The smell of sweat, the animal grunts, the large men bumping into each other and thats just in the bleachers. Thats right, its finally here! The first Longhorn practice!
If you couldnt make it out to Denius Fields today to catch the first Longhorn practice for 2004, shame on you. Ill try to fill you in on some of the little things you missed...
Today was one of the hottest days Ive ever experienced in Austin in 22 years. It wasnt just hot, it was Arabian Desert hot. Temperatures in and around the city reached a scorching 108 degrees. Footballs melted and people on the sidelines burst into flames. Well, not really, but the fact that no player dropped out due to heat is simply amazing. Early on, Mack ordered the offense into the bubble for a five minute break to escape the oppressive heat and the team took water breaks about every 30 minutes. Game balls to the trainers and the coaching staff for getting everyone through the day.
For today, at least, Mack Browns plan to develop greater depth was in full effect. On each side of the ball, there was almost constant switching of personnel, with starters sometimes mixing with back-ups and true freshmen. On one play, the defensive line would showcase Kalen Thornton and Austin Sendlein at defensive end, Stevie Lee (who now wears No. 93) and Adam Doiron at defensive tackle, while youngsters Marcus Myers and Robert Killebrew held down linebacker slots. Chalk it up to the elimination of freshmen practice, as the coaching staff will likely use the first few days to gauge where the freshmen are at this point. Because of that, this first practice had a different feel to those Ive attended in the past. A little less polished, choppy at times, but very action packed.
Overall, even though there were a few stand out plays by the offense, it appeared to me that the defense got the better of the offense for most of the afternoon, which is probably to be expected on the first day.
The Burning Question
Despite all the switching and the sometimes frantic pace of the practice, the 1st team offensive line on the first day was manned by:
Sigh of Relief
Scaife, Sloan Thomas and Brock Edwards looked to be over their injuries. Edwards could be a force at fullback (I thought that last year as well), and if Scaife is healthy this offense could be extremely dangerous. Rufus Harris seemed to be enjoying his return to the field.
Play(s) of the Day
Within two minutes of each other, tight ends Scaife and Thomas made spectacular catches. Scaife leapt in the air and made a fantastic one-handed grab of a slightly high Vince Young down-the-middle pass, while Thomas laid out about 25-30 yards downfield to make a tremendous, juggling, leaping catch on a pass from Chance Mock.
If there is any newcomer the Horns need to shine it is defensive end Tim Crowder. Well folks, he stood out like a flashlight on a moonless night. His pass rushing looked strong right off the bat. On one play, Crowder started outside and then shot inside of LT Scott and was right on the QB. On another, he started inside to stuff the run, recognized pass and made a bee-line right to QB Matt Nordgren, affecting the pass. All-in-all, a very impressive debut from Mr. Crowder.
Defensive backs Aaron Ross, Brandon Foster, Michael Griffin and Eric Foreman all showed tremendous speed and skill. Ross at right corner and Tarell Brown at left corner were the first off the bench to spell starters Cedric Griffin and Nathan Vasher. Michael Griffin and brother Marcus Griffin, a walk-on free safety, each hauled in an interception on the day.
Welcome to Austin
Remember Mack saying that it was going to be difficult on the freshmen this year because of the elimination of freshman-only practice? Well, Tarell Brown got a taste of what Brown meant on his very first play. Brown was matched up with, gulp, Roy Williams and was easily beaten deep for a TD.
Michael Griffin nearly got the same welcome as Brown, as he was beaten deep by walk-on Josh Graham-Chapman. But Griffin made a great recovery and ran back to make a sterling, over-the-shoulder interception of Matt Nordgrens pass at the goal-line.
Getting an Early Look
Thursdays first practice was taken in by a couple hundred eager fans and one surprise guest Myron Hardy. The McNeil High wide receiver dropped by to catch the Horn offense up close and personal. The future Longhorn talked briefly with Brown, Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis, Strength and Conditioning Coach Mad Dog Madden and even Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds.
Newcomers Ross and Tarell Brown were two of many players returning punts. Returning starter Vasher, of course, also shagged punts, as did Dakarai Pearson, Cedric Griffin, Matt Melton and Selvin Young.
The return to health of deep snapper Cullen Loeffler is more important than most fans realize.
