AUSTIN, Texas – After the second fall scrimmage on Sunday the Texas Longhorns will have wrapped up their second consecutive week of practice as they prepare for the 2013 season.
The Longhorns first donned full pads last Friday and have gone full steam ahead since, including having a the first fall scrimmage earlier this week. Mack Brown sounded pleased with what he’s seen up to this point when he addressed the media on Thursday.
“We've had really good intensity in practice,” Mack said. “We stayed relatively injury-free. We thought the scrimmage was a good [one] the other night. Got a lot of good work, most of it ones against ones. Because we do have a few injuries, a lot of the guys that were in backup roles are working with first teams and having a chance to show what they can do. We thought that was good.
“The scrimmage was long and hard,” he added. “We had Big 12 officials there. Now with the eighth official, it is going to change a little bit so we were able to work with them. We worked our ball boys with tempo. We felt like overall the scrimmage went well.”
Camp is scheduled to conclude one week from today. The Longhorns will then be into game-week prep for the season opener against New Mexico State on Aug. 31.
Major Applewhite is doing everything possible to make sure the offense is ready for the opener. It’s not just Applewhite that’s putting in extra work, it’s the entire offensive staff.
Co-offensive coordinator Darrell Wyatt has also been a big part of drawing up the game plans with Applewhite and the other offensive staff members have had their input in the plans as well. Continuity on that side of the ball is a plus for the Longhorns.
There will be plenty of staff input on offense, but Major Applewhite will be calling the plays.
“It's very much like what we did with Bryan [Harsin] and Major,” Mack said. “The offensive staff sits down, they evaluate who they want to be, where we're headed offensively, exactly what we want. All five of them have input. They do the same with the game plan. Then on game day, Major would call the plays. Stacy [Searels] might have some suggestions in the running game and Darrell in the passing game. Now Larry Porter, because he's run an up-tempo offense as well.”
At this point the coaches are beginning to feel better about the defense and its improvements along the way. It’s no secret that last year’s unit was the worst in school history and winning scrimmage No. 1 – by all indications – is a step in the right direction.
It’s also no secret that it wasn’t merely a simple fix to correct Texas’ woes. There wasn’t just one thing you could point to with Manny Diaz’s group. Instead it was a collection of things and that all hurt Texas in a big way.
“It was really strange,” Mack said. “I thought the defense played really well in the preseason last year and seemed to get worse as the season started. That's hard to figure out. We've gone back, looked at notes and video. There were times we couldn't make a first down against the first defense. For whatever reason, it broke down. Some of it was injury, some of it was tempo. We didn't do a good job, period.”
The first scrimmage isn't a clear sign this defense will take the Big 12 by storm, but again, there were some encouraging signs on the field Monday night.
“I thought in the first scrimmage our defense played against the run better than at any time I saw last year,” Mack said. “I thought it was a good fight in the scrimmage. I thought the [first team] defense was better in this scrimmage than the [first team] offense.”
Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley are making their way back into the lineup.
A big reason for the improvement of the defense overall is coming from the back seven. The linebackers and defensive backs appear to have improved.
“I think linebackers for sure have come the furthest. We have more depth because we had to play so many there last year,” Mack said. “I think there are more people in the secondary that have a chance to play – probably seven right now that have been around for a while that have a chance to play. You need five a lot in this league, so that's an improvement.”
One of the biggest news items to come out of the 40 Acres the last few days is that the Longhorns’ top two receivers – Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley – have returned to practicing with the team. They’re not going at it 100-percent, but the fact that both are participating is a positive sign.
“We're pleased that two of the last three days Jaxon and Mike have practiced,” Mack said. “They haven't been full-speed contact yet. They did a lot in the practice on Tuesday. They did some things yesterday morning, but they were full speed [Wednesday] night.
“We're really pleased with the progress they've made,” he added. “They don't seem to have a lot of soreness after as much running as they've done for the last few years.”
On the other side of the ball Duane Akina is in the process of welcoming back two players to the lineup.
Desmond Harrison's status for the 2013 season remains in limbo for the time being.
“Quandre [Diggs] is doing drills,” Brown said “Josh Turner is a little bit behind them, but we hope that Josh will be ready for the opening game.”
Desmond Harrison has been held out since last Monday – his only day to practice with the team since the fall session began – while Texas waits to see if his academic issue will be resolved.
Horns247 was told on Thursday that the issue lies between Contra Costa College and BYU. It's out of Texas' hands at this point as Mack and the coaches simply have to ride this one out for the time being.
“I really can't (comment),” Mack said. “I think it's a waiting game. Since it's an academic situation, I can't comment on it. They're just going through a process.”
Due to Harrison’s situation and with Josh Cochran (shoulder) being held out for precautionary reasons, younger offensive linemen are getting more reps than usual in practice. Cochran missed the spring due to a broken leg and is now banged up again with a shoulder injury.
A timetable for his return hasn’t been announced. In the meantime many of the younger linemen are taking advantage of the opportunity.
Mack feels there's an unlimited ceiling for Johnathan Gray at running back.
“It's been interesting in that you'd rather have everybody healthy and at the same time we're getting to work a lot of young guys a lot,” Mack said. “Those young freshmen that have come in have been working a lot with the second team. They're getting a lot of work they might not have gotten.
“We forget when Stacy Searels came in here he had seven scholarship players in the spring,” he added. “Now he could have eight to ten guys he could feel like he could play in a ballgame.”
A more talented and experienced offensive line will hopefullu pay big dividends for the running backs. Johnathan Gray told reporters last week that he wanted to surpass 1,500 yards on the season. Mack believes that goal could be easily attainable and indicated other backs on the roster could also have the same shot, if they stay healthy.
“I think Johnathan has an unlimited ceiling out there. He's a guy that has a chance to be really good,” Mack said. “Tough, mature, works really hard every day. I'm excited about watching him go forward.
“If Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron stay healthy, they're good players, too,” he added. “For the last two years we haven't had three healthy running backs for many games. Hopefully this is a year where we can have them out there all already.”
In addition to those three Jalen Overstreet has opened some eyes in camp. He canngive the Longhorns another added dimension in the backfield depending how where he's at in terms of knowing the position.
“He's still not there yet,” Mack said. “He has the speed we knew he had outside. He's also had better vision than we anticipated coming from the quarterback position. So I think he's happy. He's getting a lot of work. We see some hope for him down the road.”
Additionally, Overstreet is pushing Johnathan Gray time for tine in the Wild formation.
“I still think Johnathan would have the edge,” Mack said. “He's so tough and he runs it really well. He and Jalen will work in it. Right now, if we played today, Johnathan would still do it. He did it in the scrimmage the other night.”