According the practice reports, the offense struggled mightily on Tuesday coming back from the time off, particularly in pass protection. In fact, the only notable play was a long run by DJ Monroe on a jet sweep, confirmed from multiple reports.
On Thursday, Alex Okafor said that the offense won the day in what has been a see-saw battle back and forth all spring. The difference now is that the defense is throwing more looks at the offense following the break, so it's heartening to hear that the offense adjusted quickly and responded.
Sophomore quarterback David Ash cited an improved comfort level as one of the factors in offensive improvement this spring:
We're more physical. Probably the biggest thing is just that we know what we're doing. Whenever you know what you're doing you don't have to think about it. All you have to do is focus on your job and doing it. That makes the game slow down for you. I think that's a big step for us.
The most important position for the game to start slowing for a player is quarterback and the early returns are that Ash has significantly cut down his turnovers, a result of more experience, a greater familiarity with the offense, and, as he mentioned, the game starting to slow down for him.
OBTV: Spring Practice Update (via ESPNAustinTaylorTV)
As Will Muschamp liked to say, it appears that Ash is starting to open the door instead of just looking through the keyhole in terms of understanding what is asked of him in the offense and that is resulting in some significant, and expected, growth.
The offense should get a boost from the return of sophomore wide receiver John Harris, who missed most of his redshirt freshman season with a foot injury that was slow to heal. Count junior quarterback Case McCoy among those happy to see Harris back on the field:
It's nice. John is a big target and has big hands. I thought he had a great day today. As long as we have as much depth as possible at receiver, I think that is when we are going to be at our best. We want to air the ball out, and we want to throw it. When we get fresh legs in there as much as possible, it will be nice. John's a big target, and he wants to be good. We are excited to have him back out there.
But it's not only the offense that has room for improvement. As strong as the defense was last year -- a borderline nationally elite unit at times -- it's easy to forget that defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was still going through the installation process as a first-year coordinator as well.
Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro believes the increased familiarity is benefiting his unit, too:
I think we have the defense down to a "T" so much that we have freedom now. We can mix things up on our own and execute the defense without putting too much of a twist on it.
Last season, it was Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, the senior linebackers, who had the authority to make changes at the line of scrimmage in attempts to have the final say in the pre-snap chest matches in which Diaz likes to engage.
In 2012, it will probably be Vaccaro with that authority, as well junior linebacker Jordan Hicks, who has also emerged as a leader of the defense.
Hicks has been forced into the role because of the graduations from Robinson and Acho, as well as the other defensive leader, Blake Gideon. Okafor and Vaccaro have stepped up as members of the tiny senior class, but all the attrition from that 2009 group has left them pretty much alone:
Literally our '09 recruiting class has been cut in half. But honestly, we're the ones that made it, and we're the ones who have to lead the team. We can't make any excuses. Even if it's just us two [he and Kenny Vaccaro.] We've got to lead the team. And we've got to get younger guys to step up and add more leadership.
There's been a lot of talk about offensive line coach Stacy Searels tinkering with the offensive line. However, it isn't the only position on the team at which the position coach is moving players around to experiment with different combinations and determine just how versatile each player is:
Coach [Duane] Akina has everyone rotating. [S] Sheroid [Evans] and [DB] Mykkele [Thompson] have been playing corner. They have put me at corner and [CB] Carrington [Byndom] was a safety last practice. We are mixing it up and everyone has played at every position.
Byndom, of course, played some safety in high school and has the physicality for the position despite being relatively light still for a cornerback. A change that may result in less success is Thompson working at cornerback, as he struggled in one-on-one drills in the second open practice and may not have the transition ability to play there in game situations.
But at least Akina will know what his players can and can't do if injuries strike. Not to mention giving Diaz more chances to mix and match on the back end to get more creative with his defensive looks.
Another development that should help Diaz is the possible emergence of junior defensive end Reggie Wilson, who has been a model of inconsistency so far in his career at Texas. A redshirt would have beneficial given his relative newness to the game, but it didn't happen and that's left him behind the ideal developmental curve. And a potential All-American in Jackson Jeffcoat.
But Alex Okafor hinted at the light coming on for Wilson, saying that he's playing like a starter now and is having the best spring of his career. Considering that it's only the second spring for Wilson, that may not be saying much. Still, it's something, and the spring game should provide a snapshot of where he's at.
Spring practice is a time for hope and while parsing the players talking about their teammates isn't going to lead to anything particularly negative coming out, the sense from all quarters continues to be that the team is making positive progress towards returning to contention.