Last Call: Final Scrimmage To Solidify Depth Chart

The WLB looks pretty good, Texas coaches said Tuesday on the eve of the final scrimmage of preseason camp. So do most of the other starters. That's why Wednesday's scrimmage at DKR is pivotal for Horns who want to nail down backup spots, particularly at WR, LCB and SLB.

Starting at 6 p.m., Texas will practice for about an hour and then conduct a 40-play scrimmage involving mainly younger players, coach Mack Brown said. The session, seen as the symbolic end to two-a-days, will attempt to approximate the game-day routine of the Sept. 4 home opener against North Texas. It is the final pre-season practice open to the public.

"It will be less of a game than we've had in the past six years," Brown said. "We feel like we need more practice individually and then we need to see some of the more inexperienced players play. We don't need to see the older people. I think they're ready to go."

Coaches mainly want to evaluate wide receivers Wednesday. The untested pass-catchers were not prominently featured during Saturday's scrimmage (at least not in terms of the deep ball. Brown said privately this week that all those hitches and slants aren't going to cut it this season against defenses that stack the line to stop the zone read). Texas returns no pass-catchers with a collegiate start.

"We definitely want to put more pressure on our receivers," Brown said. "They did what we asked them to do in the first scrimmage but they weren't the focus. We were impressed with (No. 3 RB) Erik Hardeman. We want to see him more. We want to see more out of our second team offensive line.

Sophomore LCB Tarell Brown has worked with the first team as of late but I asked Brown if coaches have seen enough separation there to firmly name a starter.

"Today, if we played, we would rotate Tarell Brown, Cedric Griffin and Aaron Ross," Brown said. "Michael (Huff) would play safety. He would be the fourth guy to go in and play the corner if we needed him to."

Huff took snaps at LCB last week, prompting Brown's remarks that Huff's status would finally be determined by what the other three DBs were showing. Fifth-year senior Phillip Geiggar is firmly entrenched at FS, so it boils down in these waning days of August to whether the CBs prove dependable.

RCB Cedric Griffin had a less than a stellar sophomore season after a solid redshirt freshman campaign when he started three games at strong safety (and three more as nickel back). Huff, easily the most versatile of the DBs, apparently would be the closest thing Texas has to a lockdown corner this season. So if it doesn't happen now, don't be surprised to see Huff moved to the corner for his senior season. Word from a couple of the DBs is that it's going to be hard to keep true freshman and Parade All-American SS Drew Kelson off the field for very long.

Obviously, attrition has thinned Texas at DE this August (so much so that coaches just aren't willing to talk about it much). And I wouldn't be surprised to see true freshman Frank Okam push aside RDT Larry Dibbles before mid-season (and thus become what LDT Rodrique Wright was in 2002).

The other critical spot in the two-deep chart is at linebacker.

"The WILL linebacker looks really good," quipped Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson. "Number 11, he's good. He's very well coached."

There's no doubt that Butkus Award favorite Derrick Johnson can make virtually any coach look good. Brown has said (in so many words) that Johnson put up better numbers last season (i.e., more deserving) than eventual 2003 Butkus Award winner Teddy Lehman. Coaches also predict that Johnson will be far-and-way better than he was last season when he became Texas' first All-American linebacker since 1983 (Jeff Leiding).

"When you pass the (NFL) Draft up, you want to come back and have a chance to win all of the games and give it your best shot," Brown said. "We're really excited about where we see Derrick going right now, even though he's been one of the best players in the country. We think he's trying to be the best ever."

RS-freshman Scott Derry, who caught Robinson's attention last spring, has pretty much established himself as MLB Aaron Harris' backup.

"Aaron Harris is doing well and Scott Derry is playing right there with him," Robinson said. "Those two guys are very, very solid."

Frankly, I'm surprised to hear Brown continuing to speak of the battle at SLB. Garnet Smith has shown some susceptibility against the pass in red zone and goalline situations but he brings the attitude and the wood that the D has needed across the board for the past couple of seasons. The former Golden Gloves boxer is also athletic enough to play all three spots. The real battle is between Eric Hall and Stevie Stigall as Smith's backup.

"Eric Hall has done some really good things for us," Brown said. "He's finally found his niche, we think."

Texas wraps up camp with closed practices Thursday and Friday and will begin game preparation for North Texas on Monday.

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