Smith injury headlines Longhorns’ first spring practice

Carter Yates

Spring football practice marks the first time since Dec. 29 that Texas has strapped on its pads, and it didn’t take long for the Longhorns to be struck with a major injury.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian said in a Tuesday press conference that sophomore wide receiver Jake Smith exited Texas’s practice early with what is believed to be a broken foot. Smith caught 23 balls for 294 yards in seven games during the 2020 season, and he was expected to compete for the starting spot at slot wide receiver this spring. Now, redshirt freshman Jordan Whittington and freshman Kelvontay Dixon will receive the majority of reps at the slot position.

Smith’s timetable for recovery is yet to be determined, Sarkisian said.

While Sarkisian said he was satisfied with the team’s intent to work, there were predictable growing pains as they adjusted to a new practice schedule.

“We had some breakdowns late in practice that we weren’t having early on,” Sarkisian said. “That just tells me we were a little bit fatigued, and the fatigue got the better of us mentally.”

However, several players have already caught Sarkisian’s attention after the first day of spring practice. Offensively, Sarkisian mentioned that the running back duo of freshman Bijan Robinson and sophomore Roschon Johnson stood out for their versatility. Whittington also stood out in the slot. 

Defensively, the first-year Texas head coach was quick to highlight junior nickelback Anthony Cook and redshirt junior cornerback Josh Thompson for their athleticism in the secondary. Thompson started at the position last fall, but Cook is yet to make the impact many expected from the former four-star recruit. 

“Our team speed, it appeared to be good (in the first practice),” Sarkisian said. “We’re a pretty athletic team when you look at the secondary, when you look at the wide receiver position, when you look at the running back position.”

That athleticism plays directly into what new defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski wants to implement. In intersquad drill sessions, there were many times where the defense caused the offense to falter.

“We’re a very aggressive-style defense; we’re a penetrating defense up front,” Sarkisian said. “We like to keep our eyes on the quarterback to create turnovers, and that definitely showed up today. I think we had a few interceptions with people getting underneath routes.” 

However, Sarkisian would not indulge which of the two potential starting quarterbacks, sophomore Casey Thompson or freshman Hudson Card, was getting the majority of first team reps. Sarkisian said that the pair split time with the first team. He plans on keeping it that way for the majority of spring practice.

Much like the ongoing battle for the quarterback position, spring practice is meant to separate the future starters from the rest of the pack through organized competition. But on day one of spring practice, Sarkisian said he was pleased with his coaches and players.

“(In) spring practice, there’s a lot of working against one another but also working with one another,” Sarkisian said. “It takes a lot to work well together from an offensive and a defensive standpoint, and I thought today was a really good day.”