Spring Scrimmage: What to Look For

Depth charts are usually established the last week of spring football, but there remains much that is unsettled as Texas begins its second decade under head coach Mack Brown. Saturday's scrimmage is sprinkled with a number of questions that still must be answered, including...

...What sort of rubber-stamp has fiery first-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp placed upon his unit, and can a retooled secondary show signs of ending its two-year slide into mediocrity?

...Will the longed-for upgrades at linebacker be on display?

...Is there some semblance of a running game following Jamaal Charles' early departure to the NFL, and can sophomore RB Vondrell McGee give evidence that he can be the featured back?

...Will the young receivers (Brandon Collins, James Kirkendoll, Dan Buckner, etc.) live up to the buzz they generated during spring drills?

...Yet, the most intriguing question may be whether explosive backup John Chiles has polished his passing skills enough to emerge as a dual-threat QB and justify an increased presence on the field this fall.

Chiles rushed for 191 yards and two TDs on 36 carries his freshman year, but was just 1-of-9 passing for 17 yards in seven games. He did not play during the final three games of the regular season but saw action early in Texas' Holiday Bowl win, scoring on a four-yard run on the third series. Chiles would later orchestrate another TD drive, but an emphases this spring has been to elevate his passing game enough to complement his breakneck rushing skills.

"People want to see John Chiles throw the ball more, and better, than he did last year," Brown said, "and they'll want to see Colt McCoy's improvement."

RB Jamaal Charles' early departure obviously left a gaping hole in the ground game. Despite the fact that RS-sophomore Vondrell McGee is expected to open with the Ones on Saturday, the starting assignment remains a work-in-progress.

"We're all trying to figure out who's going to be the main player at running back," Brown said.

Offensive coordinator Greg Davis' prognosis that Texas will adopt a "tailback-by-committee" in the early going will likely remain the team's M.O. throughout the season, given McGee's preference to run up the middle, RS-freshman Foswhitt Whittaker's penchant for a lateral attack and fifth-year senior Chris Ogbonnaya's established presence as both the third-down back and RB most adept at picking up blitzes.

Fans and media have pointed to Longhorn linebackers as the team's weakest link the past two seasons, perhaps validated by the fact that MLB Jared Norton and WLB Roddrick Muckelroy logged their first first of 2007 in Texas' spirited Holiday Bowl win. The emphases this spring, Brown noted, was replacing two starters at DT and three starting DBs. Senior DT Roy Miller started the final six games of 2006 and was a de facto starter last year. The fact that Texas lost three DBs may not be a bad thing, given the fact that the unit was the statistically worst pass defense in program history. Texas' revamped secondary has, thus far, met with mixed reviews.

"Those guys have made a lot of plays but they've made more mistakes than we'd like," Brown conceded. "They're young but talented."

There is also the question of whether Brown's get-tough approach that demanded greater accountability during the bowl season has carried over to the spring.

"We've gotten them up every morning at 5:30 and they were over here for meetings at six," Brown said. "Nobody has missed a meeting. They're really worked hard. I hope that our fans will see the results of that this Saturday."

At least one frontline defender can vouch for Brown's assessment. DE Brian Orakpo acknowledges that much of the renewed emphases on instilling toughness can also be attributed to Muschamp, with more emphases on hitting and extended scrimmages of 100+ plays.

"I can honestly say that this was, by far, the most physical spring we've ever had," Orakpo said. "We've hit every day. There was not one single practice where we did our normal drills. We're tackling and we're doing everything full-speed. The First (team) defense finally gets to go against the First offense for the first time. Usually, we go the first-string against the second-string. It's going to be fun."

The spring game's new format will feature four 10-minute quarters with a running clock. The Longhorns will be split into the "Pride" team, which will be comprised of the First team offense and the Second team defense, and the "Tradition" team, which will be comprised of the Second team offense and the First team defense. That means Orakpo's First team D will face McCoy's O when the squad lines up Saturday.

The Orange-White game is set for noon, Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

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