College Sports

Strong optimistic Longhorns can handle latest round of dismissals, suspensions

For those scoring along at home, Texas football coach Charlie Strong is averaging one player dismissal per month since taking over for Mack Brown in January.

After Sunday’s latest round of disciplinary actions, which included confirmation of five summer dismissals (all previously reported) and three fresh suspensions, Strong is expected to welcome 75 scholarship players to Monday’s start of fall drills. That is 10 under the NCAA maximum, with seven vacancies created by Strong’s decisions to release players for repeat violations of the program’s five core values: be honest, treat women with respect, no drugs, no stealing and no guns.

“Very simple,” Strong said. “Values we have all grown up on. Values that are part of everyday living.”

Yet these are values the new coach is being forced to hammer into the daily habits of a long list of Longhorns’ players. The list grew by three names Sunday when Strong announced suspensions for offensive tackle Desmond Harrison, receiver/running back Daje Johnson and safety Josh Turner.

“Games will be taken away from them,” Strong said. “They will miss a game, for sure. I have not decided on the number of games.”

Strong said all three players broke the same core value but will take part in Monday’s practice and will play this season after serving at least a one-game suspension. The same cannot be said of five players Strong dismissed this summer for repeat violations of the team’s core values.

That list includes running back Joe Bergeron, defensive back Chevoski Collins and running back Jalen Overstreet. Also bounced from the program, Strong said Sunday, are receivers Montrel Meander and Kendall Sanders, who were charged with second-degree felony sexual assault in July. Two other players were dismissed last spring.

Combined with the departure of linebacker Kendall Thompson, a senior who was shifted to a medical scholarship because of recurring injuries, the Longhorns’ 2014 roster looks a lot thinner at receiver, running back and defensive back than it did last month.

A case could be made that Strong’s team has enough concerns that Texas, an 8-5 squad last season, will be hard-pressed to retain its No. 24 ranking in the coaches preseason poll through its nonconference schedule of North Texas (9-4 last season), Brigham Young (8-5) and UCLA (10-3). The UNT game, in fact, could be a rude awakening for Texas’ new regime if oft-injured quarterback David Ash is not on top of his game in the Aug. 30 opener.

Just don’t try to sell that idea to Strong, who will not embrace lack of depth, in light of recent player departures, as an excuse for poor play in August and September.

“It’s not like, because we suspended guys, we’re going to walk into this camp like we don’t have anybody. We have players,” Strong said. “Now, it’s a matter of us developing them.”

In college football, that’s always the challenge. Strong is at Texas today because of Brown’s inability to develop players in his final four seasons in Austin. Strong’s developmental skills, more than his disciplinarian stance, will determine how long he keeps this gig.

Understandably, Strong’s ongoing housecleaning is being cheered by Orangebloods because he has removed the country-club atmosphere and sense of player entitlement that marked the final years of Brown’s regime. No doubt, it is a first step in the right direction. But remember this: the unbridled cheers will last only as long as Strong remains undefeated as Texas’ coach.

By mid-September, fans may be singing a different refrain. But Strong, from all indications, will still be pushing his core values if the team is 3-0 or 0-3. Good for him. College football needs more coaches like that.

After Sunday’s latest round of disciplinary actions, Strong stressed that he is comfortable leaning on several freshmen to take up the slack at receiver and defensive back, Texas’ thinnest roster spots.

“A freshman can handle the skill positions,” said Strong, who signed five freshmen receivers in his 2014 class. “It’s all about speed and athletic ability. You can get those guys out there and they can get up to speed. We have a lot of guys within this program that haven’t done anything yet. So it’s time for them to go step up.”

Without question, the new sheriff in Austin just created more opportunities for immediate playing time with Sunday’s latest round of disciplinary action.

And it is up to Strong to get his newcomers ready to handle a front-loaded schedule that includes five of last year’s bowl teams, as well as three top-10 teams in the coaches poll (No. 7 UCLA, No. 10 Baylor, No. 3 Oklahoma), in the first six weeks of the season.

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