Top Questions For Texas

Spring Practice begins with many unanswered questions. In part two of our spring football preview, we look at the Longhorns' running game, linebacker and back-up quarterback issues.

As late as the bowl season, Mack Brown was still trying to figure out why Texas' running game wasn't more explosive. The rushing offense was occasionally serviceable (162.6 ypg, NCAA No. 34), but runs of 12+ yards were few-and-far between, even against some of the weak-sister defenses on the slate. Arm chair quarterbacks ('honorary coaches", as Brown likes to call them) suggested that the deficiency could be located in an east-west, zone running scheme in which a stationary RB received the handoff.

But Brown still insists it has little to do with scheme. Part of the problem had to do with breakdowns in downfield blocking, Brown suggested Thursday. The RBs also battled nagging injuries.

"We gave it (the issue) to everybody," Brown said. "The splits need to get bigger. You've got to break some tackles. You've got to hang on to the ball. Explosive plays and turnovers are the difference in college football games. If you're a back who can't get an explosive play, and fumbles, then you shouldn't be playing. We've got to be direct, but it's not about throwing out the whole scheme. It really isn't about 'I' (formation) or shotgun. It's not about all the theories that are out there. It's about execution."

The biggest development is that junior RB Jamaal Charles, for the first time in his collegiate career, has opted not to run track during spring football.

"He'll consider running track after spring football is over," Brown said. "He wants to get stronger and be around his teammates more. He felt like we could run the ball better than we did last year. He would like to be a guy who can get the ball in his hands more than he did last year. To do that, he needs to get stronger and fight through the nagging injuries that kept him from being able to do the things he needed to do."

RS-freshman Vondrell McGee looks to be Charles' top backup. At 5-10, 200 pounds, McGee is one of those rock-solid, diminutive speedsters (clocked at 4.39) whom Brown said probably should have played as a true freshman.

Henry Melton's two-year audition at RB is over; the junior will play defensive end this year. Sergio Kindle, who lined up at both RB and SLB in the Alamo Bowl, will remain exclusively on the defensive side of the ball during the first eight days of spring drills. After that, Kindle's involvement with the offense depends upon Brown's assessment of "where we are with our big backs and where we are in short-yardage and gal line situations.

Brown has hinted for several weeks that Texas will base more out of the "I" if the offensive line jells and if a reliable FB emerges. This spring, coaches want to determine whether the offense will operate more under center and out of the I than it has done in previous seasons. However, the scheme will primarily be predicated upon McCoy's strengths, Brown added.

"We've got to go back and look at Colt running the ball in our running game. That was a vital part of it with Vince (Young), and it was an interesting part of it with Colt early. We wanted to build on it, and we just did not."

With the exception All-American WLB Derrick Johnson, the Horns just haven't had a championship-caliber corps of linebacker during the Mack Brown era. Notably, there hasn't been a dominant MLB at the Forty Acres in nearly two decades.

You can make a strong argument that tough-as-nails, but undersized, MLB Rashad Bobino's strongest games of the 2006 season were the last two (a personal-best 14 tackles against Texas A&M). It was as if the mighty-mite had overheard a Longhorn coaches off-the-record comment that, between now and the September home-opener, the starting linebackers could be SLB Sergio Kindle, WLB Roddrick Muckelroy and MLB Jared Norton. Muckelroy's return, after missing virtually all of last season with a ruptured tendon in his finger, should be a tremendous boost for Longhorn linebackers. Kindle suffered an ankle sprain on the second day of August camp while Norton battled a variety of tweaks and pulls.

"It's an exciting time to watch those three young linebackers," Brown said. "I mean, that will be three good-looking guys with Sergio, Jared and Muck. Those guys are big and fast. They're good, aggressive types."

Overall, Brown's approach to personnel changes at linebacker is consistent with the general philosophy that no one inherits a position just because he is a returning starter. "We're re-opening every position," Brown noted. "It's just that some guys will step in line first."

Sure, Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year QB Colt McCoy is the incumbent. And his leadership was no more apparent than during Texas' two-game tailspin following his neck injury at Kansas State. But there is no more pressing need this spring, from Brown's perspective, than identifying McCoy's primary understudy.

"Offensively, what we've got to do first is find a second- and third-team quarterback. (Early enrollee) John Chiles and (RS-freshman) Sherrod Harris will be working with the second unit. We really won't have a third guy (during the spring). You figure Sherrod would be ahead (of Chiles) because he's been with the offense for a summer and a fall, whereas John just got here."

Chiles is a Five-Star QB/WR early enrollee who initially put more emphases on early playing time than the position he played in college. The response was that the only chance he could possibly contribute as a true freshman was as a pass-catcher. But that was back when Jevan Snead was still on-campus and John Brantley was a Longhorn commit. There is also a larger learning curve at QB than at WR, Brown noted.

"After (Chiles) played quarterback (exclusively) during his senior year, he came back in December and said he only wanted to try at quarterback," Brown continued. "Right now, he is a quarterback. Period."

That is, Chiles will not cross-train at both QB and WR but "is going into spring to compete to get that second-string spot.

Yesterday: Part 1

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