Though the Texas Longhorns always make plans to move open practices into the bubble in case of inclement weather, the true spring rite of passage is getting a little bit too much sun at the Saturday open practice.
The 2013 edition was no different, as the excess sun and a stomach virus put this writer down for the count for Saturday evening and much of Sunday.
So without further delay, here are a handful of thoughts on an open practice that yielded far fewer takeaways than the Friday version.
-- The overall tempo and physicality of the Saturday practice were reduced significantly, with no inside drills and less redzone work. The most telling part of practice in that respect was the tackling drills performed by the defensive backs. The wide receiver would fake catching a screen pass and the cornerback would work on their leverage to make sure that the wide receiver couldn't get outside, while the safety worked on their angles in support. Duke Thomas stood out as one of the more physical tacklers in this drill among the cornerbacks, while Kevin Vaccaro incited some flashbacks from his older brother's career with a collision a good five yards out of bounds. There were also some struggles against the walk ons that have legitimate FCS-level lateral quickness and several cornerbacks lost leverage at times. Nothing to be overly concerned about, as the bigger takeaway is that Texas is working to address the problems that surfaced last season in terms of tackling in the secondary.
-- Adrian Phillips had a strong day, breaking up a pass in coverage and coming up to stick Kendall Sanders in one of the live team drills late in practice. Texas apparently wants to get Sanders the ball in space on screens, but the Longhorn defense wasn't having any of it this weekend, putting two of the biggest hits through the two days on Sanders. Mack Brown mentioned the shoulder injury that kept Phillips out of the spring as a possible reason for his struggles last year and his play over the weekend and solid finish to the 2012 season have given some credence to that belief. He looks like he may be ready for a bounce-back season in 2013.
-- Bryce Cottrell had one of the best hustle plays of the day, coming from the backside to stop another play in team drills. There has been quite a bit of buzz around the redshirt freshman defensive end and he probably stood out a little bit more than Shiro Davis on the weekend, as the latter didn't really make any noticeable plays. Adrian Colbert also chased down Daje Johnson from behind on a perimeter run, no easy task.
-- Connor Brewer has strong enough accuracy that it's surprising to see him badly miss on any throws, especially without any defensive backs out there. In terms of throwing ability, he might well be pushing Case McCoy, though Jalen Overstreet obviously provides the added dimension of running ability that wasn't really on display on either day. The knock on Overstreet has reportedly been his accuracy, but he looked pretty good on both days, even though he didn't get a ton of work in team drills. At times, he's not pinpoint in terms of hitting his receiver in stride or putting it on the correct shoulder, but he wasn't spraying the football either.
-- The expectations for David Ash have increased significantly since last spring, and for good reason. In light of that, his performance over the weekend was a bit of a disappointment. He didn't throw any interceptions, still a highly positive sign, but he also had some moments were his accuracy wasn't there and when he looked a little bit indecisive in terms of making his reads, something that co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite was stressing to him.
-- One set of plays from Ash stand out -- working from the 40, the defense was in a single-high safety look with Mike Davis getting one-on-one coverage on the outside, but Ash opted to look for a double-coverage Shipley down the seam instead of a wide-open Davis, who had shook his man at the line of scrimmage. Apparently Applewhite pointed out the situation to Ash or the starter noticed it on his own, because the defense gave the same look on the next play and Ash was able to connect with Davis. A play-action fake during team drills allowed Ash to find Davis over the top after Kevin Vaccaro failed to stay deeper than the deepest and another throw on the outside to a well-covered Cayleb Jones also stood out, as Jones climbed the ladder to pull the pass in.
-- The offense struggled on Friday converting in the redzone during passing drills, but had some more success with the return of Davis and the opportunity to work with more field. As good as Jaxon Shipley is, Davis is still the best wide receiver on the team by a wide margin, making his return extremely crucial to the 2013 Texas team, which would have significantly less upside without him.
-- Steve Edmond had one of the hits of practice stopping Joe Bergeron during the brief team redzone work, standing him up in the hole near the goalline with an assist from Reggie Wilson. Not to be denied, the touchdown hawk punched it in on the next play.
-- The Longhorns also hosted some high-profile visitors over the weekend in Lewisville Hebron safety Jamal Adams, who missed both Junior Days, but was able to receive a lot of individual attention on Saturday, and Coppell defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, who may be the top target along the defensive line for the 2013. In fact, those two players are basically must-haves in this class, especially Adams since the Longhorns have now missed on Edward Paris, Nick Harvey, Dylan Sumner-Gardner, and may be close to doing the same with Tony Brown. Getting both of them in town was significant, especially since Thomas had already attended JD1, but wanted to see practice.
-- The other intriguing visitor over the weekend was graduate transfer Zeke Riser, who spent the first four years of his career at Houston and now has a year of eligibility remaining. At 6-4, 255, Riser is probably a strongside defensive end if he ends up at Texas and had a strong 2012 season, recording 38 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 6 quarterback. With good depth along the defensive line, Riser would probably not represent much more than quality depth, but the Longhorns do have a scholarship available for him if they opt to extend it and he accepts.