Thursday scrimmage notes

The running game wasn't the only story Thursday afternoon during the Horns' first two-a-days scrimmage. Here are some notes from the team's first work at DKR:

In my article on the performance of the Texas running backs during yesterday's scrimmage (Time to bring back the Wishbone?), I mentioned Derrick Johnson's pop of Victor Ike on the third play from scrimmage. That wouldn't be the last time a Texas defender leveled a Longhorn running back. On the next series between the first-team defense and the second- team offense, rover Lee Jackson (who left the scrimmage shortly thereafter with a stubbed toe) introduced himself to Brett Robin four yards deep in the backfield, sending the sophomore RB hard to the turf. Robin received similar treatment two plays later when ends Cory Redding and Kalen Thornton sandwiched him five yards behind the line. After the first-team O trekked back onto the field for its second possession of the day, Derrick Johnson, who gives up about 35 pounds to Matt Trissel, stopped the fullback dead in his tracks on a first-and-10 play (FYI, Cedric Benson followed that play with his 25-yard burst up the left side). Benson, though, wasn't immune from the hard knocks, taking one late in the scrimmage from true freshman classmate Rufus Harris. Harris and Johnson in particular already look like they are going to significantly raise the defense's big hit ability. "The young guys (and some of the guys we've had), they were bringing the leather and they need to," defensive coordinator Carl Reese said post-practice. "We need to get strong secondary and linebacker play to help out what we're doing up front. Those kids are having fun flying around and getting with it and I thought they did well." . . .

Strong safety Phillip Geiggar should probably be included in that bringin'-it bunch above after he flattened Roy Williams, separating him from the ball and temporarily from his senses during the first full pad scrimmage Wednesday night. . . .

On Thursday, the defenders weren't the only ones doling out a bit of physical punishment. Ivan Williams got in his licks. The Horns' 245-pound tailback lowered his shoulder about halfway through his 17-yard, up-the-gut gainer vs. the second-team D, and shook the DKR foundation when he met and mashed true freshman SAM 'backer Braden Johnson. "Two days in pads and Ivan has really stepped up," Mack Brown said post-practice Thursday. "That's 245 pounds leaning forward and he's been impressive (Wednesday) and (Thursday)." Yeah, just ask Braden Johnson. If he remembers. . . .

The special teams took the couple of thousand fans in attendance on a somewhat typical (during Brown's tenure) roller coaster ride. Walk-on kicker Brady Noto sent the opening kickoff to just the 22 (the only explanation for this other than simply a bad kick is that Noto is auditioning for the Horns' pooch kicking role), where Ike grabbed it and burst up the middle and then outside for a 46 yard return. The coverage team wore black pullover jerseys (on Ike's return and Nathan Vasher's which I'll describe shortly) which generally indicates a back-up coverage team (let's hope). On the scrimmage's second kickoff, walk-on Dylan Becker sent the ball to the 18 where Vasher (flanked by his deep return partner Ahmad Brooks) fielded and headed up and left, never to be touched by a cover man on the 82-yard TD return. Walk-on kicker candidate Dusty Mangum had a bit more success that Noto and Becker in the depth of his kickoffs, sending one to the nine, one to the five and another to the 12, but his first two tries (barely) went out of bounds in his attempts to angle the kicks to the sideline. Mangum, though, had absolutely no struggles in the field goal kicking department, connecting on all three of his attempts (from 33, 36 and 46 yards) and his lone extra point try. Matt McFadden nailed his only field goal try, connecting easily from 36 yards. David Pino's extra point effort (his only kick of the day) was anything but easy, getting tipped at the line of scrimmage but still inching over the cross bar. At this point, after several consecutive solid performances, the kicking job looks to be Mangum's to lose. Speaking of losing, the Horns' punting performance on Thursday recalled memories of a loss back in early '99. I think you know the one. Yesterday, the Horns suffered two punt blocks, one a partial block of a Justin Smith attempt (Beau Trahan and Phillip Geiggar looked to be in on the play), the other a full fledged, going-back-the-other-way block of Brian Bradford's attempt by walk-on Tien Nguyen. This, of course, was a first scrimmage, and there are still two weeks before the start of the season, plenty of time to correct these collapses in punt protection. That rationale might be valid if this were a new problem. It's not. It has lingered from '99 through '00, into spring ball this year and now right on into '01 two-a-days. Is there a positive in this? Well, Texas seems to have the ability to block punts. Of course, we thought the same thing over the last two years when, in practice, the Horns blocked punts. Turned out to be as much a flaw in the UT punt protection, as evidenced by the loss-causing blocks in the N.C. State game in '99 alluded to above and the Stanford game in '00 among others, as opposed to a supernatural ability by UT players to block punts, which could again be the case this fall. On the punts that actually made it off the punter's feet, Smith managed a 22-yarder (on the partial block) and a 34-yarder, while Bradford boomed one high and 44 yards and another low and 42. . . .

