Offensive Tweaks, Defensive Depth Top Agenda

Heading into the final stretch of spring drills before Saturday&#146;s Spring Game (12:30 p.m., DKR), Texas coaches specifically want to add the few remaining wrinkles to its built-for-speed offensive package as well as solidify its two-deep roster at key defensive spots, head coach <B>Mack Brown </B>said Monday. Look for the Horns to add some screen plays to its sprint package Tuesday while giving backup linebackers and defensive ends additional snaps.

QB Chance Mock picked up nearly seven yards on a sprint option during red zone drills Monday. Orangebloods will salivate when they see the speed both Mock and Vince Young bring to table, particularly at how adept Mock has become in his rollout passing. Can’t help but already look ahead to that second Saturday in October because the Sooners have not seen this kind of look from a Texas quarterback in Brown’s tenure (assuming offensive coordinator Greg Davis unleashes a sizable sampling of the arsenal on display during the past couple of weeks).

However, the fiercest battle this spring has not been behind center -- Mock is the man going into the fall -- but at linebacker.

"We’ve still got some depth that we need to get straightened out," Brown said. "We’re still looking at the linebackers to come out of spring with a depth chart."

Texas has such an abundance of young, talented backers that Brown could afford to move Eric Hall to No. 3 FB and Mike Williams to LDE. It leaves Aaron Harris, Marcus Myers, Brian Robison, and Aurmon Satchell duking it out for that two-deep spot.

Garnet Smith has done nothing this spring except solidify his spot in the starting line-up and turned in the best defensive stop of the afternoon against one of Texas’ new offensive "wrinkles". With Mock in the shotgun and RBs Cedric Benson and Selvin Young lined up in the same backfield (a formation typically used for a delayed draw), Mock instead ran a misdirection play before turning and throwing the ball back across the field to Benson. But Smith both sniffed out and snuffed out the play, throwing Benson for a loss while his teammates went ballistic.

Reed Boyd again worked at SLB Monday, supplying one TFL and blocking a Richmond McGee FG attempt on the last play from scrimmage.

All that needs to be said of first-team All-Big 12 linebacker Derrick Johnson is that the Butkus Award semi-finalist is emerging as the emotional and vocal leader of the defense that former DE Cory Redding was the past three season.

Brown also wants to solidify his depth chart for backup defensive ends. RDE Kalen Thornton appears (finally) to be in full form after battling knee and leg injuries last season (review your 2002 Kansas State game as a fond reminder of what even a semi-healthy Thornton means to this defense). Bryan Pickryl’s shoulder surgery opened the door for other contenders (Williams, Austin Sendlein, Chase Pittman, Kaelen Jakes) to strut their stuff. Of note Monday: Pittman turned in an impressive play when he held his ground and then held WR Brian Carter to no gain on an end around.

Sure, it’s just spring training but all indications point to the kind of attacking, pressuring D that Brown has been craving for six years and the likes of which have not been seen on the Forty Acres since that glorious 1983 unit (or, at least not since 1991 when the Texas D single-handedly won the OU game).

The biggest difference between this year’s bunch and others we’ve seen during Brown’s tenure is a sustained and relentless pass rush (assuming Thornton, Rodrique Wright, Marcus Tubbs and Pickryl stay healthy). It’s also a group that doesn’t expect to pitch a shut-out one week and then turn around and get shot up (like it did against OU and Texas Tech). As Brown privately said to a small group of Austin print media last month, boasting the conference’s leading pass defense can also mean your line isn’t tackling very well.

SS Michael Huff will miss the final week of spring drills as the result of the foot injury suffered during the March 1 scrimmage. Otherwise, all other UT players who participated in spring ball are expected to play in Saturday’s spring game.

"It’s been a great spring to look at (SS) Matt Melton and Phillip Geiggar," Brown said.

Geiggar laid some wicked hits in Thursday’s scrimmage and took up where he left off Monday. On the first play from scrimmage during goal line drills, Geiggar intercepted a Mock pass which prompted a subdued celebration (you don’t want to see Mock making that throw into a congested middle of the field in real time).

(Dusty Mangum, David Pino and Richmond McGee) have done so well this spring that coaches are "trying to separate those guys a bit," Brown added. "I think we’ve separated some at punter." (Walk-on Taylor Landin is the clear choice over scholarship P Justin Smith.)

While Brown has a heaved a sigh of relief that Landin continues to consistently boom them at an average clip of nearly 43 yards, Brown's special team focus is on both punt blocking and downfield coverage.

"We’re really looking at gunners because that’s such a critical issue when we punt," Brown said. "Seeing who can hold up the gunners and who can cover. That’s a huge issue this week. In fact, it’s one of the biggest we’ve got because we’ve got great punt returners (Nathan Vasher, Selvin Young, Dakarai Pearson) and we’ve got to do a great job of punting the ball."

Texas’ last workout in pads is set for 4 p.m., Tuesday, at Frank Denius Field. Thursday’s session will be a no-contact review session in shorts.


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