Football notes

Notes from Mack Brown's Monday media luncheon:

IN THE ‘ZONE'

Right cornerback Rod Babers is taking back everything he ever said about guys who play zone defense instead of man-to-man, now that defensive coordinator Carl Reese and secondary coach Duane Akina are throwing more zone coverage into their schemes.

Well, nearly everything.

"I used to say I didn't like defensive backs who play zone," Babers said, "I like them but I don't respect them much."

Still, the animated Babers (who never met a reporter he didn't like) has enough respect for Reese to call him the "defensive guru" to give zone coverage a chance.

"It's important that the DBs show zone sometimes because a quarterback can pick you apart when you're in man," said Babers, who is slated to started his 26th career game on Saturday against North Texas. "The coaches want us to face the football so we can attack the ball instead of having our backs to the ball all the time. The coaches will put us in zone when we need to be in the zone."

RUN, CEDRIC, RUN

Although much of offensive coordinator Greg Davis' focus during the final days of the preseason was upon the creative wrinkles in his play book (including play-action passes, double-reverses, options, four- and five-wide sets, shovel passes and tunnel screens), Mack Brown continued Monday to gush about the strength of his team's basic running game and his bread-and-butter RB Cedric Benson.

For the umpteenth time this month, Brown said the team's running game looks better than at any time since the Ricky Williams offense four years ago. So, despite the smoke and mirrors in Davis' playbook intended to keep defenses honest, look for Texas to force the run against North Texas in the home opener Saturday.

"In our first game last season (New Mexico State), we only rushed for a total of 177 yards, and we had to make an effort to run it that well," the head coach said. (Actually, the Longhorns -- with Benson coming off the bench late rather than starting as he did post-OU game -- rushed for 171 yards on 45 attempts that night, a nondescript 3.8 yards per carry). "We're going to be more aggressive in running the ball this year."

QB Chris Simms, while lauding Benson, said he's likes the fancy gadgets in Davis' scheme.

"What's fun about being a quarterback is messing with their (defense's) heads, especially the linebackers," Simms said.

Benson, who said he'd like to average 30 carries per game, describes himself as a "complete" running back now that his pass blocking and receiving is at the same level as his running. But the dreaded-one was quick to praise the big, meat-eaters up front.

"Our offensive line is firing off the ball," Benson said, "and we've got veterans on the offensive line who are teaching the younger guys. Without them, you don't have a running game. We're balanced on offense and our defense has stayed strong. We can hurt teams deep (in the passing game), or by running. I would think having to play The University of Texas would take a lot of work."

Still, in every silver lining there is also a cloud.

"We may be running the ball better, but we're running it against us, which scares us, too" Brown said. "Either we're not tackling or we're running the ball better."

BUBBLE UP

The 55-foot high inflatable bubble atop the new $4 million indoor practice facility at the north end of Frank Denius Field was raised over the weekend. With crews working throughout the afternoon Sunday, tightening widgets and sealing do-hickies, the 69,750 square-foot complex will give Texas not only a weather-proof practice arena but will provide yet another incentive for future recruits to choose the Forty Acres instead of rival schools.

"This will be a big plus in recruiting because it's another strong commitment to football by the university," Brown said.

As temperatures soared to near triple digits in Austin Monday, the head coach said the enclosure allows for full game preparations during the colder, wetter months of the year -- particularly in December when preparing for January bowls.

Brown also recalled how mid-week, torrential rains in September, 1998, prevented former QB Major Applewhite from being fully prepared for his first start against Kansas State.

"Major couldn't throw in practice that week, and that really hurt him in his first game," Brown added.

The facility should be fully functional by mid-season, Brown added.

INJURY REPORT

Free safety Kendal Briles and wide receiver Kyle Shanahan will miss Saturday's contest due to ankle injuries, Brown said. RDE Kalen Thornton, still recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, is listed as day-to-day (see Hot News items on O.J. McClintock and Bryan Pickryl).


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