Spring Scrimmage Observations

The back-up QB battle, running game concerns, generation of explosive plays, defensive battles across the board and much more. Inside Texas' Ross Lucksinger gives his observations from Texas' Spring Scrimmage.

It's one of the most important questions that Texas is trying to answer, so let's start with the back-up quarterbacks. If one was to base the decision solely on Saturday's game, then there is no controversy. Sherrod Harris is the Longhorns' back-up quarterback.

This was based on both performance and when Harris entered the game. While the Texas coaches will consistently say that there's no solid depth chart at any position, where each player stands going into the scrimmage can be pretty clearly drawn from the unit they step out onto the field with. After McCoy debuted with the ones, Harris marched out with the twos. It didn't mean Harris had a clear advantage, it just signifies that if Texas was forced to chose today, they'd go with Harris. The redshirt freshman quarterback then proceeded to show why.

Harris ran the ball well, but also made a couple throws and looked like more comfortable. His competitor, John Chiles, was proficient running the ball…not so much with the throwing. Chiles was basically everything he was expected to be. Super fast, strong arm, great off the Zone Read, spectacular set of moves and very confused when reading the defense. In his first appearance, Chiles showed great improvisational ability, but the drive ended when he fired a pass straight into the arms of linebacker Scott Derry.

Chiles did wow the crowd with an impressive 25-yard touchdown scamper late in the scrimmage, but Harris outdid him on the next series, taking off for a 75-yard touchdown run.

To be clear, neither looked particularly great throwing the football…or even good…or even ok. But, Harris' familiarity with the system, comfort in the pocket and definitely capable running gives him the edge over Chiles. Football season is a long ways off and even if Harris does lead over Chiles, he'll still have to fend off G.J. Kinne when the freshman from Gilmer arrives in the fall.

Another big question coming out of the Longhorns' late-season troubles in 2006 is Texas' ability to put together an effective running game. A position that could be very important to the Texas running game is fullback. Alternation at fullback during the scrimmage showed that the competition is still tight and the question is whether or not LB/RB Antwan Cobb can take the job from walk-on Luke Tiemann. Tiemann was an effective blocker last season, but didn't provide much else. During the scrimmage, Cobb did a good job of staying low and grinding out a few key yards when he got the ball, essential for a fullback to be an effective running threat. But we've known this about Cobb. He was a very capable running back for Pflugerville High School, what he needs to show in order to lock down the starting fullback job is if he's an effective blocker. The lack of a duel-threat fullback (running and blocking) contributed to Texas shying away from the I-form last season, with Tiemann significantly better at blocking and Chris Ogbonnaya significantly better at running.

Ogbonnaya has since moved to halfback full-time and showed on Saturday his skills as a running back. The position of back-up running back will not be easily taken by Vondrell McGee, as previously thought. However, McGee will likely end up getting more carries than the other back-up running backs. He has great speed, but his balance is the main quality that will get him the ball. McGee bounced back and forth between tacklers on Saturday and should provide the same sort of runs for Texas in the fall.

The increase in explosive plays displayed in the Spring Scrimmage will be important for the 2007 season and the way Texas used wide receiver Billy Pittman showed that they want him to have a year like he did in 2005, when he was an explosive deep threat. Pittman scored five TDs in '05, they were in the Longhorns five biggest games and those five TD catches were an average of 37.2 yards each.

On Saturday, Pittman was used in isolation screens and reverses, allowing him to get into one-on-one match-ups in open space. He's one of several receivers that Texas will look to get that from and another great example is Jordan Shipley. The redshirted junior (although, he can really be thought of as a sophomore since he'll be awarded a medical redshirt if he asks for one) had an impressive 41-yard diving grab at the start of the scrimmage and a 50-yard kickoff return right up the gut.

On the offensive side of the ball, the ones and twos were pretty clearly defined, with only a few players alternating. But on defense it was a very different story. There wasn't a single position where only one player ran with the first team. It's a product of how many positions on the D aren't settled and also how much rotation Texas would like to use. Co-defensive coordinators Duane Akina and Larry Mac Duff used packages of players, such as Aaron Lewis and Brian Orakpo alternating together with Eddie Jones and Lamarr Houston. Of course, it's not that defensive end is unsettled. That's a rotation that will likely be used in the fall and if Texas is truly that deep, it improves the entire unit by keeping players fresh.

But is the unit that deep? Talent wise, yes, but it's unproven talent and some guys still have to show what they can do on Saturdays in the fall. This is most prominently an issue in the secondary. Cornerback Chykie Brown is the strong, blanketing, lockdown corner he's advertised as, Drew Kelson is the hard-hitting safety we expected, but the player in the secondary that surprised and impressed me the most was freshman cornerback Ben Wells. Players like Wells will have to establish themselves and provide consistent performances. A major issue for Texas last season was giving up big plays and, while the secondary is certainly talented enough to provide some big plays of its own, this year's secondary is very young. It still hasn't proven that big plays won't be an issue again in 2007.

All-in-all, it's a very talent, very young football team that will provide moments of excitement this season, probably both good and bad. The early season soft schedule may help the young stars develop before conference play. Regardless, the Spring Scrimmage showed that the Longhorns are screaming with potential, but not more. Not yet, anyway.

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