Texas’ season opener is imminent but new football coach Charlie Strong said Monday he is still tinkering with the depth chart because of suspensions to three projected starters for Saturday’s contest against North Texas (7 p.m., Longhorn Network).
Strong chose not to release a depth chart at his weekly news conference because roles remain unsettled in the secondary, offensive line and at receiver. The Longhorns will be without safety Josh Turner, offensive tackle Desmond Harrison and receiver Daje Johnson because of unspecified violations of team rules. Strong said he remains undecided whether the trio will return for the Sept. 6 game against Brigham Young.
Strong also is unsure if receiver Jaxon Shipley, last year’s leader in receptions (56), will be able to play Saturday because of a lingering hamstring ailment. Those uncertainties caused him to keep players in competition until “midweek,” when starting roles will be assigned.
“We want to make sure that when we release it, it’s the final depth chart, that it’s really where they’re going to play on Saturday,” said Strong, who acknowledged the possibility that two walk-ons (safety Dylan Haines, receiver Ty Templin) could start or receive significant playing time against UNT.
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Both of the walk-ons are sophomores. Templin (6-foot, 190 pounds) played in high school for Fort Worth Trinity Valley. Haines (6-1, 195) is from Lago Vista.
“Why hold them back? If they’re good enough, they’re going to play,” Strong said. “They’re going to get a chance to play.”
Strong indicated some last-minute personnel shuffles are ongoing at multiple positions.
“In the secondary, we’re still trying to make sure we have the guys in the right spot,” Strong said. “And we’re still piecing it together in the offensive line.”
Respect for UNT
Although Texas is 9-0 against UNT and has won the last three meetings (2002, 2004, 2006) by a combined margin of 148-7, Strong said he has a healthy respect for a Mean Green squad that posted a better record last season (9-4) than the Longhorns (8-5). Strong downplayed the significance of sending a statement to fans with a lopsided victory over a 24-point underdog in his debut in Austin.
“Winning 3-0 would be good for me, just as long as I get that first win,” said Strong, who acknowledged being upbeat about his first game-day atmosphere in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. “I’m excited about the tradition. Then, I had to take a step back and realize I’ve got to go win this football game or I might not be enjoying it very long.”
Tailback Johnathan Gray, a former Aledo standout, said the Longhorns view UNT as “a great team” coming off a bowl victory, but cornerback Quandre Diggs indicated the sentiment is not universal.
“We want to be tough, be physical and beat guys down,” Diggs said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do and what we plan on doing.”
Hammad to Baylor
Offensive lineman Rami Hammad (6-foot-5, 320 pounds), a redshirt freshman from Irving who announced plans last week to transfer to another school, has selected Baylor. Baylor officials plan for him to enroll Tuesday. He will be eligible to play for the Bears in 2015.
Ground and pound
Strong said he plans to lean on his top two tailbacks, Gray and Malcolm Brown, to shoulder much of the offensive load and considers them co-starters regardless of where their names surface on this week’s depth chart. He called them “1-A and 1-B” in his pecking order. Gray said they have a shared rushing goal this season.
“We both want to get 1,000 yards,” Gray said. “It’s possible. In the running back room, there are no egos.”
Likewise, there are no 1,000-yard rushers. Brown, a senior, rushed for a career-high 904 yards last season. Gray, a junior, rushed for 780 before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in the ninth game of the season at West Virginia.