Horns hit the field for first spring practice

Less than two months after walking off the Qualcomm Stadium field as Holiday Bowl champions, the Horns strapped on the helmets Monday in their first practice of the '02 campaign. <B>Mack Brown</B> said the early spring start gives his team &quot;a chance to keep the momentum&quot; from that bowl win. But if the Horns are to improve upon, or even repeat the success of last fall, several questions will need to be answered and several spots solidified during this spring's 15 workouts.

Today's first Denius Fields shorts-and-helmets practice didn't provide many clues to the position battles, but it did give an early indication of who will fight for playing time at several spots. It also provided a first glimpse at the new guy under center. Well, actually, the "old" guy with the new number. Chris Simms started his UT career as No. 8, switched to No. 1 as a sophomore and junior, and now dons his old high school number No. 2. Back in '00, the then-sophomore QB wanted to claim the No. 2, but then-junior wideout Montrell Flowers already had the number, forcing Simms to wait until this his senior season for the switch.

With Simms, regardless of jersey number, Greg Davis and Brown have a known commodity at signal caller. For the first time in at least two seasons, the same can't be said for the back-up spot. The coaches plan to give both sophomore Chance Mock, who had just one pass attempt last fall, and redshirt freshman Matt Nordgren plenty of spring snaps and hope at least one of the two steps up his level of play. "As much as people thought it was pressure on me or Greg Davis," Brown said of having two potential starters, "there’s really a lot more pressure now because we don’t have anybody who’s ready to step up as a second-team quarterback. We’re one sprained ankle from needing someone with that experience. Chris will get some work this spring but we really need to get a lot of work with Chance Mock and Matt Nordgren. . . . Those two need to come on and come on fast."

Other than a brief end-of-practice 11-on-11 session, none of the QBs had much of an opportunity to show their stuff, although Mock, working with the second-team offense vs. the first-team defense, completed a 60-plus yard TD to Michael Ungar in one-minute drills on what looked to be a blown defensive assignment (something that may be common early on as the defense works on playing more zone coverage). Simms also led the first-team O on a one-minute drill field goal drive vs. the second-team D.

Practicing Monday without pads, the team mainly focused on position drills with some brief 11-on-11, light contact work in the short passing game (to the RBs and TEs). Cedric Benson participated in the workout and said afterwards that he is at "95-percent." The sophomore tailback, who missed the second half of the Big 12 Championship Game and the Holiday Bowl after suffering a pinched nerve in the neck/shoulder area, said he believes he'll be able to "take contact and play in scrimmages" over the month-plus spring schedule. Monday, he didn't look to have any problem gripping the ball, which is one of the lingering concerns from his early December injury.

Ivan Williams, coming off a solid bowl performance and slated to be the No. 2 tailback this spring, will not participate while rehabbing after his January knee surgery. That leaves Benson and Brett Robin as the only two experienced and healthy tailbacks in the spring line-up. Redshirt freshman Anthony Johnson, who worked out with the defenders Monday, will get a look at both tailback and corner this spring. Another guy who will see double duty is sophomore Brian Carter, who was one of only three scholarship true freshman to see action in '01. Brown said that Carter will play both receiver, the spot he lined up at Monday, and defensive back over the next five weeks.

Junior Brock Edwards worked with the fullbacks during the Horns' first workout while senior Chad Stevens, who's played both FB and TE in his UT career, joined the tight ends Monday. "One of the other experiments that we’re going to play with in the spring is Brock Edwards," Brown said. "We played Brock some as an H-Back which means he can be in the backfield like a fullback or he can slide up from the backfield and be a tight end in our two-tight end, two-wideout set. But we’re actually going to get more involved with Brock and look at him as a true fullback. He’s such a good athlete, we’d like to get him on the field more than we have."

"There will be a lot of guys like that who we’ll experiment with and see where they’re most comfortable and where they have the best chance to play because most guys that come to a school like Texas just want to get on the field and just want to play," the UT head coach added. "This isn’t about Cory Redding and Derrick Dockery and Robbie Doane, it’s about those young offensive linemen, young defensive ends, young defensive tackles and especially in the secondary."

In that comment, the head coach touched on the main areas of concern this spring. For one, on the line, who will replace the departed Mike Williams (who attended Monday's workout)? At least initially, that person will be Lionel Garr, who joined LT Doane, LG Tillman Holliway, C Jason Glynn and RG Dockery on the first-team line. Redshirt freshman Jonathan Scott and Alfio Randall have flipped sides of the line, Scott working as the back-up to Doane at LT and Randall behind Garr on the right. Will Allen and Trey Bates will both battle for PT at center and at guard. Allen took snaps at center Monday with the second-team OL, while Beau Baker on the left and Bates on the right worked at second-team guards. The third-team line consisted of LT Roman Reeves, LG Terrance Young, RG Mike Garcia and RT William Winston. That 14-player offensive line group, despite being young at several spots and called by Brown the "place on offense where we need the most work", is by far the deepest bunch that has graced the Forty Acres in years.

