Friday Practice: FB Matthews Emerging, Huff Back

Last week, head coach <B>Mack Brown </B>said he was concerned that none of the backup fullbacks had emerged as the obvious stand-in for on-the-mend starter <B>Ivan Williams</B>. What a difference a week makes.

"We’re really, really pleased with (junior) Will Matthews," Brown said Friday. "Will has made a 100 percent turnaround, and we’re excited about what we see in him right now. He will be a factor in two weeks if he continues to play like he plays now."

In short, no one expects Williams to be in the starting lineup for the August 31 home opener against New Mexico State. The senior suffered a knee injury during a pickup game of basketball last February and despite reports of a faster-than-expected recovery could still miss several weeks of the season.

Coaches have always liked senior H-back Brock Edwards, who has played FB and TE during an injury-hampered career. But the 6-5, 250-pound Matthews has had a full head of steam as of late. (Not to mention a full head of hair. How does he get all of it into his helmet?)

The Round Rock Westwood product appeared in 12 games last season as a FB and on special teams. He never carried the ball in 2002, but shared Texas’ Offensive Player of the Week honors for his work against North Carolina. A not-so-fearless prediction: Matthews will exceed his career rushing totals by the end of the New Mexico State game. (He has two yards on one carry.)

Meanwhile, SS Michael Huff returned from a minor knee injury suffered last Thursday and was in full pads. The sophomore started all 13 games last season (10 at SS, 3 at CB for the injured Nathan Vasher). Huff also missed most of spring training with an ankle injury.

"We’re glad to see Michael Huff coming back and hopefully he’ll scrimmage tomorrow," Brown said.

The annual Fan Appreciate Day scrimmage is set for 9:00 a.m. at DKR and will be followed by an autograph sessions at approximately 11:40 a.m. Fans hoping to see how improved SE Roy Williams and RB Cedric Benson are, for example, should arrive early. The usual suspects will get a few reps, but the scrimmage will put Texas’ sporadic kicking game in the spotlight.

"We’re going to go live in our kicking game (Saturday)," Brown said, "and we’re going to go mostly first against second teams. It will not be the scout teams as much involved tomorrow. It will take a little more time, but we want to get involved with a full-speed kicking team."

The 1999 home opening loss to N.C. State continues to cast a shadow over DKR.

"In the 19 years I’ve been involved as a head football coach, we’ve only lost two opening games," Brown recalled. "In one of them, we had five turnovers and the other one we had three blocked punts. You’ve got to take care of the ball. You’ve got to kick the ball well, so we feel like we need to be full speed going into that (New Mexico State) ballgame."

(That’s why you put an asterisk next to Phillip Geiggar’s 95-yard KO return for TD in Wednesday’s scrimmage. It came primarily against a group of walk-ons and third-teamers.)

Junior Dusty Mangum is still the first-team starting FG kicker, Brown said, although "(sophomore PK) David Pino has done really well, so they’re closer than they were when we started." Walk-on P Taylor Landin continues to edge scholarship P Justin Smith for punting duties.

Brown acknowledges that while fans clamor for a steady diet of Roy and Cedric, scrimmages are intended to finalize depth chart decisions and address inconsistencies in other aspects of the game.

"How many snaps does a Cedric Benson need when he‘s been hit for two years?" Brown asked rhetorically. "How many snaps does a (WLB) Derrick Johnson need? We have about 45 snaps every day, so we scrimmage every day. So we’re trying to rest guys like Derrick some, because we know he’s pretty good."

While coaches used Wednesday’s scrimmage to focus on backup offensive linemen, Saturday’s affair will put all defensive ends (except senior RDE Kalen Thornton) under the microscope. Sophomore Bryan Pickyrl is holding his own at LDE, while true freshman RDE Tim Crowder continues to play well beyond his years.