Brown: 'Lot Of Good Battles' As Spring Winds Down

Although depth across the entire field remains a focus heading into Spring Game, the Horns' 15th and final spring practice, <B>Mack Brown</B> said Thursday that several spots will be of particular interest during the hour-long Orange-White Game Saturday evening at DKR.

"Rod Wright's the only guy that's got a job at defensive tackle, so there's four or five guys looking for that spot," the Texas head coach said after his team's shorts and shoulder pads work at Denius Thursday afternoon. "There's some defensive ends that are still competing, like Brian Robison who's only been out there 10 practices. The receivers are really close, so they're competing every play. Kasey Studdard and Mike Garcia are play-to-play right now. Got a lot of good battles at tight end and in the secondary -- there's seven guys, eight guys that can play -- so I think really more than ever before, we've got a lot of guys that are competing to play."

In the defensive middle, Larry Dibbles supplanted Stevie Lee with the first team after spring break, but Brown's comments seem to indicate that Dibbles hasn't yet locked down the spot. Brown also recently praised the post-spring break play of Tully Janszen as well as DT/DE double-trained pass-rush specialists Kaelen Jakes and Austin Sendlein, so DT will be a position to watch Saturday evening for possible intrigue heading into the off-season.

At DE, sophomore Tim Crowder and junior Mike Williams are essentially incumbents, but again, Brown has talked up just about all of the back-ups recently, including Robison (who has missed five spring practices because of track obligations), Chase Pittman (who has impressed since a injury-slowed first two weeks of spring) and Eric Hall. Whoever makes the most of his limited snaps Saturday evening could have an early edge at a back-up role at the beginning of August.

For Orangebloods, it'll be difficult not to focus on the new No. 4 Saturday simply because he looks and plays so much like the old No. 4, but the coaches will have their eyes on the whole lot of wideouts, seeking to separate a group that has remained relatively bunched up performance-wise throughout spring. It'd be a darn good bet that Limas Sweed, Tony Jeffery, Eric Enard and Brian Carter will be the top four wideouts when camp opens in August, but Texas will play at least six receivers (and possibly as many as eight), and with five goods one coming in this fall (at least three of whom are probably polished enough to play early), the remaining guys already on campus need to convince the coaches not to slide them down behind the newbies when they arrive this fall. Saturday will be their last chance in a formal practice setting.

The Studdard-Garcia battle is particularly interesting given that Garcia is a more experienced player (although he's been dogged by injuries for the better part of the last year) while Studdard continues to receive high praise from the staff. This is another spot where the last impression may set the depth chart heading into two-a-days.

Texas has an enviable position at tight end with vets David Thomas and Bo Scaife, but Saturday could be a display of the future at the spot. Neale Tweedie and Stephen Hogan are another pair of performers that have the coaches singing praises.

And then there's the secondary, where you might need a roster cheat sheet (with a pencil and eraser) to keep everyone straight, particularly at the back-up positions. Although surprising to some, Cedric Griffin has held on to his starting corner spot despite his sophomore struggles while classmate Michael Huff stepped in recently at the other corner spot to double train after Tarell Brown and Aaron Ross battled, but never separated, for the starting job. And if Huff plays corner Saturday, soph SS Michael Griffin's performance will be of interest to see if he appears ready to take a starting role in the event Huff needs to remains on the outside. Plus, there's redshirt freshmen Brandon Foster and Erick Jackson plus true frosh Steve Richardson to evaluate as well, and not a lot of time to do it in, so every snap these guys see will be big.

In other words, just at the positions listed above -- not to mention all of the other excitement at QB ("Vince is throwing it more consistently and with more confidence and Chance is running the ball better," Brown said Thursday), RB (has redshirt freshman Erik Hardeman overtaken Selvin Young behind Cedric Benson?) and LB (Derrick Johnson, Aaron Harris and Garnet Smith on the field together!!), among others -- there should be plenty to see on Saturday. So bring your binoculars. And a roster. And a raincoat -- the forecast calls for rain.

And (with apologies to singer/guitarist Robert Cray, who I believe played AquaFest one of my years on the Forty Acres) the Forecast (also) Calls For Pain. The Horns will line up ones vs. ones!

"We're going to start with first offensive vs. the first defense," Brown confirmed Thursday. "It'll be live, the kicking game will be live, and it'll be the first time we've done this since we've been here, so the guys are excited about it."

"We're going to be really basic in our approach so it's really about lining up, reacting and playing," defensive coordinator Greg Robinson added. "That's the key, just go out and play. It's not going to be real complicated."

Complicated Longhorn fans can live without. And depth won't necessarily inspire the Burnt Orange masses (not in early April, at least; early October? Well, that's another story). It's fundamentals and attitude that, if on display in DKR, will send Orangebloods home happy Saturday night. All indications are there'll be a lot of smiles at the turnstiles around 9 o'clock.

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