WHAT TO WATCH IN BIG WEEK FOR NCAA HOOPS

Head­ing into spring drills, coaches want to see de­fen­sive line lose weight.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Davis bdavis@states­man.com

Texas de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Todd Or­lando tried to be diplo­matic last month when he ad­dressed the sheer size of his de­fen­sive line­men.

“We’re a lit­tle bit too heavy up front,” Or­lando said.

One day be­fore the start of spring drills, the head coach of­fered a more bru­tal, gut-bust­ing as­sess­ment.

“The ef­fort as a group has not been to our re­quire­ments here in this pro­gram,” Tom Her­man said Mon­day. “I think we’d know a lot more if some of th­ese re­ally fat guys lost some weight.”

On UT’s spring ros­ter, D’An­dre Christ­mas (6-2, 315), Ger­ald Wil­bon (6-3, 320) and Chris Daniels (6-3, 330) range from big, to big­ger to big­gest. Chris Nel­son checks in at 6-3, 300. Poona Ford is listed as be­ing 6-feet tall — a truly fa­vor­able mea­sure­ment — and 310 pounds.

The de­fen­sive line’s sheer girth and the lack of depth at tight end ap­pear to be Texas’ big­gest con­cerns as the cur­tain rises on spring drills. The first of an NCAA-al­lowed 15 prac­tices will be Tues­day. All prac­tices are closed to the pub­lic.

Her­man of­fered his the­o­ries on why the play­ers have bought into a new sys­tem. They un­der­stand three straight los­ing sea­son

is un­ac­cept­able. “Here, I think our guys are em­bar­rassed,” Her­man said, “and they un­der­stand that change is nec­es­sary in or­der to achieve some results.”

On the most se­ri­ous topic imag­in­able at Texas, Her­man said there will not be a start­ing quar­ter­back named af­ter spring drills. “I think it’s im­por­tant they have at least the abil­ity to go win the job in train­ing camp and win the job over the course of the sum­mer,” he said.

Her­man, now three-plus months into the job, fin­ished up the hour and looked re­laxed. In the after­math, his com­ments about the de­fen­sive line­men stood alone as a sting­ing re­buke.

Nu­tri­tion has been a hot topic on so­cial me­dia the last few days. At the NFL scout­ing com­bine, Doak Walker win­ner D’Onta Fore­man said UT didn’t have any­one “to tell me what to eat or how to eat cer­tain things.” The Longhorns have five full-time nu­tri­tion­ists and di­eti­tians.

The NCAA al­lows for un­lim­ited snacks now. The de­fen­sive line­men have been eat­ing plenty, it seems.

“What does their body re­ally look like?” Her­man said. “Right now, I don’t know. We’ve got some guys who are 360, 350 pounds. I don’t know how you move at that weight. We’re work­ing on it. We’re cer­tainly not go­ing to throw our hands up and say, ‘Woe is me.’ Last time I checked, you’ve got to play with a de­fen­sive line.”

For­mer coach Charlie Strong al­ways liked to say “big guys beat up lit­tle guys.” He wanted an­chors in the mid­dle, heavy­weights that could hold the point of at­tack while the de­fen­sive line and lineback­ers made plays. In April 2016, then-de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Vance Bedford said any fresh­man who ar­rived on cam­pus more than 300 pounds would play im­me­di­ately.

The Longhorns had so-so results clog­ging up the mid­dle and stop­ping the run un­der Strong. The unit was fifth in the Big 12 last sea­son in that cat­e­gory, al­low­ing 189.8 yards per game.

Her­man and his de­fen­sive staff have a far dif­fer­ent phi­los­o­phy on the ideal size and shape of those up front.

“I’ve seen Todd Or­lando make chicken salad out of some lesser parts,” Her­man said, “so I have a lot of con­fi­dence in that staff and what they’re able to do with what­ever tal­ent that we’ve in­her­ited.”

Any fans who get squea­mish at bru­tally hon­est com­men­tary about their fa­vorite team should skip the press con­fer­ences for the time be­ing. By the end of spring drills, Her­man said, “I want them to know what cham­pi­ons prac­tice like. I want that to be fully in­grained.” At times, hold­ing play­ers ac­count­able can feel like be­ing a po­lice­man, he said.

“You have to set the ex­pec­ta­tion level early when de­vel­op­ing a cul­ture and de­vel­op­ing a pro­gram,” Her­man said, “and I would hope that af­ter 15 prac­tices, they know what that ex­pec­ta­tion is.”

DEB­O­RAH CAN­NON / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

De­fen­sive line­men Poona Ford (cen­ter) and Chris Nel­son (right, with of­fen­sive line­man Alex An­der­son at left) pre­vi­ously played un­der a coach­ing staff with a big­ger-is-bet­ter view. That’s no longer the case.

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