Spring: Passing Game A Focus, Tight End A Key

Texas returns in 2004 nearly all those who had a hand in producing last season's league-leading rushing offense (No. 5 NCAA). Its receivers, of course, are a work-in-progress. That's why Longhorn coaches are spending a little extra time in working with their young pass-catchers while devising schemes where experienced TEs <B>David Thomas </B>and <B>Bo Scaife</B> are on the field at the same time.

That doesn't necessarily mean Orangebloods will see a traditional two TE set when the season kicks off next Sept. 3 against North Texas.

"Right now, the tight end has to be a key in this offense for us to be successful," head coach Mack Brown said at the conclusion of Monday's spring practice. "It's hard to put David or Bo on the bench. Bo is healthy right now and David's coming along really, really well. We'd like to have different formations with both of those guys in, and that's where David can help you so much because he's played wide receiver in high school. He's played on defense. He knows a lot about schemes and he can play four different (offensive) positions for us. You can match David up with linebackers and, quite often, he'll win that one."

The young receivers are playing well, Brown said, but have been "sporadic." He commended RS-freshman WR Limas Sweed for "making two great catches" in Monday's session.

"The wide receivers, right now, only need to worry about what they do," Brown said. "This is all new for them. We're pleased with their progress so far and (WR) Coach (Bobby) Kennedy has done a great job, but we've got a million miles to come in that area because of playing time. They're like our quarterbacks were last year. They haven't played yet. They're learning something every day and you have to be careful not to give them too much information. We've got to stay positive with them because they'll get frustrated. But how exciting for us to have guys who haven't played in that position that are wanting to, and what a great challenge. But what an opportunity for them. And with the new guys coming in, I think it's a fun time at wide receiver."

The quarterbacks "continued to improve in the areas that they needed to," Brown said. Specifically, that means better accuracy in the short-range passing game as well as protecting the football.

"Vince (Young) has really improved in his passing game and we've worked with Chance (Mock) in the running game so those are areas that they need to work on," Brown said. "We see progress in both of those areas. We've worked really hard on throwing the ball deep because we feel like we have to throw the ball deep to win. We threw it deep a lot last year and we completed nearly 60 percent, so we need to throw it deep more. Obviously, when they (DBs) back off you've got to be able to hit some short passes. The guys you hit, whether it's a tight end or a running back or a wide receiver, have to make some yards underneath. The quarterbacks have to be really, really accurate on the underneath passes. It has to be like our running game. So that's been our focus."

There were no line-up changes following Saturday's abbreviated scrimmage at DKR.

"We're not worried as much about who's starting as who can play," Brown said. "We're trying to get at least two-deep at every position so we're trying to get everyone of them to play. We're not trying to separate right now by who is a starter, who's a star and who's not. We're trying to pull the team chemistry more together."

Still, added emphasis on both fundamentals and one-on-one hitting drills are largely intended to establish separation at DT, DE and on the OL.

"We've told the guys it's a progression to be a real good football team," Brown said. "We've had some great days and we've had some bad days. What we're trying to do is be good every day. We're trying to push them to do that. We're going to push them harder in practice and make them compete against really good players in practice so they can't take a break during a game."

No small part of the feisty attitude evident at practices this spring has to do with remedying the nasty hangover from last December's 28-20 Holiday Bowl loss to Washington State. Texas tumbled to No. 11/12 in the final polls after taking a No. 5 ranking to San Diego.

"The guys weren't satisfied with the way they finished," Brown said. "They could have been third in the country and come into the spring with an attitude of 'We're on top of the world to be number one' and instead they were embarrassed by the game. They didn't like the loss. They had six straight wins under their belts and became one of the best teams in the country. We understand that, around here, we can't take a week where we don't play well. If we don't play well fundamentally, we better play so hard that we overcome some mistakes."

Added Brown, "It's probably the best thing to have happened to us this spring because with the influx of new ideas and new energy and the loss to Washington State, I think the guys have come into this with an attitude that we've got to go back and prove something. This is not a star-studded team. There's not going to be a lot of NFL people out here looking at all the guys. What we're going to talk about is having a better team and quit talking about athletes."

Longhorn signee WR Jordan Shipley was again at practice. So was ESPN college football commentator Kirk Herbstreit as part of a tour stop in the network's series on spring training at various campuses.

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