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From the Stands: Orange-White Scrimmage signals the end of Longhorn spring practice

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Austin Photo Set: News_trey_ut longhorns_spring trading_april 2013_offense
The Offensive line at the Orange and White scrimmage. Courtesy of Texassports.com
Austin Photo Set: News_trey_ut longhorns_spring trading_april 2013_crowd
Courtesy of Texassports.com
Austin Photo Set: News_trey_ut longhorns_spring trading_april 2013_offense
Austin Photo Set: News_trey_ut longhorns_spring trading_april 2013_crowd

Thoughts on the past week:

  • Sheldon McClellan will transfer from Texas. The Longhorns’ leading scorer was at odds with head coach Rick Barnes for most of the season and the break from Texas is probably the best thing for everyone. A young team will get one player younger next season. Good luck, kid.
  • I cannot overemphasize the awesomeness that is Florida Gulf Coast University basketball. I was in their stomping grounds while they were making their tourney run and the energy and emotion in the area was palpable. Good luck, Dunk City, I wish you the best.
  • And you, too, Wichita State. All I know about Shockers basketball is Maurice Evans transferred from there to play at Texas. Now they are in the Final Four, so I know two things.
  • I met two Kansas fans on the beach and offered them my support (I had KU in the National Title game) and both responded with nothing close to polite, nice or even decent behavior. Both guys — adults in KU jerseys on the beach who weren’t together and didn’t know each other — took great delight in reminding how bad Texas was in everything and how good they were in basketball. I’m done with you, Rock Chalk. Who is their biggest rival now? K-State? Whoever it is, I’ll be for them.
  • Tubby Smith to Texas Tech. That’s a great hire for Tech. They have a nice basketball arena and now they have a brand name that can coach with skins on the wall.
  • I am not talking about the Louisville guy...
  • ... But what a year for the Cardinals. They win the Big East and shock Florida in the Sugar Bowl last fall, got to the NCAA Tournament in baseball and are now in back-to-back Final Fours. Oh, and their ladies knocked the No. 1 Baylor Bears in the Sweet 16 on Sunday night. Well done.
  • Colt McCoy is a 49er. A much better fit, a much better team and a much cooler town.

The Longhorns wrapped up spring practice last weekend with the annual Orange-White Scrimmage and while it wasn’t the tell-all some wanted it to be, there was plenty to see. Here are my thoughts from Saturday night.

The new offense

The offense has installed the new up-tempo and it did not disappoint. The Horns first team offense took opening kickoff and drove right down the field on the No. 2 defense, snapping the ball consistently 10 to 15 seconds into the play clock. It’s important to note that Texas isn’t trying to be Baylor, snapping the ball with 30 seconds left on the clock, but rather speeding up the tempo 15 or more seconds per play not substituting, which prevents the defense from substituting as well.

I heard the commentary on LHN about the tempo being Baylor-fast according to the coaches, but it didn’t seem that way in application, which is just fine. I thought the Horns did an excellent job of implementing that and all the players looked comfortable in it.

A (sort of) reborn defense

There is no denying the talent has been there on defense, but for some reason it just wasn’t working last year. I surely didn’t expect Texas to be the Baltimore Ravens in the spring game, but as a whole I thought the defense looked pretty good. The newly-bearded Manny Diaz simplified his scheme (possibly just for the spring game) and everyone looked more assertive and aggressive.

The big takeaway for me was, even when the offense had big plays, they were not the result of missed tackles (except for Kendall Sanders’ touchdown catch). It wasn’t perfect and there is more work to be done, but I liked what I saw.

Energy

Desmond Jackson was the mouthpiece for the defense when the game started and I saw coach Stacy Searels whooping and slapping his guys and lots of hooting and hollering. Dalton Santos body slammed a guy and the entire running back corps met walk-on Gaston Davis with the same passion and intensity after his fourth quarter touchdown run as they do when they meet the starters after a touchdown in the season. This is supposed to be fun, and the Texas Longhorns were having fun, and so were the fans.