In a scrimmage dominated by the running game, the receivers must never have expected the ball, because when it came their way, they often dropped it. B.J. Johnson, Montrell Flowers and Roy Williams, with little to no defensive pressure, each let at least one hit the turf that hit 'em square in the hands. Johnson finished the scrimmage with three catches for 12 yards and Williams managed three catches for 11 yards, two of those on quick hitters to the left sideline on the first O's final one-minute drive. Sloan Thomas hauled in a perfectly placed 16-yard TD pass at the right pylon from Chris Simms on that drive. Thomas finished with three catches for 25 yards. Fittingly, for this scrimmage at least, both Ike and Benson outshone the wideouts in the catching category. Ike took a swing pass out of the backfield from Simms and turned it upfield for 37 yards and Benson had a 25-yard catch-and-run from Simms. Rufus Harris halted Benson's progress at the 25th yard with the hard hit I mentioned earlier. . . .

The first-team O's final one-minute success followed two pretty miserable one-minute efforts, one by the first-team and the other by the second-team offense. With B.J. and Montrell dropping two catchable passes for the first-team and Major Applewhite getting sacked twice during the second-team's try, neither unit even made a first down.. . .

Aside from the head-knocking of some of his defensive teammates, strong safety Dakarai Pearson had the defensive play of the day when he stepped in front of an Applewhite pass attempt and took it back the other way (approximately 50 yards) for six. Major finished the day completing just five of 13 passes (but remember the wideouts weren't exactly sticky fingers Thursday) for 27 yards. Simms connected on 15 of his 23 attempts for 142 yards and one TD. Simms didn't go down field often, completing many of his passes to his RBs or on short routes to his wideouts. Chance Mock threw a nice deep ball to Michael Ungar (a 46-yarder for a TD) for his only completion of the day. Mock continues to struggle finding a receiver and firing it his way, too often resorting to tucking the ball and running. He's also misfiring high on many of his short attempts. . . .

Robbie Doane and Alfio Randall initially worked with the No. 1 and 2 offense, respectively, but Derrick Dockery also got some snaps at left tackle. . . .

Add Kenny Hayter to the list of RBs who had a strong statistical performance. The junior totaled 54 yards on five carries, but (like with Mock's TD toss) they all came late in the scrimmage with the bottom-of-the-chart defenders in on D. If the Horns played today, four tailbacks would see meaningful game action: Ike, Robin, Benson and Williams. "Right now we've got some real competition at running back and a great battle and it's exciting to watch," Brown said. ". . . this year if we can, we'd like to play more guys as we plan on every year so we'd like to see guys compete. We may have a guy like Brett Robin as a starter when we're in our spread set with just one back and a bunch of wideouts because he's smart, he can catch the ball, he's got great quickness and he's our best blockers at tailback. It'll be important for us to keep a fresh guy on the field." Robin was the busiest back aside from Ivan Williams, totaling 11 yards on six carries and 13 yards on two receptions. . . .

Both Maurice Gordon and Mike Jones, who have missed time recently because of minor injuries, participated in the scrimmage. . . .

I joked in my main article on the scrimmage about bringing back the Wishbone, but the Horns actually did run some three back sets Thursday in short yardage. Those sets include one tailback and two fullbacks. The Horns also continue to integrate some five-wide, empty backfield sets into their passing attack.

[Editor's note: I talked to both Carl Reese and Greg Davis after the scrimmage, and I'll have highlights of those conversations posted soon.]


Horns Digest Top Stories