Houston Eisenhower back does hope to help out.

For him, sticking with Texas wasn’t a tough call. New running backs coach Tommie Robinson recruited Catalon while at USC. That familiarity made all the difference in staying put, and Strong sealed the deal.

“I like Coach Strong. He wants to win and he’s about business,” Catalon said. “The players they already have are good. It’s not like we have to rebuild. We just have to get to know the coaches.”

Armanti and D'Onta Foreman made the Texas coaches sweat in January when they nearly took a visit to Missouri, but the Texas City brothers say now they would’ve ended up in burnt orange no matter what.

They have big dreams for 2014. Armanti wants to play receiver and also line up on defense in certain packages, and he’d like a shot at returning kicks. D’Onta wants to stick at running back but is open to any position if that doesn’t work out. They want to contribute from Day 1.

They got to ponder these dreams again on Friday while playing pool in the players’ lounge at Texas’ football facility. Like the rest of the signees back in town, they took a chance on a program they’d long loved and a coach they hardly knew.

But they saw what he did at Louisville, and they know what needs to be done at Texas.

“I feel like he can come here and help us be a great team like that,” Armanti Foreman said, “and hopefully even better.”
AUSTIN, Texas -- The head coach wants to see you in his office.

To Cedric Reed and his Texas teammates, those words are supposed to mean trouble. He was admittedly a bit uncomfortable when he showed up to the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletics Center this winter and got the message.

Charlie Strong simply wanted to hang out with his star defensive end.

“He was calling me, ‘Hey, get up here!’ That was unusual,” Reed said. “Never really did that before. We sat there and lounged around and watched film.”

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
AP Photo/Eric GayCharlie Strong put up the horns in his introductory news conference.
The locks are off the doors in the football offices. The doors are open. The new guy in charge is making changes and making an impression.

Strong is out to change the culture of the Longhorns. And it starts with the little stuff.

Like opening up the coaches’ office and making sure players know the staff always has time for them. Reed is now seeing four or five players hanging in the office at a time, joking around and talking ball with their new coaches.

This is Strong trying to break the ice and to start building some valuable bonds. He can’t ask a player to buy into everything he demands on the field if that player doesn’t trust him off the field.

“I’ve told the players that now, when you come up, you can just walk right in,” Strong said. “I just want them to know who we are. When a young man knows that you care about him, he’ll do everything you ask of him.”

And Strong is asking plenty of his players this spring in an effort to find out who can hang with his expectations. He’s out to remind this team what it means to be a Longhorn, and that’s where the offseaon motto comes from: “Put the ‘T’ back in Texas.”

The line was born, Strong says, from conversation with a recruit shortly after he took the job. Strong asked the question: When you think of Texas, what do you think of?

The prospect was, understandably, less than impressed by the program’s trajectory and recent reputation for underperforming.

That was one of the many reminders Strong needed to shake things up.

Some of the changes are easy to spot. Texas players now make the half-mile walk to and from the practice fields on foot -- no more getting bused around. And they’re not throwing up the horns with their hands, not just yet. Strong feels they haven’t earned that right.

“They’ll get it back one of these days,” he said.

Texas players wore new workout clothes this winter with the new standards listed on the back: Toughness. Trust. Togetherness. Team. That's another Strong idea, and one that he hoped the players would latch onto quickly.

He’s not out to be their motivational speaker. He’s telling them how things are going to be from now on if Texas plans to get back to its winning ways.

“The players understand that,” Strong said. “When I put that on the back of their shirts, (Dominic) Espinosa said, ‘Coach, that’s what we needed.’ They worked.”

And Strong is out to practice what he’s preaching, all the way down to running with the team during offseason conditioning and keeping up with them in the weight room. Reed was startled when he showed up for a 5:30 a.m. workout one day and saw Strong was already soaked from his own early-morning session. Reed sees the same commitment on the practice field, where Strong’s demands must be met.

“He’s real. He’s really real,” Reed said. “He won’t embarrass you in front of everybody, but he’ll come up to you and tell you exactly what he wants. It’s a motivational, ‘I’ll tell you want I want’ kind of thing.”

Whether it all pays off and creates the needed results, only time will tell. There will be roster attrition this offseason if players don’t want to put in the effort now expected of them. Two players have already been dismissed from the program and three more backups elected to end their careers (though two were due to injuries).

