It is imperative that backups be as talented, conditioned and as competent as the starters, Brown said. A second-teamer has got to be able to step in without the squad missing a beat. It was the lack of experienced defensive depth, for example, that cost UT in the loss at Texas Tech last season.
"To the best of our ability, we are going to force ourselves to play two-deep," Brown said. "Thats a key to the success of a school like we have where we have the advantage of having good recruits every year. If we evaluate properly, we should have good players. And it should be that way every year."
For Brown, this will mean trusting the second-team guys to contribute meaningful snaps when the games outcome is still undetermined. One recalls QB Chance Mocks limited action in 2002, only appearing late in the game in the waning stages of a rout.
"I dont think weve done a good enough job of getting two-deep on the field," Brown added. "Were looking really hard at how we can play two complete teams. When you think about the pressure of our schedule -- it may be the toughest schedule in the history of The University of Texas -- and then you talk about the heat, depth may be a tremendous advantage early in the season."
By now, enough has been said about Texas anemic ground game that finished No. 75 in the final 2002 NCAA stats, and saw the first staff shakeup of Browns tenure. Now, its time to finish what the offense has started.
"We dont need to run the ball more but we want to run it better," Brown said. "Weve got to get more explosive plays. We need the line to give us bigger holes. We need to break more tackles, because the free safety and the strong safety in modern day football are the guys you cant block. The back whos carrying the ball has to be responsible for them. Or, if (safeties) are playing at the line of scrimmage, youve got to do a great job of throwing it over his head with the play-action."
Count on more misdirection plays in the offensive arsenal this year.
While nearly everyone criticized Texas rushing attack, the fact remains that the programs run defense in '02 was uncharacteristically vulnerable and, statistically, produced its worst numbers (NCAA No. 47) of the Mack Brown era.
"Weve got to stop the run better than we did last year and we have to tackle better," Brown said. "We were No. 47 against the run, and we know that thats unacceptable. We were disappointed."
The result has been more tackling drills this preseason.
"When you see (stats on) run defense, total defense, forcing turnovers and stopping explosive plays, these are the reasons you win on defense," Brown said, "and all of those things have to do with tackling. Weve got to improve in those areas."
Texas will disguise its pass coverage more this season. The perception remains that Brown wants more zone defense while defensive coordinator (and his players) prefer man coverage.
"We may not play more zone defense but we will play better zone defense," Brown clarified. "In my estimation, weve given some lip service to the zone more than weve played it."
Several IT subscribers have asked why Brown is pushing for zone coverage.
"When you play good zone defense, you can make the quarterback hold the ball a little bit longer," Brown said. "You can force him into poor decisions and force a turnover or a sack."
Personally, my biggest fear for the season is that one game is going to be lost entirely because of a kicking game blunder. Browns observation, at this juncture, offers cold comfort.
"We think our kicking will be okay," Brown said.
Coaches have insisted that all units perform at a championship level, but the kicking game is "okay." Not that the guys already on campus are slouches (I mean, they are doing a fantastic job of holding the down markers each day in practice).
Seriously, heading into the fall, walk-on Taylor Landin has nudged scholarship athlete Justin Smith for punting duties. David Pino and Richmond McGee attempted field goals throughout the spring (well see if the trend continues) because Brown thought competition would be good for incumbent junior Dusty Mangum. On Saturday, Mangum provided the single worst FG attempt I have ever seen. It was during two-minute drills late in practice in which coaches and players are geeked up in order to simulate a game-day atmosphere on a last-minute drive. The botched 35-yard attempt probably sailed all of seven feet off the ground, was wide-left and barely cleared the end zone. (So much for ending practice on a good note).
Still, Mangum should continue to be solid if not unspectacular. And if Landin looks as good in front of 84,000 people at DKR as he does in front a couple of hundred at Denius, punting will be improved in 2003.
However, help is on the way. P/K Greg Johnson, a Freshman All-American who transferred from Vanderbilt, is on campus. Johnson finished No. 4 nationally last season, averaging about 45 yards per punt (and you know the punter was busy at Vandy). NCAA rules mandate that he sit out this season but will have three years of eligibility starting in 2004. This may be a meaningless observation but here goes: the Texas kickers/punters always cluster together on the sideline as if they are joined at the hip -- while Johnson stood at a distance Saturday, holding the down marker and occasionally glancing their way. He knows hes going to have their jobs next season.