Texas Longhorns CJ Baxter during practice field at DKR stadium on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. © Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK
Saturday is the annual Orange-White Texas Spring Game. It is used to showcase not just the starters but many of the young players to see how they have progressed over the winter and how the early enrollee freshmen are adjusting to college. Fans always look forward to the spring game as they haven’t watched their team in over three months and need a football fix.
There are things you can take away from this game even though it’s an inter-team scrimmage. Texas has enough depth and talent on both sides now that if someone is performing well against their own teammates, it’s not just because there is a lack of talent. That has been the case before and then the season comes and fans wonder why the pass rusher who dominated spring ends the season with three sacks.
Here are three things for Texas fans to watch for on Saturday.
Quinn Ewers Sophomore Improvement
Ewers had an up and down first season in Austin, which was to be expected. It was his first year playing football since his junior year of high school in 2020. Ewers had his good moments and bad moments like any young QB. Prior to his injury he had Nick Saban searching for answers and was dicing up the Alabama defense. Ewers struggled some after his return from injury but finished the season strong in the Alamo Bowl loss against Washington.
There have been a lot of reports in the spring that Ewers has matured on and off the field. He showed that by cutting the legendary mullet and losing a few pounds. Sark has even mentioned Ewers having a better diet and being more locked-in on the playbook. That is great to hear for Texas fans as Ewers taking another step in development is the quickest and easiest path to success for the Longhorns.
Which EDGE Rusher Emerges Next to Barryn Sorrell?
Junior EDGE Barryn Sorrell emerged as the top pass rusher for Texas in 2022. Sorrell led the team with 5.5 sacks, which isn’t a lot, but when the team only has 27 sacks it is. Sorrell showed signs as a freshman but started to show consistent signs as a sophomore. His breakout game was against TCU where he had 1.5 sacks and 11 tackles. Sorrell was unblockable against a playoff team which is nothing to slouch at.
The glaring issue is the player with second most returning sacks was LB Jaylan Ford with 2.0. Ford is an All American type of linebacker but he isn’t much of a pass rusher. That will need to come from redshirt freshman Ethan Burke, sophomore Justice Finkley or a freshman such as Colton Vasek. Burke has received praise this spring and looks to be in the lead to start at EDGE opposite Sorrell. Burke is big long defender with great athleticism as he was offered to play lacrosse in college as well. Burke very well may be the EDGE Texas has been searching for but only time will tell. Seeing him line up against freshman All American Kelvin Banks Saturday should give Burke quite the test.
Who Will Replace Bijan and Roschon?
Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson were without question the engine for the 2022 Texas Longhorns and the best 1-2 rushing tandem in the country. They leave some big shoes to fill behind them. Ewers' development should help fill those shoes to an extent by not needing to rely on the rushing attack as much. There is no shortage of talent for RB Coach Tashard Choice to work with.
Redshirt Sophomore Jonathan Brooks is the leading candidate to be the lead back. Brooks has done nothing but produce when given the opportunity. In 2021 during limited action Brooks averaged 6.8 YPC and in 2022 he saw a few more carries averaging 6.6 YPC. The most game action Brooks has received was in 2022 vs Kansas. Brooks had 11 carries for 108 yards and 2 TD’s. That included a 70 yard TD. Brooks isn’t Bijan but he can be a quality back, no doubt about it. Behind Brooks is 5 star Freshman Cedric Baxter who was the #1 RB in the 2023 class. Baxter is supremely talented and will look even better physically after a full summer in the strength and conditioning program. Baxter should get a heavy work load in the spring game and it will be interesting to see what he looks like in live action.
Behind those two are redshirt junior Kelian Robinson, Sophomore Jaydon Blue & Sophomore Savion Red. Robinson has been dealing with a groin injury and won’t play in the Orange-White game. Blue and Red should get a lot of reps on Saturday. Blue has great hands for a RB and has some speed as well. Where Blue has struggled is running between the tackles and that is something to look for on Saturday to see if he’s improved in that area. Red is one of the more interesting players on the Longhorn roster. He was a great athlete in high school playing any position he was asked to play. He started his career at WR but has since been moved to running back. Red is someone that always brings the physicality and has received high praise since he has moved positions. He has great hands and brings some juice to the game. He should get a lot of action on Saturday.