By Steve Lansdale
The Texas Longhorns enter the 2015 season intent upon improvement, an effort that starts with a flip to the positive side of the .500 mark after finishing 2014 with a record of 2014.
Before the ’Horns can make that jump, however, they must replace last year’s seniors, five of whom were chosen in the NFL Draft. That overhaul, according to senior cornerback Duke Thomas, is not a cause for huge concern, because of the improvement he has seen from younger teammates.
“I really feel like, every year, seniors are going to leave the team, and I feel like right now, we have a lot of guys ready to step up” Thomas said. “(During the) offseason, I saw a lot of potential, a lot of guys ready to go.”
Every season, freshmen are scrutinized on teams across the country as speculation begins about which first-year players will be able to contribute. That is the case at Texas, where Thomas said the older players have taken their younger teammates under their wings, but the freshmen also have shown that they are eager to learn and working hard to improve.
“I know, from the seniors, we have done a great job, really mentoring the guys, letting them know how the defense is already run,” Thomas said. “The freshman class (is) really out there, really trying to get it. They really love ball, they’re always prepared to ask questions, and they’re going 110 percent.”
The headliner among the UT freshmen is Malik Jefferson, the heralded linebacker who enrolled in January. Thomas said he Jefferson’s ability is obvious, but shied away from putting too much pressure — or too much praise — on his young teammate.
“He’s a great player, a great competitor, very eager to learn — just like the rest of the guys in his class,” Thomas said.
Thomas is impressed by the progress the UT defense has made since last season, but showed equal (at least) optimism about the other side of the ball, where he said an offense that was outgained in 2014 on the scoreboard (Texas was outscored by an average of 23.8-21.4 points per game last year) and in the stat book (opponents outgained the Longhorns by an average of 348.5-337.3 yards per game). In addition to the normal maturation of the returning players, Thomas said the coaches seem inclined to be more aggressive this season with the plays they are calling.
“I know right now they’re testing us more,” Thomas said of the offense, “going downfield and stretching the defense. It’s a sight to see.”