Horns hunt for depth in Saturday scrimmage

I don't think anyone needs the reminder, but the season opener is now just two weeks away, and the Horns are down to their final few days of two-a-days before settling into a regular game-week practice schedule.

After Thursday's scrimmage, D-coordinator Carl Reese said that the final week of two-a-days is the time to start "building depth," "putting depth charts up" and "getting the kids in position" of how they'd be played in the first game. And the coaches used Saturday morning's DKR scrimmage, the Horns' second of preseason, to do just that.

The starters on both sides of the ball each played approximately 30 of the 100 or so scrimmage snaps. The guys fighting for a spot on the two-deep got most of the remaining plays.

Across the offense, the majority of the starters are set: QB Chris Simms, TB Victor Ike, FB Matt Trissel, FL B.J. Johnson, SE Roy Williams, C Matt Anderson, RG Antwan Kirk-Hughes and RT Mike Williams. The only questions are at TE, LT and LG and today's scrimmage probably didn't provide the answers. At TE, Brock Edwards got the starting nod in today's scrimmage, but both he and Bo Scaife are still vying for the spot. At LT, Robbie Doane remained with the first-teamers, but the coaches continue to work Derrick Dockery at the spot and he could start vs. New Mexico State (particularly if Doane's bursa sac swelling limits his effectiveness). Dockery is also in the mix at LG, where he started today's scrimmage. Tillman Holloway is the other candidate at the spot, and whichever player starts at the position, it will be well-manned.

As with the offense, the defensive starting line-up is virtually settled: LDE Cory Redding, RT Marcus Tubbs, LDE Kalen Thornton, WLB Everick Rawls, MLB D.D. Lewis, LCB Rod Babers, RCB Quentin Jammer, SS Nathan Vasher and FS Ahmad Brooks. Only left tackle and SAM 'backer/rover are still up in the air. Maurice Gordon started at left tackle today, pushing Adam Doiron to the second team spot along with Stevie Lee. All three are still in the running for the opening day start beside definite starter Tubbs (who continually harassed the QB and RBs, making all four of his tackles behind the line), and none of the three particularly stood out in the scrimmage. Matter of fact, it looked today like the smallish Gordon got pushed around a bit by the second-team OL, not a good sign considering the Horns' second OL hasn't exactly been blowing anyone off the ball. At LB, with Lee Jackson sidelined with a toe injury (he did not suit out and continues to wear a large protective boot on his left lower leg/foot), Tyrone Jones got the SAM start. Jackson had moved to the top of the depth chart with his performance earlier this week in practice, but it's unclear how long he will be out, and how that will affect the opening day line-up.

Aside from the few spots mentioned above, today's work on offense and defense looked principally to be a depth-finding mission.

On O, in a search for tailback Nos. 2, 3 and 4, Cedric Benson and Ivan Williams got most of the carries with the first- and second-team O-line while Ike watched from the sideline. Benson carried the ball seven times for 23 yards and Williams picked up 32 on his nine carries.

Despite the relatively pedestrian rushing numbers, Benson continues to display fantastic lateral movement, quickness and evasiveness. On three plays during a series with the starters vs. the second-team D, Cedric displayed all of those traits and then some. On the first play, Benson, upon taking the handoff from Simms, found himself face-to-face with blitzing SAM 'backer Braden Johnson several yards deep in the backfield. The true freshman back stiff-armed his true freshman teammate to the turf, and scooted through the line, turning a sure loss into a gain of three. On the next play, Benson, running right along the line of scrimmage, stopped on a dime, cut up field and seeing that path blocked, darted back left along the line of scrimmage before colliding with Scaife as the TE tried to find someone to block (or simply tried to get out of the RB's way). If Scaife had not gotten in the way, Benson could have found the left corner for a big gain. On the stat sheet, the play only went for a yard, but Benson again demonstrated the abilities that will make him a star in the Orange and White. A couple of snaps later Benson got caught in traffic on the line of scrimmage but popped out for a six-yard gain. Later in the scrimmage he also had a five-yard run on a quick step to the left side, a 10-yarder on a draw, a two-yarder up the middle and a four-yard loss on what looked to be a blocking assignment mix-up by the left side of the offensive line (Doane was in at tackle at the time). All of Cedric's attempts came with the first-team O-line and against the second-team defense.

Ivan Williams, after five attempts vs. the defensive No. 1s netted the Cleveland native just two yards, registered the Longhorn running backs' only ground game success against the first-team D. On the play, Williams took the draw from third-team QB Chance Mock and rumbled through a hole at left tackle and into the backfield where he barreled into free safety Brooks, taking Brooks and then Babers and then Vasher on a five-yard ride. The play went for 17 yards. Ivan also caught an 11-yard swing pass from Simms.

"Victor would start today if we played," Mack Brown said post-scrimmage. "Ivan and Cedric would alternate some and Brett would be in the spread formation as the starter."

On defense, the greatest depth concern along with DT (which I addressed above) is at DE, and LDE Marcus Wilkins made some plays of note. Playing with the second D, Wilkins got around the right side of the OL at least twice, stopping Ivan Williams for a one-yard loss and almost snagging Montrell Flowers in the backfield on an end-around. The senior also registered what should have been called a sack on Major Applewhite (QBing behind the first-team O-line) on the next-to-last play of the scrimmage. The most impressive thing about Wilkins performance? All of the plays above he made from the DE spot against the first-team O.

I asked Brown after the scrimmage about the team's depth and he said, "it's still not where it needs to be." But even with the concerns at several spots, the Horns' depth situation is better than it has been in my six years covering the team. Guys are going to need to step up at defensive tackle, defensive end, and running back, but the talent seems to be there at least two deep at every spot but DE. The play of Benson and Williams and Wilkins in today's scrimmage simply reinforced that notion.

Quick notes (more later): For those of you clamoring to see the first-team O square off against the first-team D, it ain't gonna happen, at least not in scrimmages. "We did it all spring, we've done it for the last two falls and I don't think it worked out well for us so we work in practice ones against ones when we go half line or inside drill and when we go pass skeleton," the head coach said Saturday. "I want this team going into the first game with a tremendous amount of confidence and I'm not sure we've done that the last two years so we will not go ones against ones." . . . Walk-on Tien Van Nguyen blocked another field goal today, going high in the middle of the line to knock down Dusty Mangum's 45-yard attempt. Because of the distance of the attempt, the kick had a low trajectory, but Nguyen certainly seems to have a knack, as Brown said Friday, for blocking kicks. He's registered three blocks (one punt and two field goals) in the last four practices. . . . Chance Mock, although still shaky in the throwing game, had his sharpest scrimmage performance since arriving on the Forty Acres a little over a year ago. "I thought Chance did some good things today," Brown said. "He looked like he was a comfortable quarterback today for the first time and we tried to get him some work and I'm glad to see him progress. He made a great play on a third and four that he hadn't made before that kept a drive against the one defense (going)." Mock completed two of his six attempts for 27 yards, almost invariably overthrowing on his misses. He also ran six times for 25 yards. Simms finished six of 10 for 72 yards and two TDs while Major, who worked some with both the first and second teams, hit five of nine for 50 yards but threw an INT to Michael Huff on the scrimmage's final play.


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