MLB Garnet Smith is, quite frankly, the new bad ass on the defense. The sophomore could be counted on for nearly one scuffle every day but, more importantly, fuels the type of aggression into the unit that former RDE Cory Redding did for three years. Meanwhile, senior OG Tillman Holloway speaks softly but carries a big attitude and has become the symbol of a proud, confident offensive line with a Bevo-sized chip on its shoulder.
The Texas 'Fight Club' was on full display during the final preseason scrimmage last Wednesday at DKR. There, the fisticuffs were not limited to the big meat eaters in the trenches. Early on, SE Sloan Thomas and safety Rufus Harris came out swinging following an incompletion along the Texas sideline. It took several teammates and a few coaches to separate them.
Later, on 2nd-and-goal from the two, feisty RB Brett Robin threw the ball at FS Matt Melton’s face after he was thrown for a one-yard loss. Officials quickly flagged the senior for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and quickly took control of the scuffle.
"Throwing the ball at somebody probably cost us a touchdown and most likely cost us at least three points," Brown said. "So those are great things we can teach off of. They were competitive errors. Sometimes they get frustrated because they’re trying so hard, and they’ve got to learn to be able to handle that. But you can back them off easier than you can push them forward."
More evident of the type of fight that coaches want was evident in TE David Thomas’ crushing block on LB Robert Killebrew in the final scrimmage. It’s hard to imagine there will be too many instances when the 6-2, 210-pound (and growing) freshman gets pummeled to the turf, but Thomas had the angle, and the teeth-rattling hit, plus the new-found attitude that resulted in a second block on Killebrew after the youngster jumped to his feet.
Coaches are telling athletes to play with aggression but to "play smart". What bodes well for this season is that (as Brown, in essence, said) it is far better to contain and direct that kind of aggression than it is to try to generate it. When I ask players where the fighting spirit is coming from, they all say the same thing: coaches (and OL coach Mac McWhorter in particular). In short, it really is different around the practice field these days.
Perhaps no better spokesperson for the attitude adjustment is a Butkus Award semifinalist. I’ve had some extended conversations this week with WLB Derrick Johnson (for an upcoming Inside Texas magazine article) and he had this to say:
"Hitting them late and trying to hurt them, man, that’s out," he said. "But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen this kind of aggression. It’s a new attitude here and we’ll see where it takes us."
It is intended, of course, to take Texas to just two more wins in 2003 -- starting with the August 31 season opener against New Mexico State.