By Steve Habel, Senior Contributing Writer
AUSTIN, Texas — Sophomore Sam Ehlinger has done enough over the spring and preseason workouts to garner the nod as Texas’ starting quarterback for its season opener against Maryland Sept. 1. Heading into the opener, there are plenty of other spots on the team still up for grabs.
Texas coach Tom Herman met with the assembled media Monday at Denius Fields after the Longhorns’ shorts-and-shells workout.
It’s the dog days of camp but the players continue to push through the heat and work well, and the Texas head coach said he is excited about what he has seen over the past two-plus weeks, and where is team is heading.
Herman confirmed that Ehlinger will take the first snap for the Longhorns when they open the season against Maryland at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., because of his improvement and not necessarily anything junior Shane Buechele, who started half of Texas’ games in 2017, has or has not done.
“Sam took the bulk of the reps with the ones (in UT's scrimmage Saturday), and Shane took most of them with the twos,” Herman said. “Barring any catastrophe between now and the Maryland game that’s how it will be. Sam is throwing the ball better and sitting in the pocket much more comfortably (than last year)."
Herman honed in on the difficult decision to pick his starter for the first game.
“Let’s make no mistake: Shane had a great camp, he didn’t do anything wrong,” Herman added. “It’s just a matter of who do we feel gives us the best chance to win the opening game. Now we will see if we are right.”
Especially considering how the defense was dominating play at this time last year, Herman lauded the overall play, and the steps made, by his offense in camp this preseason.
“We scored touchdowns against our No. 1 defense, which were few and far between here last year here,” Herman said. “We still gave up some negative plays, which will happen against our style of defense. The reason the offense won the scrimmage is that they had zero turnovers and one offensive penalty in 100 and something plays. You have a chance when you don’t beat yourselves.”
Settling some other spots
Running the ball consistently has been a big focus heading into the season, yet there is no frontrunner for the lead running back spot as of now.
“We are not going to play just one running back the entire game — that’s not good business,” Herman said. “There’s Danny (Young), Tre Watson and Keaontay Ingram, and right behind them is Kyle Porter and Toneil Carter and behind them is Kirk Johnson and Tristan Houston.
“I don’t know if that’s a pecking order but in term of the amount of reps that guys get in practice the percentages reflect that.”
On the offensive line graduate transfer Calvin Anderson is running with the first team at left tackle with Denzel Okafor as his backup, according to Herman. Derek Kerstetter and Samuel Cosmi are still battling for the starting right tackle spot.
Defensively, Davante Davis will start opposite Kris Boyd at cornerback, and freshman Caden Sterns will start alongside Brandon Jones at safety.
In other news from Monday:
The Longhorns came in ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press’ preseason poll released Monday. Not surprisingly, Alabama was No. 1 with Clemson second and Georgia third. The Big 12 has three other teams joining Texas in the top 25: No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 16 TCU and No. 17 West Virginia.
Texas started working Monday on the game plan for Maryland with about 20 minutes of scout work.
“Maryland will put a team on the field with a lot of guys that came in here and beat us last year,” Herman said. “We know what kind of football team they are and know what kinds of players they are.”
The Longhorns will not practice again until Wednesday afternoon practices in advance of next week when classes begin.
“The players have over 50 hours until they have to be on this field again,” Herman said. “That will give them some great recovery time and allow them to get their bodies really fresh so that they can attack the game plan for the opening game.”
Herman said his staff will use the NCAA’s new redshirt rule — players can participate in four games and still keep that year of eligibility up to four seasons of play in five years — to allow Texas’ young players to get into action just to better understand the speed of the game.
“Get the guys you want to redshirt some reps in games,” Herman said. “We have always worked to hold those guys unless you desperately need them you want to save them for when other guys get banged up at the end of the year. So it will be a change.”
Herman said no one has separated himself as the team’s starting kicker. Incumbent Joshua Rowland and freshman Cameron Dicker are thought to be the front runners.
“We’ll give it through this week to figure that out,” Herman said.