Freshmen Diaries: Who Loses His ‘Shirt?

There are up to 105 players suited up on any given day at Denius Field but, as pre-season camp heads into its final week, there are several true freshmen who have caught head coach Mack Brown's attention.

"(WR) Nate Jones is doing some good things," Brown said Thursday morning. (WR) Myron Hardy has been a running back for two years and he's come around and is doing some good things for us. It's a little tougher transition for him because he hasn't played receiver for two years. (DT) Frank Okam on defense has done really well. (MLB) Rashad Bobino has gotten some plays. (Brian) Orakpo at defensive end has done some good things, and probably Bobby Tatum and Drew Kelson in the secondary. Those guys are getting some good looks right now."

(To Brown's list we would add FL Jordan Shipley).

Brown's standard for redshirting a true freshman is that (barring injury) the ‘shirt stays on if a guy hasn't played by mid-October. Players may, of course, request a redshirt season as SE Limas Sweed did just before the 2003 home opener. Right now, it looks like the guys most likely to lose their ‘shirts early (probably in the September 4 home opener against North Texas) are Okam and Orakpo on defense and one or more of the wide receivers on offense.

The defenders will be counted on to provide much needed depth at some seriously thinned positions. Of the two, Okam is the strongest candidate to work his way into the starting lineup by year-end. Starting RDT Larry Dibbles is "in the best shape of his career" Brown said last week but has yet to prove he can go the distance on long, sustained drives on game day. Frankly, Dibbles looks a little winded a little too early this pre-season. Okam (6-5, 300), while obviously wet behind the ears, physically looks like a man among boys when the second-team D is on the field.

If only two freshmen WR play this season, they would have to be Jones and Shipley. Freshmen almost always look good in August, especially when playing against a collection of third-teamers and walk-ons. But Jones and Shipley have looked consistently good and have taken snaps against some of the more seasoned secondary talent. Saturday's 8 a.m. scrimmage at DKR will offer a clue about these guys' status, but the Burnt Orange crystal ball says there is too much speed there to keep on the bench. Besides, "experience" is a relative term among this year's WRs.

That said, "experience" is the operative term for Brown who has shown a tendency not to start his most highly-touted freshmen until the week after the OU game. "Experience" is the reason Brown said he has already named senior FL Tony Jeffery (zero career starts, 38 appearances) and junior SE Brian Carter (zero starts, 22 appearances) as starters.

"Tony and Brian need to do a great job of leadership because there is so much youth around them," Brown said, "and even if it's not youth, it's inexperience. They are the only two guys who have walked out on that field for a ball game at Memorial Stadium, so it's key for them to be out there first."

Texas is deeper in the secondary than at any other spot, so Kelson's and Tatum's status depends, in part, to the return of banged-up LCBs Aaron Ross and Tarell Brown. We were told Tuesday night that Brown and Ross were "day to day" in terms of full recovery, while Mack Brown described the injuries as "a little pull" on Thursday morning. But it opens the door for Kelson and Tatum to show their stuff early. Kelson was considered one of the best safeties in the country while a three-year starter at Houston Lamar, earning both first-team Parade All-American and Texas 5A all-state honors. The 6-0, 190-pound Tatum brings the pedigree and the drive: his great-uncle is Oakland Raider great Jack (The Assassin) Tatum. Bobby enrolled in Texas last January to participate in spring drills but was limited by a shoulder injury.

"There is a great battle going on between (starting RCB) Cedric Griffin, Aaron Ross and Tarell Brown but we're looking for some of those young guys to come on," Brown said. "Injuries are part of the game and you never know when you're going to lose one but, right now, we feel good about cornerback."

Thursday marks the third two-a-day of preseason camp, which started August 9. The evening session, open to the public, is set for 7:30 p.m., at Denius Fields.

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