Texas Football 2012: Open Practice Overload

Horns_bullet_mediumNo, that background is not faked. The chance to film a take (or, as it turned out, about five or six takes) from the southeast corner of DKR following practice on Saturday was too good to pass up. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing through the first few seconds, but don't worry, it dies down:

Texas Open Practice Recap (3/3/2012) (via sbnburntorangenation)

Also, I'm going to invest in a tripod today, so there will be a still camera in the future.

Horns_bullet_mediumOpen practice overload. As always, it's interesting to venture around the rest of the interwebs to see what other people are saying about the practices, especially since it's impossible to catch every rep watching practice live. Here are some notes:

  • It was Edmond, not Jordan Hicks, who delivered the big hit on Malcolm Brown following the blast that KV put on him. It should also be pointed out that Edmond chased down Jaxon Shipley after the Texas wide receiver took off on a trick play was supposed to have him throw the ball after catch a backwards pass from David Ash. Decisions like that from Shipley, where he pulled the ball down and ran instead of forcing something, make it clear why the coaching staff trusts him so completely. And also why Shipley has a ridiculously high quarterback ranking.
  • For MJ McFarland, the key has always been his blocking ability. LonghornScott thought that he was having some issues with his leverage on Saturday, getting beat by Reggie Wilson on one outside running play.
  • Speaking of running plays, LonghornScott identified the outside zone, pin and pull, and draw plays as the primary focuses of practice on Saturday. As he points out, those aren't the quick-hitter plays, so the running backs had to work on their patience and letting their blocks develop.
  • Cedric Golden of the Statesman sees David Ash as the clear leader at quarterback right now and says that Mack Brown should name him the starter if he continues to separate from Case McCoy as he did this weekend. No real argument there.
  • Mykkele Thompson had a rough day in 1v1s, but defensive coordinator Manny Diaz still had positive things to say about the youngster: "He picks things up very quickly. He's very athletic, very rangy. He can get to places in a hurry. There's a lot of things about Mykkele that are very exciting."
  • The offense has not yet worked on the Wild formation yet this spring and Harsin declined to reveal who will potentially work there when it does get installed.

Horns_bullet_mediumThe coordinators speak. For the first time this spring, both defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin were available to the media following the second open practice.

Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls wanted to talk about the potential of this 2012 Texas defense to be on the level of a team like Alabama following some of the monster hits that defenders put on their offensive teammates on Saturday, but Diaz wasn't really having it at this point:

How do you measure that exactly? The way I measure LSU and Alabama is their teams won all their games except one against each other. That's what we have to do. Our success on defense is when we do a good enough job to hold their team down to the point where the offense can win the football game for us. As I see it last year, we were an 8-5 defense.

Diaz is certainly aware of the advanced metrics that would support or deny such a claim, but he's obviously a bottom-line type of guy at the end of the day, like most coaches. He did go on to point out that Texas is replacing the middle of the defense -- Kheeston Randall, Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho, and Blake Gideon -- and that if the team doesn't have players step into those roles, not being strong up the middle is a great recipe to get gashed.

In that regard, one of the biggest causes for optimism is the continued emergence of Edmond, whom Diaz described as a pretty quiet guy who apparently carries a big stick:

Everybody sees (his size), the first day he gets off the bus. It wasn't all coaching. He comes off as quiet, but he's listening to everything you say. I always say when you walk in a bar, the guy running his mouth usually doesn't want to fight. It's the guy in the back of the bar who doesn't say a word; you've got to be careful of that guy. If he all of a sudden gets up, everybody's going to get quiet because they know something terrible's going to happen.

Well, Edmond stood up at the start of team drills and got the attention of Malcolm Brown, that's for sure.

On the other side of the ball, Harsin echoed reports of the increased level of intensity and dedication from wide receiver Mike Davis, who lost himself quite a few fans with his poor efforts last fall:

Mike's practice habits have been very good and just his effort at practice. I've been impressed with his work ethic, not just in the team periods, but in the individual periods and the extra drills we're doing and some route stuff we're doing.

He has a great focus and energy that helps everybody in those drills. The last few practices, especially the last two, he's been exceptional going up for the ball and just being aggressive. Just showing a lot of confidence out there with what he's doing.

It's not clear why Davis didn't want to have much to do with the football a few months ago, but the change is certainly welcomed and there is mounting evidence that the change is legitimate. Sustainable? Well, that's a question that only time can answer.

The new left tackle for the 'Horns appears to be JUCO transfer Donald Hawkins, and though he's been solid in practice so far, Harsin noted that the big guy is still trying to take everything in and get caught up:

Hawkins is where everyone was at this time last year, so there's still the anxiety of, 'Where are we going? What are we doing? What's the next drill?' So there's those little things, not just the football part of it. He's getting more comfortable.

We've put a lot of volume of offense in. The guys who have been through it, it hasn't affected them as much. But when you get to that fourth and fifth practice, and you're adding four and five plays every day, it starts to load up.

What they don't understand is that when we get through the scrimmage, we stop adding and go back and repeat everything. So he should get much better over the second half of spring.

