Halftime Report: Spring Football Takes A Break

Following a closed practice and brief scrimmage at Memorial Stadium Wednesday, Texas football is at the halfway point of what head coach <B>Mack</B> <B>Brown</B> has called a particularly intensive spring training that has featured a back-to-the-basics approach to run defense and fine-tuning what was the Big 12's leading ground game last season. For now, Brown is giving the Horns an extra day off as spring break begins Friday for UT students.

Athletes will meet individually with position coaches on Thursday before taking a 10-day hiatus from football.

"We felt like if we scrimmaged on Wednesday this year we could give them a good weight lifting session on Thursday morning and watch film on Thursday afternoon," Brown said.

And on Friday. And on Saturday. And so on. Texas coaches will benefit from the extra time to break down film from the past seven practices, Brown said, adding that more time was needed last spring to evaluate personnel during the break. Much of the attention will be focused on key defensive battles for starting spots at DT and RCB.

"We don't have to evaluate schemes very much because the defense knows what they want to do right now," Brown said, "but they (coaches) will study personnel hard."

Fifth year senior Stevie Lee is duking it out with junior Larry Dibbles for the spot opposite DT Rodrique Wright, a battle that will heat up this August with the arrival of Parade All-American Frank Okam (6-5, 300). Brown has already described Okam as an impact player who should see action as a true freshman. Sophomores Aaron Ross and Tarell Brown are listed as the co-starters for the RCB spot. Explosive junior Mike Williams and Tim Crowder (nine starts as a true freshman) should be constants at DE following a season where the position was hard hit by injuries. With improving the pass rush high on Brown's list, establishing depth at DE is pivotal to the team's success in 2004.

Coaches were not as concerned about "separation" (i.e., depth chart decisions) as they were team "chemistry" during the first half of spring drills, Brown said. That will, of course, change once drills resume Monday, March 22. Coaches release preliminary depth charts, which will be a starting point for the positional battles in August, prior to the annual spring football game.

Offensively, Brown has dubbed TE David Thomas the team MVP up to this point in spring ball as the hard-working and versatile junior has also taken snaps at FB, H-back and WR. Sophomore Eric Enard is a dazzling receiver and, as a walk on, a definite feel good story. Yet it's hard to imagine anyone other than RS-freshman Limas Sweed at the SE position come the Sept. 3 season opener against North Texas. (That is, if Brown can trust a freshman in the starting lineup on opening night.) At 6-5, 205, Sweed is the next big thing among UT receivers.

"One thing we've talked entirely too much about around here in my estimation for six years is who's going to get the ball instead of production," Brown said. "We're going to quit worrying about who gets it and we're going to worry about scoring points."

For now, Brown is also pleased that the first half of spring training concluded relatively injury free. (LG Mike Garcia with a sprained ankle is the most severely injured Longhorn heading into the break.)

"Spring games are tougher now," Brown said. "Some people are cutting them out because of injuries. You sure don't want to put a guy out there who is limping some just to have a spring game."

The Orange-White game (Spring Jamboree) is set for Saturday night, April 3, at Memorial Stadium.

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