The changes won’t stop soon, because it’s going to take a lot more than open office doors and post-practice walks to get the Texas program back on track. As Strong proudly joked after his fourth spring practice: “The screw has been tightened from Day 1.”

Strong won’t talk badly about the Mack Brown era, and neither will Texas players. They don’t want to compare the old and new regimes -- different coaches, different styles.

And these are, indeed, very different days for Texas football.
It’s Take Two Tuesday again, when we give our takes on a burning question in the league.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of jumping up and challenging Big 12 favorites Baylor and Oklahoma for the conference crown?

Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas

Oklahoma and Baylor should both be considered top-10 squads in 2014, there’s no dispute about that. They’re in terrific shape going forward. But the way this league is set up, it’s hard to see either emerging undefeated by December.

The team best built to challenge them is Texas, at least on paper. Remember, for all its flaws in 2013, the Longhorns were two quarters away from winning the Big 12 despite major injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. They lose key pieces, but could come back better than expected.

That’s because there’s a new sheriff in town. Charlie Strong is dedicated to changing the mentality of this program and bringing back the toughness and accountability that went missing in recent years. He put together an impressive staff and brought in a revered strength coach. This program is undergoing big changes.

And there’s enough talent on board to sustain another run at a conference title. Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson will build an offense around the run game trio of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron, and there’s good depth at receiver and on the line. What Texas needs most is a full year from David Ash, but Max Wittek seems likely to become the insurance option there.

If Texas is going to challenge the league favorites, it’ll be with a defense that brings back leaders at all three levels (Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, Quandre Diggs) and is full of experienced talent. This is a unit that will line up a bunch of different ways and cause a lot of problems.

Revamping this Texas program will take time, but the Longhorns could have enough to make another run in 2014.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters was one of the nation's most effective quarterbacks during the second half of last season.
The Longhorns certainly have the talent and supporting cast to seriously compete for a Big 12 title. But until they find the answer at quarterback -- and I’m dubious they will in Strong’s first season – it’s hard to see them doing so.

The Kansas State Wildcats have no such issues. And they too have the surrounding cast to make a run at the Bears and Sooners for the league championship.

After struggling early, Jake Waters settled in at quarterback the last half of the season and cut talented playmaker Daniel Sams out of the rotation. From Oct. 26 on, Waters produced the 13th-best Adjusted QBR in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Info, while leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games (he threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns in the lone loss, too).

Besides Waters, K-State also boasts one of the top wide receivers in the nation in the uncoverable Tyler Lockett, who had the third-most receiving yards in college football during the same Oct. 26-on stretch.

On the other side, Bill Snyder replenished his defense with a trio of ESPN JC 50 signees in defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott and cornerback Danzel McDaniel, who should fill the slots in the lineup where the Wildcats have holes.

K-State will have to earn its way into the conference title chase, with road trips to both Baylor and Oklahoma. But K-State gets the Longhorns in the Little Apple, where it hasn’t lost to Texas since 2002.

The Wildcats also get defending national runner-up Auburn in Manhattan, Kan., earlier in September. If they topple the Tigers in that Thursday night clash, the rest of the Big 12 will quickly realize that K-State is a legitimate contender.
AUSTIN, Texas -- The blueprint of what Cedric Reed hopes to achieve in 2014 has already been laid out.

That’s because Jackson Jeffcoat did it all last fall: Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, All-Big 12, consensus All-American, Ted Hendricks Award, team MVP, team captain, soon-to-be NFL draft pick.

“Every time I looked up on Twitter,” Reed said, “he was winning a new award.”

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed is ready to grab the spotlight on Texas' defensive line.
And Reed couldn’t have been happier for his teammate and friend. He’d continued a proud tradition of elite defensive ends at Texas, following in the footsteps of the likes of Brian Orakpo, Alex Okafor, Sam Acho, Sergio Kindle and several other NFL ends.

Reed knows he’s next and that he’ll play under Texas-sized expectations in 2014. He chose to return for his senior season because he wants to go out and earn all those things his predecessors achieved.

“There were a lot of goals I set coming into college,” Reed said.

He showed the potential to be as good as any of those former Longhorn ends in his first season as a starter, with 79 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 16 QB pressures and a team-high five forced fumbles.

