The Texas Longhorns held their second open practice of the spring on Saturday, after which head coach Mack Brown met with the media for only his second update since the Longhorns started practice back several weeks ago.
On how the practices went:
We've gotten better. We still have a lot of work to do. I like the fact that we were public. It put some pressure on the players today and yesterday. Overall, today was better than yesterday.
Indeed, no small amount of the high-level intensity on Friday would seem to be a direct result of having fans in the stands, as well as media, dissecting how well the players performed. In fact, it's a benefit that could be extended into the fall by opening up practices then! Hint, hint.
On the young receivers:
I think that right now all three young receivers can make big leaps. We have been really pleased with Kendall Sanders. He has made some huge plays in the six days. Marcus Johnson is getting better every day and Cayleb Jones has got the size that we all know and he made some tough, physical plays.
Despite taking two of the biggest hits during the two days of practice, Sanders flashed at times with his explosiveness, though it looked like he may be behind Jones based on their reps on Saturday after Mike Davis returned from his Friday absence. Johnson would seem to be behind both and didn't make any noticeable plays on either day.
The rest of the spring will be particularly important for Johnson as he attempts to carve out a niche in the rotation before Jacorey Warrick and Jake Oliver arrive on campus, though neither would seem to be a particularly large threat to Johnson since they will end up playing different positions within the wide receiver corps.
Speed is good, apparently:
Newsflash -- speed kills. The Free DJ Monroe club would like to inquire about the late timing of this revelation.
The utilization of sets using Brown and Gray in the backfield may not be that successful if Gray has to trap block defensive ends, but the look is intriguing because it does help put the best players on the field, which wasn't always the case last season when former co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin insisted on putting players out there who were ostensibly there to block, but often struggled doing so, which sacrificed the overall explosiveness of the unit.
In the new up-tempo look, it appears that new playcaller Major Applewhite is going to emphasize using the speed that he has to the best effect possible, which may be one of the most positive developments to come out of Applewhite's promotion.
The notable absence from those two-back looks? Joe Bergeron as the offset back in the I-formation Pistol. Makes a little more sense than Gray there, no? Even if there is a drop-off in speed.
On the battle for the middle linebacker position:
I think Steve [Edmond] is at a different place with his intensity than he was this time last year. I think Dalton's [Santos] helped that and they are best friends. They pick with each other every day and they are fighting for playing time. I thought it was good. That is the first live goal-line work we've done.
Known as a rather quiet player on and off the field, it's understandable (if not particularly acceptable) that Edmond's intensity didn't quite reach the desired levels.
Santos on the other hand? The Man from Van has never been known as a quiet one, so it makes sense that he's made a positive impact on Edmond as Santos has worked to drop weight, according to Brown:
He really worked hard to lose his weight and I think that is forcing Steve Edmond to do the same. They are in a really good battle right now and it is fun to watch.
And it's one that should benefit the Longhorns both this spring and in the long term -- Edmond didn't have anyone to push him at this time last season, so he was able to coast through spring and summer with no real repercussions to his playing time.
One scene from Friday's open practice seemed to place into context the battle that's going on. Edmond took his turn working in the drill that works on tackling form and players keeping their legs driving on contact, but it's essentially a thud tempo exercise. Not for Edmond on this particular rep, as the took the walk on to the ground, hard. Santos just so happened to follow on the next rep and did the same.
As for increased intensity, Edmond showed some serious emotion in the goalline portion of team drills late in Saturday's practice after he stopped Joe Bergeron just before crossing into the endzone in a serious collision.
The weight loss has helped both players increase their quickness, but it looks like Santos has the current edge, as he started with the ones on Friday and Saturday, aided by the 20 pounds he has lost that put him 20 pounds lighter than Edmond, who may need to keep working and get down under 250 pounds as the summer approaches.
Questions still surround tight end position:
We had a lot of uncertainties at this time last year. What we've got now is a year's experience with Greg Daniels. He should be a much better player now than he was last year, because he had been a defensive end. We've got to figure out with what we are doing now and not substituting what Greg and Geoff Swaim can do as compared to [Miles] Onyegbule, John Harris and [M.J.] McFarland. Obviously, they are different body types. The short yardage and goal-line stuff will be more Geoff and Greg, but what can you do in substitution? What can Geoff and Greg do in the flex and what can John and M.J. do tight? That is what we are working on now. When you get two of them in the game for short yardage and goal line, can they flex? Can you use Geoff Swaim or M.J. as an H-back? We have been working on that quite a lot as well. M.J. has gotten to be a much better blocker. This time last year, he could not block.
With McFarland the issue has never been effort, and using him more at the flex position and H-back should help put him in better positions to succeed, as Harsin did at times last season, like the first play against Baylor when he was at H-back and was able to help set the edge for Johnson on his long touchdown run to set the tone early.
With Daniels, it's easy to forget that a shoulder injury kept him out of spring practice last year, so he only had the fall to adjust to his new position, but was able to do so quickly enough that he was the team's best blocker at the position by the time the season started, though there wasn't any evidence on the two days of open practice that he's taken the next step as a pass-catcher.
Swaim has been going through a bit of a transition period in the eyes of his head coach:
Yes, he is really physical. He's got a lot of what we want at tight end, but he's playing too high and he got knocked down twice yesterday. This isn't junior college and he found out yesterday in a drill when he came out faster than he went in. He was lower and better today. He is going to help us with that physical aspect.
The JUCO transfer notably whiffed on a lead block in redzone drills on Friday, but on the last play of Saturday's practice, he pancaked Cedric Reed, the biggest of the Texas defensive ends at the moment.
The rest of the spring will be extremely important for the tight ends, so it's certainly a major position to watch as the spring game approaches, especially considering how many unanswered questions there are out there.
Tackling is a point of emphasis:
We know we've got to tackle better at linebacker and we know we've got to tackle better in the secondary. We are working really, really hard on it because this league is becoming a space league. We are working on those issues every day.
Um, the Big 12 is not becoming a space league. It has been a space league. For years. And years. It has also been a tempo league for some time, which has only become more pronounced with the addition of West Virginia, so Texas, ever reactionary, is following behind.
At least now the changes are being made in reaction to opponents that Texas faces every week in the conference season every year, rather than schools that the 'Horns happened to face in BCS bowls for two consecutive years. Moving past that Ohio State/Alabama obsession and the incessant talk about needing two quarterbacks because of Colt McCoy's injury has to represent some type of progress.
But yeah, tackling is good. Brown is right about that one.