Smith, Robison Stake Claim At Linebacker

No small part of the unfinished business for Texas coaches during the final week of spring drills is to solidify the depth chart at linebacker, an area loaded with young but untested talent.

You know that Butkus Award semifinalist Derrick Johnson will anchor the unit. Last season’s leading tackler Reed Boyd, noticeably leaner and faster, will also be a mainstay. For now, Garnet Smith and Brian Robison have separated themselves from "all those other kids" for coveted playing time, defensive coordinator Carl Reese said Tuesday.

"I’m pleased with Garnet," Reese said. "I think he’s done some good things, and yet he’s got to have a good summer. He’s got to keep coming with his maturity and strength and all that."

Smith logged some snaps at WLB last year, registering 11 tackles. He posted a career-best four tackles at Texas Tech and registered his first collegiate QB sack at North Carolina. Smith was a three-year starter at linebacker at Fort Worth Arlington Lamar, including a school record 28 starts.

Robison has really got Reese’s attention this spring and capped the last day in pads (prior to Saturday’s Spring Game at DKR) with a perfectly-timed pick of a QB Chance Mock pass. In fact, Reese said Robison could start today and the defense would show no appreciable drop-off.

"We kept (Robison) at Sam and didn’t kick him inside because he’s done a good job," Reese said. "In a football game, we could play him and we could win with him. I think we’ve found our Sam linebackers, whether it be Garnet, Reed Boyd or Brian Robison."

Robison earned Texas 3A all-state honors in both football and track at Splendora High. A three-year starter at LB, Robison was also the 2002 UIL state champ in both the discus and shot put.

Aurmon Satchell, Aaron Harris and Marcus Myers "all take turns doing some things but they haven’t been real consistent," Reese said. "So, we’ve bounced them around."

Ready to follow the bouncing linebackers? Here goes: Smith started at SLB when drills began February 24 but was moved to MLB after spring break. Boyd switched from MLB to SAM and could open the season August 30 opposite the New Mexico State TE. Harris (6-0, 230) has moved from MLB to WLB, while Myers (6-3, 220) switched from WLB to MLB. Meanwhile, Satchell has been a 6-3, 230-pound pinball in bouncing around at all three spots.

It all adds up to the kind of linebacker depth that Texas did not enjoy last season.

"We’ve got to play more linebackers (this year)," head coach Mack Brown said. "We’ve got to gain more depth there. We didn’t play enough last fall."

Reese has not ruled out the possibility of using Smith at MLB when two-a-days begin next August. It’s just that the Forth Worth Arlington Lamar product is the youngest of the three projected starters, and MLB has more of a learning curve relative to the other two positions. The MLB basically functions as the quarterback on the field, setting the fronts and making the defensive adjustments.

"Mentally, they (MLBs) have to have more of the game plan in their mind as they call defenses," Reese said. "Other than that, it’s basically like the Will linebacker. They’ve got to take care of gaps. Both of those positions are pretty much the same. That’s why they can go back and forth."

Brown is more reticent than Reese to even hint about a depth chart. Players are still contending for prime spots and can showcase their skills at the annual Spring Game, 12:30 p.m., Saturday, at DKR, Brown said.

"Most of those guys haven’t played very much," Brown said. "You take the two that have played (Boyd, Johnson) and everybody else is competing for a spot. It will be fun to grade the film after this week and to watch them Saturday and see who starts out in those positions in the fall."

For now, Reese is enjoying the newfound depth in the middle of the field.

"Last year, every backup we had was a freshman," Reese laughed. "This year, at least, we’re gonna have a sophomore (Harris). I think that’s a positive thing."

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