Spring 'Tweaking' Begins For Texas Football

Are ya' ready for some…uh…<I>football? </i>For diehard Orangebloods who unabashedly admit that we are powerless over our addiction (AKA Longhorn football), the 52 days between the Cotton Bowl victory and the start of spring drills Monday could not come soon enough.

Head coach Mack Brown has to replace but six starters (three on offense, three on defense) from last year's 11-2 squad that finished No. 6 (AP) nationally. As such, Brown has referenced this year's drills more in terms of "tweaking" than the overhaul of confidence and talent (particularly on the defensive side of the ball) required when he inherited a shell-shocked 4-7 unit five years ago.

As such, Brown labeled it "the best first day of spring practice since we've been here" despite the fact that Austin's picture perfect 78 degree weather on Sunday became a driving sleet Monday.

Still, it's football. And it's about damn time.

The position generating the most fan interest and media speculation is, of course, at quarterback.

"We have a starter right now," Brown said.

The envelope, please…

"It's Chance Mock."

Despite the fact that Mock completed only 5-of-8 passes last season for 44 yards (in far-too-limited spot play), the junior-to-be has logged three-years in Greg Davis' system. The difference is enough to distance Mock from the heralded Vince Young and supremely confident Matt Nordgren.

"I thought all three guys looked good today," Brown said. "Nobody ever mentions Matt Nordgren. He threw the ball well today, and even threw it on a sore ankle. Vince did some good things, but Chance is further along than anyone else just because he's been here longer and he's very talented. I think we're in good shape at quarterback. We just need some game experience, but we can't get that until fall."

Added Brown: "The big key right now is we don't have anybody who is experienced. Chance has more experience in practice so he's more ready to play. But we've got three guys that we're excited about, so it'll be fun to watch."

An interested party, of course, is SE Roy Williams. The Heisman contender said it took the signalers about seven or eight plays to finally shake off the opening day jitters.

"I knew they would be nervous," Williams said, "but I didn't expect them to be throwing the ball all crazy like they were."

Depth has become a concern at a couple of key offensive spots, namely fullback and tight end. FB Ivan Williams will miss spring drills after tearing a tendon in his left knee last week in a pickup basketball game. The senior had surgery last Friday, leaving junior Will Matthews and redshirt freshman Albert Hardy to step into a role that Davis wanted to appreciably expand this spring (given Williams' emergence last fall as a receiving threat and emphasis on option football this spring).

"We've got some young guys who need to play now with Ivan hurt," Brown said. "Albert Hardy and Will Matthews both need to step up."

Sophomore David Thomas is the featured (and damn-near only) TE this spring, now that Brock Edwards is scheduled to have surgery on his left ankle Tuesday. Edwards started nine games last season and led Texas TEs with 258 yards on 16 grabs. RS freshman OT Neal Tweedie (6-5, 255) is working out at TE to shore up depth. Bo Scaife (remember him?) will continue to nurse his knee injury suffered last summer but is expected back when August two-a-days begin. Thomas played in all 13 games last season and has speed comparable to Scaife, Brown said. If you'll remember, Thomas grabbed that critical 2-yard TD toss against Kansas State last October in the 17-14 win.

Brown laments the loss of CB Rod Babers and DE Cory Redding, but is confident the defense is in good shape.

Sophomore Bryan Pickryl is the heir apparent to Cory Redding but is missing spring ball because of shoulder surgery. Pickryl actually participated in spring drills last season after graduating early from Jenks (OK). The fleet-footed Pickryl played in 12 games last season.

Junior Austin Sendlein is stepping in for Pickryl this spring and, if there is a football god, RE Kalen Thornton will have an injury-free senior season. RS freshman Chase Pittman is expected to back up Thornton.

Explosive senior Nathan Vasher is expected to fill Babers old spot at LCB, while former nickel back Cedric Griffin should emerge as the RCB (you'll remember Griffin fondly as the freshman who returned the blocked FG for a score against Tulane).

Texas has an absolute stable of linebackers and defensive tackles from last season's top-ranked recruiting class. Look for sophomore Garnet Smith (6-3, 200) to get first crack at Lee Jackson's spot. Only injuries (please, God, not again this season) will dislodge senior Marcus Tubbs and sophomore Rodrique Wright from the defensive front, with RS freshman Marco Martin (6-4, 310) and soph Larry Dibbles (6-4, 280) part of the rotation at DT.

"There's a lot to work on," Brown said, "but the good thing is we're 11-2 and still think there are a lot of places we need to improve."

Which brings us to the offensive line (a chronically overlooked area among spectators until you see your own big uglies get pushed around not just by the likes of Oklahoma but North Texas as well).

All-American G Derrick Dockery is heading toward greener pastures in the NFL; LT Robbie Doane has also completed his eligibility. We can fairly say that one of Brown's recent comments indicate that he is determined to have an aggressive, drive-blocking O-line that knocks a defender on his ass and can still pass protect better than the crew that gave up more sacks last season than any unit in Brown's tenure.

"They look fine, but they're still in shorts so they're not blocking anybody," Brown said. "So I have to yell at them about going too fast or too slow. I thought they got in the right places. We ran some option today and it looked good. There are a lot of things that they did well, but until you got pads on, it's hard to say who blocked who."

Here's what's shaping up, though: junior Stevie Lee has moved from DT to offensive RT while sophomore Jonathan Scott (6-7, 297) has shifted to LT as Doane's replacement. Scott could have big-time impact, as should RS freshman Justin Blalock. A USA Today All-American out of Plano East, Blalock is a mere wisp of lad at 6-4, 340. Coaches are excited about sophomore Mike Garcia (6-3, 315) who is shouldered with the task of replacing Dockery. We look for someone (anyone!, probably sophomore Will Allen) to replace junior Jason Glynn at center. (Brown judiciously said that Glynn "was overpowered a few times" last season.)

Texas must replace P Brian Bradford. While many would expect junior Justin Smith to emerge behind deep center, we wouldn't be surprised to see walk-on Taylor Landin walk away with punting chores heading into August. Brown said Landin was UT's most consistent punter by the end of last season.

As far as the receivers, well, consider the triplets (Roy Williams, Sloan Thomas, B.J. Johnson) as extra coaches on the practice field this spring.

Of note: former QB Major Applewhite is now an offensive graduate assistant at Texas, while Brown hopes that Beau Trahan will also return as a GA next fall.

"Practicing in shorts in football is like learning to swim without a swimming pool," Brown said. "Today we got in the right place and a lot of guys had a great attitude that I believe is a big carryover from our off-season program. I think it was our best first day of spring practice since we've been here."

Texas is scheduled to return to the practice field, 4 p.m., Tuesday.

Horns Digest Top Stories