Running game set to take center stage

The Horns, after an earlier (and shorter) than usual morning workout, will return to Denius Fields tonight donning a full compliment of pads for the first time since spring. After Wednesday's morning session, <B>Mack</B> <B>Brown</B> looked ahead to the evening work and the opportunity to finally focus on the ground game.

"We'll work hard on the basic running plays tonight because you can get in a really bad habit in shoulder pads and shorts of being too high and that's a concern," the head coach said. "I want to see our running backs run behind their pads. We need to be able to make four yards even if we don't block anybody and right now we're not doing that."

As I mentioned in last night's practice report, one of the things that the coaches will look for from the competing running backs is yards after contact, and Brown's last statement above reinforces that.

With most of the attention focused on who will be the running back, the issue of what plays the RBs will run is somewhat overlooked. During spring practice, Brown said the coaches have "simplified" the Longhorn running game. Heading into the fall tailback battle, Brown's description of the new-look running game is worth another look (excerpt from the April 4 edition of Inside Texas):

"We're taking five plays and we're going to be really good at running them from 15 different formations and then do a good job with those five and run play-action off of them and run misdirection plays. We've tried to go back and see what we've done well and run those plays and what these backs can do best and what these linemen can do best . . . we need to get back to believing in a third down play and having three we can run and having something off of it." The head coach said the Horns will continue to run the gap play, the isolation play and draws this fall, as well as a full compliment of zone plays, including both the outside zone and the inside zone, something the team has not done in the past. "Isolation plays and draw plays are blocked the same way with a different tempo and a different look but the protections and the blocking schemes are the same (making it easier for the linemen)," said Brown. "We're simplifying for them but we still have the ability to go outside and inside and compliment each play. We have the gap and we have the counter gap. We've run all of these plays some but we're getting back to we're gonna run 'em really good." During spring, we've also seen the quick misdirection pitch and the shovel pass (to a wide receiver or running back) used quite frequently. "There's no doubt with the ability we have at wide receiver and at quarterback that if people are going to cover us man-to-man, we need to throw the ball," Brown said. "But if we can make 'em spread out like we did Kansas, we've got to have the ability to run the ball and we've worked a lot harder on simplifying our running game and getting it better this spring and I feel better about our running game right now than since Ricky was here." I can't say I feel better about the running game now than since Ricky was here because the spring production from the position simply was not evident. There are some mitigating circumstances in the backs' less-than spectacular March, as I've mentioned before, but until the running game consistently produces, which has only happened in spurts since Ricky's days on the Forty Acres, I'm going to remain a bit skeptical. The hope, of course, is that Cedric Benson . . . turns us all into believers. Unfortunately, we won't know until at least August. [Editor's note: End of excerpt]

So far, in the shorts-and-shoulder-pads work, very little of the running game that Brown described above has been practiced. But here in the dead middle of August, tonight brings the first real chance for Benson to turn us into believers.

Wednesday practice notes: Several players, including Quentin Jammer and Matt Anderson missed the morning workout because of summer school. The absence of those guys causes a ripple effect throughout the entire secondary and line, respectively. Today, Ervis Hill worked at left corner in place of Jammer, which allowed the young corners to get plenty of 11-on-11 work. Braden Johnson, who spent the first week of practice at SAM 'backer, got in a little work at safety today. DBs safety Kendal Briles (groin) and CB Monti Collier (hamstring) remain sidelined. LG Will Allen, one of the only guards in the true freshman class, got in a good bit of 11-on-11 work this morning because No. 3 left guard Beau Baker played some No. 2 center (behind today's No. 1 Jason Glynn) because of the absence of regular starter Anderson. . . . Plays of the day? Well, I've got three of them for you, and only two of them because of what happened on the play itself. First, during 11-on-11, Rod Babers stepped in front of Sneezy Beltran and picked off the pass attempt from Chance Mock and returned it the distance (approximately 30 yards) for the TD. Babers' DB teammates mobbed him in the end zone and, well, let me just say that the secondary members have a new celebratory routine. I don't want to give it away and spoil the fall Saturday afternoon fun, so look for it in early September in DKR. The routine no doubt is an offshoot of the enthusiasm that position coach Duane Akina brings to each practice, which leads me to play No. 2. Rover Lee Jackson, rushing outside of left tackle Alfio Randall, swatted a Major pass attempt for walk-on receiver Richard Hightower. After Jackson's athletic play, Akina raced up to the senior and in what could be described as a Sugar Ray Leonard impersonation, (lightly) landed about 10 punches in rapid succession to Jackson's chest and midsection in recognition of the play. I could literally fill pages with similar stories of Akina's excitement and personal exhortations. And based on the energy level and enthusiasm of his secondary, Akina's attitude is infectious. We still need to see what his charges do against competition in jerseys other than the Orange of the Longhorn offense, but if they perform like they look capable of playing, Ahmad Brooks' recent chant of "No. 1 secondary in the country" will indeed be reality. And the final play of note would normally not even be worth a single word, but Major turned a throwaway play into a laugher. The senior QB, pressured by the pass rush of the first team offense, scrambled left and toward the sideline before finally bailing on the play and tossing the ball out of bounds. Major, though, gave the throw a ride, sending it over the Denius Fields fence and into the I-35 frontage road traffic. Applewhite, shrugging his shoulders while heading back to the huddle, faced a bit of ribbing from coach Greg Davis and from his signal caller teammates Mock and Matt Nordgren. No official word was forthcoming from UT officials on the status of the wayward football. . . . Dusty Mangum may have wrestled the No. 1 field goal kicker spot away from David Pino with his recent efforts. Today, Mangum made all three of his attempts (by my estimation, from 40, 41 and 45 yards -- the 45-yarder just cleared the crossbar but cleared nonetheless). Pino, who has hit a string of bad luck with the snaps and holds on his recent attempts, missed from 46 yards, sending it deep but wide left. Holder Tony Jeffery did not get the ball spun quickly enough, and Pino's foot connected with the ball almost directly on the laces. Jeffery, the No. 2 holder behind Beau Trahan, had done a good job on all of his other holds on the day. . . . Both Brian Bradford and Justin Smith had an off day punting the ball, Bradford knocking a low 25-yarder after scraping the clouds with his first 40-yarder and Smith knocking an end-over-ender for about 20 yards on his lone attempt.

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