Bring on the upperclassmen

A little over 36 hours ago, the Longhorn newcomers had yet to begin their first practice in the Orange and White. Now, the guys must feel like grizzled vets with four practices under their belts.

Some of the Texas upperclassmen joined the freshmen (and Alfio Randall) during the four Denius Fields workouts, but the older guys watched from the sidelines in street clothes and offered encouragement. The scene Saturday morning, when the returners don the pads and uniforms, will be a bit different one. Bone jarring pops will join pats on the back in the veterans' frosh-handling repertoire.

And the newcomers will experience a speed and contact level during the full squad workouts that will far surpass what they dealt with over the last two days. Along with that higher level of competition will come a better opportunity to determine where the 26 newcomers fit into the Horns' fall plans. Frankly, the evidence is too limited to make anything but fairly broad judgments, but a few are worth making.

The defensive line group, although small in numbers, looks long on athleticism. All three DLs -- DEs Eric Hall and Lance McFarland and DT Kaelen Jakes -- showed flashes of the quickness, agility and strength they will need to contribute this fall, and all three will be expected to contribute. Their first real test, though, won't come until they face seasoned OLs like Mike Williams and Antwan Kirk-Hughes and Tillman Holloway, but the one-on-ones between those young DLs and the returning OLs should make for entertaining practice viewing.

The young OLs, some of which will be expected to provide depth this fall, have shown a common trait: great footwork, with Jonathan Scott, Roman Reeves and Alfio Randall (in his very limited action) standing out to me, but that list is not meant to be comprehensive. Those guys caught my eye at one time or another, though, so it's worth noting.

The DBs and WRs -- they essentially practiced as one group -- didn't get much of an opportunity to show their stuff. Nor did the group's most heralded prospect, RB Cedric Benson or its only QB Matt Nordgren. LBs? Pretty much the same story, although Derrick Johnson passes the eyeball test, and the bottom line of the chart reads Future Star.

Perhaps this is a testament to how far this program has come in terms of quality depth across the offense and defense, but the most watched players during the four freshman practice sessions weren't the blue-chips like Benson and Johnson, but the no-ship walk-ons battling for the kicker job. And surprisingly, all four have been somewhat impressive. "All of the guys have shown leg strength and we feel like there are four legs out there with a chance to kick and one (David Pino) that definitely has a chance to punt," Mack Brown said Wednesday evening. "If those guys keep progressing, it's going to be interesting when we start the kicking match-ups on Saturday."

Saturday will be interesting indeed, not only for the kickers but many other members of the group of 26 as well. And after getting comfortable with the techniques and fundamentals of practice during the last two days, Saturday will in effect be like starting over. Bring on the upperclassmen.

Wednesday evening practice notes: Alfio Randall returned to practice for the first time since the opening minutes of Tuesday morning's workout. Brown said the junior OL should be back and ready to go for the remainder of two-a-days. Rufus Harris (bruised quad, sore knee) and Cedric Griffin (sore ankle) did not practice but are listed as day-to-day and could be back on the field Saturday. The status of Anthony Johnson (hairline fracture in foot) is still uncertain. . . . The kickers had their best overall performance Wednesday evening, by my count connecting on 18 of 26 attempts (and at least two of the misses can be attributed to bad snaps/holds). As Brown mentioned above, Pino had by far his best practice, hitting four of his six attempts, including a 45-yarder and a 35-yarder that probably had 15 yards more distance in it. Pino also boomed punt after punt to Aaron Ross to close out practice. From my vantagepoint, I couldn't see how far each punt traveled, but several sent Ross backpedaling. Ross, by the way, successfully handled 14 of Pino's 15 punts, dropping one (the only one that I saw) that came in end over end. . . . Before the end-of-practice kicking game session, the Horns broke up into offensive and defensive units, the defenders working on alignment and the offense working on huddle and huddle break. On the defensive side, Michael Huff lined up at right corner while Ross (and the injured Griffin) lined up at left corner. Harris and Briles stood in at the two safety spots. . . . The highlight reel play of the day: Ross, playing corner, made a one-handed pick of Nordgren's pass attempt for Kendal Briles (playing receiver at the time). I asked Brown after practice whether any of the DB/WR group had decided to switch positions. "I think they're settled in their minds right now," the coach said. "They may change when they see who's in that line on Saturday. Right now . . . Brian Carter would be the only guy at wide receiver and the other guys would stay at defensive back." . . . Brown said today that two of the new OLs are getting a look at center, Mike Garcia (who can play both center and guard) and Will Allen. "Both are bright guys that we feel could fit that center spot," the head coach said. Scott, who will probably be a tackle, is also working as a deep snapper. . . . The newcomers are dining at Mack Brown's house tonight where former Horn and College Football Hall of Famer Chris Gilbert will speak to the team about what it's like to play at The University of Texas. Tomorrow, while the coaches are welcoming back the veterans, the newcomers will have a full day of academic orientation. . . . Upperclassmen Roy Williams, D.D. Lewis, Montrell Flowers, Jermain Anderson and Everick Rawls took in Wednesday's evening workout. The next time those guys step onto Denius Fields, they'll be suited up. That first full squad workout is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday morning. . . . To read about the Horns' Wednesday morning workout, click here.

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