Scrimmage Signals Spring Football Halftime

Texas' scrimmage at Royal-Memorial Stadium Wednesday marked the halfway point of spring drills for the defending national champs. So, what does Longhorn head coach Mack Brown know about his team now that there are seven sessions in his rearview mirror?

For starters, the defense is way ahead of the offense. It usually is this time of year, but especially with a pair of freshman QBs trying to fill the cleats of a dearly-departed instant legend.

"There are more older guys on defense than there are on offense so the defense started quicker in both scrimmages," Brown said. "Our offense needs to walk on the field ready to play and not be feeling their way around. It seems like the key right now is we're deeper on defense than we've ever been."

The $64,000 question remains the progress of the QBs. Brown's story throughout the spring (and he's stickin' to it) has been to praise their poise as well as their grasp of the offense given the relatively short time frame with which they've had to work.

"It seems like they both can do the same things, so we'll be able to run one offense. That will really help us, instead of trying to do two different things like we got into with Chance (Mock) and Vince (Young) at one time."

Offensively, the biggest surprise of the spring may be RB/DE Henry Melton. The designated short-yardage RB may never consistently be a go-the-distant threat but, day-in and day-out this spring, he has proven capable of much more than three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust. The H-Train posted the biggest run of the scrimmage when he rumbled for 35 yards, Brown said. The sophomore also held his own at DE, Brown added.

Brown singled-out DE Brian Orakpo for his continued emergence. Said Brown of the 2005 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year: "He has such quickness and has forced some penetration to get some negative-yards play. We are really excited about what he is doing."

CB Brandon Foster continues to impress while RS-sophomore Ryan Palmer is starting to leave his mark now that he is fully recovered from knee surgery.

"Brandon is playing much better than he ever had," Brown said. "He and Ryan both need to play. Ryan made one of the best plays I've ever seen him make (in Wednesday's scrimmage) jumping up against Jordan Shipley in the end zone and batting the ball away. It was a great play that I hadn't seen him make before. Brandon has come along like we thought he would and Ryan is finally well."

Offensively, the most important thing Brown wants to emphasize during the second half of spring drills is consistency. It will also be a time to solidify the starting rotation at RG.

"Cedric Dockery played really well yesterday and it looked like he did some good things today. But we need a solid Right Guard, and then get five in place, and then get 10 in place. That's something we had, at times, last year. We played seven as starters. We're trying to find who the guys are two-deep who can play at any time."

It will also be a time to discern "what the quarterbacks do best" and that, of course, has everything to do with determining the "featured plays" when the season kicks off next September.

"We are not ready to play today on offense," Brown said, "but we will be."

Defensively, the emphasis will be forcing more turnovers. The Horns experienced secondary produced just 11 INTs last season. Brown estimates that D-backs literally had their hands on 23 footballs but came away with the pick less than half the time.

"What you do with trying to force more turnovers is continue to talk about it," Brown told Inside Texas. "(We say) that's a ball you should have caught. If you get your hands on that ball, you've got to intercept it. The second thing would be is if the ballcarrier is running the ball out, and we didn't strip it, we'd stop the film, show it and put it up there, taking out the five plays where the offensive player had the ball away from the body. If nobody stripped it, that's five opportunities we missed. Obviously, if a ball gets on the ground, we want to see who gets after it the best. We had a very, very physical scrimmage today and that's how you find out those things."

"In spring practice, you don't have a Game Plan," Brown said, "so you'll have a great play and an ugly play. If people were watching it they'd say, 'Oh, that's a horrible play.' But it may be an offensive play that we wouldn't run against that defense, or it may be a defense that we wouldn't have run against that set."

Coaches will break down the practice film on Wednesday and then review it with players at 6 a.m., Thursday.

"We'll go over it in its entirety and look at any possible changes in the lineup or for goals that we may want to look at during the last eight days," Brown said.

RB Jamaal Charles and DE Brian Robison were excused from Wednesday's scrimmage in order to prepare for the NCAA National Indoor Track and Field event. The team will be dismissed for The University's Spring Break on Friday and will report back on March 19.

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