Battle For PT Heats Up As Pads Strapped On

Robison pushing Smith at MLB

The <I>snap, crackle, pop </I>heard 'round Denius Monday wasn't the latest breakfast cereal. That's the sound of the Horns donning pads for the first time. It's also the sound of guys waging personal battles for playing time. There is less of a drop-off between first- and second-team players than at any time during <B>Mack Brown</B>'s six-year tenure, the UT coach said. That's why the competition is still fast and furious for some starting spots that some thought had been nailed down long ago.

As much as we’ve raved about RS-freshman RT Justin Blalock (6-4, 340), his battle with RS-sophomore William Winston (a mere wisp of a lad at 6-7, 350) for Robbie Doane’s old spot is far from over. Winston played in all 13 games last season on FG and PAT units and saw action in six outings as a backup tackle. Blalock was a USA Today All-American at Plano East and was The Sporting News choice as the nation’s 15th-best high school prospect overall.

Sophomore C Will Allen, right hand heavily bandaged to his elbow, took some snaps with the first team today but centering the ball with his left hand. The heir apparent to the spot that junior C Jason Glynn held for all 13 games last year suffered a fracture near his right thumb on Friday. Glynn worked with the first-team during 11-on-11, in front of redshirt freshman Lyle Sendlein and true freshman Dallas Griffin.

"He started today, just two days out of the hospital," Brown said. "We know he can play guard. Hopefully, he’ll be back for the first game (August 31, New Mexico State). If not, it will be Arkansas (Sept. 13). But he started to work to snap with his left hand today. He’s a tough young man."

The absence of on-the-mend Ivan Williams has left Texas vulnerable at FB, although many have already penciled in senior Brock Edwards. Not so fast, Brown advised.

Williams was a lethal weapon out of the backfield last season (273 yards on 20 receptions) but both Edwards and converted FB Eric Hall had ugly drops Monday. Hall let a Matt Nordgren rollout pass hit him squarely in the numbers before falling to the turf. Later, Edwards was open cutting in from the right flat as a Chance Mock toss slid through his fingers.

"We’re watching the other three fullbacks (Hall, Albert Hardy, Will Matthews) because no one’s taken over," Brown said.

Williams has yet to be cleared to practice following a knee injury suffered during a pickup game of hoops last February.

Meanwhile, the tight ends look awesome! One of senior Bo Scaife’s more remarkable grabs was his diving catch of a low Mock toss in front of SS Phillip Geiggar (subbing for Michael Huff who injured a knee Thursday). During goal line drills at the end of practice, sophomore David Thomas turned a 3rd-and-five into a twisting, turning, opposite shoulder reception about 20 yards down field.

"We’ve got more guys who are closer to the ability of the guy in front of them than we’ve ever had," Brown said. "We’ve got more depth than we’ve ever had. We don’t have as many great players as some think we do, but we’ve got a lot of really good players, so our coaches have got to do a better job of evaluating playing time at each position than we’ve ever done. And that’s fun for us. We’ve got to do a good job and make sure we put the right ones on the field."

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but…

"(Junior FL) Tony Jeffery has shown, the past two practices, that he can work with those three older guys (SE Roy Williams, SE Sloan Thomas, FL B.J. Johnson)," Brown said, "so it really helps us if we’ve got four instead of three. Tony has made some big plays for us. We want him to be the same guy as those other guys."

The key defensive battle, of course, remains for the LDE that Cory Redding held since God was a boy. Right now, it’s sophomore Bryan Pickryl, who started five games as a true freshman but sat out spring drills following off-season shoulder surgery. Junior Austin Sendlein, redshirt freshman Chase Pittman, sophomore Kaelen Jakes and sophomore Mike Williams (if healthy) could also see time at LDE. In addition, it will difficult to keep a redshirt on freshman DE Tim Crowder (6-4, 235) who has been more explosive than many anticipated from the RDE spot.

Sophomore Garnet Smith had such an amazing spring at MLB that Inside Texas made him its cover boy for the publication’s summer edition -- but don't discount RS-freshman Brian Robison. (He’s hard to miss with his neon dye job but, thankfully, he’s been harder to block.)

"Brian and Garnet are really competing for that spot right now," Brown said. Brian has come on and done a good job."

And, of course, the competition remains just as, uh, adequate, among punters, FG kickers and place kickers.

Meanwhile, the fact that freshmen reported with the varsity for the first time in 25 years as a result of a new NCAA statute seems to have paid off for Texas. This years signees have assimilated quicker into the program (among other things) compared to the top-ranked class of 2002, Brown noted.

"Last year, I saw more freshmen that came in with an air about them -- that they were really cool and that they were really good -- than I have seen with this class," Brown said. "Maybe it’s because this class had to work against the older ones immediately. They didn’t have enough time to talk about how good they were. This class has come and joined the team easier than last year’s class."

At the same time, boys will be boys.

"The younger ones don’t like the drill work in many cases," Brown observed. "You’ve got to get better at drill work. You’ve got to do the fundamental things right and, a lot of times, the best players we’ve had right out of high school, their coaches were working with all the other guys. They didn’t spend a lot of time with them, so the young guys have to learn to work. But they all like to play, and you can see our intensity pick up when everybody puts on pads."

Texas’ first true two-a-day is set for Tuesday, 7:15 a.m. and 7:05 p.m., at Denius Field.

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