As Hawkins does more fully acclimate to his new football team, he'll be a player to watch in the spring game to check for some serious signs of progress.

Horns_bullet_mediumBack to that first practice...In terms of breaking down the technical side of Texas football, there aren't many out there better than LonghornScott (if there are any at all), so it wasn't a surprise to see him write what may be the definitive account of open practice on Friday, a taking a big-picture look at how the session was indicative of the larger cultural changes that have gone done since the completion of the 2010 season and the resulting program overhaul.

After attending these types of practices for much of the Mack Brown era, he has the perspective and credibility to notice those changes:

I write all this not to shine light up your a**. I write it because I have been to so many practices and despite knowing the fact that things have changed and somewhat expecting a radically different experience... the contrast was a shock to my system. There is simply no doubt in my mind that this team will progress physically and mentally a great deal this Spring. The way practice is run now, they won't be able to avoid it. That's far more important and any of the particular battles or performances of today's practice.

Obviously, that's only the set-up for all of the observations that follow and it's worth reading the whole thing, but here are a few highlights.

On Stacy Searels and what is quickly becoming his trademark intensity:

You will notice Searels name come up a lot in this report. This is in some part because I have a hard time not focusing on the offensive line. However, the more direct reason is that Stacy Searels sets the tone of the practice. He is vocal, he's focused, and it's obvious that he is respected. Also every time someone f**** up, Stacy throws his hat. If you know nothing about the offensive line, you'll still be able to watch for the flying Searels cap of doom. If you get a chance to watch tomorrow's practice, watch the players body language. They are watching Searels to see what he's going to say and who he's going to say it to. It's a pretty simple recipe: if you want your offensive line to set the tone for your team, you need a coach who can demonstrate how to do so. If I wasn't already a fan of Stacy's for the progress he made with our line last season, he would have definitely made a believer out of me today.

There were some monster 1v1 battles in what LonghornScott calls the "Thunderdome":

Searels starts each battle and the entire team is watching each 1 on 1. Pride is definitely on the line. The linemen line up in their stances 2 yards apart whereas all non linemen start off in a clutch with each other. The drill began with Cochran and Reed and Cochran edged out that battle. This was followed by Mason Walters versus Desmond Jackson in what was clearly a competition for baddest mother fucker on the field. Jackson got the better of Mason but also got a hand up in his face in the first match up and Searels was pissed and made them start over. Cochran and Reed went at it again and then D. Jackson and Walters lined up for round two. When Searels lets them go, Jackson exploded out low and Walters had to crouch and adjust to get square on him and Jackson drove Walters into his heals and then climbed up to dominate the contact in a decisive victory. The entire team erupted and Walters tore off his helmet in rage. In other words... it was awesome. Other memorable battles were Bergeron getting manhandled by Edmond and Mike Davis driving a defensive back (think it was Duke Thomas) 15 yards down the field and to the ground. But the important thing wasn't necessarily the individual battles... it was the unquestioned commitment to violence that every single battle reinforced. Texas will no longer harbor soft players.

Finally, there was an interesting take on junior defensive tackle Brandon Moore, who is quickly emerging as one of the most important forces on the defensive line as Texas seeks to replace Randall and Calvin Howell, who opted for blazing chronic instead of playing football for the Longhorns:

Oh. And then there's Brandon Moore. Texas picked up a very interesting, if raw, talent in Moore. No bullshit, Brandon Moore is easily the strongest player that has been in a Texas uniform since Mike Williams (the offensive tackle) was drafted. But he is a diesel engine with a small gas tank. Back to back snaps and Moore is running on empty, hands on hips until he gets a chance to rest. When he is fresh he will drive his target into the backfield at will... and I mean there isn't a player on our roster who can stop him. He stood up a combo from Flowers and Porter on an inside zone play with ease while a linebacker waltzed into the backfield untouched. When he runs out of gas, Moore just becomes a hard to move object and a liability on outside runs and screens. Contrast that with a rested Moore that runs down a quarterback scramble to the opposite side of the field (probably one of his best plays of the day). Did I mention that he has no idea how to use his arms? Basically he bandies them about randomly while he rams his body forward directly at his target (somewhat similar to a flying fisted windmill technique I used as a 6 year old to strike fear in my cackling older sister). He had a hilarious one on one with Trey Hopkins where Trey got both arms inside and one up in the armpit of Moore. Moore proceeds to walk him straight back for about 5 yards his arms flailing wildly the whole way. I digress. Right now, Moore is a devastating presence in small doses. If he makes no progress in conditioning from now to the fall I think his role will be as a pocket collapser on 3rd and longs. If Bennie Wylie can make a pet out of him and he improves his technique then we end up with a game changer for the defense next season. Another good get by this staff.

If Moore was a bit underappreciated coming in because there simply wasn't any film to evaluate him, he's a guy who is emerging early to help quiet whatever concerns there were coming in at defensive tackle. Since junior Ashton Dorsey hasn't emerged yet and junior Chris Whaley is still a situational guy trying to find consistency and a better understanding of the nuances of the position, having Moore there surely helps Bo Davis sleep a little more easily at night.

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