Coaches Grade Scrimmage

Fans sometimes dismiss scrimmages as boring, pre-season tune-ups but these sessions can reveal both future strengths and glaring deficiencies. For example, <B>Mack Brown</B> knew this time last year that Texas was going to have defensive problems. By year&#146;s end, the run defense had sunk to its lowest statistical ranking (NCAA No. 58, 151.5 ypg) in Brown&#146;s tenure.

The first scrimmage of 2003 "stunk" defensively, Brown said.

"I thought they stood around and were soft (in 2003)," Brown said. "I was really concerned about it then, and that’s the way we played early in the year. We played well against New Mexico State and we didn’t play as well against Arkansas. We kind of grew up but, after OU, we woke up. We’re trying to push them to get them to that point in pre-season. We’re separating them in the fourth quarter of ballgames."

On Saturday, Brown saw a spirited, swarming defensive effort (relative to last year) that kept the first- and second-team offenses out of the end zone during the first possessions. The defense has a better chance of reaching that post-OU wake-up call by going full-speed and being allowed to tackle, something coaches have not permitted in Brown’s tenure until now.

"You’re tackling three backs (Cedric Benson, Selvin Young, Erik Hardeman) that are all over 215 pounds and can run a 4.5 or better," Brown said. "It should help us with full-speed tackling and in goal line situations. We should be more prepared to tackle when the season starts."

Otherwise, the film revealed that LDT Rodrique Wright "played super", WLB Derrick Johnson played like the Butkus Award favorite and the secondary "was improved and did a good job because those guys took some hits early last year."

MLB Aaron Harris "played well" while the DEs only "played okay", Brown added.

"It was RDE Brian Robison’s first scrimmage as an end but we think he can make great progress," Brown said.

 

Upon further review, this is Brown’s assessment of where his team is at it enters the final week of camp:

FRESHMAN STANDOUTS

As expected, the first freshman Brown lauded was Parade All-American DT Frank Okam who has consistently worked with the second team all camp. Expect him to lose his ‘shirt in the home-opener against North Texas.

"Frank Okam did a good job on defense," Brown said. "He’s very athletic. He got a little high some but he’ll play in the first game based on what we’ve seen so far."

Coaches are also looking to Parade All-American SS Drew Kelson as a true freshman who could play early, despite the fact that Texas boasts more depth at DB than at any time in Brown’s seven-year tenure.

Brown also mentioned WR Nathan Jones and Myron Hardy as possible contributors but cautioned, "All of those young receivers are competing now for playing time. We’ll just have to see where they are."

QUARTERBACK

The biggest improvement in the offense is the improvement coaches have seen in QB Vince Young, Brown said.

"He played flawless," Brown said. "He’s learning the offense and, even if he makes a mistake, he knows why. This time last year it was overwhelming to him because we didn’t know how much he’d play at this point. By mid-season, he was starting."

Young was 6-of-8 passing for 107 yards with one drop (from sixth-year TE Bo Scaife who, otherwise, has had an outstanding camp).

"Bo tried to make a third down catch on first down in which he fought to catch the ball and still make the first," Brown said. "All he needed to do was catch the ball and fall. It was a learning experience for him."

RECEIVERS

The young receivers didn’t get as many opportunities as Brown would have liked but that should change during Wednesday’s scrimmage, 6 p.m., at DKR.

"We need to put them in a position where we ask more of them," Brown said. "We know our tight ends can play. We know our backs can play. So we’ve got to get the ball deep, a lot, to the receivers."

"The young receivers still have got a lot of things that they still have to learn but we see them learning," Brown said.

With the inexperience at WR (not one returning starter), Brown expects defenses to crowd the line of scrimmage to try and shut down the ground game.

"If people are going to crowd the line, we’ve got to throw it over their heads," Brown said. "You can’t do that with hitches and slants."

SPECIAL TEAMS

This has been one of the bigger emphases of the pre-season in that Brown wants only his best players on special teams, rather than guys who had neither the talent nor the experience to make the two-deep chart.

There was little doubt that senior Dusty Mangum would return as starting FG kicker despite missing the last two games of the regular season due to a hip flexor. The same goes for junior Richmond McGee who bested sophomore All-American Vanderbilt transfer Greg Johnson for the starting assignment for kick-offs and punts. The strong-legged McGee will likely kick FGs from outside the 40, where Mangum is about 50-50 in his career. Meanwhile, Johnson has shown a knack for pinning an opponent deep inside its 20 based on the height he can get on the ball while operating from a shortened field.

"Greg Johnson would be our punter from the 50 in, on what we call a ‘rocket’ situation," Brown said.

Brown also lauded junior RB/PR Selvin Young for his 73-yard punt return for TD Saturday, noting that his third-down back has regained all of the explosiveness he lost last season following a groin injury suffered Sept. 21 against Rice.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Brown was pleased with the first team O-line, a unit that returns four and has added a real catalyst in sophomore Kasey Studdard at LG. Studdard has run ahead of junior Mike Garcia, who many penciled in last spring as the heir apparent for Tillman Holloway’s old spot. Garcia was whistled twice Saturday on false start penalties.

"We were sporadic with our second team," Brown said. "Two or three of the guys played well but, as a unit, they didn’t."

The final two sessions open to the public are set for Monday night, 7:05 p.m. at Denius Field as well as Wednesday’s scrimmage. Wednesday’s affair will be a game-type scrimmage to prepare for North Texas.


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