I came into tonight intent on concentrating only on the defense in order to get a better read of the depth chart and the new schemes being run. About five minutes into 11-on-11 competition, I abandoned that goal; I had to take a step back and watch the Longhorns put on perhaps the fiercest, hardest hitting, most intense practice of the Mack Brown era.
The entire off-season, the coaching staff talked about a new attitude summed up by one word: finish. Tonight, that new attitude was on display, as the offense and defense fought like Homer Simpson attacking the final pork chop on the plate. Quite frankly, for much of the night the Longhorns looked like a completely different team from years past.
Practicing in full pads, all units on both sides of the ball waged war on each other, highlighted with bone-crunching hits, tight coverage, drive blocking and big plays in the passing game. Linebackers nailed receivers and tight ends coming across the middle; running backs punished tacklers with powerful finishes; cornerbacks and receivers fought hard for every ball; and the offensive and defensive lines took nearly every play personally.
The Longhorns left it all on the field tonight to whet fans appetites for Wednesdays first full scrimmage.
Lets face it, one of the biggest criticisms of the Texas program under Mack Brown has been a perceived lack of toughness, a too-laid-back approach that has cost them when a team of equal talent has popped them in the mouth. To address those concerns, Brown hired Michael Haywood as running backs coach, elevated Mac McWhorter to full offensive line coach and promoted Duane Akina to Associate Head Coach. If tonight is any indication, those moves are paying off in a big way.
The difference was palpable tonight, as the offense and defense hit each other early and often. Both sides jawed at each other and played smash mouth football for over an hour of 11-on-11 scrimmaging. On a couple of occasions, skirmishes broke out between the two sides.
The intensity and big hits began early, as cornerback Tarell Brown nailed wide receiver Robert Timmons just as he tried to haul in a short pass from Vince Young. Two plays later, safety Matt Melton nailed Limas Sweed. Then, it was the offense's turn, as fullback Will Matthews leveled linebacker Garnet Smith on a bone-jarring lead block.
A few plays later, safety Dakarai Pearson laid a lick on quarterback Vince Young, inciting a nice retaliation pop from tackle William Winston. Then, Larry Dibbles blew up the offensive line to get in for a sack.
It was an endless display of controlled fury. Linebacker Derrick Johnson really laid into tight end David Thomas as he hauled in a pass over the middle. Melton made another smashing hit on Cedric Benson. Tillman Holloway leveled tackle Marco Martin.
The battle in the trenches was a sight to behold, as the offensive linemen looked like angry grizzlies, not dancing bears. Mike Garcia and Justin Blalock really attacked the defense while, on the other side, Rodrique Wright, Martin and Adam Doiron pounded back. In all, both offensive lines were incredibly physical all evening, mauling their opponents until the whistle blew. In a play that typified the intensity of the evening, Blalock smashed defensive end Kaelen Jakes into the ground and kept hitting him until the play was over.
But nothing typified the physical play of the night more than the display put on by the running backs. At the end of each run (and pass reception), running backs Benson, Selvin Young, Erik Hardeman, Anthony Johnson and Albert Hardy lowered their shoulder and delivered more punishment to their would-be tackler. On one huge hit, Benson took the hit from Tarell Brown and just kept going. Whether running to the outside or between the tackles, time and again the backs smashed their opponent and kept their feet.
It was only one practice but, for tonight, the attitude and toughness fans have clamored for was front and center.
The coaches continued their efforts to build quality depth, rotating reserves in with starters at least every four or five plays.
What Vince Young brings to the table just cant be measured in drills and comes out in game action. Tonight he put on an incredible display, weaving through defenders, accelerating past tacklers and throwing strikes. Late in the evening he ran a picture perfect option, drawing the defender and pitching to Anthony Johnson for a huge gain. By far his best practice.
Chance Mock rose to the challenge late, avoiding the rush, tucking the ball and running hard and zipping short and intermediate passes in the teeth of a heavy rush.
Bo Scaife returned to practice tonight after sitting out the morning session.
Reserve tackle Lionel Garr earned the wrath of McWhorter mid-way through drills. On successive plays, he was blown away by Kalen Thornton. After both plays, McWhorter was in his face. On the 3rd play, Garr made a nice block on the senior DE.
Aaron Harris attended the evening practice but was not suited out and did not participate.
Phillip Geiggar filled in as first team strong safety for the injured Michael Huff.
Tubbs did not attend tonights practice.
Early in one-on-one drills, cornerback Brown covered Sloan Thomas like glue. The next time they were paired together, Thomas had Brown turned completely around for a 15-yard gain.
DT Dibbles had a very nice night, getting pressure on the quarterback several times.
The punters continued their exhibition of inconsistency as all followed one good punt with a wobbly duck.
The fullback continues to be a viable offensive threat, receiving passes out of the backfield and even the old fullback draw.
Williams put a double move on Erick Jackson that left the freshman DB standing 10 yards from the line of scrimmage while Williams hauled in a long touchdown pass from Mock.
Concentrating mostly on deeper throws, Mock hit on 7-12 in one-on-one drills.
Both Mock and Young took off on designed quarterback runs and in reaction to the rush.
Rufus Harris had second thoughts after breaking up a Mock fast ball. He was still shaking his hand two plays later.
Aaron Ross looks like a confident veteran, not a freshman. He is extremely physical with every receiver he is lined up against.
Young directed a near perfect scoring drive against the first team defense, effortlessly gliding away from the rush either for a big gain with his feet, or a big play with his arm. The drive was highlighted by him escaping Wright and Pickryl and drilling a strike 20 yards up field to a sliding B.J. Johnson.
Reserve receiver Dustin Miksch toasted Rufus Harris for a touchdown during one-on-one drills. Harris bit on a nice inside move by redshirt freshman receiver.
Tony Jeffery made a terrific stop-and-start move to blow by Tarell Brown for a long touchdown pass from Young.
Like a broken record, Mock looked strong on short and intermediate passes during drills while Young excelled on deep passes.
Robert Timmons made another sensational, one-handed grab on the dead run to haul in a sideline pass.
The defense continued to emphasize movement, with the defensive line and linebackers constantly shifting and changing gaps.
Marco Martin looks like Gilbert Brown stopping the run. Just stacks the line of scrimmage.
The offense continued to work with motion, the shotgun, the option and roll outs.
The defense occasionally lined up in a 3-3-5 scheme.
Young is at his best when things around him are breaking down and he has to throw on the move.
Did you know?
Offensive line coach Mac McWhorter has more bowl victories as a head coach than Gary Barnett. McWhorter coached Georgia Tech to a 24-14 victory over Stanford in the 2001 Seattle Bowl, while Barnett is 0-4 in bowl games.