Round One in the tailback battle goes to Ike

So what did we learn Wednesday night at the Horns' first full pad practice? Well, probably not the definite answer to the burning question of two-a-days. And no, I don't mean who's gonna be the kicker come Sept. 1 (although there's more on that later in this report).

It's the Cedric question, the one whispered last fall after the stud RB's commitment to Texas and the one that grew to a shout after a adequate but not spectacular spring performance by expected starter Victor Ike. The question: when will Benson win the starting job? Not which game, but which practice.

If you consider working with the starting offense for a couple of plays during 11-on-11 scrimmaging winning the starting job, then Cedric crossed that threshold Wednesday night. When the first-team O trotted out for its first series vs. the second D, Benson joined Matt Trissel and Chris Simms in the offensive backfield and took two straight handoffs from Simms before returning to the sideline. The Midland Lee product scooted around right end for a moderate gain on his first attempt and then burst up the middle for about 10 yards on his next attempt.

But before you get too excited about anything you just read above, let me add this qualifier: Ivan Williams replaced Benson on the O's third play and promptly pounded for 10 yards up the middle and followed that with a five-yarder. In other words, Williams matched Benson yard for yard against a second-team defense that is searching for some run stoppers in the middle. Also realize that the simple fact that Williams followed Benson most likely showed that the coaches are giving the Nos. three and four guys on the tailback depth chart some work with the first team rather than any depth chart climb by either guy.

Later, Ike and Brett Robin, still the team's No. 1 and No. 2 tailbacks, worked with the second-team offense, and Ike, facing the Longhorns' top defensive unit, ripped off a 30-yarder. In that single play, Ike may have served notice that he intends to hang on to the starting job. Not only through August practice, but into the fall's games.

Wednesday evening practice notes: With Maurice Gordon still on the sideline with an ankle sprain, the back-up defensive tackles saw quite a bit of shuffling Wednesday. Marcus Tubbs and Adam Doiron remained the first-teamers (although Tubbs is the only DT that has a starting spot locked down), but Stevie Lee, Miguel McKay, Austin Sendlein and Kaelen Jakes all rotated in with the second-team defense during 11-on-11 work. Lee, Doiron and Gordon will almost certainly be in the fall mix and one of the three is the likely starter alongside Tubbs, but the coaches would like to see at least one of the other tackles step up and be capable of contributing. . . . Aside from tailback and defensive tackle mentioned above, the position with the biggest question mark heading into fall is left tackle. The spring play of Robbie Doane did not necessarily inspire confidence that he could successfully man the position as the successor to Leonard Davis. Coming out of spring, Doane needed not only to get lower when he blocked but also to shake the "soft" label that his play often elicited. Wednesday night, Doane seemed to make a move in that direction. In one-on-one drills between the offensive and defensive linemen, the junior from Coppell did something that as recently as spring would have been considered a minor miracle: he flat out planted Kalen Thornton on his back side as the quick defensive end tried to rush past Doane and into the backfield. By the reaction of OL coach Tim Nunez, who rushed to congratulate his left tackle, you'd of thought Doane had just leveled a blitzing Lawrence Taylor in the Super Bowl. Nunez, though, knows better than anyone does the importance of having Doane, or Alfio Randall, step up at the position. By the early look of things Wednesday, Doane is finally doing just that. . . . During that same one-on-one session, the right side of the second team offensive line -- RG Trey Bates and RT Lionel Garr -- struggled to keep anyone out of the offensive backfield. Matter of fact, newly converted DE Marcus Wilkins, all 6-2 and 230 pounds of him sent 6-7, 335-pound right tackle Garr to the turf on an outside speed rush. Garr could've counted the stars in the Austin night sky from his position on the grass. Unfortunately, if Wilkins had been an opposing DE in a game situation, Simms would've also been seeing stars after getting blind-sided. Overall, the left side of the second-team OL -- LT Randall and LG Beau Baker -- plus center Jason Glynn handled their one-on-one assignments fairly well, although, redshirt freshman Sendlein, who's been at tackle for a whoppin' three practices, put a move on Baker and barreled into the backfield. . . . During inside drill -- OLs and RBs vs. DLs and LBs -- third-team fullback Will Matthews drew the praise of RB coach Bruce Chambers and his tailback teammates after he cleared a hole for Sneezy Beltran with an outstanding block on starting MLB D.D. Lewis. . . . Also during inside drill, true freshman Jonathan Scott got some work at right guard. During the practice-opening special teams segment, Scott did some deep snapping on the punt team. . . . Now that the team is in full pads, the coaches seemed to give the full compliment of place kickers another shot, at least early in practice, at showing off their skills. Dusty Mangum led off by making three of five field goals (making from approximately 20, 25 and 40 while missing two in the 40-yard range). Scholarship kicker Matt McFadden followed by nailing his 25-yard attempt. David Pino then squeaked a 27-yarder in at the left upright (most of Pino's longer kicks of late have missed left) and Brady Noto and James Baker each hit a 35-yarder. McFadden closed out the special teams work by powering through a 40-yarder. If the season were to start today, though, Mangum would almost certainly get the field goal kicker call. He hit a 40-yarder, a 35-yarder (he missed a 40-yard attempt but a penalty moved the ball up five yards) and a practice-ending 40-yarder during 11-on-11. . . . Earlier I described what to me looked like a coming out party for left tackle Robbie Doane, but his may not have been the only one Wednesday evening. Redshirt freshman punter Justin Smith, who, to put it kindly, has struggled since his arrival on the Forty Acres, had by far the best day punting I've seen from him. Although he mishit a few, the vast majority of his almost 20 punts traveled high and far. In my notes as I watched him punt, I wrote, "Booms one. Another good one. Another good one. Another. . . . " His final punt at the end of the special teams session easily traveled 60 yards in the air with approximately a five second hang time. Near the end of practice, Smith, in his only 11-on-11 attempt, hit a low line drive that hit after 35 yards and rolled another five. Regardless, the Midland product's punting Wednesday gives a bit of hope that if needed, he can get the punting job done at a relatively high level. . . . Brian Bradford, the expected starter at punter, didn't exactly let 'em fly Wednesday evening during 11-on-11, hitting a 35-yarder and a 28-yarder. The good news on special teams? After one full pad, full speed practice, not a single blocked kick or punt. Yet. Knock on wood. Rub your rabbit's foot. Whatever. . . . And the sign said: 17 Day Until New Mexico State. That'll be 16 by the time you read this.

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