We knew coming into Saturday's scrum that Texas' strength will be its passing game, but there was some question how three new offensive linemen would pass-protect. Texas will base a little more out of the I-formation if Saturday's exhibition is an indication, even though that doesn't necessarily translate into an emphases on a between-the-tackles running game. Both backup QBs can razzle-dazzle in the running and generated long-TD runs off zone read plays, but (for now) RS-freshman Sherrod Harris is probably the more complete backup. This is the deepest Texas has been at DE and linebacker since scholarship limits were implements a quarter-century ago, but can the Horns be two-deep in its raw-but-talented secondary?
If the opening drive was a harbinger of things to come, QB Colt McCoy lined up in the 'gun and came out slinging. A completion to Billy Pittman in the left flat followed by a slant to SE Limas Sweed. The young offensive line was guilty of two false starts, setting up 1st-and-20 from the 46. That's when McCoy went up-top to FL Jordan Shipley whose juggling, falling-forward, one-handed grab was good for 40 yards. (The White team was awarded two points in the quirky scoring system).
"We believe this is the best group of receivers we've ever had," head coach Mack Brown said.
Shipley's grab made it 1st-and-goal from the six, and Texas then went to the 'I' for the first time with Luke Tiemann at FB. (But we expect Antwan Cobb to eventually win the starting job). The first running play of the afternoon resulted in an eight-yard loss after RB Jamaal Charles mishandled McCoy's pitch. The first-team offense settled for a Ryan Bailey FG.
Two of the biggest concerns this spring was to replace three starters in both the offensive line and in the secondary. As expected, the Ones along the offensive front consisted of LT Tony HIlls, LG Chris Hall, C Dallas Griffin, RG Charlie Tanner and RT Adam Ulatoski.(RG Cedric Dockery is expected to return in time for two-a-days following his season-ending knee injury against Oklahoma). Overall, the O-line gave McCoy ample time to look-off primary receivers
"I thought the offensive line did a great job today," McCoy said. "They gave me good protection in the pocket. I felt like, overall, they played pretty well."
McCoy completed four of his first five passes for 86 yards, which may say almost as much about the inexperienced secondary as it does the fact that Texas returns its seven top receivers. But it may say even more about the progress a beefed-up McCoy has made since the bowl game now that this is his team.
"I thought he was more accurate this spring, if that's possible," Brown said. "Colt has chance to be a really special player."
The starting DBs were SS Marcus Griffin, FS Erick Jackson, RCB Ryan Palmer and LCB Brandon Foster yet the competition will be waged until late August. The group eventually settled into the game and backups began to raise eyebrows with impressive plays on the ball.
"Nothing has been set yet (in terms of depth chart)," Co-Defensive Coordinator/DB coach Duane Akina said, "but opinions have been formed. You start to formulate some opinions about what you've seen out there. I don't think that right now is the time to voice that. It's just an opinion right now and a lot of things can sure change."
Even so, the popular 'opinion' is that Drew Kelson will ultimately win the starting job at FS while RS-freshman CB Chykie Brown and early enrollee CB Ben Wells went a long way toward staking a claim in the rotation.
Keep an erasure handy when penciling-in the depth chart at linebacker. Backups SLB Sergio Kindle, WLB Roddrick Muckelroy and MLB Jared Norton made impressive plays Saturday and will press the Ones in August Camp.
"You see those backups show-up a lot," Brown said. "We've got to sit down and see if we can switch (linebackers) every six plays. We've got to see if we have a package and switch those three guys in and three-out."
Defensively, most of the rotations were at DE. The spot was decimated by injuries four seasons ago but is now the deepest it has been during Brown's tenure. As expected, Brian Orakpo and Aaron Lewis opened with the Ones. Yet, sophomore Lamarr Houston Jr. and RS-freshman Eddie Jones could start for every other team in the country.
"Lamaar Houston's a little a head of Eddie Jones," Brown said, "but Eddie blocked a FG in Wed practice and he showed up a lot today."
