August 7, 2008

UT players take steps forward and backwards

One of the reasons why you should never make too much out of any single practice session, especially the first session of the year is there's always another workout session around the corner to blow up everything you thought you knew. As the Texas Longhorns returned for their second open workout of the 2008 training camp, some of the standout performers from Wednesday night took a step backwards, while other players continued to send statements that their time has arrived.

Here's a look at my top 20 thoughts from Thursday's practice.

1. There are so many places that we could start tonight, but let's start with the topic that seemed to be dominating conversations on the sidelines - sophomore quarterback John Chiles. After turning in a mostly impressive first night, the second-year player showed tonight that he still has a ways to go before he fully realizes his potential. Although he was often late with his throws last night, he was very accurate. That wasn't the case tonight, as he misfired on a number of throws and seemed to struggle with his footwork, which was probably the root of a lot of his problems. Chiles' biggest challenge in this camp is to turn in consistent play and that didn't happen tonight, at least not in the passing game. On the other hand, Chiles continues to show flashes in the running game, as he ran a few option keepers to perfection and did a good job of reacting quickly to a couple of blitzes by immediately making the decision to scramble up the field for what turned out to be big gains. Overall, it was a very uneven night for Chiles, who didn't line up in the backfield with Colt McCoy as much as he did the previous night.

2. Speaking of McCoy, he had another steady night with the first-team group. Unlike the previous evening, McCoy worked the entire field and was able to connect with a host of different receivers for big yardage. The biggest hook-up of the night came in seven-on-seven action when he teamed up with Quan Cosby, who made a diving catch for a long touchdown reception. The most important thing to note about McCoy is he seems to be making quick decisions and he's not turning the ball over (although Rashad Bobino nearly intercepted him). I've said for months that McCoy has to cut his 2007 turnover number in half and he's taking care of the ball right now and his bad decisions have been limited.

3. I'm ready to buy stock in sophomore defensive end Sam Acho. It doesn't matter who he lines up against or whether he's called to pass-rush or break up a reverse, he's living in the offensive backfield and everyone is taking notice. Senior defensive end Henry Melton has been solid, but he's not going to be able to hold off this kid forever if he keeps dominating workouts.

4. Remember when I said that the offensive line would likely want to impose their will on the defense once the pads come on for good later in the week, especially after watching the defense steal their lunch money last night. Well, they didn't wait until later in the week because the entire group came out with an attitude tonight and they had quite a bit more success in the process. On several occasions the interior of the offensive line opened up huge holes that sprung running backs Vondrell McGee and Foswhitt Whitaker for long runs.

5. Speaking of the middle of that offensive line, sophomore Michael Huey needs to be on the field and I don't really care who has to be taken off to get him on. Every time he's on the field it seems as if the offensive line surges in a way that it doesn't without him. He played on both sides of the line tonight and did a strong job all night. It's just my opinion, but this kid will probably need to be a full-time player by the time conference plays rolls around.

6. Memo to Mack Brown - remember your words at the opening press conference on Sunday. Hell, write them down on the palm of your hand if you need to.

"We're going to play the best players," Brown responded about his reputation for being hesitant with inserting young players into the line-up.

Just saying…

7. You're probably wondering why I'm seven thoughts into this and haven't mentioned Sergio Kindle's name yet. Well, no worries because Kindle had another strong night, although he didn't dominate like he did at times on Wednesday night. When he gets going up the field, he's hell on wheels, but he looks like he's still struggling in space and his knee issues probably have a little (or a lot) to do with that. It's going to be interesting to see how Will Muschamp handles his playing time this season because Kindle is coming off the field when the first-team nickel package comes in, but he's such a potential force as an edge player that Muschamp is going to have to create a line-up that includes Kindle because there's not another player on the roster like him. Of course, he can't simply blitz like a wildman on every play from the SAM linebacker spot because the offense took advantage of the defense on a couple of occasions by slipping a draw play past them for big gains.

8. Sophomore cornerback Curtis Brown had a much better night tonight and I'm not sure that this wasn't one of the best nights of his young career. In addition to a very impressive interception off of Chiles, Brown played a solid brand of football tonight. He didn't have a lot of passes come his way, but he also didn't have as many of the mental breakdowns that he had the previous night. In fact, I didn't see Brown out of position a single time tonight. That's not to say he had a perfect night, but I didn't see anything glaringly wrong and that wasn't the case last night.

9. As far as the rest of the defensive backfield is concerned, Earl Thomas had another good night and he continues to be around the ball on almost every play. The staff gave Christian Scott and Ben Wells more time together with the first team tonight and they held up well. Both players made nice plays, but I wouldn't say that anyone took a step forward past the flock. True freshman Blake Gideon and redshirt junior Ishie Oduegwu both saw a lot of action tonight as well, but neither really caught my eye. If I'm ranking the safeties in order, here's how they'd look: Thomas, Wells, Scott, Gideon and Oduegwu.

10. I can't say one negative thing about Ryan Palmer, Deon Beasley and Chykie Brown. In my opinion, they are all playing light's out football and the combination of Beasley and Brown made a pair of big hits tonight, with Beasley's big hit on Chris Ogbonnaya causing a fumble to the delight of his defensive teammates.

11. Freshman offensive lineman David Snow is playing a lot with the second-team offensive line and I wouldn't be surprised if he surges past redshirt sophomore Buck Burnette at some point this season. I'm still not convinced that Burnette is 100% back from his concussion issues from last year. There was a time when he really seemed like an up and comer at center and it just seems as if his progress as a player has stalled a bit.

12. You guys aren't going to recognize this defense at all under Muschamp. He's got linebackers running twists with defensive linemen, multiple defensive fronts from play to play and you can never predict where the pressure is coming from, at least to my naked eye. Everything about that side of the ball is different and the players are playing with a lot of bravado.

13. Sophomore defensive end Eddie Jones had a good night tonight and was much more active than on Wednesday, as he finished with a pair of sacks on Chiles during team drills. He seemed much more comfortable than he was last night.

14. When I look at Kyle Hix and Huey on the right side of that offensive line, I'm looking at potentially the best duo of young linemen in Mack Brown's tenure at Texas. Those guys look like future NFL players.

15. I'm still not sure about the left side of the line with Adam Ulatoski and Charlie Tanner. As I've watched Ulatoski these last two nights, I keep getting the feeling that he's better suited for the right side of the line. If those are going to be the two guys on that side of the ball, they need to start asserting themselves more.

16. Cody Johnson had a very good night. The redshirt freshman had a couple of big plays in the passing game and he nearly caused a five-car pile-up on the lower deck on I-35 with his collision with Oduegwu along the far right sideline.

17. Best news of the night? I'll vote for the return of fifth-year senior wide receiver Jordan Shipley, who made a number of nice plays in the passing game tonight. If his right hamstring was bothering him last night, you wouldn't have known it today.

18. James Kirkendoll is leading Brandon Collins for the No.4 receiver spot and Malcolm Williams is the runaway leader at flanker. Williams made a leaping, extending catch in 11-on-11 action today that caused a few jaws to drop. He's going to be a difference maker at some point.

19. I don't think there's any need to concern yourself with McGee and Whittaker. Those kids are going to be very good, right away.

20. Finally, the tight ends were not nearly as much of a factor tonight as they were last night and there were a few drops, but the group still looks better as a whole than I would have expected. Sophomore Josh Marshall has made some definite progress.


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