Carl Reese said Wednesday that D.J. will get an opportunity vs. Tech to help bump that grade up a letter or two."> Carl Reese said Wednesday that D.J. will get an opportunity vs. Tech to help bump that grade up a letter or two.">

Could Derrick Johnson get the start?

After his Horns turned in what he called a "D-grade" performance -- just barely above an F, in other words -- in Saturday's Houston game, <B>Carl Reese</B> said Wednesday that D.J. will get an opportunity vs. Tech to help bump that grade up a letter or two.

The Texas D's true freshman play-making linebacker could even get the start this Saturday depending on what defensive package the Horns open the game in. The UT D-coordinator said his defense will take six packages into the game vs. the wide-open Red Raider offense and Derrick Johnson is a starter in two of those packages.

"Derrick's in a starting package with some things we're doing this week and that means we're gonna count on him 100-percent, that when we call something, he'll do it," Reese said. "It's time for him to get more involved and it's time to put my foot on him when he doesn't do good. He's not a baby anymore. I gave him a razor and I said, Start shaving."

That's simply Reese's typically colorful way of stating that the time for bringing Johnson along slowly has passed, and freshman or no, he's gonna hear about it from his linebacker coach when he makes a mistake.

"Derrick has a chance to be a great football player but if he catches too much sugar he'll sit back and think he's got it made," the Horns' D- coordinator and LB coach said. "We've got to keep his mind right, keep him hungry." Reese plans to do just that. Basically, the tough love factor from Reese will rise in direct proportion to Johnson's playing time, which will definitely increase this weekend. His snaps have gone from approximately 12 in the opener to 16 vs. North Carolina and 18 against Houston, and Reese said it'll be "interesting to see how he responds to taking 40 snaps."

Whether that happens this Saturday or further down the line depends on how well he plays and how many, if any, mistakes he makes when he's in the game early vs. Tech. If the first three games of the season are any indication, Johnson will make plenty of plays.

The coordinator, though, said Johnson still has a ways to go on his climb up the learning curve. From an execution standpoint, Reese gave Johnson a grade of D for his performance in the opener, followed by a C- in week two and then a B- in the bayou. The coach stressed that those are execution grades. His play-making percentage is already in the honor student category, which can't even remotely be said about the Horns' other 'backers.

Not to belabor the point made in earlier articles, but one of UT's biggest defensive problems (among several exposed at Robertson Stadium Saturday) is the play of middle linebacker D.D. Lewis. The senior is one of the team's leaders, he's a family man, he's truly one of the nicest players on the team and he's amazingly gifted physically. None of that, though, translates into middle linebacker instincts, something Lewis has demonstrated little of. Perhaps it's time to get Reed Boyd, who has shown speed and good instincts in the past, more time at that spot.

Johnson is not the answer in the middle, but having him on the field at the weakside spot at least puts one offense-disrupting linebacker on the field, and that's one more than normal in the Orange and White. And this weekend, it may finally happen for more than 15 or so snaps.

Notes from Reese on Wednesday: The coach said he "tried a little bit of everything against Houston," including mixing in more zone coverage in the second half which slowed the Cougars down in the third quarter. A busted assignment in zone coverage, though, led to U of H's 80-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter. Reese said Houston cut down on their line splits and lined up shoe-to-shoe (which they had not done in their opener) and they max protected (with a tight end and a back blocking) on several of their deep shots. . . . Rover Lee Jackson is still bothered by turf toe and DE O.J. McClintock is not healthy enough yet to be counted on as a contributor, according to Reese. "We're making plans without them," he said. . . . "This started about a week ago, but Ervis Hill is really doing things," the coordinator said. "All five special teams coaches are begging for him. And over that week his football has picked up." Reese said Hill has played well enough to be the third corner instead of Nathan Vasher if one of the starters had to leave the game, and Hill will be in the Horns' nickel and dime packages. . . . As I mentioned above, the coordinator gave his overall defense a grade of D in the Houston game and added, "We never did anything to win the game. You can't point to one guy. Defense is a team game so I'd give everybody a D. And you can't beat anybody with a D grade." Except for Houston, a media member replied. "Except for Houston," the D-coordinator echoed, acknowledging that he had just given the Cougars bulletin board material. He softened the statement a bit by crediting the Texas offense with allowing his D to survive it's close-to-failing effort.

Wednesday practice notes: "They respect Tech," Mack Brown said when asked if the coaches are having trouble keeping the players focused so far this week during practice with the OU game looming. "The fact that (the Raiders) are 2-0 helps. The fact that Tech always plays well against us helps. And the fact that it's the Big 12 opener helps." The head coach said his Horns, after last year, understand that even one slip in conference can end the team's championship hopes.

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