Previewing the Texas Longhorns

Texas is counting on seven offensive and seven defensive returning starters, plus three new assistants, to help get coach Mack Brown into the BCS promised land and his first league title in seven seasons in Austin.

Defensive improvement is key for a program that, as recently as 2001, led the nation in that category. Now, Texas needs to shore up a run defense that dipped in '03 to its lowest statistical ranking (NCAA No. 58, 152.5 ypg) during Brown's tenure. New Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson brings 14 years of NFL experience (including stints directing the D's at Kansas City and Denver) as well as a mindset of "controlled violence" to the Forty Acres.

Texas also welcomed former Arizona coach Dick Tomey, architect of the renowned Desert Swarm defense, to coach the defensive ends. Bobby Kennedy, a veteran of 15 seasons as a collegiate assistant, joins Brown's staff following two years at Washington.

Texas will continue to operate out of a base 4-3 defense but Brown wants the unit to create more turnovers. A three-deep Longhorn secondary will try to force more thefts by incorporating more zone and doing a better job of disguising its pass coverage. Senior All-American WLB Derrick Johnson is the anchor of the UT defense and is a favorite for the 2004 Butkus Award (nation's top linebacker). The two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection posted a team-high 125 tackles, including 20 TFLs, during his junior campaign. Second-team All-Big 12 selection Rodrique Wright returns for his third season at DT after registering 7.5 quarterback sacks and 30 quarterback pressures to lead the team in both categories. Depth at defensive end is a concern.

Texas was virtually unstoppable after switching to a zone read offense at mid-season last year. RS-freshman Vince Young assumed the starting spot behind center during the final six games as the offense scored a school-record 533 points and produced the most yards in a season (5,709) in program history. His 7.4 ypc led the nation but he needs to complement his dazzling running game with consistency in the drop back pass.

Senior running back Cedric Benson bypassed the NFL after rushing for 1,360 yards and a NCAA-leading 21 rushing touchdowns in 2003. After Texas became a zone read offense, Benson rushed for 1,002 yards (167 ypg) and 14 touchdowns during the Horns' last six games. A consensus first-team All-Big 12 pick, Benson's 3,706 career rushing yards trail only Heisman winners Ricky Williams and Earl Campbell at Texas.

Now that Roy Williams and Co. have taken their show to the NFL, senior flanker Tony Jeffery is Texas' top returning pass-catcher with just 277 career receiving yards on 24 grabs. RS-freshman Limas Sweed, wearing Williams' jersey number, could have a breakout year at split end. Brown will also be looking for some of his true freshmen to fill the void at wide receiver.

As always, success in Austin is measured by how Texas fares against archrival Oklahoma. If the Longhorns can find a way to put the brakes on a four-year skid against the Sooners, the schedule is favorable for a championship run. Road wins at Colorado and Texas Tech aren't gimmees, but the Horns will have more talent and depth than any team they face after the second Saturday in October.

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