One of the most exciting aspects of playing freshmen is that they become sophomores. Hardened and motivated by first year trials by fire, they use the offseason to get bigger, stronger, better learn their trade, refine technique and better understand the scheme they play in.
This growth is necessarily crucial to the Charlie Strong As Right Hire model. It is, in fact, the entire foundation of it. There's nothing else.
When Texas plays Baylor tomorrow, the following sophomore former starters will be watching from the bench:
CB Davante Davis
CB Holton Hill
LB Malik Jefferson
LB Anthony Wheeler
OG Patrick Vahe
WR John Burt
In addition, we've seen greatly diminished roles for promising sophomores like S Deshon Elliott and, depending on our defensive front alignment, true 4-3 DE turned sporadic 4 technique Charles Omenihu. Given that the majority of these deteriorating players are on defense - Strong's historical area of expertise - is a poor reflection of what this staff has wrought.
Each players individual situation may vary and two sophomores have certainly seen a performance uptick (current defensive MVP Chris Nelson, stud OT Connor Williams), but in total, the trend is absolutely discouraging.
Burt - thought to be our #1 WR - is having a crisis of confidence about catching the ball. He barely saw snaps in the last two Longhorn contests. And no, it's not injury.
Hill and Davis - expected to be secondary mainstays and a preseason team strength after flashing impressively as youngsters - have been plagued by critical mental errors, a botched offseason defensive installation and subpar positional teaching. Their replacements? Fellow sophomore Kris Boyd, now a starter, was plagued by similar issues in the first five Texas contests in which he played but has since turned in two competent performances. RS Sophomore John Bonney struggled badly against Kansas State and was picked on in the running and passing game.
Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler are being benched for performance. They were benched against KSU in-game. They've exhibited no growth as players and appear to have never been coached a day in their lives. And at least one of them is completely miscast in his role. Their play is so fundamentally poor that it's difficult to fathom what exactly happens in practice or film study.
The final surprise addition - as reported by Eric Nahlin at Inside Texas - is guard Patrick Vahe. Our favorite Tongan has played through injury and been a consistent asset in the running game. While his pass sets can be shoddy, I had consistently graded #77 as the second best OL on the team. It's an interesting decision.
The Charlie Strong Head Coaching proposition is fairly straightforward.
Recruit talent, develop it with competent instruction in all phases: off the field, S&C, position, scheme; create a culture of toughness and responsibility and watch the program fruit bear over time. The Strong model, though a lengthier process than more patchwork solutions, would minimize his weaknesses in other areas and Texas would see program momentum build as each Strong class got one year older.
Unfortunately, one of his primary weaknesses - hiring and holding staff accountable - has undermined that value proposition. Texas lost the 2016 offseason long before they lost four of their first seven games on the field. And that time isn't recoverable.
Charlie Strong's entire hire was predicated on his ability to develop promising young players into older good players.
And so is he.