Let There Be Football! 2004 Season Comes To 'Pass'

Texas' bread and butter plays this season will still stem from the zone read offense but you wouldn't have known it Tuesday following the first practice of 2004 at Denius Field. Longhorn quarterbacks threw and threw. And threw. So how did the new receivers look? And was there evidence that QB <B>Vince Young </B>has improved his passing accuracy as much as UT coaches insist that he has?

"Getting the receivers lined up right, getting the right ones on the field, and getting them comfortable with the quarterbacks is the biggest thing we have to get accomplished before the first game," head coach Mack Brown said.

Obviously, the final verdict will not be delivered during any pre-season practice session (let alone the first one). But VY was clearly more accurate in his tosses on opening night than at any time that we saw him last spring. Yes, he still displayed some of that half-cocked, ear level, shot put of a throwing motion but we can live with that if he continues to improve upon the accuracy with which he distributed the ball much of the night. In short, his deep balls showed relatively little sign of some of the high-arching lobs that he tossed up for grabs as a true freshman.

The improvement, Young said, comes from "working this whole summer with the guys, learning every day from just everybody" which now translates into "coming out here and showing what I've been doing in the off-time, just coming out here the first day and moving the ball and throwing the ball well and getting the ball to the receivers on time and doing everything the coaches have been telling me to do."

Perhaps more important (given the stated emphasis on the mid-range passing game last spring), his intermediate attempts on hitches, slants and curls were (for the most part) on the money.

"Vince has improved so much," Brown said. "If you look at this time last year, neither quarterback had ever been in a ball game. Neither one had started. Now, both of them have a lot of experience. Vince started seven ballgames so the guys are much more prepared right now than they were at this time last year so that should really help our team."

QB Chance Mock left practice after the break and returned toward the end with his left ankle taped. He was able to walk back to the field but he was noticeably gimpy in the early going. No. 3 QB Matt Nordgren was on the field with the QBs but was held out of practice. Sophomore LB-turned-QB Eric Foreman has the arm but not the accuracy. Not yet. Then again, his greatest contribution this season will likely be as scout team QB. (He was a second-team Texas 2A all-state selection at QB while at Corrigan-Camden but was first-team all-state at DB.) Sophomore walk-on Matt McCoy also took snaps.

Texas, of course, is replacing three of the program's Top 10 receivers this season. You expected drops from the young receivers on the first night, but you didn't expect to see so many from starting FL and top returning receiver Tony Jeffery (277 career receiving yards on 24 catches). The senior has 38 appearances and has made some clutch grabs (none bigger than that 52-yard reception from Young on the game-winning drive against Kansas State last fall). Jeffery turned in some nice catches Tuesday but, for the most part, looked more like a nervous freshman than some of the newbies. (Several times he tried short-arming the ball; other times the drops came after the ball hit him in a difficult spot: right in the numbers.) Jeffery wasn't the only butter-fingered receiver but, for every drop, there were at least a couple of acrobatic grabs that drew applause from the spectators lining both sides of the field.

"The receivers started out a little slow but you know how it is," Young said. "On my first day I did the same thing, throwing the ball everywhere and just being hyper before I started getting relaxed and taking my time. They (receivers) started looking real good, each and every one of them. Even the young guys."

For now, let's say especially the young guys. It's often trite and premature to jump on the freshman bandwagon but I am telling ya: WRs Nate Jones and Jordan Shipley looked like the real deal. Based on first appearances, Jones has terrific closing speed on the ball and has an innate ability to separate himself from a defender at the last nano-second. Shipley possesses terrific foot speed (as distinct from being fast which, by the way, he also is) plus he runs fantastic routes. More often than not, if the ball touches their Velcro hands they are going to manage to hang on to it.

"You look to see if the freshmen have enough talent to play at some point and that you didn't make (recruiting) mistakes," Brown said. "They're obviously not ready to play (a game) tonight but all of them looked like they fit in."

Depth at defensive end, of course, has gone from thin to chrome dome bald since RDE Mike Williams (academics) and RDE Bryan Pickryl (shoulder) announced that they will miss this season while DE/DT Austin Sendlein (numerous injuries) has called it a career and will likely be a student coach. But Brown prefers to focus on the guys who are on campus rather than the dearly departed.

"(LDE) Tim Crowder started last year and (RDE) Brian Robison was slated to probably start at end anyway because he played so well in the spring," Brown said. "Kaelen Jakes is playing great. He played throughout the spring. We moved (linebacker) Aurmon Satchell (to DE). He's been around a long time so this should give him a chance to play. We've got two, new young guys there (Nic Redwine, Brian Orakpo). The first year here, we were thin at the defensive end spot so we moved Cedric Woodard from defensive tackle so we'll also look at moving some of those big guys to power end (Williams' position). With our system we can play a big guy at the power end so we can play three tackles if we need to. We've got enough good players on this team. We've just got to figure out how to line them up and get them all in the right place."

Practices will be moved back to 6:45 p.m. the remainder of the week to allow for the summer school schedule of approximately 15 players. The Horns will don pads Saturday morning and the first two-a-day (there are just four actual two-a-days this year) is set for Sunday. All practices are scheduled for Denius Field.

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