It has been eight months since Tom Herman, the latest “savior” for University of Texas football, took over as head coach on the 40 acres. Herman succeeds Charlie Strong, who labored for three seasons at UT, but was unable to bring the once proud program back to respectability.
Unlike Strong, who inherited an empty cupboard when he took over from Mack Brown, Herman assumes a program that is laced with blue chip talent. The expectation is that Herman, former University of Houston coach, needs to hit the ground running.
“Since the first team meeting that we had, which was a difficult one and pretty direct one, our guys have bought in,” Herman said. “I’ve said before that the buy-in level has been extremely high from the number of players that I think really, truly believe in what we’re preaching, that believe in our way of doing things.
“Now the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute –to-minute execution of that belief and of that buy-in is still something that we’re learning how to do, especially when things get very difficult and you’re faced with adverse situations. The belief is there and that’s the first step,” Herman said.
“These guys are willing to do whatever we ask them to, coming off the three-year stretch that this program has had. They don’t want that to be their legacy. They want to be remembered as the team and group that turned this thing around. I think we’re well on our way.”
How quickly Herman and company will have success will be up to the continued development of sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele. He had one of the best freshman seasons in school history by a quarterback, and arguably the best by a true freshman ever. He passed for a UT freshman-record 2,958 yards and finished second, behind only Colt McCoy (2006), with 21 touchdown passes. The Horns have not had a decent QB since McCoy.
The Longhorn backfield lost a 2,000-yard rusher in D’Onta Foreman, but the backfield will still be loaded with talent. Expect Chris Warren (junior), Kyle Porter (sophomore), Toneil Carter (freshman) and Daniel Young (freshman) to lead a talented unit of ball carriers. Porter played high school football at Katy, and was an All-American, all-state and three-time all-district honoree.
Experience will be a key word to describe the Texas receiver corps. Jerrod Heard (junior), Collin Johnson (sophomore) and Devin Duvernay (sophomore) all return from 2016 and have as much talent as anyone in the nation. The tight end position is inexperienced. Expect Syracuse transfer Kendall Moore to ultimately be the guy at that position.
Buechele and his weapons should have time and space to perform with an offensive line that features four returning starters, including All-American Connor Williams.
Defensively, first-year defensive coordinator Todd Orlando loves to blitz and play aggressively has a lot of talent.
The defensive line could be the strength of the entire Longhorn team. Poona Ford (senior), Chris Nelson (junior), Charles Omenihu (junior), Malcom Roach (sophomore) and D’Andre Christmas (sophomore) in rotation have the ability to be dominant.
The linebacker group is loaded with playmakers. Malik Jefferson (junior) is a Butkus Award candidate. Breckyn Hager (junior), Anthony Wheeler (junior), Erick Fowler (sophomore) Jeffrey McCulloch (sophomore) and Naashon Hughes (senior) should all excel under the Orlando scheme.
The secondary is talented, but is somewhat inexperienced and has not always played up to its athletic potential. That can be disastrous in the pass-happy Big 12. DeShon Elliott (junior) and Brandon Jones (sophomore) are impressive at both safety positions.
John Bonney (junior) is being groomed to play safety and corner to take advantage of his experience and ability. At the corners expect Kris Boyd (junior), Davante Davis (junior), Holton Hill (junior), Eric Cuffee (RS freshman) and Chris Brown (RS freshman) to all compete for playing time.