Sorry for the delay, but Hurricane Hugo apparently hit my North Austin apartment complex and knocked out the power late in my typing! What a difference a few hours makes.On a beautiful day in Austin, the Longhorns donned full pads for the first time today and waged a spirited practice, replete with big hits and big catches.
Motion, misdirection and the middle of the field continue to be major staples of the offense. The offense ran sprint outs, play action, toss sweeps, the option, the quarterback draw and a couple of nifty screens to the running backs and receivers. Once again, the tight end and fullback played a big role, with Bo Scaife and David Thomas having another big day. Both made tough catches over the middle of field and look to be much more than a safety valve for the quarterbacks. Simply put, if those two stay healthy they are going to own the middle of the field because they cannot be covered and they catch everything in their zip code. The fullbacks are also major threats as Brock Edwards, Eric Hall, Will Matthews and Albert Hardy all were targets out of the backfield.
On defense, the starting unit continues to dominate. Middle linebacker Garnet Smith and defensive end Kalen Thornton were particularly strong throughout the day, getting into the backfield and making plays. The defensive tackles, especially starters Rodrique Wright and Marcus Tubbs and backup Marco Martin, ate up the middle of the line throughout the day.
Now that the team is in full pads and hitting each other, it is a bit easier to get a read on the progress of the offensive and defensive lines. Overall, the defensive line units seem to be ahead of the offensive lines at this point, which is probably to be expected. The line stuffed the run very well today, and continues to generate good pressure on the edges. The 1st team offensive line of Jonathan Scott, Tillman Holloway, Jason Glynn, Mike Garcia and Justin Blalock looked very good in pass protection, giving quarterbacks Chance Mock and Vince Young a strong pocket for much of the afternoon.
Wednesday’s first scrimmage, though, will likely be a far better barometer to judge the progress of both the offensive and defensive lines.
The next practice, the first of three two-a-days, is Tuesday at 7:15 a.m.
Quarterbacks Taking Command
Overall, the quarterbacks continue to look better and more consistent with each practice. While each has a specific area to improve on, they are playing with confidence and looking more in command.
Mock was very good today. In individual drills, he was very accurate on out and crossing patterns, consistently hitting his receivers in the numbers. Young was dazzling on deep passes, hitting receivers in full stride, but continued to be inconsistent on short and intermediate routes. He seemed to be aiming more than throwing on some passes. Third-string QB Matt Nordgren was very accurate throughout the day, but took fewer snaps.
During one-on-one drills, Mock was on the money for most of the afternoon. Even his incompletions were in the hands of receivers. Mock continues to sizzle on out routes and crossing patterns, hitting Sloan Thomas, Roy Williams, Josh Graham-Chapman and Tony Jeffery with perfect strikes. He has struggled with his accuracy on deep passes, however, and, today, he overthrew a wide-open B.J. Johnson on a deep post.
The opposite is true of Young. Time and again during the one-on-one drills, he lofted perfect deep balls to his receivers, but struggled on occasion with his consistency on the short and intermediate routes. Aside from his deep tosses, Young’s best pass of the day came on a 15-yard in route to Robert Timmons, where he drilled a perfect strike between the numbers and Timmons made a juggling, one-handed grab. He also threw a perfect bomb to Limas Sweed who had cornerback Brandon Foster all over him and just couldn’t haul in the pass.
In 11-on-11 drills, Mock was extremely accurate, hitting 10-14 on mainly shorter passes. He and David Thomas did hook up deep for the play of the day (see below).
Young was also pretty sharp, hitting on 4-7, including a perfect strike over the middle to Scaife in tight coverage. He threw another rope over the middle that would have been a huge gain, but H-back Edwards couldn’t hang on. Young did, however, make one bad decision on a screen pass. Under heavy pressure, he tried to squeeze his pass into blanket coverage by MLB Garnet Smith, resulting in a near interception.
On the 2nd to last play of practice, Thomas laid out to make a dazzling, over-the-shoulder diving grab of a 35-yard, from-the-end zone pass from Mock. Eric Foreman, playing at linebacker, was on Thomas like glue but could do nothing to stop the picture perfect downfield connection.
