Holgorsen looks at front lines as first priority
There is something about the offseason that makes all football fans restless.
Players and coaches have come and gone, and the rumor mills begin to overflow with potential news, which means fans get their fix with the only thing available: spring ball.
Houston is only a few practices into its spring schedule and months away from its season-opening matchup against Oklahoma in August, but new head coach Dana Holgorsen has wasted no time in scouting potential leaders for the team he took the reins of just three months ago.
“I think we have the makings of a good leadership class. We’ve got guys that have played a lot, so that gives you hope. They just need to keep progressing,” Holgorsen said.
Among those potential leaders for the Holgorsen-era Cougars is senior quarterback D’Eriq King, who in 11 games last season was responsible for 50 touchdowns, an American Athletic Conference record.
King missed the final stretch of 2018 after tearing his ACL against Tulane and has been limited in practice by Holgorsen.
“I’m trying not to let him run around too much. We have to protect him,” Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen has been adamant in training King to avoid big hits, much like old Big 12 foe and 2018 Heisman winner Kyler Murray.
“I’ve watched a lot of film on Oklahoma based on being in a conference with those guys for the last seven years. Watching Kyler Murray, he is the best I’ve ever seen at not getting hit,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve watched a lot of his film with D’Eriq, not trying to be like him, but to try to learn to protect yourself at all costs.”
Spring practice has also seen the rise of two other quarterbacks in the Houston depth chart — sophomore Clayton Tune, who has split reps with King throughout the spring, and Holgorsen’s freshman son Logan, who he described as “a sponge that communicates well with the other two guys.”
Tune, a former three-star recruit of Carrollton, threw for eight touchdowns in the five games that he appeared in after King was injured, and he has continued to improve in the spring.
“I’ve been very impressed with him. He’s a very smart kid. He is progressing as good as anybody on our football team right now,” Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen said he would love to be able to redshirt him and play him in four games in 2019 to have Tune for three more years.
On defense, Holgorsen transformed UH’s defensive line into a four-man front instead of a three-man, but it caused a slight depth and recruiting issue for the position that lost one of UH’s best players ever in NFL prospect Ed Oliver.
“We have to keep building the depth to win a championship. Now our D-line, I think coach (Brian) Early is doing a really good job with those guys,” Holgorsen said.
The other side of the trenches has also been a concern for Holgorsen in his short time observing the team, but he has worked on getting them to play “real football.”
“The (previous offensive lines) didn’t have to block in the past, and they didn’t have to play hard. They didn’t have to do a whole lot of things other than run fast and score touchdowns, which is important, but it’s not real football,” Holgorsen said.
Houston’s offensive line faces a lot of uncertainty heading into 2019, but Holgorsen has made it a priority to counteract that.
One of the exercises he has introduced to UH practices is a staple of American football — the dreaded Oklahoma, or in Houston’s case, the Cougar Drill.
The drill consists of three players: a runner hoping to get to the other side, a blocker protecting the runner and, on the other side, a tackler, whose only goal is to take the runner out.
While the drill may sound brutal, it is one of the biggest morale boosters to exist on the gridiron.
On top of the actual skill-building the drill offers, the players love it. And Holgorsen knows it.
“You guys get your cameras on,” Holgorsen said, excited to round up his players for the most-anticipated 10 minutes of the day. “Let’s go have some fun.”
If Holgorsen has his way, the team’s fun and hard work will end with wins come next season.