Implicit in Brown's emphasis on defensive improvement is his belief that there is no reason to overhaul the offense, or become overly concerned with it despite breaking in a new set of receivers and quarterbacks that committed too many turnovers last season. While Brown is looking to better the program in all areas, the most critical factor in Texas winning two or three more games next season is its defense.
"We've taken steps over the last two years but I thought we took one step back last year," Brown said, "and we're trying to get that step back and move ahead. We feel like tackling better, stopping the run, continuing to run the ball, and run play-action better will help us do those things. That's the mission we've given them and they've responded. Our guys are working really hard, understanding that we have to tackle better. We've got to play the run better. We've got to force more turnovers."
Texas was ranked just No. 58 against the run (152.5 ypg) last season.
Here's a new wrinkle (and an elaboration on what was briefly mentioned yesterday): Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson is the only coach who blows the whistle up until the time to scrimmage toward the end of practice.
"What's really hurt us before is that we've all had whistles and people would blow them at different times," Brown said. "Kids would go really full speed and, in some cases, they'd start waiting for the whistle. In some cases, the whistles were quick. Right now, with Coach Robinson being the only defensive coach blowing it, it means every defensive player has to run by the guy and all the offensive players have to continue until they hear a whistle. It's really helping us at getting better at habits."
Although there is more full-speed contact this spring, the defensive workout each day is composed of "three phases". (Here, Brown actually grabbed me and used me as a blocking dummy to make his point. Hopefully, the defense can learn a lot from a dummy.)
"One is 'tracking' where it's full speed and, like the pass skill, you want everybody getting into position to tackle and you see him run by. 'Thud' is what we've been doing, except we've been actually wrapping up and grabbing. What we're doing now is thudding them and knocking them back so they won't grab. Then we've added the phase where we scrimmage, and it's just all out. I really think those three phases are helping us. We were going to tackle anyway this spring but the addition of the 'tracking' and the adjustment of the 'thud' so you don't throw a guy and then the full speed is obviously full speed."
And, perhaps as important, the number one D is taking more snaps this spring against the starting offense.
"It's (improvement) is going to be difficult to tell sometimes because you're working One-on-One so one of your best guys is going to lose," Brown said. "One of your best teams is going to lose. But it's challenging the offensive coaches with the new defensive schemes. It's forcing us to do some things differently offensively and in pass protection. You get guys like Dick Tomey and Greg Robinson who sit down with our offensive staff, and the offensive staff will ask, 'What do you like about this (play)? Does this hurt you? Does that hurt you?' They (defensive coaches) will say, 'This was really tough on us here but that one we don't worry about as much.' So, we're sharing a lot of ideas with each other and I think you'll see growth as a team."
"(Brown) and Aaron Ross are alternating, so right now it would be either/or," Brown said. "They're both good. I think Aaron has gained 10 pounds. He looks really good. Tarell looks really good as well. Both of them look good. One of the good things about the 10-day (Spring Break) between the first and second sessions is it will give our defensive coaches a chance to sit down with me and look at what has happened during the first set of practices so if there are some adjustments we need to make in personnel it will give us a chance to look at what we want to do with the last part."
Sophomore DE Tim Crowder was back on the field with the first team D after being held out of contact drills (minor leg injury) during the first couple of days of spring ball. DE Mike Williams looks as explosive as ever and is typically working as a power end (i.e., on the split end side of the offensive formation).
"He has the ability to speed rush and to drop into zone," Brown said. "What you do depends on their (offensive) call and what their tendencies are. If you get a situation like last year where Arkansas had two 400-pound ends and tackles, you want your power (DE) over there most of the time instead of us matching up (DE) Bryan Pickryl in that situation where it was hard for him to hang in there."
Texas is concluding each practice with a highly-spirited, one-on-one, hitting drill often referred to as "the bull in the ring". The session is geared toward producing individual toughness "to see who is going to refuse to lose," Brown said. Assistant Head Coach/DE Coach Dick Tomey directs each drill by matching up contestants.
"If you get out there and don't win, you probably don't get to go back," Brown said.
QB Matt Nordgren was held out of the scrimmage (sore arm).