For all of UT's punters, inconsistency is the watchword. A boomer was followed up by a duck from each punter in drills, including hot-shot lefty transfer Greg Johnson, who will redshirt this fall.
On the Field
They mugged, they stemmed, they rotated. While there was considerably less mugging than we saw last year, it was there on occasion. Lots of pre-snap movement and switching up from the defense, but a lot of that seemed dictated as much by the constant shifting and movement of the offense as by a defensive strategy.
On offense, there are some that may want to sit down for this next nugget: the fullback was used repeatedly as an offensive threat. Edwards lined up at fullback and caught a couple of passes out of the backfield and even ran the ball!
The defense ran with a 3-3-5 look at times.
For much of the two-minute drill, Mock lined up in the shotgun with Benson and Selvin Young on each side.
In the quarterback drills, each signal caller worked on the sprint rollout to the right.
Roy Williams. This guy is in another league. Thankfully, hes not in The League, because he is going to make life much easier for this team. No one could cover him. Diminutive true freshman corner Foster came closest while defending Roy on an out pattern, breaking perfectly on a Mock toss, diving to tip the ball away at the last second. The offense ran the same play again on the next snap and Roy left the youngster grasping for air. He makes everything look like it is simple.
Roy is also taking his leadership role to heart. During a blocking drill, Williams took true freshman wideout Limas Sweed to the side and gave his split end protégé some pointers. Sweed is every bit of 6-4. He looked very fluid and very confident in drills and 11-on-11.
Vince Youngs deep ball is a sight to behold and seems effortless.
I liked seeing Major Applewhite and Beau Trahan as coaches, but it will take getting used to not seeing them in pads.
Remember TE Thomas great run for a TD in the spring game? Well, so does Greg Davis. The Horns ran it several times during the first practice.
Blalock is just an animal out there. He moved very well and simply dominated his man.
For the first day at least, the 1st team offensive line worked right through the whistle. On several occasions they would hit their defensive lineman and then roll to the next level and hit someone else, Blalock in particular. Nice start and hopefully a trend.
If you noticed a lot of grown men crying tears of joy, blame the return of the blocking sled to Denius Fields. T'was a sight to behold, as Longhorn offensive linemen exploded and pushed the orange monster. I think I noticed a small shrine up on the hill.
Eric Hall is listed as a fullback and ran exclusively with the offense today.
Phillip Geiggar looks like a completely different player from the one I saw in 2001. He looked to have picked up where he left off this spring. Very fluid and in control in both pass and run defense.
Mocks arm is every bit as big, if not bigger, than Chris Simms. He really showed it off in passing drills on the 15-20 yard slant, humming passes to Roy and the crew. Unfortunately, later on he was a little too amped up. During 11-on-11 drills, he fired a 100 mph fastball that bounced off Roy Williams on a five-yard receiver screen.
Summer Workouts Worked
The rumors are true. The off-season workouts on the field and in the weight room clearly worked. Several players looked noticeably fitter and stronger. Among those I noticed were:
Nathan Vasher: Nate looked much bigger and stronger. He indeed does have guns. I was skeptical of some reports that likened him to Quentin Jammer. Well, he isnt as big and strong as Jammer, but it looked like Charles Atlas got a hold of Vasher this off-season.
Matt Garcia: Garcia appeared to have lost some weight and looked much fitter.
Bryan Pickryl: I dont know if the DE from Jenks, OK is up to 240 pounds, but he is much, much bigger. His upper and lower body look to be much stronger.
B.J. Johnson: Even more solid, with thicker arms and upper body. Big 12 defensive backs are going to have an even more difficult time bringing down this speedster.
Cedric Benson: Wow! Ced is easily 220 pounds. He definitely passed the eyeball test, but the hard work also shined on the field as he looked both quicker in and out of cuts and faster in the open field.
Jonathan Scott: Looks to have added 10 or more pounds of muscle.
Mack Brown: Not to be outdone, the Texas head coach looked to have shed a few unwanted lbs.
Bottom line: work ethic doesnt look like it will be a question with this group of players.
On his first rep in wide receiver vs. defensive back drills, strong safety Michael Huff slipped while planting and appeared to strain his right calf. He left the field for treatment and returned to the field with a light wrap but did not return to action.