If Wednesday morning practice was an indicator, injured tight end Bo Scaife will be replaced (if he can be replaced at all) by committee.
"With Scaife we had a wide receiver in a tight ends body," Mack Brown said. "He was a wide receiver playing tight end. The only guy we have close to him in speed is (true freshman) David Thomas."
A healthy Chad Stevens returned to practice and logged ample snaps at tight end along with junior Brock Edwards and true freshman David Thomas. O.J. McClintock missed morning practice because of his class schedule, while Edwards later hobbled off the field with a strained quad muscle.
"I dont think David realizes he has that kind of pressure on him," the Texas head coach said, before jokingly adding, "Dont tell him, though."
Thomas earned 4A all-state honors as a Wolfforth Frenship senior. At tight end last year, he set school receiving records for receptions (63) and yards (1,130). Thomas 21 touchdowns (15 receiving, six rushing) are also school records.
OFFENSIVE FOCAL POINT
An emphasis during the Wednesday morning session was the passing attack to tight ends, fullbacks and tailbacks. The loudest chirp of the early-bird session was reserved for Ivan Williams' reception and 50-yard sprint down the sideline, reminding observers that bulldozers also have wheels. The 6-1, 240-pound junior has been logging time over the last few practices at fullback after starting three games in 2001 at tailback and spending all of spring and the early two-a-days sessions at the tailback spot.
THE SAFETY DANCE
Coaches insist that few players are currently entrenched in the starting lineup. As head coach Mack Brown said, "The trench is awfully shallow until they get pads on."
But with senior Rod Babers and sophomore Nathan Vasher clearly establishing a toehold at cornerback, the fiercest trench warfare is being waged for the strong and free safety positions.
With Cedric Griffin and Michael Huff duking it out for the starting nod at strong safety, their contest may be overshadowed only by Dakarai Pearsons battle with Kendal Briles for free safety.
For now, the line in the sand that separates them is awfully thin.
"We could play any of those guys and there would be no drop off," defensive coordinator Carl Reese said. "Weve got to find a way to get all of these kids into the game. It would be a shame to have even one of these guys on the bench."
Thats part of the reason why Reese said the Horns may use a nickel package more often this season. The move would put more speed on the field and would also take some of the pressure off Texas linebackers, a spot where UT is replacing all three starters.
"I could easily see us using five defensive backs along with (WLB) Derrick Johnson and (SLB) Lee Jackson," Reese said. "Now is the time for (MLB) Reed Boyd to step up." (Note: it is the second time this week a coach has called for the New Braunfels junior to "step up". Reese also singled out Eric Hall for his backup work Wednesday morning at middle linebacker).
What, then, will ultimately separate the fab four (or five) in the defensive backfield from equally talented contenders?
"I look at the way a safety tackles, blitzes and is able to cover a third receiver," Reese said.
In other words, Reese pretty much looks at the total package.
For secondary coach Duane Akina, mental toughness is the ingredient that will make the difference.
"There are a lot of great athletes here who can run around, but if they dont know what to do or who to cover it doesnt matter how good they are," he said. "When things are this close between the players, what gets my attention is the mental aspect which involves their being alert and aware of all the details and small things that are part of being a (defensive back)." [Editor's note: For more recent comments from Akina on his DBs, click here.]
Also thrown into the mix at cornerback Wednesday morning was true freshman Edorian McCullough, an all-state standout in both football and tack and field.
"Edorian is one of the fastest guys in the world," Reese smiled.
Reeses assessment may not be such a stretch. McCullough is a two-time Texas 5A 100 meters champ who has clocked a career best of 10.02 seconds.
WR Roy Williams, who missed the latter part of Tuesday's practice after suffering a slight groin injury, donned the red jersey Wednesday morning and did not participate in the workout. His status is day-to-day. Fellow junior Sloan Thomas stepped in at starting split end.