Brown cited some stats at the press conference, including a set of numbers on the Longhorns’ sustained success. Three times as many years, the Longhorns have started the season in the top-10 and finished there, a mark they’ve also hit five of the last six seasons.
That means that expectations, as always, are high, regardless of whom the Longhorns must replace, and how early on in their careers they leave.
“That’s why you need to be consistently good,” Brown said. “You lose a Jamaal Charles, you lose a Vince Young, you lose a Jermichael Finley, you lose Earl Thomas … those are guys you didn’t know you were going to lose. You’re not ready to replace them. So what you’ve got to do is that the program has to replace them.”
Defensive end Sam Acho said he agreed with that statement.
“We are Texas,” Acho said. “That’s what we say here. We always expect to be the best and we work towards being the best. Those expectations never change. We always have an expectation of excellence.”
Especially at DB
Perhaps no group lives by that slogan as much as the defensive backs at Texas, who said it was important to live up to Texas’s tradition of strength at that position.
“It’s tradition here,” said cornerback Curtis Brown. It doesn’t stop for anyone. We’re going to keep rolling.”
It’s a tradition that cornerback Chykie Brown said was an extension of coach Duane Akina.
“It’s especially important for the DBs,” Chykie Brown said. “Coach Akina really stresses that. If one of us goes down, the next guy has to be ready to step up, and the next one after that.”
That especially rings true for safety candidates Christian Scott, Nolan Brewster and Kenny Vaccaro, who will be battling to replace Earl Thomas’s production. Chykie Brown said he had the utmost confidence in all three players.
“We haven’t lost a beat since Earl left.”
Just how good are they?
“I think our secondary can be as good as we’ve had,” Coach Brown said. “I’m excited about it.”
The cornerback grouping is deep with returning starters Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown and Chykie Brown, while returner Blake Gideon fills one of the two safety spots. Curtis Brown said the group was working on “the little things,” to get better. Curtis said the group was improved from a year ago, when the Longhorns arguably the top group of defensive backs in the country.
Is there a weak spot? Not according to quarterback Garrett Gilbert. Gilbert was asked about the competition between the offense and defense in 7-on-7s, and whether he picked on any of the defensive backs in drills.
“I don’t think that I can,” Gilbert said, laughing.
Young faces at quarterback
With the departure of redshirt senior quarterback Sherrod Harris, Gilbert, just a sophomore, is now the wise old man of a three-man quarterback unit that includes two true freshmen in Connor Wood and Case McCoy.
Brown said the two quarterbacks were on even footing coming out of the spring, though he said he would like to see one of them emerge. Ideally, Brown said the top freshman would backup Gilbert, while the other would redshirt and travel with the team.
Acho said Gilbert had emerged as a leader over the summer, along with players like James Kirkendoll and Blake Gideon.
Tight end D.J. Grant has not been released to practice, while tight end Blaine Irby has not been cleared. Coach Brown called Irby’s progress “tremendous” to this point.
Tray Allen, who is slated to start at right guard, is still recovering from a weight room injury to his foot, though Brown said Allen would practice on a limited basis. Allen will likely practice just once per day when the Longhorns begin two-a-day practices next week.
Linebacker Jared Norton will also be limited at the start of two-a-days. Norton has been released to practice following his shoulder injury, though he has not been able to condition as much in the heat because his rehabilitation took place indoors. Brown said Norton would be limited as he adjusted to the heat.
For the first two days, the Longhorns will practice without pads, and in separate groups. Brown said a group of older players would practice in the morning, with the younger group taking part in the evening. Both sides will be present at the other’s practice, with the younger players on-hand to watch and learn from the older players in the morning. In the evening, the older players will coach and help the younger group.
Days three and four will involve “shells,” or shoulder pads and helmets paired with shorts. On day three, the two groups will begin practicing together. Full pads are donned for the first time on day five.
The practices are scheduled according to NCAA rules, which stipulate that a team must spend two days without pads, two days in shells and one day in full pads before they can begin two-a-days.
Brown said it was always exciting to see the freshmen in the first week of practice to see which players emerge. Freshmen should factor into the mix on the defensive line and potentially at wide receiver, with highly touted recruits Jordan Hicks (linebacker) and Demarco Cobbs (athlete) also potentially fighting for time.
Cobbs should be a player to keep an eye on, as the coaching staff said they weren’t sure where to play him. Brown said Cobbs wanted to play “somewhere on offense,” and said that potential positions included running back, receiver and H-back. Brown said that Cobbs had the athletic makeup and skill set to factor in at a number of positions.
Whoever plays has a strong chance to win honors, and to move on to the next level. In Brown’s 13 years, Texas has produced 10 Big 12 Freshmen of the Year. Nine of those moved on to play in the NFL — the lone exception is running backs coach Major Applewhite — and six earned conference or national Player of the Year awards in their Longhorn careers.
Curtis Brown said he, too, looked forward to seeing what the freshmen could do.
“When we put on the pads, football starts,” Curtis said. “7-on-7s are great, but football is a physical game. We’ll be able to see what the freshmen have then.”