AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the first game of the season nears for the Texas Longhorns, the depth chart is beginning to come into focus but head coach Steve Sarkisian said the team’s mock game Saturday will go a long way in defining roles early in the season.
During Monday’s press conference after practice, Sarkisian said he wants to have at least a 2-deep chart solidified by the end of the week but still wants the players to “continue to compete.”
MORE THAN THE SCORE: Stay up to date on sports stories like these, and sign up for our More than the Score sports newsletter at kxan.com/newsletters
“To be fair to them, they need to know who is the first unit, second unit and who’s the backup in all three phases,” Sarkisian said, “so if a guy goes down, a shoe comes off, a helmet pops off, the next guy needs to know. We need to continue to compete and find the right combination of people.”
He reiterated that just because there will be a depth chart created doesn’t mean that’s all who will play. When the Longhorns take on the Rice Owls on Sept. 2 at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, the opening kick is at 2:30 p.m. — typically close to being the hottest part of the day. It’s been in the triple digits in the Austin area for the past 45 days, and it might not cool down by the beginning of September. Everyone needs to be ready to play, and Sarkisian said he’s confident in the depth of the team to do that.
“You know, 12 days from now we’re playing at 2:30, so to think those same 22 guys are going to play every snap isn’t realistic,” he said. “We’ve got to find those combinations, whether it’s safety rotation or corners or linebackers or receivers, runners, to make sure we’re getting a nice blend of rotating those players so we’re strong for four quarters.”
Along with being able to rotate players and not lose effectiveness comes staying healthy. It’s easier and more convenient to switch players because you want to rather than you have to, and Sarkisian said the strength and conditioning coaches and trainers have done a nice job making sure the players are good to go.
“It’s a credit to them to get the player back close to 100% from a recovery standpoint,” Sarkisian said. “When guys were getting nicked up, getting them back on the field has been a real positive for us.”
What makes it even more impressive in Sarkisian’s eyes is that the team has had more physical practice during this training camp than in years past, meaning they’ve done more tackling and that “he feels comfortable,” with how the players have responded to it.
“We want to populate the football and get the ball off of people to create more turnovers,” he said. “I think we’ve tackled well and we tackled more early in training camp than we have historically.”
Sarkisian said Malik Muhammad, a freshman defensive back from DeSoto, has been impressive with his tackling in the two scrimmages and throughout training camp. He said transfer Jalen Catalon has been great at bringing down ball carriers as well.
“When we recruited (Muhammad), I don’t know if we thought that was going to be one of his strengths,” Sarkisian said. “He’s had two good scrimmages from a tackling perspective. Jalen has brought an attitude about him, some physicality and intensity that has kind of set the tone.”