Several breakout stars emerged during the Texas Longhorns’ Spring game, including backup quarterback Maalik Murphy.
Murphy showed he’s ready to push for playing time as the Texas Longhorns wrapped up Spring camp. The backup quarterback put on a show at the annual final scrimmage.
“I think the sky’s the limit for the guy,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Murphy, a redshirt freshman, was one of several players who showed up big during Spring practice. He completed nine of 13 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown in the Orange-White Game. Murphy made his Texas debut while sharing playing time with true freshman Arch Manning.
Texas fans were primed for a quarterback battle between Manning and starter Quinn Ewers. Murphy has thrown himself into the mix now that he’s healthy. He has a quick delivery and good vision down the field, his coach said. Just as importantly, the young signal-caller has all the intangibles coaches look for.
“Maalik’s a really good leader,” Sarkisian said. “He always brings a lot of positive energy every time he takes the field, which I think is great.”
Injuries kept Murphy off the field last season. He was nursing an ankle injury coming out of high school in California. A foot injury kept him sidelined last season at Texas. “Hopefully we can get him completely healthy going into (fall) training camp where he gets that foundation,” Sarkisian said.
The focus might be keeping Murphy out of the re-opened transfer portal. He put together an impressive highlight package in the Spring game. He faces an uphill battle at quarterback with sophomore Ewers and the highly touted Manning. The trio combines to form one of the best quarterback rooms in the nation if it survives the portal.
“We’re in a very fortunate position to have three quality guys,” Sarkisian said.
Texas has been looking all off-season for an edge rusher to pair with Barryn Sorrell. The answer could be sophomore Ethan Burke. A product of nearby Austin Westlake H.S., the 6-6, 250-pound product made five tackles and had a sack in the Spring game. He also registered another tackle for a loss.
On the sack play, Burke put an inside move on senior right tackle Christian Jones and closed in on Ewers. Burke looked effective playing out of a three-point stance as well as standing up.
The Longhorns have been trying to establish depth on the defensive front since Sarkisian arrived two years ago. Having Burke step into the edge rush position helps, where he joins J’Mond Tapp, Justice Finkley, Kristopher Ross, and Jaray Bledsoe.
“I think we have some good packages now where we can get people on the field in certain combinations, and they can be very disruptive,” Sarkisian said.
The Georgia transfer was a known quantity and hardly qualifies as a breakout star. Mitchell made six receptions for 58 yards and a score in the Orange-White game. His big debut as a Longhorn came while nursing a sore ankle. Mitchell was held to limited duty during spring practice and wore a green “no contact” jersey during the final scrimmage.
“You saw it show up today with AD,” Sarkisian said. “AD Mitchell is an explosive athlete.”
Mitchell transferred to Texas after last season. He’s part of a receiving group loaded with talent and depth. The Longhorns tried several receiver combinations in the spring with Isaiah Neyor and Casey Cain sidelined by injuries. The abundance of proven receivers also includes Xavier Worthy, Jordan Whittington, and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders.
“Those guys can win one-on-one, and they can’t double everybody, so it’s a good problem for us to have going forward,” Sarkisian said.
Johntay Cook turned in the biggest play of the Spring game. He took off on a fly route down the right side of the field for a 79-yard touchdown. The true freshman showed the speed that made him one of the most sought-after recruits of the 2022 class.
The Longhorns want to stretch the field more next season and Cook was recruited with that in mind. His strong showing in spring camp means Texas may feature the deep pass more.
“We’ve put a lot of work into it and we’re going to continue to work it. I just don’t think that we can say that it’s fixed,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve been emphasizing that, and I think that we’re seeing some positive results.”
The rushing game was a question mark heading into the Spring game. Texas has been without Jonathon Brooks and Keilan Robinson while they rehab from injuries.
Jaydon Blue was the most productive running back of the spring game. He carried the ball 10 times for 52 yards and a score. He showed good ball security with no turnovers.
Blue was named a high school All-American despite not playing his senior year. He earned a letter last year as a true freshman. Sarkisian has spoken well of him throughout spring camp. If Blue can improve his pass-catching ability, he could become a bigger part of the offense.
Blue’s development helps ease the temporary losses of Brooks and Robinson. He wasn’t the only back who played well in the spring game. Converted receiver Savion Red rushed for 45 yards on nine carries. True freshman Cedric Baxter ran 11 times for 28 yards and a TD.
The depth being built this season in Austin has been going on across the board. The wrap-up of spring ball allows players to prepare for final exams and get ready for summer.
“When we come back after Memorial Day and this room is full with our entire roster, that’s when it’s time to go,” Sarkisian said.
Linebackers David Gbenda and Jett Bush showed up to play. Gbenda was tied with safety B.J. Allen with eight tackles each. Bush registered six tackles. Gbenda and Bush each had a sack, giving Sarkisian more confidence in his pass rush.
Ky Woods emerged as a dark horse candidate at running back. The 5-9, 175-pound sophomore ran five times for 21 yards and had a 35-yard reception. It will be interesting to see how Texas works him into the game plan this fall.
True freshman Sydir Mitchell is a run-stopper in the middle of the defensive line. At 6-6 and 360 pounds, he led a goal-line stand with a pair of tackles in the spring game. His presence adds even more depth to an already solid defensive line.
“I think we have really good depth on this team,” Sarkisian said. “You can go position by position, and I feel very comfortable if the starter isn’t in the backup doesn’t look much different.”
The Longhorns want to develop two- and three-deep rotations at as many positions as possible. Nowhere is it more evident than in the defensive secondary. Redshirt freshman X’Avion Brice was active at cornerback with five tackles. Nickel back Austin Jordan had three tackles and a pass broken up.
Photo courtesy: SARA DIGGINS/AMERICAN-STATESMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK