Applewhite, Kyle Allen look to prove themselves in spring practice
On Monday, the Cougars completed the first of 14 spring practices that will culminate in the annual Red & White Game on April 15. Leading up to the game, The Cougar will break down a different aspect of the team each week as they prepare for the start of the 2017 season.
In the last two seasons under Tom Herman, the Cougars rose into the Top 5 and won the Peach Bowl in 2015. Now heading into year one of the Major Applewhite era, three burning questions face a Cougar team looking to make headlines in 2017.
With four head coaches in the last six years, how will the Cougars respond to Applewhite?
With Herman leaving for greener pastures in Austin, UH had to find a new head football coach and chose Applewhite last December. After a chaotic off-season, Applewhite enters his first true season leading the Cougars.
“It was different today than even it was in the bowl practice because I was trying to run an offense at the same time and try to get ready at the same time,” Applewhite said. “You’re able to see things on both sides of the ball and effort.”
As the new coaches make their voices heard and tell the athletes how they want things done, they place an emphasis on building and continuing a culture. It’s more about how they do everything than what they’re doing exactly, Applewhite said.
Applewhite already has a good rapport with the offense, spending the last two seasons as its coordinator. He wants the players to take their chances and make mistakes in spring so they learn their limits, but he knows ball security is key to a successful season.
Applewhite is not afraid to tell the players when they’re doing something wrong, either. Telling them exactly what he wants can prevent plays from being lost in translation.
“He knows exactly what he wants, what he needs out of us and he’s a straight shooter,” redshirt junior quarterback Kyle Allen said. “He doesn’t lie to us and tell us other things; he really tells us how it is, so I appreciate that about him.”
Who will lead the Cougar offense?
During the past two seasons, Cougar fans have grown accustomed to watching Greg Ward Jr. bob and weave his way through traffic, throwing dimes and provoking highlight films on every play. Now that the Tyler native has graduated, there is competition to see who the next signal caller will be.
Although he said no starter will be named until fall camp, Applewhite knows what he’s looking for in a quarterback.
“Number one: leadership and move your unit. That’s your job, to bring tempo to your unit and be a leader from that standpoint,” Applewhite said. “Get your team into the end zone. And I want to see them play turnover free.”
The early leader heading into spring is the No.1 quarterback prospect from the 2013 recruiting class, Allen. After spending two seasons at Texas A&M, he transferred to Houston prior to last season, sitting the year out and running the scout team.
The Scottsdale, Arizona native started 14 games for the Aggies and is easily the most experienced of the group. He spent all of 2016 running the offense against a starting Cougar defense that sacked Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson 11 times, holding him 211 passing yards and 33 rushing yards.
“I think it was good for me, and I grew a lot as a player just watching Greg (Ward Jr.) work and how the offense worked last year,” Allen said. “I wouldn’t change a thing ’cause last year I grew a lot as a person and as a player and I think it was a year I needed. ”
The other two vying for the job are senior Kyle Postma and sophomore playmaker D’Eriq King. Neither will see action in the spring: Postma has a wrist injury and King is still recovering from a knee injury.
This will allow Allen to take a majority of the reps and build up a rapport with returning receivers Steven Dunbar and Linell Bonner. Even being a top recruit and clubhouse leader for the starting job, Allen knows he’s going to have to work hard every day to prove he deserves the job.
“Tom Brady said it best in ‘you’ve got to come in every day and prove why you’re the guy,'” Allen said. “If you do that, not only are you proving to everybody else you’re the guy, you’re getting better every day and I think that’s something that I hold close to me.”
Who will step up to lead a defense that lost five starters?
Under former defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, the Cougar defense became one of the best in the nation. Forcing opponents into 53 turnovers and 75 sacks, the ‘Third Ward D'” made their presence felt against top opponents.
Now under defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, the Cougars have to replace five starters who combined for 20 sacks and all five of the team’s interceptions. It will be imperative for others to step up into that leadership role.
Now entering his sophomore season, 19-year-old All-American tackle Ed Oliver will be looked at to anchor the team.
In the secondary, junior safety Garrett Davis will be tasked with leading a group that lost both starting corners. Together with senior Khalil Williams, the safeties combined for 134 tackles and five sacks in 2016.
“We take pride in being the UH defense, we take pride in wearing the jersey,” Davis said. “Whatever this year has for us, whatever identity it gives us, we’ll roll with it.”