For most of the season, Reed was as good as Jeffcoat and sometimes better, with eight of his sacks coming in Big 12 play and typically at critical moments. And that was just the start.

The 6-foot-6 senior is bulking up beyond the nearly 260 pounds he played at last season and believes he’s prepared to take over where Jeffcoat left off. If this all goes as planned, Reed is about to become a national name.

But there is change, and lots of it, to face over the next few months. The most obvious: a new coaching staff and a new defense. New defensive line coach Chris Rumph has already made a big impression after one week of spring practice.

“His credibility comes from Alabama. He has a lot of guys in the league,” Reed said. “But I’m learning from him how to be a man, mostly. He’s got on me these last few days just about little stuff I can fix. It’s not stuff so much I can fix on the football field, but more of as a man that I can carry over to the football field.”

Playing for Rumph means learning a new language and terminology, but Reed says that hasn’t been a stumbling block so far. He’s happy to receive some next-level learning, especially when it comes to technique.

One week in, it’s already obvious to Reed how much this Longhorn program is about to change under Charlie Strong’s watch. That hit the players quickly during their first practice on Tuesday, when Strong and his staff turned the pace up a noticeable notch.

“After the first five periods, I think I was winded,” Reed said. “I was like, yeah, this is going to be different.”

Then there will be mastering the defense that Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford devise. The new head coach knows he’s working with some big-time talent up front as he plans a multiple defense that can roll out 4-3 or 3-4 looks.

“You look at those guys up front with Cedric and Malcom [Brown] and Tank [Jackson[ and [Shiro] Davis, you’ve got some guys you can move around and guys that are in place that are big-bodied guys,” Strong said. “But they’re also athletic enough that you can take your parts and move them around and put them where you need to.”

This is a defensive line Strong can build his scheme around, one he can trust to get pressure. He also needs to be able to trust Reed as a leader in the locker room.

That’s a role Reed is happily accepting. He’s played with enough vocal defenders that he said he got by on being quiet and simply putting in his work. He doesn’t want it to be that way anymore.

He’s speaking his mind now, telling teammates what they need to hear and getting on them for the little stuff. Reed says Rumph has been hinting at this lately. Texas’ defensive line needs starters who aren’t afraid to speak up.

“Guys look up to me more. You can tell,” Reed said. “It is a leadership role that you take as a senior, that you finally realize once you get on the field with all the guys that they give you the pathway to go first and stuff like that. I feel like I am a lot stronger, I am a lot faster, I put on some weight -- a lot of us put on a lot of weight -- and I feel like I know the game a lot more.”

He can thank Jeffcoat and all his predecessors for setting the example. The former Texas defensive end likes to tell Reed: “You’ve got to do better than me.” This fall, Reed plans to prove it.
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong finally put an end to all the confusion on Tuesday. Or did he?

The great question is who exactly is responsible for calling the offensive plays at Texas, a topic that seemed fairly cut and dried when Strong first addressed it on Jan. 15, following the hiring of his staff.

"Joe Wickline will call plays on offense," Strong said then. "He’s the offensive coordinator; he will call plays.”

[+] EnlargeShawn Watson
John S. Peterson/Icon SMIShawn Watson, shown at Nebraska in 2010, is the assistant head coach of the Texas offense and will be in charge of play calling, though he won't necessarily be the playcaller.
Wickline is indeed the offensive coordinator after nine years of coaching the offensive line at Oklahoma State. Shawn Watson was hired as the assistant head coach of the offense and quarterbacks coach after serving as Strong's offensive coordinator and playcaller at Louisville, and Strong insisted in January that Watson will be heavily involved in influencing the Longhorns offense.

This seemed like a simple plan at the time, but then a different message started to spread.

Earlier this month, Strong told CBS' Jeremy Fowler that Watson is "gonna be in charge" of play calling and will run the game planning and organization of the offense.

This came just days after Wickline and Watson each met with Texas reporters for the first time and explained that their efforts to oversee the Longhorns offense would be a collaboration. (Wickline discussed his relationship with Watson in this Q&A.) And Strong's quotes to CBS led to a Texas spokesperson confirming to multiple outlets that, yes, Wickline was still expected to call plays on game day.

There are some off-the-field aspects of this story, too. Watson will be paid more than Wickline. And as the Austin American-Statesman reported in January, language in Wickline's contract at Oklahoma State demanded that Texas would have to pay OSU a sum of $600,000 if Wickline wasn't named "offensive coordinator (with play-calling duties)."

