Texas' spring practice commitment to improving the running game has almost become an annual tradition in Austin. This time, though, it's come with a move under center, a departure from the wide-open spread offense Texas had employed with Colt McCoy at quarterback.
Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis told reporters on Monday that meant the zone read that helped McCoy rush for over 1,419 yards over the past three seasons will be less prevalent in the Longhorns' offense. McCoy carried the ball over 100 times in each of his final three seasons, but with Garrett Gilbert stepping under center, those carries will be distributed back to the running backs.
"Anytime you do something a little bit different, it is exciting for them," Davis said. "I think that the backs and the line realized that we set everything up the past couple years for Colt to win the ballgame throwing the football."
Davis insisted the move wasn't a slight on Gilbert's skill or mobility.
"We want to be more flexible in the run game," he said. "To do that, we think that one of the things that we had to do was go back under center."
"They have kind of separated themselves," Davis said of Newton and Whittaker. "We are going to take the last eight days and really take a hard look at Chris Whaley, Jeremy Hills, Vondrell McGee, and Cody Johnson and try to really have some decisions made as much as we can going into August regarding the backs."
Newton led Texas in rushing last season, carrying the ball 116 times for 552 yards. McCoy had 129 carries for 348 yards, but that number includes sacks. Whittaker had just 53 carries for 212 yards as a sophomore.
Davis added that he hadn't installed the goal-line package that helped the 5-foot-11, 250-pound Johnson bulldoze his way to 12 touchdowns, but did say Johnson "has done a good job."
And the commitment to the running game affects more than just the running backs and quarterbacks. The change extended to the five men up front who make it all work, beginning with the group's mindset to begin spring practices.
"We kind of went into spring with the attitude that we wanted to be nasty up front, and they have done a good job," Davis said.
Davis' tweaked offense will be on display in the Orange-White game in Austin on April 4.