1) Wednesday was the first day of practice in shells (helmets and shoulder pads, but shorts). As weird as this sounds, it's one of the more exciting practices of the year, in my opinion. Players have been lifting and playing 7-on-7 for months, and despite the fact that they aren't fully padded, you see the first big hits come out in shells. That was certainly the case on Wednesday, as started when Joe Bergeron made a long dash down the sideline on a screen pass, only to get hammered to the turf by safety Leroy Scott. On the very next play, Geoff Swaim caught a pass over the middle and was drilled by a waiting Bryson Echols, and we were off.
2) Some of the cream began to rise to the top. My jaw dropped when Jackson Jeffcoat blew by Donald Hawkins using a deadly hesitation move in pass-rushing one-on-ones. How nasty was it? Offensive line coach Stacy Searels, he of the constantly flying hat, didn't seem too angry about it. Mason Walters was a beast in inside drill, and Ashton Dorsey flashed big-time for the defensive linemen in that same event. Kendall Sanders continued to look like a budding star, including a really early long catch on a great throw from David Ash. Jordan Hicks was all over the place, blasting people in the hole on inside drill and then later breaking up a pass over the middle. And Steve Edmond has started to look like the Steve Edmond everyone wants to see. He filled hard in inside drill and demonstrated so much more explosiveness than he had a year ago. In general, the defensive speed was on full display. In team period, one of David Ash's rollouts became a scramble to the sideline that was cut down in the backfield by the speed of Edmond and Peter Jinkens. Later, on a similar play with Case McCoy, defensive end Shiro Davis did the exact same thing.
3) The Longhorns have 'em some backs. Players aren't really allowed a ton to tackle low in general in practice, for safety reasons. And that makes playing in shells almost the equivalent of playing in pads, and adds some effectiveness to the offensive players. But if what I saw today holds up, the Longhorns have four pretty good backs that they can play around with, and that doesn't include Daje Johnson, who can get some carries there, too. Johnathan Gray continues to look like an All-Big 12 player. He's somebody who should see plenty of use not just in the running game, but in the passing game as well. Joe Bergeron has slimmed down some and has looked quicker, but also has shown the ability to power ahead when needed. He took a cannon shot in the hole from Dalton Santos on one inside drill play, but kept his legs churning and fell forward for what would have been a couple-yard gain. Malcolm Brown has also looked good this camp, including one run today where he bounced it outside of the tackles for a big gain. But the fourth back has been a bit of a surprise: former quarterback Jalen Overstreet has shown that he's more than just a good athlete. Texas coach Mack Brown credited Overstreet with running behind his pads today, and I thought he did a really nice job of making himself small when going through the hole. In fact, on one play, there didn't seem to be a hole at all, only to have Overstreet squirt through a crack in the line for a nice play. Overstreet also spent time at quarterback in team period, some of the little work he's spent there, and did a nice job. He's a nice piece to have.
4) The offensive line-defensive line battles have been some of the most intriguing this camp. The offensive line was thinner at tackle on Wednesday, with not only Desmond Harrison sitting out, but also Kent Perkins not taking part in contact drills because of a sore shoulder. Harrison's fate is still tied to academics … this is the second practice in a row that he's missed.* Those two sitting out meant that Taylor Doyle was promoted to second-team offensive tackle for the day. But that didn't stop the offensive line from probably winning the inside drill, a drill that favors the defense, because it obviously knows that the offense is running the ball. But Texas was awfully physical at the point of attack, with Walters and Hopkins leading the way. That physicality fed down to the second and third-team players as well, with both Sedrick Flowers and Rami Hammad making pancake blocks from their guard spots. Texas is especially thick at that position, with Curtis Riser looking good in pass protection at times, and Darius James earning kudos from Searels in individual period.
But it wasn't an overwhelming win, and it was one that was probably reversed when looking at pass-rush drills. The defensive line has the edge in athleticism, and certainly in depth at this point, with guys like hard-to-block ends Bryce Cottrell and Caleb Bluiett bringing up the bottom part of the end rotation, and Hassan Ridgeway working as a third-team defensive tackle. Desmond Jackson has been decent this camp, but so far at least, it seems like Texas is best with Malcom Brown at one tackle spot and a combination of Chris Whaley and Ashton Dorsey at the other. Whaley is the best pass-rusher, somebody with quickness and athleticism. Dorsey can also rush the passer, but isn't quite as elite in that category as Whaley. But Dorsey's strength is that he can also create tackles-for-loss in the running game, where he isn't nearly as easy to move aside. The bottom line is that there's a lot of talent with both groups, and a lot of depth. And the good news for Texas fans is that they'll continue to push each other throughout camp.
* On Harrison, Brown said "It should be fixed at any time. But he can't practice until it is. We feel he'll be back soon." The good news is that Harrison is certified to take classes, and is taking classes, at Texas. But he can't workout with the team or practice with the team until his academic issue is resolved. On whether it's an NCAA Clearinghouse issue or not, Brown said: "I'm not going there."
Here's the deal: it's expected to get completed fairly quickly. But keep in mind that the NCAA mandates that every player practice twice in T-shirts and shorts and twice in shells before the player can work in full pads. So it's not like Harrison, when cleared, could immediately jump back into the fray. There's a bit of a waiting period there, so hopefully, it gets resolved quickly.
5) It's almost becoming a cliché observation, but Mack Brown looks like a whole new guy. It's not like Texas has opened a ton of practices to the media in my time here, but there have been enough to get a feel on each coach's coaching style (with the slight exception of Larry Porter, who just joined). That's especially true for Brown, who I've seen in open practices from 2010-on. And I feel safe in saying that he seems like a new coach this year. Brown, who within the past few years had knee-replacement surgery, has lost more than 20 pounds and is jogging to some drills and is obviously more active in others. Watching inside drill was to watch Brown truly get into coaching, smacking helmets and hugging on players after a big play and shouting at others who struggled. The players seemed to feed off that energy, and it has been fun to watch.