Some time Friday evening, most likely at seven o'clock when the temperature on the field at DKR may dip down into the 110-degree range or so, the Texas Longhorns will hold the team's second scrimmage of fall practice. As the 2011 version of the Longhorns enters the third phase of fall practice -- the confidence and perfection phase -- Mack Brown and the rest of the coaching staff are hoping for separation, most especially at the quarterback position.
What we think is that we hope they separate. That's what we've told the players, that they're making decisions by how they play and what their body language [is] based on who plays on our depth chart. Some of them have already separated. It would be stupid of us to give you four positions that are settled when all the rest of them aren't. So what we've told the players is that as soon as you settle it, it's settled.
With only one more scrimmage after Friday and only one more week until the coaches start gameplanning for Rice in the days leading up to the season opener, there are still plenty of question marks surrounding more than just the much-discussed quarterback position.
Brown believes that 13 players on offense have earned spots on the two deep and 17 players on defense. The coaches want to find 22 players for each of the three phases before the season beings, a tall task. Gameweek is not an optimal time to still be sorting out the depth chart:
We don't care if it's tomorrow. We'd rather it had been last week. We hope its tomorrow night and if it's not, then we'll probably have to go into the third scrimmage to finalize some positions. In a lot of cases we don't care who starts because we're sitting there with two players that maybe aren't great but both of them are good so it really doesn't matter. What you have to do in that case, when you've decided which two will play at that position, is then you have to figure out how much playing time each one gets.
At the quarterback position, the playing time in practice is a scarce commodity with four contestants for the position. Brown indicated that the offensive staff has already begun to give more snaps to certain, though he declined to discuss any favorites.
Based on reports out of practice, it sounds like redshirt freshman Connor Wood trails the other three, making him a serious candidate to transfer, perhaps as soon as before the season. David Ash remains a fan favorite as a blank slate on which to write glowing practice reports, without even the burden of eyeballs dissecting his every pass after receiving minimal reps in the spring game. Garrett Gilbert may be permanently broken. And Case McCoy still has a rag arm. So not much to report there, except that the scrimmage could separate two quarterbacks from the rest. That's what the coaches will want, at least.
Speculation about the other positions still seeking separation has to start on the offensive side of the ball, where the coaches are still looking for eight players to fill out the two deep. Of course, taking out the quarterbacks, that leaves only six, which narrows it down somewhat.
Along the offensive line, Stacy Searels has been mixing and matching to find the best combination, particularly outside at the tackle position. Senior Tray Allen sounds like he has locked down the left tackle position -- a major relief to both fans and coaches alike -- with Mason Walters and Trey Hopkins rotating at right tackle the last several days. Paden Kelley is a viable option at right tackle and Luke Poehlmann was reasonably effective last year in limited reps, but still may not be ready to extensive action. The starting five looks set and it sounds like Trey Hopkins may stick at right tackle, but the key here is developing the depth to survive an injury. Not sure the unit is there yet.
After reports of Fozzy Whittaker performing well through the first week or so of practice, the running back with the most buzz of late is Joe Bergeron, who is giving Cody Johnson serious competition not only as a short-yardage back. Finally healthy, it's also time for Malcolm Brown to translate the one-cut, downhill explosiveness he's flashed in practice into a game-like situation as he looks to separate from Traylon Shead and gain ground on Bergeron for that second spot on the two deep at tailback.
For the wide receivers, Miles Onyegbule continues to emerge, with Darius White in danger of losing playing time if he can't become more consistent with his hands, though his blocking has reportedly been strong. At the split end position, it sounds like Onyegbule, White, and John Harris are in a tight competition.
Blaine Irby and DJ Grant seem to have the tight end position locked down, but there hasn't been much discussion about the H-backs. Getting Barrett Matthews on the move as a blocker and away from blocking defensive ends one-on-one along the line of scrimmage suits his skills and is well overdue, but he still apparently struggles with his hands and Dominique Jones has had virtually no buzz surrounding him for some time, other than rumors about him not being eligible. With Darius Terrell looking for playing time as well, the H-back position might be one that is still a way from achieving separation.
Likewise defensive tackle. Ashton Dorsey still plays high at times, which doesn't suit a potential nose guard particularly well, while the lighter, faster Calvin Howell can't hold up as well against the run. Taylor Bible has lost weight but apparently hasn't flashed as much in practice as Desmond Jackson, who looks like he will make the two deep, while Greg Daniels and Chris Whaley give Texas two former defensive ends working inside. The position is still probably a major source of concern for Manny Diaz, particularly against power-running teams, but it's in much better shape than this time last season. Notice the lack of a mention for Dravannti Johnson.
Meeanwhile, Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs look like the starting corners still, with Josh Turner and AJ White backing them up. The safety position might be more up in the air, with Adrian Phillips getting reps there. In fact, the versatility that Phillips brings could make him one of the most important players this year in the entire secondary -- he's already drawing some Earl Thomas comparisons, a compliment of the highest order. What seems apparent is that a Blake Gideon/Nolan Brewster combination would work out as poorly as the Gideon/Scott combo last year -- so one of Phillips or Vaccaro should be on the field with Gideon at all times, turning Brewster solely into Gideon's back up.
Friday's scrimmage won't answer all of the remaining questions, but the coaches are clearly hoping that it at least firms up the two deep, a major necessity with gameweek looming.