"We are really worried about (RG) and about depth," Brown said, following Wednesday's practice at Denius Field. "Right now, we're not where we were last year with Mike Garcia and Tony Hills who were, in essence, starters. So, we had seven starters this time last year. Right now, we have four. And we're looking for three other guys."
For months, Brown said this year's offensive linemen could be better than the starting five from the national championship team. The bunch from 2005, Brown said, was the best he's ever coached in 20+ years in the business. For now, the current crew at least has the nucleus to live up to Brown's advance billing.
Obviously, RT Justin Blalock is the next in the assembly line of All-Americans from Texas' offensive front. LG Kasey Studdard is a three-year starter and is such a blue-collar, hard nosed, quirky inside lineman that he's almost a throwback to some of the Longhorn greats from the 1960s and 1970s. (In my opinion, Studdard is one of the most underrated players in college football). C Lyle Sendlein earned First-Team All-Big 12 honors last year and is the quarterback of the O-lineman. LT Tony Hills saw so many quality snaps last year that he's virtually a returning starter.
But coaches are still tweaking the RG position and are genuinely concerned to establish depth, and chemistry, at all five spots.
"If we have four great ones and one who's not, then we're not going to be very good," Offensive Line coach Mac McWhorter said. "All five, and the tight end, have got to hit on all cylinders."
Sophomore Cedric Dockery is projected to inherit the RG position but, so far coaches have been reticent to throw props his way. Blalock has taken a lot of snaps on the inside this week with RS-Freshman Adam Ulatoski working at RT.
"The ability to move Justin inside to guard and play Adam outside really helps us strengthen our depth," Brown said. "It's not a message that Adam is ahead of the others. And we also feel that it will help Justin's stock in the NFL playing both."
While coaches may be wringing their hands about depth, they are singing the praises of Hills.
"Tony is a phenomenal athlete," said McWhorter. "I think he's going to be really, really special. He's such a fluid athlete. He does it all pretty well. He's got good body quickness in pass protection. The thing he needs is just reps, reps, reps."
Hills is listed at 6-6, 300 pounds but Brown said he probably weighs closer to 315.
"Tony has got a chance to be as good as anybody in the country," Brown said. "He started slow in the spring and probably felt a little pressure. He has great feet and has a tremendous attitude. We think he and Justin Blalock can be two really good bell-cows on the outside of the line."
Hills was considered the offensive jewel of the 2003 recruiting class and was projected at TE. But the Parade All-American blew out his knee during a Houston Alief Elsik playoff game in December of his senior year. Hills sat out his first season after high school.
"After he hurt his knee, there was a huge question about whether he would ever play or not," Brown said. "When he got here, we let him try it at tight end the first week of spring but he had lost some of his speed. That's when we moved him back to tackle."
Hills has seen action in 18 games. Otherwise, '38' is the magic number on the O-line. Studdard and Sendlein have combined for 38 starts while Blalock has logged 38 straight starts as a Longhorn.
The Horns worked in shoulder pads for the first time this season. The team is slated to practice 6:30 p.m., Thursday, at Denius Field. The team will practice in full pads for the first time on Saturday.
At Mens' Athletic Department official told Inside Texas that backup SLB Sergio Kindle suffered a sprained left ankle during the early part of Tuesday's workout. I was told it was "nothing serious."