Spring 'Tweaking' Continues For Texas Offense

While head coach <B>Mack Brown </B>uses phrases like "new" and "starting over" to describe changes in the Longhorn defense, he believes the offense just needs a good "tweak" here and there. But with one full week of spring drills, capped by Saturday's scrimmage at DKR, under his belt, Brown has already named an Offensive MVP.

That would be junior TE David Thomas, who has taken snaps at fullback, H-back, TE and WR.

"Gosh, he would be our Most Valuable Player right now," Brown said. "He's playing four spots. He looks good. He and (TE) Bo Scaife look really good right now."

Both Thomas and Scaife are Texas' top returning receivers heading into the fall. Thomas had 219 yards on 14 grabs in 2003, trailing only the likes of Roy, B.J. and Sloan in receiving yards. His 60-yard TD grab on the opening series at Texas A&M represented a career best.

"And we're getting the ball to our tight ends now," Brown said, in a tongue-in-cheek retort to we who criticized coaches for emphasizing the TE both during spring drills and August two-a-days but failing to get the ball into the TEs' hands until nearly mid-season. (They were basically kept on the line for maximum pass protection in losses to Arkansas and OU).

Don't be surprised if RS-freshman RB Erik Hardeman edges junior Anthony Johnson for the No. 3 spot behind Cedric Benson and Selvin Young. Hardeman got the most work (seven carries for 30 yards) in Saturday's abbreviated scrimmage intended, in part, to give coaches a chance to evaluate unproven talent. The off-season has yielded a buffed-up Hardeman, especially in his lower body. His legs look like a pair of tree trunks; his low center of gravity makes him a headache in shoulder pads. Hardeman will eventually be Texas' battering ram in short-yardage and goal line situations.

"He has got a tremendous amount of power," Brown said of the 6-1 Hardeman. "Erik is a 218-pound back who's got good speed and good hands. He's just got to play the game."

Benson had two totes for 37 yards, including a 34-yard sprint where he bounced outside and turned on the jets down the east sideline. Much of the emphasis this past week with Benson has been on catching the ball out of the backfield since coaches already know what last year's NCAA rushing touchdown leader can do with his feet.

"He'll run it some but he's not going to run it a whole lot in scrimmages," Brown said. "Selvin was hurt last year but he'll run it more."

Young had one run up the middle for 18 yards.

WR Limas Sweed not only is wearing Roy Williams' jersey number (No. 4), the RS-freshman bears an uncanny resemblance to the Legend both in size (6-5), speed, stride and even in the way he ambles back to the huddle. Right now, sophomore Eric Enard is penciled in as starting at the SE spot, and he's battling with Tony Jeffery to be the second-best overall wide receiver on campus right now, but Sweed is literally and figuratively head and shoulders above the rest in terms of potential game-breaking ability like the former No. 4.

"All the guys (receivers) are working really hard and doing some good things right now," Brown said. "I really feel like we're going to be okay at receiver. (WR coach) Bobby Kennedy is really excited."

Senior Jeffery, of course, is the starter at flanker. The argument here is that Jeffery has been Texas' most acrobatic receiver in the past four years, despite just 24 career grabs for 277 yards.

"Tony Jeffery is getting better just because he knows it's his turn," Brown said, "and Limas is also really making progress."

QBs Vince Young and Chance Mock have taken turns looking spotty in practice but performed relatively well in a scrimmage that lasted all of 30 minutes. Young's job description this spring can be summed up as: "Accuracy in the Mid-range Passing Game." On Saturday, Young was 3 of 4 for 34 yards while Mock went 2-of-4 for 25 yards. Third-team QB Matt Nordgren was sidelined with a sore arm.

"The offensive line continues to be as physical as they were when we left off last fall," Brown said (assuming he meant "when we left off" against Texas A&M rather than "when we left off" in the Holiday Bowl). "The quarterbacks have done a good job. The young receivers are working hard."

The Horns return to practice 4 p.m., Monday, at Denius Field. All sessions will be closed to public until the April 3 Orange-White Game. (I still have trouble calling it the Spring Jamboree, which sounds like something intended for cub scouts or talking Disney bears.) Inside Texas will continue to provide daily, post-practice interviews and depth chart changes.

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