DBs Set Tone In Hard-Hitting Scrimmage

One of the few openings on a loaded Texas defense that returns nine starters from an 11-1 team is at free safety. Third-year DB Michael Griffin staked his claim to Phillip Geiggar's former spot by joining his fellow starting DBs in delivering teeth-jarring hits throughout Saturday's scrimmage at Royal-Memorial Stadium.

Griffin, SS Michael Huff and CB Cedric Griffin basically took turns flattening any tight end, wide receiver or running back who happened to cross their path. David Thomas had the unpleasant experience of getting leveled twice, while Chris Ogbonnaya and Myron Hardy also felt their wrath. Back-up right corner Brandon Foster got into the highlight reel act we well, his contribution a diving INT of a Matt Nordgren toss. The plays lit a fuse among players and the smattering of spectators on a damp, overcast afternoon in Austin.

But to head coach Mack Brown the heightened level of intensity that's been channeled into aggressive play this spring is probably indicative of the overall carry-over from the team's Rose Bowl triumph in Pasadena.

"This whole team, so far, has really responded well to success," Brown said. "They know they can, now. And here, many times, you're told you can't. So, when you know you can, that's a real positive thing for them. It's just like a theme that's going through the team, that 'This is fun. Boy, we're so close. One game from winning it all; let's go for it.' And they're practicing that way."

The scrimmage (there weren't drives per se, but rather situational work at various downs and distances) saw the first-team O take on the first-team defense several times during the final 35 minutes of practice. (Scott Derry, again, opened at MLB with the starting unit as did Robert Killebrew at SLB.) On the first play, RB Ramonce Taylor took the handoff and bounced outside of left end for a 14-yard gain (although in live action Michael Griffin might have stopped Ramonce in the backfield for a TFL on the play). But coaches are particularly interested in how well RT can move the chains on inside plays. Two plays later, he darted up the middle and jitterbugged for 35 yards of real estate.

The second team units took over and then, on the second play of the series, backup QB Matt Nordgren found TE Neale Tweedie for a 10-yard gain over FS Drew Kelson. (Overall, the TEs were a focus offensively, with David Thomas, Tweedie and Peter Ullman all hauling in throws.) True freshman RB Michael Houston then carried for 12 yards over left tackle. After Nordgren overthrew FL Nate Jones, the backup QB faked the handoff in a three-wide set and ran untouched for 15 yards.

"Matt knows he's one play away from being the starter so he's focused on everything he does," Brown said. "He's been here for four years. He's already got his degree. He's a brilliant young guy. He wants to play. He wants to do well. He really looked good today. He's looked that way every day in practice. He understands that he's different than Vince. He says, 'When I run, I look slower.' I said, 'You are slower. And everyone else in America is slower.' But what he can do is take the same plays and make eight yards, where Vince makes 60, and still move the ball."

When the first-team O and D went at it a second time, the opening snap was a draw play to RT that went nowhere. VY rolled right on the next snap and hit Jones in stride for a nine-yard gain. The next play was whistled dead after Young, in shotgun formation, mishandled the snap. He followed with a 15-yard completion to Thomas in the right flat (Thomas actually went tall and pulled down the high toss). The series ended with RCB Cedric Griffin blanketing SE Limas Sweed on a deep ball, turning what looked like a sure six into an incompletion.

The third and final series between the starting offense and defense saw RT pick his spot for eight yards. The series culminated with three straight VY completions. Jones found a seam near the right hashmark and collected a 10-yard reception. He then connected with Taylor in the left flat, good for another seven. Young went back to Thomas over the middle for a ten-yard gain.

"He's throwing so much better this spring than I've ever seen him," Brown said. "It's unbelievable to see the change in his confidence... I think it's unlimited what he can accomplish before he leaves here."

LDT Tully Janzsen practiced in full pads but both he and FL Jordan Shipley were held out of Saturday's scrimmage.

The afternoon session marked the last time this spring that practice will be open to the public until the April 2 Orange-White Game at DKR. The Horns return to practice on Tuesday, 4 p.m., at Denius Field.

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