Two of Texas’ primary offensive weapons returned to the football field Monday, with quarterback David Ash and running back Johnathan Gray stating they are fully recovered from injuries that sidelined them last season and during spring drills.
Ash, a junior, played in only three games last season because of recurring concussions, then broke a bone in his foot during spring drills. Gray, a junior from Aledo, went through his first workout Monday since tearing an Achilles tendon in last year’s 47-40 victory at West Virginia on Nov. 9.
Gray said he experienced minor soreness following Monday’s first practice of fall drills but considers himself at “95 percent” of his physical peak.
“By the end of two-a-days, I expect to be at 100 percent and ready to roll,” said Gray, who rushed for 780 yards and four touchdowns in nine games last season. “My speed came back, thank God, and I’m ready to show it.”
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Gray will team with Malcolm Brown, Texas’ top returning rusher (904 yards, nine touchdowns) in a backfield that has been depleted by the recent dismissals of running backs Joe Bergeron and Jalen Overstreet, combined with the suspension of running back/wide receiver Daje Allen, for violation of team rules.
Gray said the depleted backfield created more carries for him and Brown in Monday’s workout, along with plans for the duo to mentor freshman Donald Catalon, the No. 3 back on Texas’ depth chart.
Ash, who suffered a season-ending concussion in last year’s 31-21 victory over Kansas State on Sept. 21, acknowledged wondering at times during his rehabilitation if he’d return to the field.
“That creeped into the back of my mind,” Ash said. “But I’m better now ... I’m sharp as a tack.”
Asked if he looked forward to his first live contact to prove he is past his concussion issues, Ash said: “Oh, yeah. Bring it on. I’m not concerned.”
He did acknowledge serious discussions with family members, most notably his mother, about his plans to return to the sport.
“We had a few talks. Can you blame her?” Ash said. “But I want to play. So I’m going to play. I’ve made it clear from the beginning that I wanted to come back. My parents just said they support me, whatever I want to do.”
Gray said quarterback Jerrod Heard, a freshman signee from Denton Guyer, has shown early promise in summer workouts and should be a strong candidate to emerge as Ash’s backup. He will battle Tyrone Swoopes, who struggled in the spring game.
“I like where his head is at and how he’s trying to step up to the plate,” Gray said of Heard. “I think he can [contribute immediately]. He’s wanting to be that guy. So we’ll see.”
Several veteran players voiced support for new coach Charlie Strong’s dismissals (seven) and suspensions (three) of players for breaking team rules in his seven-month stint in Austin. Defensive end Cedric Reed said Strong’s edict that players move into dorms should help the team bond during fall camp. It also will impact coach/player relations.
“I saw a couple of coaches in there last night, kind of sneaking around … so we wouldn’t do anything,” Reed said. “It’s pretty cool. It gives you an NFL-style training camp feel.”