That statement doesn't (yet) apply to the defensive line, where spring will be a time to seek separation from among several playing time candidates. Redding has a stranglehold on the left DE spot, but with Kalen Thornton out while recovering from knee surgery, the starting RDE job as well as the back-up positions on both sides are up for grabs. O.J. McClintock had his right wrist wrapped Monday but he worked with the second unit at LDE. Sophomore Austin Sendlein lined up at times with the starters at RDE while true freshman Chase Pittman saw action at the spot with the second team. Adam Doiron and Stevie Lee played at the two starting tackle spots (Marcus Tubbs did not practice but is expected back) while Miguel McKay and Kaelen Jakes saw second-team snaps at tackle.

The coaches originally planned to put Pittman at TE over the first two weeks of spring practice and move him to DE for the final two weeks, but the departure of TE coach Tim Brewster to the San Diego Chargers led to a reversal of that schedule. "I talked with (Chase) this morning and we decided that it was probably best for him to get with (DE coach) Hardee (McCrary) for the first eight days and wait until we hire a tight end/tackle coach and work with him at the end of spring," Brown said. The Texas head coach confirmed Monday that Brewster planned to leave for the pros, but the job could be filled as early as this Friday (at the end of the state-mandated five-day job posting period) by Mac McWhorter, long-time Georgia Tech OL coach and interim Yellow Jackets head coach when George O'Leary made his ill-fated and short-lived move to South Bend. The staff shuffling will also involve a shuffling of coaching responsibilities on a newly configured offensive staff. Former OL coach Tim Nunez will now coach the guards and centers and the new coach, probably McWhorter, will coach tight ends and tackles. "Our tight ends are involved like wide receivers a lot so we’ll let (wide receiver coach) Darryl Drake coach (the TEs) some with the wide receivers in the passing game," Brown said.

Speaking of the passing game, Sloan Thomas will move to split end because of the absence of a recovering Roy Williams. Carter will start out spring backing up Thomas at the spot. B.J. Johnson, Tony Jeffery and Kyle Shanahan ably occupy the flanker position. Johnson hauled in a drive-extending 25-yard reception from Simms on the first-team O's successful one-minute drill drive Monday.

The guys trying to guard the wideouts comprise one of the most-interesting positional battles of the spring. After starting corners Rod Babers and Nathan Vasher plus back-up CB Monti Collier, the defensive backfield spots are populated by redshirt freshmen. Kendal Briles at free and Cedric Griffin at strong took the first-team safety snaps while two other redshirt freshmen, Rufus Harris at free and Michael Huff at strong, provided the back-up at the safety spots. Griffin picked a Nordgren pass attempt and streaked the other way Monday providing one of the workout's defensive highlights. "We've got some young corners and safeties that can really make their mark this spring and get a chance to play," Brown said Monday.

"We’ve got to look at linebackers and get some guys to step up in that area," the coach added. With the graduation of all three starting 'backers, LB also offers some intrigue this spring, although the main candidates "to step up" at each spot are experienced veterans. Lee Jackson at strong, Reed Boyd in the middle and Derrick Johnson at weak made up Monday's starting three. If Jackson returns to his sophomore season form, a season where he provided the Texas defense, from his strong safety position, its most consistent pass rush threat, the Horns should be solid on the outside. Boyd could possibly play all three linebacker spots and provide DE depth if needed. Aurmon Satchell and Eric Hall will battle at least initially for the back-up spot to Boyd while Rashad Thomas slid out to the weakside back-up spot and Braden Johnson took some second-team snaps behind Jackson Monday.

Practice notes: The Horns return to the practice field for another pad-less workout Tuesday afternoon. Friday afternoon's workout will be the first of 10 full-pad practices this spring. . . . Back-up fullback Will Matthews wore a red jersey and did not participate. Brown said true freshman DE Brian Pickryl will do some drill work but he will not be involved in contact. Roy Williams and Thornton will miss the entire spring. . . . Sophomore walk-on Dusty Mangum hit his two one-minute drill 37-yard field goal attempts while David Pino made one of two, pushing the miss wide right while booming the make in an attempt that probably would have been good from at least 15 yards further out. . . . Benson said he is scheduled to play for the Vero Beach Dodgers between the end of the spring semester and next August's start of two-a-days. "I'm totally excited (about playing baseball again)," the baseball center fielder said, "but I've got this at hand right now."

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