Day 3: Receivers Catching On, Defense Never Rests

Texas strapped on shoulder pads for the first time this season at Denius Field Thursday, giving the defense an excuse to lay some serious wood while the receivers turned in some highlight reel grabs as if atoning for the drops from the previous two sessions.

It's still early, but you could close your eyes and hear the difference in the hitting relative to previous years. It's not just the sound of a single defender colliding with the ball carrier, but several. There is, in fact, evidence of a swarming defense with sustained across-the-board effort that Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson has promised Orangebloods for nearly eight months.

"Defensively it looked like we were flying around and doing some good things," head coach Mack Brown said. "We're getting a good look at some of the younger guys for the first time with the pads. I felt like today was a successful day."

Things got so heated toward the end of practice that it resulted in fisticuffs between OT Jonathan Scott and WLB Derrick Johnson.

"I told them that I liked the aggressiveness but you've got to keep your composure because you'll be kicked out of this game and the next one," Brown said. "We need to practice like we're going to play."

The offense laid the ball on the ground a few too many times (miscues on handoffs, an errant pitch or two) but the receivers had more Velcro on their mitts than they did the past couple of nights. The unit is far from polished. In fact, Brown labeled the freshman WRs performance as a combination of "the good, the bad and the ugly." But when they were good, they were very good.

For the second night, RS-freshman SE Limas Sweed worked with the first team. In fact, he turned in one of the evening's best grabs when he out-fought safety Michael Griffin for a toss from QB Eric Foreman. True freshmen, such as FL Jordan Shipley and SE Nate Jones, continue to look as if they've been around longer than 72 hours, while true freshman WR Chris Ogbonnaya got things started on a positive note with a diving, one-handed grab.

"One of the biggest things a freshman receiver has to do is beat the bump-and-run," Brown said. "In high school, most of the time they'll see zone or they'll be better than the guys they're playing. So the number one thing they have to do, other than learn the system and run the routes, they have to learn how to beat the bump-and-run to be able to play."

QB Vince Young, for the most part, made good ball-handling decisions. During 11-on-11 drills, he did a nice job of looking off receivers to connect with FL Tony Jeffery sliding over the middle and followed that by hitting a wide-open Billy Pittman down the right hashmark.

Texas worked on red zone drills toward the end of practice. Opening in a two TE set, Young went through his reads before dumping off to RB Cedric Benson for about seven yards. On the next play, Young found TE David Thomas dragging across the middle toward the left flat. Then, on the third play, Young went through two reads before tucking and running into the gut of the defense for the score. The play drew high praise from Brown, who shouted, "Good job, Vince! Way to play the game!"

Sixth year TE Bo Scaife is showing signs that he could finally have the year that seemed ordained for him had it not been for knee injuries that caused him to miss both the 2000 and 2002 seasons. He is also working without knee braces this season, indicative of the confidence he now has in his knees (which Brown said he did not have last year).

"Bo is having, by far, his best camp," Brown said. "He's in great spirits and in great shape. He has a tremendous attitude and he's become a leader on the team."

Benson also reeled off an off-tackle, 40-yard TD run against the first-team D. In fact, he wasn't significantly hit (on this one) until an exuberant Scott jumped him in the end zone. Benson talks every day how he hungers for that elusive national championship.

"Our ultimate goal is to get a national championship," he said. "I'm used to winning. I came from a winning high school (Midland Lee). We had some championships."

The Horns practice in shells at 6:45 p.m., Friday, before donning pads for the first time on Saturday, 9:30 a.m.

Notes: CB Aaron Ross (hamstring) missed practice for the second straight night. QB Chance Mock (right ankle) did not practice. Coaches are no longer allowed to publicly discuss injuries but Brown simply said, "(Mock) will be fine" (meaning he'll be back in plenty of time for the home opener on September 4). RS-freshman Thomas Marshall has moved from OG to DT to shore up depth on the D-line.

True freshman Ramonce Taylor continues to work at RB. He's also part of the mix on both KO return and punt return. "We're thin at tailback (due to RS-freshman Erik Hardeman's absence) and he's doing a good job," Brown told IT.

Junior walkon K/P Richmond McGee nailed a 62-yard punt Thursday (plus a 57-yarder Wednesday) and has clearly garnered the starting mantle over sophomore scholarship athlete and Vanderbilt transfer Greg Johnson. Johnson was a freshman All-American before sitting out last season to regain his eligibility. FG Dusty Mangum is solid inside the 40 but it's a coinflip after that. Based on his three years experience, Mangum will likely hold onto the starting job over David Pino (who started the Texas A&M game and the Holiday Bowl when Mangum was out with a hip flexor).

"Dusty and David would kick the shorter field goals but Richmond's got a great leg," Brown said. "That's something we could use just before the half or at the end of a ballgame to take a shot at a long one. He's punting so well and he's getting it off on time. He has been the biggest turnaround since we've been here. He didn't even punt when he got here and I believe he can punt as well as anybody in the country."

Horns Digest Top Stories