"We've hit more than we've ever hit during a bowl practice," Brown said. "It's been the most challenging practices we've had because we need to get better. It's been tough and they're all getting there. Every job is open. It's been a year where some guys have had great years and played really hard all the time. Some guys have been inconsistent and that wears you out as a coach. Opening all the positions has helped. We grade every drill, every scrimmage, every day. It's meant really long and hard hours for the coaches."
Added Brown: "We're going to watch every practice in San Diego. It would be wrong of us (to release a depth chart today) because that says we're going to quit watching the week of the game and that whoever starts on the way out to the Holiday Bowl will start in the game. We'll watch it very closely out there and do this same thing. This is a business trip."
The result has been some of the most spirited practices of the season, Brown said
"I've never seen kids compete as hard as they have these past seven days. It's been a real fun seven days to coach them. You don't need to guarantee (playing time) but saying we're going to play two-deep. He needs to earn the right to play. If one guy is playing better than the other one, he needs to play twice as much. But we don't need to do that across the board trying to play two-deep."
Part of the emphasis on accountability included the reinstatement of 'Not Our Standard' (NOS) drills in which the entire team is levied with 'up-down' calisthenics for individual lapses. Case-in-point: O-lineman Chris Hall (who has worked primarily at center during the post-season) has confessed to NOS penalties: one for a high snap and another for loafing on a downfield block. Other potential NOS infractions include offside penalties, dropped balls or being late to a team meeting.
"The entire team does an up-down as you stand in the middle of the team," Brown explained. "The team has to do up-downs for your mistakes because we feel this is what's hurt us. We've had a lot of guys playing well, but then mistakes from three guys have killed us."
NOS drills were implemented during Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson's solo-season in Austin (2004) but had since fallen by the wayside. The drills were typically conducted on Sunday practices, a move that former DE coach Dick Tomey also instituted in 2004.
"We didn't practice as much on Sunday this year because we had so many injuries," Brown said. "With no time off, and with that many guys hurt on defense, we tried to give them some rest on Sunday and that's when we had always done our NOS drills. We didn't do them this year and that's my fault. We've gotten back to them and we'll do them the rest of the time that I'm here."
NT Derek Lokey said Texas has been practicing in such a way that it's difficult to determine who has a starting job. That's because coaches have replicated a style typical of spring football, with emphasis on inside drills, toughness and fundamentals. CB Ryan Palmer has described the past week in terms of "a grind."
"There's a lot of tackling and a lot of hitting," he added. "It reminds me of spring ball. We haven't done this in a while. It gets everybody talking and riled up. It's been hard and it's been fun at the same time. Coach Brown has something about him right now. I can see it in his eyes. He's coaching hard. Everybody is buckling down."
But will there really be significant change to the depth chart? Or, is it lip-service intended strictly as a motivational tool?
"If The Man said the positions are open, then all the positions are open," Palmer told Inside Texas. "But I told everybody in the secondary that this is how we do it every day. For example if (Brandon Foster) catches a pick, we all want to catch a pick. If Deon (Beasley) does something big, we all want to do something big. That's just how we are. We're all cool. We're like brothers. That's how we've been. I can't talk about the D-line or the linebackers, but that's how we roll in the secondary. If somebody makes a big play, we feel like we all to have make a big play. That's something Coach (Duane) Akina instills in us. But, as far as 'open' positions, we just have to go out there and compete every day and take no half-steps."
At the same time, there is a fine line between instilling toughness and working a team to the brink of exhaustion. On previous occasions, Brown believes that he worked his team too hard during the 14-game season in 1999 that saw Texas drop the last three games of the year.
"We want to have good practices but we don't hit as much during bowl week," Brown said. "You've got all the functions, and they're walking around all day, and you practice really hard and they're worn-out."
But is it too little, too late following a 9-3 season that saw Texas suffer: a) its worst home loss in 10 years, b) consecutive losses to Texas A&M for the first time in 13 years, c) losses to A&M and Oklahoma in the same season for the first time in 14 years and d) the first 0-2 start in conference play in 50 years?
"It's hard to go back and say I'd wish we'd done this or done that," Lokey said. "We got thin at spots this year. You can't beat guys into the ground for 15 weeks. I think coach Brown is the best at knowing when to push his players and when to let off. I wouldn't go back and change anything, but this has built team chemistry. For everybody to do something this uncomfortable, getting up that early, going through practice, running after practice and going to the dining hall together has been good for our team."
Texas is slated to practice at 6 a.m., Wednesday before players are released for the holidays. The team will convene in San Diego on December 22.