Longhorn Spring Football Notes & Analysis

Day One of Texas football spring drills began Friday with (no surprise) a veteran core of receivers putting some smooth moves on a young-but-confident group of DBs.

Texas coach Mack Brown said the first day of spring training is, annually, the first day of the New Year for Texas football. As expected, a team that returns all seven of its top receivers had the upper-hand (especially on a damp turf) against a secondary that replaces three starters. Yet, the wet-behind-the-ears DBs gave evidence that they would not concede an inch to the more seasoned pass-catchers.

It was as if Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley waged a personal battle to see who could produce the slickest, sickest grabs. Cosby's center of gravity is such that he makes sliding, shoestring grabs look effortless even when he's well-covered. Shipley, as you know, has a knack for turning on the afterburners, breaking on the ball and catching it in stride. (At one point, DB coach Duane Akina encouraged his young troops by reminding them: "I looked at the schedule. We don't play Texas this year.")

Yet, the first big play of 11-on-11 drills (probably because it was a minor surprise) came courtesy of the defense. A couple plays into the drills, sophomore LCB Deon Beasley stepped in front of Colt McCoy's sideline pass intended for SE Limas Sweed. For a split-second, it looked like Beasley was going to get a Pick-Six; instead, it was the first PBU of spring football that sparked an impromptu celebration from nearly every Longhorn defensive player.

With rare exception, Texas coaches finalize the depth chart during spring football. Even though it was just New Years Day for the 2007 Longhorns, the players who take the first snap during 11-on-11s give a generally reliable indication of the current depth chart. Given that Mack Brown's biggest concern this spring is establishing a pecking order in the secondary and on the offensive line, this is how things stand now:

The starting DBs were FS Marcus Griffin, SS Erick Jackson, LCB Deon Beasley, RCB Brandon Foster. The second-team DBs (as of Friday) were FS Robert Joseph, SS Drew Kelson, RCB Ryan Palmer, LCB Chykie Brown. First-team linebackers were SLB Robert Killebrew, MLB Rashad Bobino, WLB Scott Derry. Yet coaches expect a strong push from backup SLB Sergio Kindle and WLB Roddrick Muckelroy.

The defensive front consisted of LDE Aaron Lewis, DT Roy Miller (starting DT Frank Okam is rehabbing this spring), NT Derek Lokey, RDE Brian Orakpo. The starting offensive line consisted of RT Adam Ulatoski, RG Charlie Tanner, C Dallas Griffin, LG Chris Hall and LT Tony Hills.

The Highlight Reel Catch-Of-The-Day goes to RS-freshman WR Montre Webber on a skinny post. Toward the end of 11-on-11 drills, RS-freshman QB Sherrod Harris' toss sailed a little high, but Webber extended his 6-3 frame for the diving catch (and subsequent belly-flop) between safety Ben Wells and RCB Curtis Brown. The person most excited about the reception was actually DB Coach Duane Akina, who ran to Webber and hoisted him in the air.

The Butter-Fingers Award would go to Billy Pittman, who had at least four drops of balls that hit him squarely in the mitts. The ugliest drop came when he had at least five yards on sophomore Robert Joseph (during one-on-one drills) and the ball bounced off Pittman's outstretched fingertips at the 10-yard line.

The Surprise of the Day could arguably go to freshman QB John Chiles. Sure, the Five-Star true freshman lacks Colt McCoy's ability to look-off a receiver, but Chiles showed remarkable accuracy and velocity (particularly on intermediate routes) given the fact that he would otherwise be enrolled at Mansfield Summit High this spring.

"I think John's head is swimming a little bit," said Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis, "but, for the first day out, I thought he handled things really well. And I was pleased with Sherrod. I thought both of the young quarterbacks did a nice job today."

Other than establishing a rotation on the offensive front, Longhorn coaches have said designating McCoy's primary backup is the top priority offensively.

"Colt will, obviously, take all the snaps with the first group," Davis said. "We'll split snaps with the second group between Sherrod and John. It will handle itself as they continue to compete. As we get deeper into the spring, one of them will step up and start getting more reps than the other one."

The effects of the off-season strength-and-conditioning program is particularly apparent among some front line players, as well as among some of the up-and-coming RS-freshman. QB Colt McCoy is now a beefed-up 6-3, 210-pounds.

"I got tired of people throwing me around last year," McCoy said Friday.

TE Jermichael Finley, listed at 6-5, 236-pounds, is sculpted like Vince Young.

RS-freshman WR Josh Marshall (listed at 6-4, 210) is almost comparable to Limas Sweed in stature. (During 7-on-7s, Marshall stutter-stepped on a comeback route, faking Palmer out of his jock, for the easy reception).

RS-freshman DE Brian Ellis is impossible to miss at 6-5, 287. (As a point of reference, Cory Redding tipped the scales at 6-5, 270 his senior year).

RB Jamaal Charles (now sporting mini-dreads ala Cedric Benson and Ricky Williams) is a rock-solid 6-1, 203-pounder.

The Horns are slated to practice 1:00 p.m., Saturday, at Denius Field. It will be the final session opened to the public prior to the Orange-White Game next month.

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