It's 'Splash' Day For Taylor As Horns Don Pads

Texas strapped on the pads Tuesday as spring practice entered its first full week. It provided RB Ramonce Taylor his initial opportunity to stake his claim as Cedric Benson's heir apparent.

Head coach Mack Brown references Taylor's bursts of offense, jet fueled by track speed, as "splash plays." Translated: an eye opening display, but can the 5-11 Taylor emerge as the total package and become Texas' featured back?

"We saw him make some splash plays. Again," Brown said. "We don't know if he blocked well. We don't know if he handled the routes and protections well. And those are the things he'll have to do. And, can he run up inside? Because we know he can run outside. We'll probably wait until after the first seven days (of spring drills) and make that decision over spring break."

One of those "splash plays" came during the final 15 minutes of practice. Taylor took the handoff on a delay from Vince Young, and then (reminiscent of Eric Metcalf) hopped over a heap of bodies at left tackle, darted left, then cut back right when he found a seam in the middle and then headed for the left sideline before he was pushed out of bounds by three defenders. Good for 11 or 12 yards.

Taylor has said that he wants to be the go-to guy in the Longhorn backfield. But, honestly, it's a safe bet to pencil-in RT as an all-purpose back next fall. He's too small to be the power back that Brown wants in his offense, but he's too talented to toil in relative obscurity at SE (getting just five or six touches per game). But Brown cautioned that the first day in pads allows, at most, the most preliminary of evaluations.

"By Saturday, the new guys will at least have three days in pads for us to evaluate. Then, by next week, we'll have two more days. We might not look at personnel changes until after we get back. We really have two different spring practices. We have the first seven (days) to evaluate and the last eight to put things in."

FL Jordan Shipley (again) reinforces my conviction that he will supplant Nate Jones atop the depth chart by the home opener, if not by the end of spring drills. So far this spring, Jones is showing he can adjust to the ball in ways the true freshmen who played could not do consistently last season. He also has an innate ability to separate himself from the D-back just as the ball arrives.

It's just that Shipley is money. His routes are crisp. He has head-shaking closing speed that allows him to get to the ball no matter where it is placed. And if the rock hits his mitts, it sticks. Brown calls Shipley's six-month recovery from a torn ACL in his right knee "phenomenal."

"It's just amazing. He's itching to get back out there. He's having so much fun. But he's a guy that we hopefully can protect these seven days and then he'll have ten days to let his knee rest. Hopefully he'll be full speed by the end of spring. It scares me to death. He's mad when we pull him out. I told his mom and dad today, 'He's not going to protect himself, but we will.'"

But third team FL Billy Pittman practiced Tuesday as if he was conceding nothing to either Shipley or Jones.

"Billy Pittman has caught some good balls and made some progress," Brown said. "He needs to come on."

In fact, Pittman drew accolades on several occasions from WR coach Bobby Kennedy, who shouted, "You haven't dropped one yet, Billy!"

Well, maybe one -- but it wasn't a pass. Pittman muffed an end-around hand-off from VY but he was given the chance to redeem himself when the offense ran the play again. And again.

Sophomore Tyrell Gatewood, battling senior Brian Carter for playing time as Limas Sweed's backup, had a tough day at the office. (Frankly, he had so many balls bounce off his hands that I wondered if he was doing tip drills.) Overall, Brown expects a more seasoned group of pass catchers to emerge as playmakers this fall.

"They have a year under their belt and they have a Rose Bowl championship under their belt," Brown said. "Obviously, they're more confident. They're in good shape. They understand the deal. And Vince (Young) is throwing the ball so well that it's hard to miss it when it's right there."

Young turned in another solid outing, tossing one 11-on-11 INT on the day. It came on a batted pass that landed between SLB Eric Foreman's numbers.

Starting OLT Jonathan Scott missed practice to attend class and so backup Tony Hills worked with the first-team offense.

"Tony was impressive," Brown said.

The head coach said during the off-season that special teams would also be an emphasis this spring. Texas' kick-off coverage team ranked just 100 (out of 117 D-1 teams) last year. As such, Brown said fans would "be excited" to know the Horns worked on improving that unit's coverage.

"Nobody gained a yard," Brown said, before adding, "because we weren't returning them."

Ah, the joys of spring.

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