Weekend Practice Report

Man alive, it's hard to read reports like this one and not get excited. Chip Brown provides readers with a dozen tantalizing practice nuggets, which we'll walk through now.

* Texas completed its sixth practice of fall camp on Saturday. It was closed and Mack Brown was not available to talk afterward.

Seriously, any time anyone tries to say anything negative right now, I remind them that Texas' football team has resumed practice and that we're less than three weeks from kickoff. It's the best natural high in the world. Try this at home - it's fun.

Mechanic: "PB, it's worse than we thought. It'll cost you $1,500 to get the car out of the repair shop."

PB: "Outstanding. Here's $1,600 - take the extra hundred bucks and make sure you catch a game this fall. Hook 'em!"

* Players said the big plays of the day came on a 70-yard TD pass from Colt McCoy to RB Chris Ogbannaya on a wheel route. On defense, freshman LB Keenan Robinson from Plano East came up with an interception on a screen pass to end team drills.

Two exciting notes here. First, as you know, it's great to see Priest Holmes having a strong fall practice. Ogbonnaya's been named the #2 tailback for now, and I'm not even a little bit surprised to hear he's playing well. I'll say this - there's a sizable segment of the hardcore Texas fanbase that's going to gripe about Vondrell McGee not being ahead of Ogbonnaya on the depth chart. Try, try, try your best to tune them out until Ogbonnaya gets his fair shot. Heartily supporting C.O. is not a knock on McGee. He not only deserves the chance to shine - I think he will.

As for Keenan Robinson, seemingly every time I turn around there's another positive nugget on the true freshman linebacker. He may turn out to be the biggest prize of the '07 recruiting haul.

* QB Colt McCoy said he doesn't feel pressure from Mack Brown saying it's his team or from high expectations: "Anybody wants high expectations. That’s what brings the best out in you. When there’s pressure and competition, this team thrives under that. I’m looking forward to it."
  • McCoy was asked about the team's leadership:

"Leadership is a tough word," McCoy said. "We have a lot of leaders. We have a lot of seniors who can step up and a lot of the young guys can look up to different players at their position.

"As far as being a leader on this football team, it takes respect. Coach Brown is our number one leader. He’s going to have us ready each week to step on the field. We follow him, and we have a lot of leaders in the locker room. That’s where it all starts."

Leadership talk in football is often fluff - the equivalent of political gab about character. Yeah, it matters, but it's rarely talked about usefully. With that said, leadership on and off the field is an important issue for this Texas football team. The Longhorns lost three football games last season in the first post-VY year. And I don't think there's much question that one contributing factor to the relative struggles was a leadership vacuum. Leadership talk is usually fluff, but it's a critical ingredient to team success. Vince Young isn't here to lead this team to the summit anymore. And we won't get back there without a couple key players assuming the role of General.

* McCoy said WR Limas Sweed doesn't get enough credit for his blocking. McCoy also said he and C Dallas Griffin had trouble executing the snap early on but have now got things figured out.

Colt is right. I wouldn't have even thought about it if McCoy hadn't brought it up, but Sweed is a blocking beast these days. I often bring up how far along Sweed has come from a physical standpoint (remember how much he got pushed around as a freshman?), but rarely in the context of his blocking abilities. The guy's developed into the best all-around player on the offensive side of the football for Texas.

* McCoy said he's impressed with the speed in the defensive secondary. He said UT's experienced defensive line "is making our offensive line better every day."

Another great point from Colt. We've spent a lot of time talking about the strength of our defensive line as well as the work that needs to be done on the offensive line. Until now, I haven't seen anyone point out that the offensive line has an ideal sparring partner for improvement.

* Senior DT Frank Okam of Lake Highlands said his best friend and roommate S Drew Kelson, who is returning to safety after playing RB and LB, "is too talented to keep off the field." Okam pointed to Kelson's string of big plays in 2005: a victory-sealing forced fumble against Ohio State, a key interception against Texas A&M and a near INT against USC while running stride for stride with Reggie Bush.

There's no question that Drew Kelson has talent, but the coaches have done a pretty sorry job of getting the most out of it during his career. Mack Brown went so far as to apologize during his Thursday press conference, saying, "The problem is he has played three positions in four years now. He has been such a team guy we haven't been fair to him, but he will be a little behind in the secondary just because he didn't backpeddle for three years and there is a time there to transition."

Yup. I hope Okam's right and Kelson makes the transition smoothly, but Drew might struggle to win the starting job over Erick Jackson. Mack's right - the coaches haven't been fair to him.

* Okam said to expect big things from DE Brian Orakpo: "He’s a beast, very physical, very dominant. He’s one of the best pass rushers I’ve seen in my life. Don't be surprised to hear his name called a lot."

This will please Newbs to no end, as Orakpo's been on of "his guys" for a long time now. As for Okam's comments - there's absolutely no quesiton that Orakpo is one of the best pass rushers in the Big 12. What will be more critical to watch is how he handles his run-stopping duties. Crowder and Robison were both elite in that regard, while Orakpo has heretofor been used primarily in passing situations. He'll need to elevate his game as he's asked to assume greater responsibility in 2007.

* Co-defensive coordinator Larry Mac Duff, who coaches the linebackers, said he's been impressed with all of his linebackers but really likes the progress being made by sophomore LB Rod Muckelroy.

"He’s come into camp and is real serious about being a major player on our defense," Mac Duff said Saturday. "He’s really done well in the first few days."

For all the (justified) hand wringing about the linebackers, I'm coming around to the idea that it's going to be an overall team strength this season. The three presumptive starters (Derry, Bobino, and Killebrew), flawed as they each were last season, are at the least more experienced, while the depth behind them is dramatically improved from a year ago. It's important to remember just how unlucky Texas was with injuries in 2006. And how lucky Texas was with injuries in 2005. For all that we talk about scheme, execution, and the play on the field - the element of luck is too often overlooked. Texas' defense was hampered by injuries all year long - Lokey, Okam, Robison, T Brown, Muckelroy, Kindle, Griffin... the list of injuries is nearly endless.

* Mac Duff coached special teams in the NFL with the New York Giants and most recently the San Francisco 49ers. He says the new kickoff rules (teams are kicking off from their own 30 this season instead of the 35) will result in fewer touchbacks and more returns.

"It's going to make college football really exciting, I promise you," Mac Duff said.

  • Mac Duff said he's going to coach the kick return team this season.

"Special teams contributes to winning, and I have a background in that area, so I want to help as much as I possibly can," said Mac Duff.

This isn't being talked about enough. There aren't a heck of a lot of college kickers who can get a ball into the end zone kicking from the 30. We're going to be seeing teams bring the ball out pretty much every time. For all the Vondrell McGee fans in the group? It's here that I want to see him used generously.

--PB--

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