Texas Longhorns spring game primer

DC Manny Diaz (left) and his defense will be under scrutiny Saturday - Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE

The Longhorns end spring practice on Saturday evening.

The Texas Longhorns have changed things up this spring in regards to the annual Orange-White scrimmage, opting to hold it in the evening -- it will kick off at 6:30 CT and be televised on the Longhorn Network.

Activities include the Stadium Stampede at 4:15, when the players enter the stadium. Following that, Fan Fest will provide some games and other activities for the kids, as well as picture opportunities with Texas Pom, Texas Cheer, and Hook 'Em.

Fans will also be able to access the field after the scrimmage to take pictures. There is free parking available, but it may be impacted by the end of Texas Relays, so be advised of that and know there will probably be traffic issues around the stadium.

What does Texas get from David Ash?

Now the unquestioned starter for the entire spring, Ash has been nearly turnover-free the entire spring -- it seems that he may have thrown an interception during the second scrimmage last weekend, which would have been his first in live drills since Texas started practice.


Unfortunately for Ash, the expectations surrounding him are much higher this year. His ability to consistently protect the football was heartening news 12 months ago, but now Ash has to take the next step to make the right reads the majority of the times, something he didn't always do in the open practices, looking a little bit risk-averse at times and notably failing to identify a situation with Mike Davis one-on-one on the outside that cost the first team a touchdown in team work.

It may not necessarily be about going through progressions on every play for Ash -- if he can make the right reads pre-snap, there's nothing wrong with going to his first option, but he does need to show a better command of the offense to prove that he can truly take the next step next fall and become one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, if not the country.

How do the rest of the reps shake out at quarterback?

Mack Brown said on 1300 The Zone on Wednesday that early enrollee Tyrone Swoopes is still working to separate from the other two young quarterbacks as Case McCoy holds down the back-up role. Ash isn't quite to the point in his development where he can afford to pass up on some live reps in the spring, so expect him to get a healthy dose of playing time as befitting the starter, but does McCoy really need that many?

It would seem that the team would benefit more from finding out what Swoopes, Jalen Overstreet, and Connor Brewer can do with at least two of those quarterbacks getting reps with the second team instead of having two of them consigned to working with walk ons, a situation that doesn't exactly provide a lot of important information about where those quarterbacks are in terms of their respective development.

Is there a base personnel grouping yet?

Related to this question is whether or not the Longhorns have been able to find a tight end capable of blocking and catching passes. Greg Daniels didn't flash much in the passing game as a possible vertical threat and MJ McFarland had some tough reps in one-on-one drills, though his blocking as an H-back is probably much better at this point than it is in-line.

Will the base personnel group use a tight end/H-back or will it use two running backs, as Texas has been working on formations that include various combinations of Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown, and Joe Bergeron, with the latter a player who has been expected to eventually get some time at fullback ever since he was in high school. Perhaps this is the spring it finally happens.

Which wide receivers step up?

The absences of Shipley and the suspended Cayleb Jones will provide some opportunities for Kendall Sanders, Marcus Johnson, and Bryant Jackson, none of whom received serious run last fall. Sanders is a player to watch because of his explosiveness, while Johnson is known as a player who works hard at his craft. Jackson, on the other hand, may be a candidate to emerge this fall because he seems to have good chemistry with Ash and is one of those guys who just makes plays, even if it's hard to identify one skills that sets him apart as a player.

How do the young players on the offensive line perform?

Injuries to starting offensive linemen Trey Hopkins and Josh Cochran have likewise allowed Sedrick Flowers, Curtis Riser, and Kennedy Estelle more chances to work with the first team as Texas tries to build offensive line depth for the fall with the need for an increased rotation size after not playing many back ups last season.

Flowers, Riser, and Estelle will all be important pieces for the 2013 line as back ups, but they also need to be groomed as the most likely potential starters at three positions for the 2014 line, so their development this spring is highly important for the future of Texas football.

How sharp does the offense look running plays more quickly?

During the Alamo Bowl, the number of plays installed for the up-tempo look was limited, but the whole offense should be available on Saturday with the no-huddle attack Texas will play in 2013.

The transition has been in communicating plays quickly and effectively and getting organized at the line of scrimmage to get them off with a minimal amount of time gone off the game clock.

By this point in the spring, with 14 practices in the books, the offense should have a strong handle on it all and operate with pretty high level of efficiency in that area.

How do the linebackers do with their run fits?

The pressure is on defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to provide some evidence that he can coach up his players and is more than just a defensive theorist who loves to stunt, twist, and run the fire zone blitzes that are his trademark.

Towards those ends, Diaz has worked hard on run fits with his linebackers this spring, with some buzz around the program that the team is using more base defense to aid that process.

In that way, the typically vanilla nature of the spring game could be a blessing for the defense -- since Diaz probably doesn't want to use a lot of his more exotic looks to put them on film for opponents, the defensive line should be afforded the opportunity to beat the players across from them instead of twisting inside or out and the linebackers depended upon to make accurate reads and get themselves to the football.

Kendall Thompson was still disappointingly bad on several plays during the first open practice in terms of hitting the right gaps, but Steve Edmond and Dalton Santos are both lighter, faster, and more experienced, while Peter Jinkens continues to sound like a potential breakout star in 2013.

The linebackers also had some issues defeating blockers last season, but in terms of the most important spring development defensively, getting their run fits right and putting themselves where they need to be is the area for biggest growth from Edmond, Jinkens, and company.

Which young defensive backs can emerge?

For Quandre Diggs to slide into the nickel back role at times, Texas needs to develop another reliable cornerback. The battle is between Duke Thomas, who made some waves as a freshman by transitioning quickly from being a high school quarterback to a position he hadn't played much prior to arriving at Texas, and Sheroid Evans, who has all the talent in the world, but has been derailed by injuries and his spring track commitments. Evans has dropped track this spring and has reportedly had a strong spring to put himself in contention for a rotation spot.

One safety spot looks locked down by a resurgent Adrian Phillips, who now looks healthy for the first time in about a year and a half, so the competition there has come down to Josh Turner and Mykkele Thompson, with the latter thought to have an edge.

It's a big spring for Thompson to start to emerge, as he now has enough reps on defense that his development curve needs to start getting sharper, if it hasn't happened already. Thompson has come under some criticism for not being an overly aggressive tackler, but he did make most of the plays in the open field. Becoming a harder hitter should be part of his development this spring.

Can the kickers show some consistency?

The bad news here is that potential savior Anthony Fera has been working with the punters in order to get his groin/hip injury completely healed. He should be back kicking field goals during the summer, but he can hardly be counted on to provide the steady presence he was supposed to bring from Penn State.

That leaves last year's starter for most of the season, Nick Jordan, and former kickoff specialist Nick Rose, who has been kicking field goals this spring as well. The results, once again, have been a bit up and down for the 'Horns in practice.

Last year, the 'Horns didn't attempt any field goals, but the redzone defense has been pretty strong this spring for Texas, so there may be a higher chance of some live attempts on Saturday.

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