Freshmen push into Longhorns’ lineup
Published 12:49 am Tuesday, September 1, 2015
AUSTIN (AP) — Charlie Strong lived up to his word: If a Texas freshman could beat out a veteran in training camp, they would earn a starting spot.
Now it’s up to them to deliver on the promise of their talent when the Longhorns open the season Saturday night at No. 11 Notre Dame.
Strong revealed a depth chart Monday with six freshmen starters and 23 more throughout the two- and three-deep position listings. Even in spots occupied by upper classmen, the top backup is a freshman at eight positions.
“They’ve earned that right,” Strong said. “We’ve coached them up, now just play hard.”
The lineup was ripe for the picking for a heralded group of newcomers. The Longhorns went 6-7 last year and were blown out in the last two games against TCU and Arkansas. Afterward, Strong promised that even if a freshman and upperclassmen played to a virtual tie for a starting spot, the freshman would get the nod.
All of this leaves Texas with little experience at offensive line, linebacker and in the secondary.
The offensive line will start freshmen tackle Connor Williams and guard Patrick Vahe, who beat out senior and junior players, respectively. Senior center Taylor Doyle said both are ready.
“It’s tough with true freshmen because they don’t have the size and strength yet,” Doyle said “But those guys came in and they were strong and ready to play. They’ve been impressive since the day they stepped on campus.”
Texas struggled badly on the offensive line with injuries, suspensions and inexperience last season. And Strong is sure Notre Dame will try to attack it as a weak spot again.
“As a defensive coach, if I see two freshmen, I’m going to blitz you every snap,” Strong said.
Freshmen will anchor the backside of the defense. Malik Jefferson, the prize-recruit of the 2015 class, will start at middle linebacker next to Edwin Freeman. John Bonney starts at cornerback.
All that inexperience will hit the field for the first time in a prime-time game on national television against one of college football’s most revered programs. Strong said it will be time for his young players to grow up.
“When you’re at the University of Texas, this is what you sign on for,” Strong said.
One key position where Strong went with the veteran was quarterback. Junior Tyrone Swoopes remains the starter as an expected push from redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard never happened through the spring and preseason training camp.
Strong said Heard will play against Notre Dame but said it’s been obvious to the coaching staff for several weeks that Swoopes would start.
“I wanted to get better and compete with myself,” Swoopes said. “The coaches and everybody has seen the work I put in.”