In its five DB sets, Carl Reese's D Sunday featured Cedric Griffin at the nickel with Michael Huff at strong safety and Dakarai Pearson and Kendal Briles at free safety. Griffin and Huff continue to get snaps at both safety and corner. "We're really thin at corner and it scares us to death," Mack Brown said Sunday. "Edorian McCullough is the only true corner that we signed -- Matt Melton and Clint Haney are safety/corner types -- so we're really thin in our secondary so (Griffin and Huff) are going to have to play corner and nickel some as well as safety. And we've got to sign some defensive backs this year." Brown and Co. have already received commitments from four DBs for the class of '03, including at least two strong corner prospects in Brandon Foster and Steve Richardson.
Brown Sunday called the free safety battle wide open. "Dakarai has more experience than those other guys but those other guys have a lot of talent and they had spring practice so it's a great battle right now and there's really not a frontrunner," the head coach said. "We're inexperienced but we're talented.
Although Vasher is an explosive return man on both punt and kickoff returns, the junior will only see spot duty in '02 on kickoff returns, according to Brown. "We may not let him return kickoffs except in special situations," the head coach told IT Sunday. "He'll take less hits at corner than he did at safety so that'll help him some. He'll definitely be involved in punt returns but we do feel like that he will not be the every-time kickoff return guy because you return kickoffs right after you've given up a touchdown or start a half so he'll probably be tired in some of those situations, so we feel like we've got some guys that may can do as well as him if he's tired." Brian Carter and Griffin worked at kickoff return in spring and Ivan Williams, who missed spring ball, worked at one of the kickoff return spots last fall, so the positions could go to veterans, but Brown said true freshmen McCullough and Selvin Young are possibilities as well. The coach said he's less inclined to put a true freshman in a punt return role. Vasher and Pearson continue to get the punt return reps in practice.
Aaron Harris missed Sunday's practice (see Hot News), but the other four true freshman LBs saw plenty of action. "We've got to find some (depth at linebacker) and we looked at the (older) guys in the spring so we told those guys we were gonna look at these (younger) guys early and see if they could come in and make an impact," Brown said. "We'll decide after probably 10 days who needs to be in there. The other guys had about 15 (practices) so we're gonna give these guys 15 then decide who needs to be out there behind the starters." IT asked Brown if any of the five have emerged from the crowd yet and he "No" before adding, "I think they're all good enough (to play as true freshmen). It'll just be the ones that are mature enough to step in and play now."
The scrimmage situation struggles of UT's sophomore walk-on kickers continued Sunday with both Dusty Mangum and David Pino missing their 37-yard tries wide left. Mangum has missed all three of his practice-closing attempts while Pino, who has demonstrated an extremely strong leg, has managed to put through just one of three.
Brown on Sunday's practice: "I felt like our third practice in a row was really good. We're pleased with the attitude, we've got more depth, we're working the guys really hard in this heat and they responded well. Our focus today was to get in better position to tackle. We've been too high and ducking our heads some and it's important that we tackle better because it's something that you can do in shorts and shoulder pads fundamentally. The other focus has been taking care of the ball offensively. We've had the ball on the ground too much and it was on the ground yesterday and it was fewer this afternoon and that was one of the focal points we started in the spring with and we need to continue with today." The head coach also praised the team's effort in the sauna-like atmosphere Sunday afternoon. "We got a lot in and we're playing a whole lot of players," Brown added, "so things looked sloppy early but I'm pleased with where we are."
Highlight reel plays: B.J. Johnson made a diving catch of a Chris Simms pass at the right pylon in 11-on-11 red zone work. FS Rufus Harris also turned in a beaut, breaking in front of a Chance Mock attempt in the left flat for FB Albert Hardy and collecting the pick (that would have gone all the way back for six). Although that particular pass attempt to Hardy went the other direction, the QBs have largely been successful in implementing what is obviously an emphasis by the offensive coaches on getting the FBs into a more prominent pass-catching role (we won't know till at least Wednesday when the team dons full pads for the first time this August whether the FBs will also see more -- actually any -- carries this fall). And based on the number of balls aimed at Chad Stevens, Brock Edwards, O.J. McClintock (see Hot News) and even true freshman David Thomas during scrimmage work, the absence of Bo Scaife will not diminish the TEs' role this fall.