So, what's going on here? Strong was given a chance to clarify Tuesday after his first spring practice.

"The one final voice will be Shawn," Strong said. "Joe is the offensive coordinator. Shawn is the assistant head coach in charge of the offense. Two guys work together."

Strong went on to explain that such a split is, in his experience, not uncommon. He was co-defensive coordinator with Greg Mattison for three years at Florida, from 2005 to 2007, and they both made calls. Sometimes those calls were overruled by Urban Meyer. They all made it work. He believes his offensive coaches can handle this.

"When you talk about play-calling duties, they're mature enough. They've been around it enough. Neither one has an ego," Strong said. "Wickline is going to be involved in it. He's going to make some calls. Shawn is going to make some calls. When we go down the stretch and we have to have a call made, I think Shawn, because he's been doing it for a long time and I'm comfortable with him.

"I don't think it will ever be an issue because those two guys have been around too long for the egos. I'm not going to put up with it and they know that. We're not here for ourselves; we're here for these players. And if you have an ego, you're working at the wrong place. Check your ego at the door and let's get going around here. We're here to win and get these young men graduated."

So there's your answer. Watson has final say. Both coaches will contribute play calls. It might sound like a convoluted plan, but that's the plan.

It's not that Strong is attempting to play a shell game and fool everybody. More likely, he's just working with two coaches he knows and trusts and is trying to give both the responsibilities they want.

This may be causing consternation with the fan base, but that doesn't seem to be the case internally. Wickline and Watson publicly act comfortable and confident when talking about their respective roles and about this collaboration process.

Of course, this scheme also threatens to cause issues in the moments when Wickline and Watson have conflicting views on what needs to happen. Wickline acknowledged this month that you never really know how a staff will work together until you hit the season, run into problems and must fix them. That's when Texas truly needs to know who its offensive "voice" is, and that title belongs to Watson.

Right now, all Watson and Wickline care about is getting this Texas offense assembled and up to speed. They'll continue to collaborate and cooperate. That's Strong's story, and he's sticking to it.

Q&A: Texas OC Joe Wickline

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
10:00
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After developing a reputation as one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches in nine years at Oklahoma State, Joe Wickline decided the timing was finally right to make the big move.

[+] EnlargeJoe Wickline
Max OlsonJoe Wickline, who spent nine years at Oklahoma State, has known Texas coach Charlie Strong since they were graduate assistants at Florida in 1983.
He had the opportunity before, after the 2010 season, when Mack Brown approached him about the offensive line job. Wickline decided to stay put. But teaming up with Charlie Strong, a coach he has known for 30 years since their days as graduate assistants at Florida, was too tempting to turn down.

Earlier this month, the new Texas offensive coordinator discussed his decision to leave Oklahoma State and his growing relationship with UT assistant head coach Shawn Watson.

What did it feel like to make that switch from Oklahoma State to Texas?

Wickline: Well, it’s been an interesting ride. The big thing, more than anything, is you’re at one place for nine years. When you’re there, you’re kind of just riding and rolling, and it was a good ride. But then, boom, things transition and you move here and it’s new faces, new people, new players, a new system. The biggest thing is just learning new people and new faces.

Is it a weird feeling when you might build up animosity toward a program like this one, and then you make that move?

Wickline: It may be for a lot of people, maybe I should say it is. But I would probably like to say it’s part of the game. We’re all doing the same thing, whether it’s Baylor University or whether it’s Oklahoma State or Texas Tech. It’s another game.

Why was this the right time to come to Texas?

Wickline: Well, the first thing is that Coach Strong and me go way back, and I believe in Charlie Strong. We started this thing together in ’83 together at the University of Florida, we’ve been against each other on different sidelines, we’ve been back on the same staff together 10 or so years ago, back and separated again. Back together again. Just the relationship with Charlie and our relationship and how long we’ve been together and what we stand for is probably the first thing.

And the next thing is it’s the University of Texas. You can say whether you want, there’s not a better school in the United States for football and for academics, the environment and what it can do for the student-athlete and the places we can go at Texas.

Was it at all a difficult decision to take this job?

