Will Cedric play this Saturday? Yes, unless he's puking in the corner of the lockerroom during pregame. "We're going to try to get him in the first game for sure and we want to see him play some," Mack Brown said Monday at his weekly media luncheon. "Part of it will be how he handles the pressure this week, how he handles pregame, what his eyes look like on the sideline and all of those things that happen that are intangibles . . ."
Sure Benson hasn't stepped out of the tunnel and seen 85,000 fans in the stands, but the true freshman from Midland Lee has consistently handled every ounce of pressure up to this point in his career and I don't expect that to change Saturday night. He's also played on the Memorial Stadium grass before 30,000 in the State Championship Game, and I've got a feeling he's not one to be intimidated by the a full house. Matter of fact, he seems to thrive in that type of environment and he'll get it on Sept. 1.
The Texas head coach today said Victor Ike will get the start against New Mexico State, with Ivan Williams and Benson coming off the bench. Brett Robin will be the Horns' No. 1 back in the spread offense and one-back sets, with Ike the back-up in those situations.
As excited as everyone is to see Benson's first action in the Orange and White (even QB Chris Simms, who's already gotten in two-a-days trouble with the coaches for not following through with his fakes while gawking at the sweet running of the freshman back, said he's looking forward to seeing Cedric in game action), Brown said he is pumped to see another of the backs that had a breakout camp.
"We're excited to see Ivan," the coach said. "He's looked really good through spring practice and he's looked really good through two-a-days. We're excited to see if he carries that to the field and I think he will. He's got a different look in his eye right now and he's got a different confidence about himself than he had this time last year."
How 'bout Derrick Johnson? He'll play. But an overly aggressive, inexperienced linebacker against an option team could be a recipe for blown assignments. Not that aggressive is bad, far from it, but the New Mexico State offense is designed to take advantage of things like overpursuit or missed assignments, so the Horns are likely to keep the experienced LBs on the field for the majority of the game.
"I don't know with Aurmon and Derrick when we will put them in the game," Brown said today, "but we think both of them will play." On the official depth chart released by the coaches today, Satchell (also a true freshman although he went through spring drills) is listed as the back-up at middle linebacker to D.D. Lewis while Derrick is No. 2 at WILL behind Everick Rawls. Tyrone Jones will start in place of the injured Lee Jackson at SAM/rover and Reed Boyd will come off the bench at that spot.
Will any of the true freshman DBs see the field? Possibly, but it's less likely than at running back and at linebacker. The Horns are deep and double-trained in the defensive backfield, so experience probably wins out at this spot.
"We've got experience enough in the secondary that we probably won't have younger players playing back there this weekend," Brown said.
True freshmen Michael Huff and Cedric Griffin, though, are listed as the co-second-teamers behind Quentin Jammer at left corner. SS Nathan Vasher is the probable back-up to Jammer if the game is on the line (with Dakarai Pearson taking over at strong safety), but the fact that Huff and Griffin are No. 2 on the depth chart certainly points to early (if not game one) playing time for the two, particularly against the passing teams that fill the schedule starting during late September and early October (Houston, Tech and Oklahoma). Another true freshman, Rufus Harris, is listed as the third-team free safety behind starter Ahmad Brooks and top back-up Pearson. Pearson, who is slated to back up both safety spots, is penciled in as the team's nickel back.
Who will start at TE? When two or more players are competitively equal, the Texas coaches say they are bracketed at a position. Bo Scaife and Brock Edwards are bracketed at tight end (ditto Derrick Dockery and Tillman Holloway at left guard). Brown said the decision on who to start will not come till later in the week, but that "it doesn't matter who runs out there first."
The tight end spot is going to be one of the most intriguing spots to watch Saturday, not necessarily for who will start, but for how often the tight end's number is called. Based on the statements of the coaches since spring, it should be several times. Regardless, you're going to see more of the tight ends on the field simply because of the two tight end sets the Horns plan to use in both short yardage situations and in traditional down-and distance tries.
What about at DT? It'll be Tubbs on one side and Gordon on the other, with Stevie Lee and Adam Doiron rotating in and "playing quite a bit," according to the head coach. Brown said one of the challenges the coaches face at every position, including tackle, is determining the number of quality snaps each player can handle. For some guys it may be 50, others 15. The coaches are meeting this afternoon to talk about that and determine the whens and hows of their Saturday substitution patterns.
And are the Horns really planning on running the option in the future? I got your attention on this one, didn't I. No, the Horns aren't scrapping the wide open offense in favor of an option attack, but Brown said having an option element in the gameplan certainly helps when preparing to face a team like the Aggies of NMSU.
"We used to run the option at all times in our offense so that we'd have to defend it everyday," the head coach said. "It's something I've talked to Greg (Davis) and the offensive staff about putting back in at some point. With Major, we couldn't run the option. . . . With Chance Mock and his ability to run some, we may put it back in and look at it some."
Although not likely to ever be more than a change-up in UT's predominantly passing attack, that option possibility, if implemented, should be a scary thought for opposing defensive coordinators given the skill position talent in the Orange and White.
[Editor's note: IT's New Mexico State preview, including Brown's comments on the Aggies, is coming later in the week.]