Wednesday Practice Observations

A screamer, a hitter, a linebacker playing defensive end, a defensive end playing linebacker and John Chiles playing everywhere. Inside Texas' Ross Lucksinger gives his observations from Wednesday night's Longhorn practice.

-Texas, as always, started with special teams work, with Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley handling the returns. I talked with Shipley after practice and he said the return game is something he's always worked on in practice, but he should get opportunities on the field this season. Cosby, though, will remain as the starting punt returner.

-The Longhorns looked very healthy. The only player wearing a green non-contact jersey was fullback Antwan Cobb, who was moving around alright and is expected to be ready to go before the season. Shipley also mentioned that he sat out a few of the drills because of a sore hamstring (It's just sore. We promise. He looked fine when he did run.), but other than that he felt good.

-Apparently Mack Brown and Greg Davis weren't blowing smoke when they said quarterback John Chiles was going to be all over the field. Even though he spent most of his time in the individual drills throwing the ball, Chiles also lined up at receiver to catch a few as well. When it came to full team 11-on-11s, the Longhorns made no attempt to hide many of the plays that will feature Chiles and McCoy on the field at the same time. The frequency with which this occurred, the variety of plays and the fact that it was not hidden all points to this being a commonly used formation as opposed to a gimmick trick play. Each time Chiles came onto the field with the first team offense, he lined up at flanker and would frequently motion, often times into a running back position next to McCoy. A welcome addition to the Texas offense, which was done in this formation, was the triple option. McCoy stood with Vondrell McGee on his right and Chiles on his left. At the snap, McCoy stuck out the ball for a zone read to McGee, kept it and then rolled right with Chiles trailing beside him in option fashion. It's called a triple option because McCoy has the option of handing the ball to McGee, pitching it to Chiles or keeping it himself. When working with the second team offense, Chiles also ran this play from the quarterback spot with McGee on his right and wide receiver Malcolm Williams on his left. Chiles also ran some routes at receiver and caught a couple hooks from McCoy.

-Kheeston Randall is already a very large man. The true freshman is listed at 6-5, 275, but may be bigger than that. I still feel that Jarvis Humphrey is the most prepared to play right away among the two true freshmen tackles, but Randall's potential is very high.

-Going from left tackle to right tackle, the starting offense line currently consists of Adam Ulatoski, Charlie Tanner, Chris Hall, Cedric Dockery and Kyle Hix. The second team line, from left to right is Tray Allen, Britt Michell, Buck Burnette, Michael Huey and Greg Smith. The line looked more like a cohesive unit than last season and certainly deeper. There will be much less concern if one of the starters gets injured than there was last year. However...

-...even though the line looked good, the 11-on-11s were clearly won by the defense. This defense is much more aggressive than I've ever seen out of a Texas team. Players were flying to the football and the pads were popping. The defensive line is a bit smaller than in years past but much, much quicker. I saw a great deal of line stunts and the the D-linemen, especially Brian Orakpo, were effective at getting to the quarterback.

-Earl Thomas is an angry, angry man when he's on the football field. He's quite the opposite off it, though. When Inside Texas traveled to West Orange Stark High School in Orange, Tex. to meet with Thomas, he was very shy. Well, he's not shy about hitting. Time after time Thomas leveled a big hit...even when he wasn't supposed to. In an 11-on-11 drill where defensive players were supposed to pull up and not tackle, Thomas still put his shoulder into people. Will Muschamp was pleased.

-Going into the practice we'd already known that Thomas would be a starter at safety, but we didn't know who was going to be the starter at the other safety position. Surprisingly, when the Horns took the field it was true freshman who lined up next to the redshirt freshman Thomas. Blake Gideon worked with the ones at strong safety, moved very effectively around the field and was occasionally sent on a safety blitz. Ben Wells sometimes worked with the ones in Gideon's place, but Gideon was clearly the starter on Wednesday. Ishie Oduegwu worked as Thomas' backup at free safety, while Christian Scott was the nickel back whenever the first team defense switched to a five-DB set.

-Along with Gideon, another surprising starter on defense is Keenan Robinson. The redshirt freshman linebacker, who at 6-3, 220, has a build that looks surprisingly like Derrick Johnson's, is in front of Sergio Kindle as the starter at SLB. Rashad Bobino is the current starter in the middle and Roddrick Muckelroy is the starter over on the weak side. However, Kindle was occasionally on the field at the same time as Robinson...just lined up at defensive end. Kindle is still a linebacker, but on long passing downs he may come in occasionally as a defensive end to rush the quarterback. It's very apparent, from the way things have been set up so far, that Muschamp will get as much speed as he possibly can onto the field.

-Speaking of speed, Orakpo will get to utilize his speed in the new combo DE/LB position he'll be playing. While he is on the line of scrimmage at the start of each down, only about half the time is he down in a defensive lineman's three-point or four-point stance. The other half the time he's standing up in a two-point stance so he can rush off the edge or drop back into coverage. During practice, Orakpo spend most of his time with the DEs, but he did occasionally work with the linebackers as well. Sophomore defensive end Sam Acho is Orakpo's backup at the combo position. Henry Melton is currently starting over on the power side with Eddie Jones backing him up.

-It was apparent why Davis said Williams is ahead of Dan Buckner for the starting split end spot. Buckner had a few good catches, but also a pair of drops and looked much less comfortable in his routes than Williams, who was very smooth running routes and catching the ball on Wednesday. When the first team offense took the field, Shipley and Cosby were joined by James Kirkendoll, but Williams will likely take the third spot when the season starts with Kirkendoll working as Cosby's backup at flanker and Brandon Collins as Shipley's backup in the slot.

-Overall, there's something very different about this team. The coaches have talked all offseason about the new "attitude" that the Longhorns have and it was evident what they mean. This is especially true on defense. I've never seen players hitting this early, I've never seen players hitting this hard and everyone is flying to the football. If the ball is headed the other way or out of the quarterback's hand, the defensive linemen still keep running all the way until the whistle. If a player is walking to the next drill, Muschamp is immediately in their face. Urgency. Urgency, that's the word. The team just does things with much more urgency than I've seen before. Given Texas' brutal conference slate this season, the Horns may not improve on their win total from last year (although things do look more promising after Wednesday), but they will likely be an improved team.

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