Wickline: No, it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love Stillwater and I love the people of Oklahoma and I gained a lot from being there and I’m very fortunate to have to have gone there. I tell you what, they did a nice job. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it hadn’t been for the people there, [athletic director] Mike Holder and [head coach] Mike Gundy and the staff members there. But my son was graduating in June and he actually signed a scholarship with Texas-San Antonio. And my daughter loves horses and my wife loves horses, and there are places to ride around here. As long as they’re happy, we’ll be all right.

How would you describe the dynamic you have with Shawn Watson in running this offense?

Wickline: It’s been special. You don’t really know where it’s at until you go through a battle, until you’ve been through a year and you’ve had a bunch of bad things happen and some good things, and there’s ideas and views and opinions. But as far as the relationship, the good thing is we all come from excellent backgrounds. I can tell you right now that every guy in that room -- Bruce Chambers, Tommie Robinson, Shawn Watson, Les Koenning myself -- are unbelievably qualified not only at their positions but as offensive coaches.

It’s been a lot of fun, actually, because you’re hearing new ideas, seeing how people did things. When you get with one area for a long time and you hear the same thing, it’s refreshing to get back and hear other ideas and concepts as a group.

How is your relationship with Watson coming along so far?

Wickline: The best thing about Shawn is he’s an unbelievably intelligent guy, he knows what he wants to do, he’s organized. I mean, he’s got a good feel for where he’s at with the quarterback play, offensive football. It’s a good situation for us. And secondly, it’s good to work with a guy who doesn’t have a giant ego and doesn’t need to prove to anybody ‘I’m this’ or ‘I’m that.’ He understands where we’re all at and this is my job and this is your job. It’s been a blast and I love it.
The facilities race continues.

Earlier this week, Texas announced its plan to explore the possibility of expanding Darrell K Royal Stadium with renovations of the south end zone. The school will study the feasibility of completing the south end zone with a focus on “revenue generation,” according to a UT release.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State - Texas
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesTexas will study a possible expansion of Darrell K Royal Stadium that would make it the largest stadium by capacity in college football.
The school’s release comes at the same time as Texas A&M’s renovation of Kyle Field this spring, taking the rival Aggies’ stadium to a capacity of 102,000, surpassing DKR’s capacity of 100,119. The Aggies' move to the SEC and on-field success with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel has already made major waves in the state of Texas and across the college football landscape, and has given coach Kevin Sumlin plenty of weapons in his arsenal on the recruiting trail as the Aggies battle for the state’s elite talents. The Kyle Field expansion adds another weapon to that arsenal.

Any planned expansion of DKR is in preliminary stages, with funds needing to be raised, a budget finalized and a construction timeline cemented it can become reality. But if the south end zone renovation eventually comes to fruition, it could push the overall capacity of DKR above 115,000, surpassing Michigan Stadium to make it the largest college football stadium in the nation.

Surely you didn’t expect UT to sit back and watch Texas A&M grab the bragging rights of having the largest football stadium in Texas without a response?

At an initial glance, it might look like pride is dictating the school's decision-making. But a stadium upgrade would help ensure new coach Charlie Strong isn’t left behind when he hits the recruiting trail. And quality recruiting builds the foundation of success in college football.

Strong and Texas already have recruiting advantages galore as college football’s most profitable and richest program, but UT’s desire to pursue as many advantages as possible and expand its home stadium should pay off, both in the program’s bottom line and on the recruiting trail.
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Five miles on Monday. Six miles on Tuesday. Then five, six and five to finish out the week.

This is the routine, the ritual, by which Charlie Strong abides: The daily morning jog. He wakes up around 4:30 a.m., laces up his sneakers and hits the pavement.

“I’ve got my route here,” he said. “There’s some really good routes around here.”

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesCharlie Strong is getting a fresh start at Texas, but his routine hasn't changed.
Strong likes starting his day with some sweat, and a tradition that holds more importance than simple exercise. This is his little way of managing the hectic demands of being the head coach. This is his escape.

“That’s just a way to get my time for myself. I think you need to have time for yourself,” Strong said. “I don’t like to run with anyone. I’m not gonna run with anyone. I don’t want to talk. I just want to run and just let your mind kind of wander, let it go.”

On the chaotic mornings and the calm ones, the new leader of the Longhorns gets away from it all. He’d been doing this for years, embracing the calm before the new day’s storm.

