The last time Texas fans saw stalwart running back Ivan Williams in game-day action, the 240-pounder was bulldozing his way into the end zone while scoring the winning touchdown against Washington in the 2001 Holiday Bowl. But the last time fans saw Williams at practice Tuesday the physical, two-year letterman was carrying the rock at fullback.
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis insists that nothing is carved in stone, but that the coaches are trying Williams at both the fullback and tailback position. Williams started three games at tailback last year. He played in all 12 games his freshman season as both a backup fullback and tailback.
"Williams has been working hard, and he doesnt make many mistakes," Davis said.
The crystal ball says that Williams will be part of the fullback brigade when the Horns kick-off Aug. 31 against North Texas. The move makes sense not only because of the obvious emergence of Cedric Benson last season and the eyebrow-raising quickness of true freshman tailback Selvin Young; it also creates depth at a spot that has been thinned by injuries during early August. Although expected to return, a nagging injury has kept projected starter Matt Trissel out of contact action for three consecutive practices and, with TE Bo Scaife out for the season with a knee injury, projected fullback contributor junior Brock Edwards has spent much of the early days of varsity workouts at tight end, his freshman and sophomore season spot.
JUSTIN BLALOCK: THE LATEST FRESHMAN TO EMERGE
Its a matter of perception which players are getting more snaps during 11-on-11 drills, according to Davis. But the perception here is that true freshman Justin Blalock was not only a physical but also a continuous force on the offensive line Tuesday.
The 6-4, 340-pound mountain-in-shoulder-pads saw more action relative to his heralded freshman class-mates. More important to Davis, the right guard can help stockpile the kind of offensive line depth that Texas has not had in several years.
"Justin has been one of the freshmen who has jumped out in practice and has a good chance to contribute in the fall," Davis said. "He can allow us to be far more flexible in rotating guys on and off the field, and thats not a luxury that weve always had."
One of the more touted members of Texas top-ranked recruiting class, Blalock earned USA Today All-American honors as a three-year starter at Plano East. He was also a first-team, 5A all-state selection in both football and track and field.
"Justin has done very well in practice and were really pleased with him," Mack Brown said. "Hes one of the guys who has a real good chance to play this year if he keeps working hard."
OTHER FRESHMEN WHO COULD PLAY
Along with Blalock, Davis listed speedy tailback Selvin Young, tight end David Thomas and wide receiver Robert Timmons as freshman who could make a significant impact upon what is generally expected to be a stellar season for the Horns.
Coaches will have a better opportunity to evaluate the youngsters when the team scrimmages for the first time in pads Wednesday night.
"These are the guys who have shown us some real maturity and the ability to play," Davis said, "but the next five days when theyre in pads should really separate the freshman who will play from the rest. Weve only seen them in shorts until now, and about the best we can say now is these are the freshmen that look good in shorts. "
Quarterback Vince Young, considered by many to be the jewel of this years recruiting class, is expected to redshirt.
BLOCK THAT KICK!
Wide receiver Tony Jeffery sliced through the offensive line late Wednesday and, thwack, blocked a Justin Smith punt attempt. Defensive back Tien Van Nguyen fielded the loose ball.
Jefferys effort, and the resounding thud, drew cheers from teammates as well as head coach Mack Brown.
"That was the most exciting blocked punt Ive ever seen in my life because it was our Block Team that was in," Brown said. "It even sounded good."
Brown said the play reminded him of last years win at Texas A&M where cornerback Rod Babers blocked a Cody Scates punt and Jeffery gathered up the pigskin and darted 23 yards into the end zone for the games first touchdown.
Later Tuesday, sophomore kicker Dusty Mangum connected on a 37-yard field goal attempt during two-minute offense drills. David Pino missed his only scrimmage attempt.
Maybe it was the soaring late-afternoon temperatures, but Tuesdays matinee performance clearly lacked the focus and crispness evident in the previous nights workout. Numerous offside penalties, fumbles and dropped passes drew heat from more than one positions coach.
"We ask them to play every play at full speed," Brown said, "but some of the guys who were superstars in high school dont do it that way every time."
Redshirt freshman safety Kendal Briles returned to practice after missing practice Monday evening. Defensive end Kalen Thornton is listed as day-to-day, but coaches said they hope the projected starter will return by the middle of next week. Freshman linebacker Aaron Harris was still held out of practice after suffering a mild concussion at Saturday evening's practice. Tight end/fullback Stevens continues to nurse a leg contusion. True freshman Clint Haney sat out practice with an unspecified illness. Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Jonathan Scott, expected to replace All-American Mike Williams, remained sidelined, as did senior fullback Trissel. Freshman defensive lineman Marco Martin, redshirt freshman OL Terrance Young and special teams standout Michael Ungar also sat out Tuesday's practice.
The Longhorns are scheduled to strap on the pads for the first time, 7:35 p.m., Wednesday at Denius Fields. The workout will follow the 8 a.m. practice session. The Horns will scrimmage at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday at DKR.
Near the end of Tuesday's workout during 11-on-11 action, Trey Bates, who has seen reps at both right and left guard, worked at center while normal No. 2 center Will Allen moved to right guard. . . . With Ivan Williams working with the fullbacks, true freshman Albert Hardy worked some at tailback Tuesday. . . . With projected starters Stevens and Scott out due to injury, Edwards and Alfio Randall took the first team snaps at tight end and right tackle, respectively. . . . Dakarai Pearson at free and Michael Huff at strong worked with the starting defensive unit. . . . Eric Hall (see Hot News), Aurmon Satchell, Brian Robison and Rashad Thomas took MLB snaps with the back-up defensive group.