Separation

Lots of meaningful moves for the future in the spring game with some guys confirming their place on the field. Let’s break them down:

  • Tyrone Swoopes is the backup quarterback. I know officially it’s Case McCoy, but after watching Swoopes calmly and smoothly drive the second team offense down the field on the first team defense, he’s definitely the No. 2 (Mack Brown has said he’s already ahead of Jalen Overstreet and Connor Brewer). He’s so fluid and so agile you don’t realize he’s 6-foot-6, 245 pounds. I’ll spare the VY comparisons, but he’s special and I fully expect to see him in game one next year if he continues on this path.
  • Jonathan Gray is the starting tailback. Gray looked great on Saturday night to me. He was sudden, quick and hit the holes hard and caught the ball well. I think there is clear separation between Gray and Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. Texas has the best running back trio in the conference, but Gray is a cut above.
  • Bryant Jackson is the No. 3/4 receiver. Daje Johnson was shelved for most of the game (why show anyone what your x-factor is?) and Bryant Jackson had a solid game, tipped ball for an interception aside. His six catches for 27 yards don’t seem like eye-popping numbers, but he’s consistent and understands his role.
  • MJ McFarland is the starting tight end. As I mentioned last week, he’s the best option at the position as Texas uses it in the passing game and he flashed that Saturday night.
  • Sheroid Evans is taking over the backup/second corner spot. He isn’t there completely, but his interception and strong play on Saturday night opened the door for Duke Thomas to pull double duty on offense as well (he looked very good at receiver). Evans has track speed and at 6-feet, 185 pounds is a big corner opposite Carrington Byndom. Look for Thomas to get reps at corner as well, but I think Evans will allow Quandre Diggs to move inside to the slot, like Kenny Vaccaro did last year.

Reclamation

Texas was bad on defense last year, but there were definite signs of life that I just didn’t see in 2012. Such as:

  • Adrian Phillips looking like pre-shoulder injury Adrian Phillips. In 2011 AP was the best defensive back on the field for most of the season, but off-season shoulder surgery robbed him of his confidence in 2012. He took bad angles and used poor technique to protect himself and the result was, well, you saw the result.
  • Mykelle Thompson didn’t have a shoulder injury last year, but he tackled like he did. He’s been far better in the spring and looked a lot better Saturday night. If he keeps that progression up he will hold on to his job this fall.
  • Jordan Hicks’ return. Again, you already know why this is such a big deal.

Stand outs

I thought quite a few guys made great impressions in the spring game and will take terrific momentum into the home stretch of the off-season:

  • Caleb Bluiett. It’s been a foregone conclusion that the four-man end rotation would be Jeffcoat/Reed and Wilson/Davis, but redshirt freshman Caleb Blueitt was terrific. He had two tackles for loss, including a sack, and deflected a pass playing against the first team offense. Fellow end Bryce Cottrell got a lot of attention during spring, but Bluiett was one of the stars of the scrimmage on Saturday.
  • Kendall Sanders. The wide out from Athens is a playmaker similar to Daje and looked terrific, taking a screen pass for a touchdown after picking his way through traffic. That play looked a lot like this one to me.
  • John Harris. Fully healthy from the foot injury that sidelined him in 2011, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior is the perfect wide out/tight end hybrid and I think he’s worked his way into a flex tight end spot like Dan Buckner was in 2009. He led the team with 73 yards receiving on just three catches, showing he has pass-catching abilities as well as blocking abilities.
  • Kennedy Estelle. The 6-foot-7, 300-pound sophomore is making the most out of the opportunity to play with injuries in front of him. I think he’s looked very good and has locked up the backup tackle spot.

Other observations

  • The “one-minute offense” at the end of the first half was bad: a false start, a dropped pass and a turnover ended it. Yuck.
  • Points Nick and Kickoff Nick changed roles, but luckily for us, it’s still Points Nick and Kickoff Nick.
  • The kicking game has to be better, as does the return game.
  • Mason Walters was blowing some people out.
  • Longhorn Network needs to be careful with that parabolic field mic. I thought a few times Mack Brown was going make for some awkward TV.
  • I had no idea backup quarterback Trey Holtz was Lou’s grandson and Skip’s kid.

In conclusion

In conclusion I am sad. Football is officially over until August. But football magazine day is coming soon and I have plenty of time to entertain all of us with “whatever happened to” and “what if” scenarios.

Follow me on Twitter @TreyMcLean or email me.

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