“It’s just a sense of relief, you know, because you’re able to do your thinking and put your day together as you go on,” he said. “And not only do you think about that, you think about everything else, too.”

And that’s how he’ll continue to start his day as Strong continues to work toward giving Texas football the fresh start it desperately needed.

To appreciate the challenges Strong will face in his first year in burnt orange, understand that the first few honeymoon months haven’t exactly been a cakewalk.

Strong had 10 days to assemble his coaching staff. One day after his assistants were all on board, they hit the road to save and salvage the 2014 recruiting class they’d inherited.

“We just tried to keep the class together,” he said. “I know a couple might’ve slipped away from us, but just getting around to the different high schools for two weeks, I went non-stop.”

Strong hit Dallas, Abilene, East Texas, Houston, Beaumont, New Orleans and everything in between, racing to meet as many commits as possible and sway a few more to join him in Austin. There was no break after that class signed. Texas had to piece together its plans for the next batch of recruits and host two junior-day events in the weeks that followed.

One month after agreeing to leave Louisville for the bright lights and big opportunities of Texas, Strong was still living out of an on-campus hotel room and spending many of his days in rental cars and planes.

When he was in town, he joked that he’d spend most of his time in a staff conference room. No time to decorate the new office.

This week provided one of his few chances to exhale. Texas begins spring practices on March 18, and the grind to get there hasn’t let up. This is a day-by-day process, so you can see why he cares about starting those days off right.

Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford witnessed another daily routine during his years of coaching with Strong at Louisville.

“Charlie, every morning at 7 a.m., would call his two daughters and make sure they were up and ready to go to school,” Bedford said. “To me, that’s saying a whole lot about who he was as a man. He treats the players the same way. I can’t say that about a lot of guys I’ve worked for. He has that same attitude on the football field -- he’s going to coach them hard, but he cares about them as young men first.”

Getting Longhorns players prepared for their fresh start is just the first of Strong’s many challenges in 2014. The transformation is already underway, led by new strength coach Pat Moorer -- another Louisville import -- whose offseason training program is said to be infamously painful.

Meanwhile, Strong’s staff has spent weeks putting together their playbook. Plenty still needs to be sorted out in spring ball, most notably the decision on whether a 3-4 or a 4-3 base defense best suits the Texas talent they’ve inherited.

And there are holes to fill in the lineup, of course, with three longtime starters on the offensive line, a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-America kicker/punter all gone.

At quarterback, David Ash missed 10 games with concussion issues and won’t take any hits in spring practice. He’ll need to learn the new scheme and get back to playing his best football quickly, or else landing USC transfer Max Wittek this spring is a must.

But that’s the easy stuff, the in-house issues that Strong has 15 spring practices and a long summer to address. What should consume just as much of his time is figuring out how to slow down Texas A&M in recruiting and Baylor, Oklahoma and the rest of the Big 12 on the field.

Again, this is just half the job. Strong has to find his comfort zone when it comes to the public demands of his new gig. Mack Brown played the politician better than anyone. That’s not exactly the game Strong wants to play.

He says a misconception exists that he doesn’t like dealing with media. Truth is, he doesn’t mind it. Strong’s first few news conferences have exceeded expectations. Still, managing expectations in Year 1 -- with fans, boosters and anyone else bleeding orange -- will get challenging as the year goes on. He’s well aware of that.

“I always say this: We’re like a political office,” Strong said. “You’re open to public scrutiny. Everybody’s got an answer about your job. Everybody can coach. I’m good with it. I’ll give ‘em a lesson if they need it, come on over here.”

Stack up all those demands, and it’s easy to see the pressure, though Strong said last month he isn’t sensing it yet. After all, he did sign up for all of this.

“I don’t think about it. If you prepare the right way, and preparation is the key, then it relieves all pressure,” he said. “That’s the key. You have to be prepared. You can’t just bounce out there with no agenda, no vision, not knowing what you want to go do.

“Why change? Keep doing what you’re doing. Just be yourself and keep doing what you were doing.”

Times like these require staying grounded. That’s where the daily routines help most. The job isn’t easy, but Strong is ready to build Texas back up one day -- and one run -- at a time.

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Defensive Backs Coach & Special Teams Coordinator Chris Vaughn wired during 2014 spring practice.Tags: Texas Longhorns, All Access, Longhorn Network, Chris Vaughn, NCAA Football
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