Texas Title Defense Begins Now

It's been 35 years since Texas reported for preseason workouts as the defending national champ. For the 2006 Longhorns, it means one thing: Rose Bowl's over, baby. Time to get to work.

"Starting tonight, we'll quit talking about last year," head coach Mack Brown said Sunday after players officially reported to campus.

The University of Texas has had a bulls-eye on its jersey as long as LG Kasey Studdard can remember. But that's especially the case this season.

"That's why in the spring and summer, we knew we had to work harder," Studdard said. "Everybody's going to be coming after us after what we did last year. But I sense it every year."

Safety Michael Griffin wore his national championship ring around his neck until Sunday morning. Now, it's in a safe place and all Griffin wants is to win another one just like it.

"That was last year's team," he said. "We've got players on this year's team that didn't even play in the national championship game. They're just wearing the ring. You can be happy about the ring. Maybe you helped at the beginning of the season, or maybe you helped on the scout teams, or maybe you didn't help at all. I just think it was last year's team. Obviously, the ring says ‘2005'. This is a whole new season. We can't go out there thinking about last year's team. We've got to go out and get ready to play and not think about last year."

But, for the second straight season, the Horns open their campaign as the nation's No. 2 team (USA-Today coach's poll).

"I think we're in the perfect spot," Brown said. "We have 16 starters back. We have a lot of depth. We had great participation (this summer). I feel like there will be less complacency without Vince (Young). There would have been a tendency to say it would have been easy again, and that's not the attitude of the team at all."

The schedule, of course, is primed for Texas to quickly recapture the No. 1 ranking. Top-rated Ohio State comes calling on September in what shapes up not only as the regular season's premiere matchup but also the first time No. 1 has met No.2 in Royal-Memorial Stadium.

"If Vince had returned, we would have been No. 1 in my estimation," Brown said. "Since he was such a dynamic player, I can see why the coaches put us second. Ohio State's offense is back in tact. When you've got (QB) Troy Smith back and the supporting cast that they have, I can understand why we're No.2 and they're No. 1."

The fact that Ohio State is on tap early virtually compels the Horns to get focused and work harder this month than if they had an easy September slate, Brown believes. Yet, with all the national attention focused on the September 9 tilt, Texas' title defense will likely be determined by whether it can find a way to win at least four nail biters this season, including a couple of close calls from tougher-than-expected competition.

"We're going to have to win at least four really close games where we'll be in trouble to have a chance to win all of them," Brown predicted, "and maybe more than that. The way we respond when we're behind is more important than anything else we do. Last year, only in four close games (Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, USC). The rest were blowouts, and what you did was manage personnel at the end and try not to run up the score and not got anybody hurt. We responded better in those four games -- we kept our confidence, our good body language, good chemistry – than we did during the first six years. You just try to capture it and keep it."

There is no underestimating the impact of the continuity Texas enjoyed with its staff this season, marking the first time in five years that every Longhorn assistant coach returned.

"Our coaches gave me the practice schedule for two-a-days in early July," Brown noted. "If we had changed coaches, we would have been planning tonight on how to start practice. They have a game plan for every game already. It will change, some, depending on who's healthy. But they're so far ahead of where we've been changing defensive coaches for the past two years. This will be the first time that our defense has had staff continuity in three years."

Players officially reported by 2 p.m. and, according to Brown, "They're all here." All freshmen have fulfilled NCAA clearinghouse requirements, according to a Mens Athletic Department spokesman.

Other than re-establishing the type of team chemistry that helped carry the program to its fourth national championship, a priority this month is to "look at how we're going to get the explosive plays that we did last year," Brown said. "We won't get as many from the quarterback position. We've got to develop a plan that's complicated enough to beat a great defensive team but simple enough for our young quarterbacks to handle."

The media will not have access to RS-freshman Colt McCoy, true freshman Jevan Snead (or, true freshman Sherrod Harris, for that matter) until August 19. But coaches planned on impressing upon teammates during Sunday night's initial gathering a lesson learned while rotating Chris Simms and Major Applewhite: the quandary that arises when one position becomes bigger than the team itself.

"(Offensive Coordinator) Greg (Davis) and I learned a lot through the Chris and Major thing," Brown said. "The thing we learned is that it got to be about them instead of the team in a couple of places. That was really unhealthy. That's why I'm going to talk to the team tonight that it's not about one player…We want to make sure the quarterback position is productive. Those guys don't have to try to go in and win every game. They've got enough good, experienced players around them. We don't want it to be about them; it's about the team."

Added Brown, "Managing distractions is a huge part of this job. People choosing sides over players is a distraction. It wasn't a distraction (rotating QBs) at North Carolina, and that's why I missed it here (2000, 2001). I didn't think it was going to be that big of a deal. I just thought you play whoever gives you the best chance to win the game, and then it got to be a vote every week. Understanding the environment better, we will handle it better this time."

Defensively, Brown wants to force more turnovers, increase the pressure on the quarterbacks and do a better job of stopping the run in 2006.

Monday and Tuesday's practice, slated to begin at 6:30 p.m., are open to the public at Denius Field.


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