Day Five Practice Notes

While the true freshmen face a tough road to the two-deep, other young players are starting to emerge as likely key contributors.

1) Ch..ch..ch..changes

The Longhorns continued to tinker away with their lineup on Friday, with Darius James jumping up to play second team right tackle in Desmond Harrison's continued absence (Harrison was the second-team LT earlier this week, with Kennedy Estelle moving to that spot when Harrison went out). James seems to improve every day, and with Kent Perkins nursing a sore shoulder, James is going to get every opportunity to impress. He did fairly well in both one-on-ones and was strong in board drills. James struggled a bit with assignments (to be expected for a true freshman), and with speed rushers, but he has excellent pop and the feet to continue to get better. At the same time, offensive lineman Marcus Hutchins, who has spent time with the Longhorns' third team, moved over to defensive tackle and had a nice practice. Hutchins, who just wore a black mesh uniform over his white jersey, has long struggled to find a place among the top two offensive line units, so if he can make an impact at another position, all the better. Duke Thomas continued to forge ahead of Sheroid Evans as the No. 3 cornerback, while Geoff Swaim showed that he's more than just an in-line blocker. Swaim worked mostly with the ones at Friday's practice, and he's really pushing M.J. McFarland for reps.


2) Hard for the freshmen

With a team that is so packed with depth and experienced depth, it's difficult to see spots where the 13 freshmen members of the Class of 2013 will have a major impact this year. Obviously, it's still early in camp. But two of those 13 have yet to practice with injuries (Erik Huhn and Deoundrei Davis), while one of the freshmen who may well be on the two-deep (Perkins) hasn't done contact periods since the first day. The freshman wide receivers have played well, but none are too likely to crack the two-deep at receiver at this point. Antwuan Davis hasn't been able to pass Evans or Bryson Echols at corner, much less Carrington Byndom, Quandre Diggs or Duke Thomas. Swoopes is a clear No. 3 at quarterback at this point (and also isn't on the likely two-deep at Wild QB, with Johnathan Gray and Jalen Overstreet working there). Naashon Hughes is an excellent athlete who looks to have a bright future, but he's still figuring things out on the third team. The only freshman who appears to be on the two-deep at this point is Perkins, though guards Darius James and Rami Hammad might not be far off from displacing somebody like Curtis Riser. So while the true freshmen obviously have time to make moves this camp, at this early point, it's looking doubtful that any of them will rise to the top of their positions anytime soon this year.


3) People will make a big deal about Jackson Jeffcoat saying after practice that the Longhorns haven't changed anything defensively from a year ago, but they shouldn't.

First (as you're probably tired of me mentioning), it's early at practice, with Friday representing the first day in pads. And while most people will want defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to reinvent the wheel after 2012's struggles, so many of the big plays allowed in the running game came from inexperience and not executing the plays that Diaz called. I'm not saying Diaz's defense is perfect. Certainly, in the Big 12, it's difficult to be perfect defensively. But the Longhorns' defense should take a major step forward just from players executing their assignments better. Remember: the 2011 defense was a top-10 defense nationally in S&P+, and did so with players who probably weren't as athletically talented as the players on the 2012 defense. I think people would be surprised how many of last year's issues could have been cleaned up by 1) proper gap replacement, 2) doing a better job of leveraging the ball and 3) better tackling. None of those three call for major schematic changes, and executing Nos. 1 and 2 will help No. 3 dramatically. I'd also state that things like gap replacement and leveraging the ball are typically parts of defense that improve as players get more experienced and as the game slows down for them.


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