For some quick-hit preliminary thoughts on the second Texas open practice, go to:
1) David Ash continues to be sharp. He hit on some really nice throws, including a big play to Daje Johnson where Ash "threw him open." His anticipation, confidence and ability to organize the team at a frantic pace has really been impressive so far. It seems silly to say that a quarterback who finished in the top 25 in passing efficiency a year ago will surprise this year, but Ash's performance last year was such at odds with the average fan's perception of how he played.
2) With Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley out, Marcus Johnson has stepped up and done an excellent job. And it was nice to see Davis at one point working with Johnson and helping him with his technique on post routes. On the very next route, Johnson's technique was impeccable. I'm not sure you would have seen that level of leadership from Davis a year or two ago. But it's more than just Johnson — all the young receivers have shown nice flashes. Kendall Sanders appears to have star potential. Jacorey Warrick made a few nice catches, and Jake Oliver is incredibly sure-handed. And the best of the freshman bunch so far might have been Chevoski Collins.
3) Texas is significantly better in the front-seven than it was a year ago. That in itself isn't a huge surprise: the Longhorns lost just one starter from a year ago in Alex Okafor, and only two total players on the two-deep, including early entry Brandon Moore. And the Longhorns return everybody at linebacker and add back Jordan Hicks.
Okafor's loss is lessened somewhat by the fact that the Longhorns return Jackson Jeffcoat, who has been as expected so far after missing the last half of last year. And Cedric Reed, who took Jeffcoat's place in the starting lineup, has been strong so far as well. But the key with the end group is the depth. Reggie Wilson has come out with a totally different attitude, and appears to have gotten stronger. He's been worlds better than he was the past two years. Shiro Davis is another much-improved guy, now that his weight is close to 250 pounds, and the athleticism has always been there. Add in always improving guys like Caleb Bluiett and Bryce Cottrell, and the end position has some guys to rotate through against the Big 12's spreads. And don't forget: Jeffcoat and Wilson are the only players of that group who are seniors, which bodes well for the future.
Defensive tackle is also in a talented spot with Texas returning four guys from its five-man rotation. The biggest step forward has probably been from Malcom Brown, who went from showing flashes as a freshman to working with the No. 1s so far this fall camp. He's physical and shows the ability to get off the ball quickly. He's a nice pairing with experienced senior Chris Whaley, with Ashton Dorsey and Desmond Jackson making up, in effect, a second starting group. Guys like Hassan Ridgeway, who is one of the more physically talented defensive tackles, Alex Norman and Paul Boyette have all had their moments. For them, it's a question of 1) the talent in front of them and 2) gaining consistency.
4) I think Texas could have an elite offensive line … if the Longhorns move Donald Hawkins to guard. It's not necessarily that Hawkins can't play tackle. He's a very good tackle. But he can be an elite guard, thanks to his movement skills and his ability to root-hog defensive linemen with his strength. Of course, the best way to make that happen is for Desmond Harrison, who wasn't at Tuesday's practice, to win the left tackle job and for Trey Hopkins to move inside to center permanently, a move Texas has experimented with early on. A left side of Harrison-Hawkins-Hopkins would give the Longhorns a major position of strength, one that could create great movement in the running game.
5) I think Texas has the ability to be a top-10 team this year and win the Big 12. I cite this stat often, but I think it's a relevant one: Scout.com's rankings database goes back to the 2002 recruiting class, and Texas is the first school ever to put together three consecutive top-three classes nationally. The Longhorns achieved that feat from 2010-2012, and it's worth noting that the 2010 class is now (mostly) a sturdy group of seniors, supported largely by juniors from the 2011 class and sophomores from 2012. After a few seasons that were less than Texas-like, the Longhorns' high-level talent is all grown up.
Even leaving that three top-three stat behind, the level of growth in talent, experience and depth over what Texas has had the past few seasons is observable.