Horns Vie For Playing Time On Loaded Defense

Even on a Texas defense that returns nine starters from an 11-1 Rose Bowl championship team, there are still a couple of key battles for starting assignments waged these days as spring training continues for the Longhorns.

One of the more interesting fights is at RDE. Former starter Mike Williams has regained his academic eligibility and should push 2004 starter Brian Robison (Honorable Mention All-Big 12) for his former spot. RS-Freshman Brian Orakpo should also make some noise. I asked Brown what he's been seeing from Williams during the first week of spring ball.

"We know he's really fast so he gives us the flash that we need," Brown said. "I saw him make a few plays (at practice) but what we've got to do is study every play. The only thing that's difficult for Mike is taking on a Jonathan Scott (6-7, 310) or a Justin Blalock (6-4, 325) because he's a little lighter (6-3, 230)."

Senior Aaron Harris (second-team All-Big 12 as a junior) is entrenched at MLB, even though Brown said earlier last week that RS-freshman Rashad Bobino "will be pushing Aaron." Coaches have raved over the head-knocker who, at 5-11 and 230-pounds, is like a fireplug in shoulder pads. For now, Brown wants Harris and the other five seniors on defense to assume the kind of mantle of leadership that the likes of Derrick Johnson and Cory Redding wore in recent years.

"(Harris has) made some big hits," Brown said. "He and (WLB) Eric Hall both need to be senior leaders. Then you've got (RDT) Rod Wright who's done a good job up front, and then you add (SS) Michael Huff) and (RCB) Cedric Griffin, so we've got an opportunity to have better seniors on defense than we've had."

SLB Eric Foreman came up with a look-what-I-found INT off a tipped ball during Tuesday's practice. The sophomore has moved back from his one-year stint in no-mans land (i.e., fourth-team QB) to SAM linebacker where coaches have wanted him all along.

"The best thing about his move is that he wanted to go back," Brown said. "He took the year off to look at quarterback and to see where he fits. He moved back and it's working really, really well. (Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene (Chizik) is excited about him. We've got to develop some younger linebackers after losing Derrick, but Eric can be a key force in that group."

Eric Hall slid over from SLB to WLB this spring, but I'm looking for sophomore Robert Killebrew to make his move (if he hasn't already; he took all the first-team snaps at WILL Tuesday). Michael Griffin is listed atop the depth chart at FS now that Phillip Geiggar has completed his eligibility. Junior Matt Melton is Griffin's backup, but keep an eye out for Drew Kelson. The 6-2, 210-pound sophomore is considered a prototypical SS, but Michael Huff isn't going anywhere unless coaches need him to slide over to cornerback.

There will be no personnel changes until after Saturday, said Brown, who added that, "Defensively, we're flying around and we look like we are better than we were in the Rose Bowl game."

"Friday will give us a little bit better chance to evaluate them," Brown mentioned. "And we might not look at personnel changes until after we get back."

The Horns return to practice, 4 p.m., Friday at Denius Field. The session is open to the public.

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