We're less than 10 days from the 2005 home opener and Mack Brown is still looking for a wideout to emerge from the logjam of pass-catchers. And if no one fully emerged during Wednesday's scrimmage, it's because Brown reports there wasn't a single drop. Not one. (Tyrell Gatewood made a diving grab out of bounds.)
"It's going to be interesting (to evaluate) on film. I think Ramonce (Taylor) has made the biggest move of the guys out there."
Taylor played at all three receiver spots during Wednesday's scrimmage and none at running back.
"He will move around," Brown said. "We'll get him more at running back next week so we'll see him at all four spots. He would definitely be able to play flanker and split end right now. The sub-B (spot) is a different one for him but we probably won't use him there as much."
The most improved WR is Billy Pittman: "I would say he had a really good camp from where he was to where he is," Brown said.
The most consistent receiver is FL Brian Carter: "He would have started in that group of three last year but he strained a knee. It really got him behind and he didn't play much. He has really done everything right to get on the field this year. He's really fast. He's not as flashy as some other guys but he's really smart and he's a great blocker. He's got great hands."
There's no doubt that RS-sophomore Limas Sweed is your starting SE but FL is shaping up as a duel between Carter and Nate Jones. Jones played in 11 games and started five as a true freshman, yet had a nondescript inaugural campaign with just seven catches for 73 yards. I asked Brown to assess Jones' progress.
"Nate's had a real good camp. He had a good spring and a good camp. You go back and look at last year, when he had a pull and he was a freshman, I'm not sure that he was ever well. We're seeing a little more speed now. We're seeing a burst."
The X Factor at WR this season is speed demon Quan Cosby, who has shown a remarkable break on the ball given not only his transition from Minor League baseball to college football but also his move from QB to wideout.
"We've seen good things out of Quan," Brown told me. "We've got to figure out what Quan can do."
The primary evaluation tool for WR, Brown said, is yards-after-catch.
"We've got to do a better job of making yards after the catch than we did last year," he said, "and we would like to get deep. We want guys who can make plays with the ball in their hands."
There's never been a question throughout August camp that Selvin Young will be the featured running back. The only question was whether SY could remain healthy (so far, so good) and which of the freshmen running backs would emerge as his primary backup. Most Horn fans expected Parade All-American Jamaal Charles to be the head of his class but (6-3, 275) RB Henry Melton has been a pleasant surprise.
"Henry has done really well on short yardage and on goal line," Brown said. "He's just so powerful. He had about four situations tonight and he made all four (first downs). If we played today, we are comfortable with him. Jamaal made a couple of good runs again. I want to watch the film and look at their blocking."
For now, it looks like sophomore Drew Kelson at SAM and RS-freshman Rashad Bobino at WILL. Yet, Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik does not come close (despite media prompting) to singling out individual players or provide hints about depth chart. He has crosstrained his linebackers throughout the preseason preparing for "any situation that could arise."
"We had a good mix-and-match of people in there," he said of Wednesday's scrimmage. "We rotated guys around. It was good all-around. A lot of guys got to play. We've still got enough time before we play to hone in upon who's going to be where. Again, we're trying to rotate enough guys to where a lot of them can play a lot of different positions."
For Kelson, a converted SS, it's just a matter of getting game day experience, Chizik believes.
"Drew has come a long way and he understands everything," Chizik said. "It's just a matter of game day repetition and getting experience at that position. Experience is the great equalizer."
I've actually received conflicting reports about whether Kelson has trained exclusively at SLB, or if he's also taken snaps at SS during August camp. Because every indication is that Kelson has beat out Eric Foreman and Eric Hall at SAM, and because Brown projects that Kelson will eventually finish his career at SS, I asked Chizik where the versatile sophomore has taken his snaps during camp.
"He's moved around a little bit and we're always going to be able to have him up at safety," Chizik replied. "He pays attention to everything that's going on. Again, if catastrophe struck, you've got a way out. Even doing linebacker meetings, he's still paying attention to the safety spot."
Overall, Chizik said his defensive staff has "done everything we could do to address issues at any place that there's a concern. That's why we cross-train people."
This spot is so critical to manufacturing an honest, four-man pass rush that many questioned if Mike Williams academic ineligibility (for the second straight year) dealt a significant blow to the preseason emphasis on upgrading Texas' sack attack. But a pair of freshmen have added some burst at the edge and have entrenched themselves as part of the rotation. RS-freshman Brian Orakpo is an up-and-comer while true freshman Chris Brown (a converted linebacker) is a full-throttled head knocker who should be on the field during pass rush situations. The same goes for senior Eric Hall, who started 12 games at SLB in 2004. As such, Chizik says he is not concerned about depth at DE (a real Achilles Heel this time last season).
"We've got really good players and we'll mix-and-match to come up with the right combination of people there," he said. "Chris Brown is really coming along. Every day he seems to be getting better."
David Thomas may be the best-kept secret in the country and should be first-team All-Big 12 by season's end. Depth at this position was actually Brown's biggest offensive concern just three weeks ago, but junior Neale Tweedie and true freshman Jermichael Finley are helping Brown sleep at night. Tweedie was one of the handful of players that Brown gushed over last spring. The 6-5, 265-pounder has good hands, deceptive speed and could fulfill the 'Bo Scaife role' in a two TE set.
"He can really run for 265 and we think he'll be really good," Brown said. "In some ways, he'll be different from Bo Scaife. But he'll be really good and we can still line up and play two tight ends. He'll block better than Bo but not stretch the field as much. He's got great hands. He doesn't drop very many balls."
Finley was recruited as a WR but now Brown says the 6-5, 220-pounder is being groomed as "the next David Thomas." So, I asked Thomas to offer his general assessment of Finley.
"I see a little bit of me in him," Thomas said. "He definitely is a guy that can stretch the field and do some things after the catch. If he keeps working hard, he's got a bright future. He's definitely got good hands."
Richmond McGee was 3-for-3 on FGs from the 30 while David Pino went 2-for-3. Greg Johnson shook off a nagging ankle injury and punted twice. ("He punted really well so we think he's well," Brown said.) Aaron Ross returned a punt for TD, his second of the preseason, against the Twos. Selvin Young is your starting PR but fans should see a more explosive Ross now that he has finally overcome the hamstring injury that slowed him last season.