Kicker Richmond McGee continues to blast kick-offs deep into the end-zone in kicking drills. Punter Taylor Landin had another up and down day, looking strong in drills and hitting a nearly 50-yarder with the wind, but shanking a low, 33-yard punt into the wind. Kicker Dusty Mangum was virtually automatic throughout the day, nailing all but one of his solo PATs and hitting both 35-yard attempts. David Pino also looked good, hitting on all three of his 35 yard kicks and hitting several kickoffs into the end zone. Punter Justin Smith had his best showing thus far, drilling punts in drills and hitting several live action kicks, including a high, 40-plus yard punt into the wind to close out practice.
Practice halted almost halfway through today as lightning fears led Coach Mack Brown to lead a Longhorn exodus from the field to the safety of the Bubble. However, after about 7 minutes of sunshine, Brown reversed course and brought the players back onto the field to complete the last half of practice.
Cornerback Cedric Griffin made a dazzling play on Roy Williams to stop a fade route in the end zone from Mock.
Texas looks to have very good depth and linebacker. Aside from starters Derrick Johnson, Smith and Reed Boyd, Brian Robison, Marcus Myers, Scott Derry and Robert Killebrew all made plays today. Smith is looking better and better every day, making great reads in both the running and passing game.
Derrick Johnson and fullback Will Matthews continue to butt heads. Those two guys just love to hit people.
Selvin Young heard the catcalls of his offensive teammates when he whiffed on a block on a Vince Young quarterback draw, leading to a crunching hit by Rodrique Wright and pretty much entire left side of the Texas defense.
At times, you can still see the wheels turning in Vince Young’s head, but the game is slowing down for him a bit. He made a nice read and throw to TE Thomas in tight coverage.
Erik Hardeman continues to impress, running with power and displaying shifty moves. He is making a habit of making the first defender miss. Hardeman made several nice runs today.
Center Will Allen was again wearing a red shirt and sporting a large wrap on his injured right thumb. He took some snaps and participated in some drills, but sat out all contact drills.
The running backs — not just Brett Robin — are playing a very large role in the passing game. Cedric Benson, Selvin Young, Hardy, Hall and Edwards all had their numbers called on passing plays.
Tim Crowder is not just a pass rusher. Today, he blew up a couple of running plays with great pressure to the inside. It is still early, but Crowder looks like a lock for major playing time this season.
Speaking of defensive ends, barring injury you can just pencil in Bryan Pickryl as the starter on the left side. Not only does he get great pressure off the edge, he is holding up very well in run defense. He is just a playmaker.
Neale Tweedie was again lined up at tight end.
If there is anything more fun than watching linebackers attack a tackling dummy, I don’t know what it is. From a safe distance, the Longhorn LBs looked like a bunch of pit bulls attacking a T-bone.
FB Hall can’t afford to drop two easy catches at fullback like he did today. His competition is playing too well for him to make those mistakes and still see the field.
Aaron Ross continues to impress and should be a big contributor this season. Late in practice, he made a tremendous play to break up a slightly under-thrown ball from Mock. He also worked with both the punt and kick-off return units.
Sloan Thomas and Selvin Young worked as the first team kick-off return unit.
The athleticism of tackles Scott and Blalock is going to lead to some big plays on wide receiver and backfield screens. Both move so well and make good decisions on which player to block.
Both Mock and Vince Young drew the defense offsides with a good hard count.
Kalen Thornton looks better every day, which is difficult when you consider that he looked fantastic on the first day.
DT Tubbs is taking on the role of pumping up his defensive teammates.
Eric Foreman lined up at strong side linebacker and looked darn good.
Scott Derry continues to make plays at middle linebacker.
Marco Martin does a great job of stacking the run, but also showed his talent running down the line to help shut down the option. As he gets in better shape, he will be a bigger factor.
Rufus Harris is becoming more than just a hitter. His recognition is improving and he is making more plays in pass defense. In 11-on-11 drills, he made a great read on a quick pass to Jeffery and stuffed it for little gain.
Thus far, the coaches are practicing what they preached in the off-season, shuttling players in and out with regularity to develop depth and running more motion and misdirection, particularly in the running game.
To the cheers of his offensive teammates, FB Matthews made a bone-crunching block on a short-yardage play to spring Selvin Young for a big gain.
Walk-on freshman wideout Eric Enard makes a great play seemingly every day. Today, he made a diving catch on a low Nordgren throw over the middle. He also made a nice downfield block to help spring Hardy for a nice gain on a draw play.