Coaches said there has been no separation between Harris and early enrollee John Chiles as McCoy's understudy. With one year under his belt, Harris may have a more accurate arm and a firmer grasp of the sideline signals. Harris opened with the Twos with Vondrell McGee at RB. Norton broke-up his first pass attempt and the defense was awarded a point for forcing a three-and-out.
Texas relied heavily on the I-formation during the series with the first-team offense. In fact, the Horns went with the rocket pitch three times in this series, beginning with Charles 15-yard run before Muckelroy forced him out of bounds. Charles was limited after "tweaking" an ankle in last Saturday's scrimmage.
"I went out there and tried to play even though I still have some pain," Charles said. "They really wanted to see what the other running backs could do. That's why I had limited plays today."
A swing pass to Pittman, good for 21 yards, set-up 1st-and-10 from the 17. RB Chris Ogbonnaya would churn for a third-down conversion before scoring the first TD of the afternoon. It came on the third rocket-pitch out of the 'I' in the series aided, in part, by TE Jermichael Finley's clearing block.
Coaches already know Finley has great hands, terrific size and speed. That's why they tried to press the issue with his blocking this past spring. Backup TEs figured more prominently in the passing game than did Finley. RS-freshman TE Josh Marshall, who moved to TE last Monday, sustained a drive with his grab on QB John Chiles' first offensive series. But, on 3rd-and-5 from the 27, WLB Scott Derry produced the afternoon's only turnover when he intercepted Chiles' pass and returned it to the 47.
McCoy checked back in and got the safeties to bite on play-action, hitting FL Nate Jones on a 41-yard seam route over the middle. The offense set up shop on the 21-yard line, but, on 3rd-and-7, RCB Chykie Brown blanketed Jones on the lob pass in the left corner of the south end zone. The offense settled for a 34-yard Bailey FG.
Harris moved the chains on his second series, picking up the blitz with a third-down completion to Marshall (FS Robert Joseph in coverage) to the 39. Harris stepped-off 16 yards on the Zone Read, but a false start and holding penalty hurt the drive. On 3rd-and-15 from the 45, LCB Ben Wells' terrific PBU against WR Montre Webber kept the offensive out of the end zone.
McCoy's final series resulted in a Hunter Lawrence 38-yard FG attempt that sailed wide-left. Credit CB Deon Beasley for outstanding coverage against primary target Quan Cosby in the end zone on 3rd-and 18 from the 21. Two series later, Chiles got a chance to work with the first-team O-line. On 1st-and-10 from the 45, RB Vondrell McGee ran for 13 out of the off-set I.
"Vondrell is tough and strong," Brown noted. "Vondrell is so strong he moves piles at the end of the play."
His run set up the most explosive running play of the afternoon (to the point). Chiles' 25 yard TD run, with three shake-and-bake moves inside the 10, was the most impressive run of the day.
"John made as good of a run as we've seen around here," Brown said.
Not to be outdone, Harris stepped-off the longest play of the afternoon with 75-yard TD run on the next series.
"Both of the young quarterbacks made some really good plays" Brown said, "and both are ahead with the running game with them than the passing game. They can get a lot done with the passing game with the receivers this summer."
Added Brown: "We'd like to get them separated and get one to play in every game. So we don't have a situation come up like we had at Kansas State, we need one guy to get quality plays next year before we get to conference play."
A few questions remain at special teams. Coaches haven't seen the separation they'd like from punters Trevor Gerland and Justin Moore. Will Harvey is the DS and Derek Lokey will handle short snaps, but coaches are still looking for consistent backups. Quan Cosby will return both punts and KOs, even though Brown prefers not to have one of his starters handling both chores. (Obviously, a single injury could knock out three positions). Chris Ogbonnaya will team with Cosby on KO returns while Deon Beasley will be his primary understudy on punt returns. (The sophomore actually gathered a punt over-his-shoulders inside the 10 late in Saturday's scrimmage). Jordan Shipley is the holder, with Sherrod Harris as backup, on FGs and PATS.