Best performance by a fill-in: Austin Sendlein. With Kalen Thornton rehabbing after off-season knee surgery, Sendlein stepped into the starting right defensive end spot and quickly earned the spring start. Reese said Sendlein has a "good, quick first step," something the sophomore LB-turned-DT-turned-DE demonstrated in the Horns' first DKR scrimmage by pressuring or sacking Chris Simms several times. He also showed great hands by hauling in an INT of Simms in UT's final scrimmage before the break.
Best performance in a supporting role: Chance Mock. A case can be made that Mock is the most improved player on the team since last fall. The sophomore showed little ability to run the Texas offense through last spring and two-a-days, consistently tucking the ball and running rather than even attempting to find a receiver. Through seven spring practices, Mock displayed QB skills rather than simply athlete skills as before, and if that continues over the last half of spring and into August, the back-up QB spot will be substantially stabilized.
Surprise performance(s): (tie) Miguel McKay and Michael Huff. McKay is a fifth-year senior who started his UT career at middle linebacker before being spun all the way down to DT after this true freshman season by D-coordinator Carl Reese. The 6-1, 275-pounder played in only four games last fall and registered just one tackle, but based on his spring play through seven practices, he could be a much bigger contributor come fall. Marcus Tubbs remains the only lock to start at tackle, leaving one spot open for either Adam Doiron (who worked alongside Tubbs with the first-team D for the majority of the first two weeks of spring workouts), Stevie Lee, McKay or, less-likely but possible, one of the healthy true freshman DTs -- Rodrique Wright or Tully Janszen (Marco Martin, who injured his knee in Mesquite's state finals win, is a probable redshirt) -- who will arrive in August. "(The tackles) better get with it because those young kids coming in are going to get a real shot to help us and give us some back-up," Reese told IT recently. Ideally, Reese would like to have a four-player rotation in the middle. It's still too early to tell whether McKay has earned his way into that fall rotation -- Tubbs, Doiron and Lee are almost certainly there -- but the chances of that happening for McKay are far better now than they were before the start of spring. Redshirt freshman Huff is another of the surprise standouts of the first two weeks of spring work, garnering frequent praise from both Reese and Mack Brown. Huff's performance, though, probably shouldn't come as a shock. Last August during two-a-days, Huff, one of the less-heralded members of the '01 recruiting class, practiced well enough to lead the D-coordinator to call him and Aaron Ross (after the obvious choice of Derrick Johnson) the two true freshmen most ready to contribute during the fall. Johnson went on to win Big 12 and some national Freshman of the Year honors, Ross had to leave the team before the start of the season because of NCAA Clearinghouse issues (he'll be back this fall) and Huff redshirted because of the Horns' depth in the defensive backfield. Last fall's two-a-days performance looks to have carried over to this spring for Huff. Playing at times at strong safety, nickel back and corner, Huff picked off three passes (two on Chance Mock and one on Chris Simms) during 11-on-11 work over the first seven practices, a simple result of his often stride-for-stride coverage of the UT wideouts. Huff also turned in several sacks as an outside blitzer while playing nickel back. With projected fall contributors (and possibly starters) Dakarai Pearson and Phillip Geiggar out this spring and their fall status unknown because of academics, the fall situation in the defensive backfield is extremely uncertain. We do know that the Horns have two definite starters in Rod Babers at corner and Nathan Vasher at either corner or strong safety, but where the group of youngsters, including Huff, fit in is iffy. Huff and also Cedric Griffin showed during the first two weeks of spring that they seem to have the ability to step in as Vasher did in '00 and provide immediate help at the nickel and contribute at safety or corner. Runner-up: Artie Ellis. Ellis returned from his self-imposed fall absence and, despite the extra pounds (he's up to approximately 250), he ran and caught the ball well as the back-up tight end over the first half of spring.
Best performance by a redshirt freshman: (tie) Michael Huff, Will Allen, Jonathan Scott and Will Winston. See above for Huff. Both Greg Davis and Brown praised the early spring play of Allen at center, Scott at left tackle and Winston at right tackle. Through the first half of spring, Allen and Scott are solid back-ups at their respective positions while Winston is pushing senior Alfio Randall for the back-up spot at right tackle. Davis in the past consistently stressed the need for at least a three-man and ideally a four-man rotation at tackle and at guard. Last year, the Horns had a workable rotation at guard with Tillman Holloway, Antwan Kirk-Hughes, Derrick Dockery and by the end of the year Beau Baker but the tackle situation was tenuous with just LT Robbie Doane and RT Mike Williams capable of playing at a championship level. Dockery slid out to tackle when needed last season, but the loss of Williams and Kirk Hughes to graduation meant at least two young guys needed to step up and into that rotation, which Scott and Winston seem to be in the process of doing. Lionel Garr and possibly Randall may also take that step, but the play of the redshirt freshmen greatly improves the offensive line depth outlook. Ditto the emergence of Allen at center, a spot where the coaches want at least two guys capable of playing with the game on the line. Sophomore Jason Glynn ably filled in last fall for the since-graduated Matt Anderson, so the starting job is Glynn's, with Allen for now moving into Glynn's former role as the depth at the position.
Best performance by a walk-on (aside from Cedric Benson): Richmond McGee. The Garland native sent multiple kickoffs into the endzone and some even traveled out of the back of the endzone! Just as with punter Justin Smith, who looked better in the first two weeks of spring work than at any time since arriving on the Forty Acres, consistency will ultimately determine McGee's playing time fate, but the simple fact that he has the leg strength to kick the ball past the goalline is an encouraging development in the search for adequate kickoffs.
Best run from scrimmage: Cedric Benson. When the sophomore tailback took the first carry of full-pad, full-contact, 11-on-11 work of the spring for five yards up the middle, it signaled the end of two months of teeth gnashing over Benson's playing status. Benson owns the runner-up spot in this category as well with his shake-and-bake 18-yard dash to the endzone in the final scrimmage. On the play, Benson used his speed to get around the left edge and his shiftiness to send Rufus Harris sprawling to the grass as he cut back toward the center of the field for the untouched TD.