WR, LB Depth Top Agenda As Spring Drills Resume

Establishing a deep receiving threat and solidifying depth at linebacker will be the two primary areas of focus during the final half of spring training, head coach Mack Brown said Monday.

"We tried last year and we didn't get it deep to the wideouts like we wanted to and that's a key for the last part of spring," Brown said, before adding, "I think the receivers have really improved and we feel good about them. We've still got to, as coaches and players, do a better job of getting the opportunities deep and making the plays."

From what we've seen, Texas is much more solid at FL than it is at SE. Jordan Shipley, even in limited action, is defintely serving notice to starting FL Nate Jones.

"Jordan looked better than he did before he went home (for spring break)," Brown said. "I thought he got a little tired with his leg at the end of the first seven days, so the ten days off gave him a chance to rest. I thought he got that back today. We'll just have to watch him and see. Do you put him in a Spring Game or not? When you've got five months off, it may be stupid to try to speed it up too much."

Backup FL Billy Pittman has also drawn accolades from both Brown and WR coach Bobby Kennedy. SE remains the bigger question mark, although RS-sophomore Limas Sweed and senior Brian Carter are long on potential.

"We're more experienced, for sure," Brown said. "Limas has had another year to grow. Brian Carter is well again. He's been around. Tyrell Gatewood has been around now for a while. Myron Hardy, after coming out of running back, is playing more like a receiver now and understanding what to do. George Walker has been hurt but he's coming back. He practiced a little bit today. All of those guys are making some progress."

Texas, of course, is replacing just two defensive starters. It's just that one of 'em is two-time All-American and Butkus Award-winning WLB Derrick Johnson. Not that it's any surprise, but returning starting MLB Aaron Harris is working exlusively with the first team D again. Backup MLB Scott Derry, who took snaps with the first team D before spring break, is working at both quick DE and as Harris backup for the remainder of the spring. It means RS-freshman Rashad Bobino will get more snaps with the second team D at MIKE.

"We've got some experience in the front and we've got some experience back in the back end," Brown told me, "but we really don't have the linebacker experience other than Aaron Harris and (WLB) Eric Hall. The rest of the guys haven't played hardly at all. We've got to get more experience in that area and try to gain some depth there."

Hall could play either SAM or WILL, Brown said.

"You're really trying to get four guys for those two outside spots," he added. "Right now, you'd like to think you've got three."

Coaches will decide during the next seven practices if Hall is Texas' best hope at WLB. Brown so prizes experience over raw talent that he's reticent to turn loose sophomore Robert Killebrew at WILL instead of Hall (who started 12 games at SAM last season) -- especially if SAM is just as untested with sophomore Eric Foreman.

"Can you get the two young ones to play SAM and WILL and let Hall play both because he's older," Brown said.

RDE Mike Williams, last year's designated starter who missed the season due to academic reasons, enjoyed his best of practice since returning to the team in February, Brown added.

"I thought he was flying around and making plays," Brown said.

Williams is competing with junior Brian Robison, who started all 12 games at RDE last season. Backup Brian Orakpo practiced full speed after nursing a sore leg just before spring break, Brown said.

"That's one of the reasons we're looking at Scott Derry at both positions," Brown said. "Scott is so smart he can play everywhere. We're looking to gain more depth with him playing at two places."

Starting RB Ramonce Taylor "tweaked an ankle" during the start of the drills and did not practice Monday, Brown said. Coaches had seen enough of RT at RB during the first seven practices to want to keep him in the backfield at least until the April 2 Orange-White Game. Previously, Brown said coaches would consider moving him to WR during the second part of spring ball. Yet, it is obvious there is some lingering doubt in Brown's mind that RT may not be able to "take the pounding" as Texas' featured RB. RT is so explosive that coaches know what he can do with the football; yet, the jury is still out (as far as Brown is concerned) as to what RT can do away from the ball (i.e., pass protect. "He's still got a lot of work to do there," Brown said).

"We've got to get settled on tailbacks and work on protection. Ramonce has not played there in college very much. (Converted WR) Chris Ogbonnaya has not played there at all. Michael Houston is not used to pass protection, so those guys need that work. Our fullbacks really haven't played much. Our backs need to do a better job in protection."

Brown described the two-and-one-half hour practice as "physical", intended to atone for the lackluster defensive effort coaces witnessed on the day players departed for spring break. In fact, Brown told the defense that the only reason he didn't resort to wholesale substitutions during the previous sessions was because the second team "was just as bad." Fortunately, "the intensity was back today."

"We're not good enough to take a day off. It doesn't happen around here very often, but it's serious when it does. We felt like they responded to it well. We had a long talk with the guys when they got back today. Basically, we said that we're not going to be complacent. Some of the offensive guys didn't practice as well on Tuesday and then the defensive guys didn't do as well on Wednesday. That's not who we are. I'm glad it came up when it did. We had five perfect days to start (spring drills). We started feeling a little too good about ourselves, and we went back to work today. We've got seven more practices to make sure we're where we need to be."

LDT Tully Janszen saw his first contact Monday since his season-ending knee injury last August.

Five-star DT signee Roy Miller was at practice Monday and, fortunately, off his crutches. The Killeen Shoemaker product broke a small bone in his right foot last month during a track-and-field event. The protective boot he was wearing is strictly precautionary, he said.

The team is scheduled to practice Tuesday afternoon at Denius Field and will break for Wednesday's NFL Pro Time Day at the Forty Acres.

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