'Horns Looking Forward to Spring Game

Heading into every spring game, there's a level of excitement that surrounds a school's football program.

The team is undefeated, and there are usually two to three buzz words or catch phrases thrown out all spring to try and capture that energy. For the 2013 Longhorns, those phrases would probably be "physical" and "up-tempo." The former has been thrown around for the past several years, with the Longhorns looking to get back to being the kind of team other schools feared to face in the trenches. But the up-tempo aspect, that's something new for the fans, and the team, to get excited about.

"It's a fun offense to play in," said receiver Mike Davis. "A receiver in the spread offense is really fun, because the ball will be spread around and allows you to put up a lot of points. It's exciting to have with [Major] Applewhite running it.

"The tempo [is the main thing]," Davis said. "All of the coaches are tuned into [it]. We embrace keeping the defense on their heels and making everything faster so we can put up more points."

That up-tempo spread represents a major shift after the last two years under coach Bryan Harsin. Harsin was brought in to increase the team's ability to run the ball, and he did just that, using extra tight ends, motion and formation leverage to counter the league's defenses. Just as importantly, Harsin, along with offensive line coach Stacy Searels, established a mentality, telling the Longhorn line players that they needed to be able to win the toughness battle and impose their wills on other teams.

Now, those linemen face a different challenge — keeping up.

"They are handling it well," Davis said. "The defensive line is adjusting to it and getting better at it, because they will have to see it all year in the Big 12. The offense is getting better at it, and the defense is getting better as well."

And the offensive line has had to do it without two starters, Trey Hopkins and Josh Cochran, who have missed the spring with injuries. Both are expected back in plenty of time for the season.

"This whole spring we have been trying to develop some depth on the line," said quarterback David Ash. "When Trey [Hopkins] and Josh [Cochran] got hurt it was unfortunate, but some guys stepped in, and we have adjusted. I think we have been able to plug the holes, so to speak. They guys who have stepped in have done a good job."

Defensively, the Longhorns are trying to re-find their physicality that made them a top-10 defense — a top-four defense according to S&P+ — in 2011.

"The intensity is up," said Cedric Reed, defensive end. "The defense let down their standard last year, and we are getting back to it. We are learning how to tackle, and we are going back to the basics. We are focusing on being more vocal and getting more vocal leaders on the field. We are just trying to step up to the plate and live up to the standard the defense set a couple years ago."

As is the physical nature of practice, per cornerback Quandre Diggs.

"This reminds me of going back to my first spring here when we were physical every day," Diggs said. "The guys would go out, we'd bring guys down to the ground. It's fun. I love contact. It's my type of practice each and every day.

"We've just got to go out and be physical, show everybody that we're back on track to be the Texas defense we're supposed to be," Diggs said. "And just go out and have fun. There's going to be a great crowd. I'm ready to see the fans and go out and perform."

Those fans will likely see Diggs in a slightly different role at times. Because while Texas returns a whopping nine starters from a year ago, and adds linebacker Jordan Hicks back in, the two players leaving are potentially first-round draft picks. Reed figures to slide into Alex Okafor's open spot at defensive end, and while Diggs will remain at cornerback for now, he will assume safety Kenny Vaccaro's duties in nickel packages, a huge role in a league with deadly slot receivers.

"It's fun," Diggs said. "You get to go out and have fun. Just kind of be in the box, you get to make more plays and make more tackles. Anything I can do to help this team I'm fine with it. I like playing nickel because I've watched a lot of video on Kenny, of him playing it last year. And you can see where that got him — he's a lock for a first-round pick. If I can go out and make even some of the plays he made, and do a little bit more then that would be a grateful opportunity for me on defense."

That should open up time across from fellow cornerback Carrington Byndom for one of the Longhorns' young cornerbacks. And Byndom said he was excited to show the fans the defense's physical play.

"It's just another time you can show the fans what you've been working on, what they'll be seeing in the fall," Byndom said. "So it's always an exciting time for us to go out and show what we've been learning for the past couple of weeks and give them a taste for next year."

In that respect, the Orange-White game becomes almost like a bowl game. Play well, and carry that momentum on through the rest of the offseason. So while the game offers a glimpse into the 2013 Longhorn squad, it makes sense to try and remember that it's just another step along the road.

It is going to be my job, and everyone on this team's job, to hold everybody accountable throughout these next three or four months of the summer and the offseason," Ash said. "We need to make sure that when we are on our own that we improve. That is going to be the test. The coaches aren't going to be around. It is just going to be us. We've got to take a hold of this team and make it something special next year."

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