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The Journey Begins

DALLAS – The prognosis appears good.

Mack Brown addressed questions about David Ash and his defense and the need for both to improve.

Nineteen starters return. The most experienced quarterback in the Big 12 on it's side. Better leadership due to a veteran team.

Yet the questions Mack Brown fielded during his 16th press conference as Texas' head coach at Big 12 Media Days were all questioning those apparent strengths.

Are those 19 returning starters ready to get Texas back in Big 12 title contention? Is experience going to help David Ash take the next step?

Will better leadership result in a team that fares better on Oct. 12 against Oklahoma after a pair of losses to it's Red River Rivals by a combined 80 points?

“They understand that nine's not what we want to win at Texas,” Mack said of his players. “They're very excited to get started.”

Most of the questions Mack had to answer were about Ash. Even off of a season when he ranked in the top-20 in the country in completion percentage and pass efficiency the three losses he suffered as a starting quarterback in conference play last season pose a logical question.

While productive, is Ash at the point where he can be a championship quarterback like Vince Young and Colt McCoy were before him?

“There were times last year that he played like Colt and he played like Vince and looked as good as anybody in the country, and then there were others times where he struggled some,” Mack said. “But we think we've got better players around him now. We should be better in the offensive line. He's much more confident than at any time.”

Manny Diaz fielded a defense that played two distinctly different halves in Big 12 play in 2012.

The Big 12 is a quarterback-driven league, and with 18 career starts Ash is the most experienced quarterback in the conference. All indications from this summer are that he's taken a step with his leadership and how he connects with his teammates.

The shaggy-haired gunslinger from Belton might be finally getting comfortable with his life in a fishbowl on the 40 Acres. That in and of itself is a win the way Mack sees things.

“Sitting here the last two years,” he said, “I haven't been able to say that.”

A lot has been made of the Longhorns changing offenses, but as has been pointed out many times throughout the spring and summer Texas isn't installing a new scheme. It'll keep the same base offense Bryan Harsin called plays from last season, the difference being Major Applewhite will be dialing it up using a much faster tempo.

Mack once again listed 80 snaps per game as the magic number. Even if Texas doesn't get there, the number figures to be higher than the 68 plays per contest the Longhorns averaged last season.

The key is no matter fast the Longhorns want to go, using the three-headed running back stable of Joe Bergeron, Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray and getting the ball into the hands of guys like Daje Johnson and Kendall Sanders in the run game are good enough reasons to make sure there's balance within the offense.

“What we thought is that with Colt, when he got hurt in the national championship game against Alabama [in 2009], they had two backs rush for 100 yards, and we couldn't run the ball,” Mack said. “When we were playing a freshman quarterback, it had us at a true disadvantage in a championship game.

“We don't want to be a pass every time team offense. We want to be a balanced offense,” he added. “So on a windy day, on a day where a quarterback may be off or he's hurt some, we can run the ball, and we were able to do that with Vince. We were not able to do that successfully with Colt at the end. We thought we got to be a softer offense at that time, and that's all we're trying to get back. We're trying to be balanced.”

With 18 starts, David Ash is the most experienced quarterback in the Big 12.

Among the 19 returning starters the Longhorns welcome back in 2013, nine are on defense. It just so happens to be a defense that was the worst in school history from a statical standpoint having allowed over 404 yards per game and that also has to replace Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro.

“Our defensive staff, I feel like, has a lot better feel of defending the tempo offense now than they did this time last year because the – I don't think I've ever seen better offenses than we had in this league last year,” Mack said. “It was a speed league, and people were putting up big numbers.”

The decision to bring back Manny Diaz was one that caused much teeth gnashing among Longhorn fans. However, given that in 2011 the Longhorns were in the top-11 nationally in rushing, total and pass efficiency defense, and that over the last five games of Big 12 play in 2012 Texas led the league in scoring defense and total defense were reasons enough to give Diaz another year to see which of his two seasons on campus was the blip on the radar.

“We also thought the continuity of keeping the same staff on defense, because we had a great defense two years ago – we had the number one run stopping defense in the league. They didn't just get stupid,” Mack said. “So we played poorly last year, and we were much better at the end of the year. So I thought it was a real advantage to keep things in place and grow and move forward than have the distraction of bringing an entirely new group in.”

Mack had his answers ready to Monday, and we'll find out in a matter of weeks when this team's actions do the talking if the picture it paints is truly a championship one or not.

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