Just over a year ago Mack Brown turned this program upside down, shook it clean, and started over. We have seen the effects of the coaching overhaul on the field, in the conditioning program, in the playbooks, and on gameday. The first open practice under the new staff was the most clear evidence I have seen to date of how much the culture of this team has truly been changed. I have been attending Texas football practices for about a decade and this was the most physical practice I’ve ever seen. Moreover it was clear that today was nothing special… this team is going to be tough because it’s part of their routine.
This isn’t talk about getting tougher or reducing turnovers or improving the running game. This is ones versus ones the entire practice. This is having somebody trying to swat the ball out of the quarterback and running backs grasps in every single individual drill. This is an offense and defense that are truly competing with each other every snap and players fighting for a spot on the field.
A 2012 Texas Longhorn Football practice is rep intensive and highly organized. Throughout practice intensity will build from period to period and then there will be a short break and everyone refocuses. There is no hiding in a practice like this. If you have an endurance issue or strength issue or footwork issue or effort issue it’s going to be plain as day to your coach and your teammates.
I write all this not to shine light up your ass. I write it because I have been to so many practices and despite knowing the fact that things have changed and somewhat expecting a radically different experience… the contrast was a shock to my system. There is simply no doubt in my mind that this team will progress physically and mentally a great deal this Spring. The way practice is run now, they won’t be able to avoid it. That’s far more important and any of the particular battles or performances of today’s practice.
I arrived just before warm-ups and the team was doing pass protection scheme work at three quarters speed. The team worked in two groupings back to back with 1v1s going toward one end zone and 2v2s going toward the other. Stacy Searels ran the drill for the 1s and spent almost the entire time working with the tight ends and h-backs. You will notice Searels name come up a lot in this report. This is in some part because I have a hard time not focusing on the offensive line. However, the more direct reason is that Stacy Searels sets the tone of the practice. He is vocal, he’s focused, and it’s obvious that he is respected. Also every time someone fucks up, Stacy throws his hat. If you know nothing about the offensive line, you'll still be able to watch for the flying Searels cap of doom. If you get a chance to watch tomorrow’s practice, watch the players body language. They are watching Searels to see what he’s going to say and who he’s going to say it to. It’s a pretty simple recipe: if you want your offensive line to set the tone for your team, you need a coach who can demonstrate how to do so. If I wasn't already a fan of Stacy's for the progress he made with our line last season, he would have definitely made a believer out of me today.
After the pass pro work, the team went through warm-ups and stretches. We’ll skip the details along with eye ball tests… because the eye ball tests don’t mean shit when practice forces every player to perform. So on to unit drills.
The defensive ends and tackles headed to the north end zone. Looked like the ends were working on two handed punches and coming out of their stances while the tackles were working on taking on an inside blocker and then taking on combo blocks. I only caught a few reps of both units. Diaz/Akina worked on footwork/agility drills with linebackers/defensive backs. The Quarterbacks warmed up first with the running backs where they worked on ball security. Then combined with the wide receivers and tight ends to work on routes.
If you’ve seen clips from practice you know that Major Applewhite likes to use a pole with a padded glove on the end of it to try to punch the ball out to emphasize ball security. What became obvious to me today is that Major plays this role in pretty much every drill he can short of scrimmage situations. Is ball security important to this staff? The reps don’t lie… if you don’t want turnovers make it someone’s full time job. Applewhite doesn’t seem to mind the work.
Anyhow, my main focus was on the offensive line during this period. You’re shocked, I can tell. Searels starts his unit off by working on individual blocks. Today it looked like they were working on footwork for inside and outside zone. Stacy is fast paced and uncompromising with his guys. He lines up directly behind them and his eyes are completely focused on footwork. If he doesn’t like their first step, he corrects and re reps them to get it right. After running through individual footwork they switched to two man combos in the zone game. The focus here was on giving the right amount of help and running the track to the second level. The guys were working on ripping through the defender on outside zone and driving the defender on inside zone.
Hopkins and Cochran shined in this portion of the drill. Hopkins because he’s very effective and keeping his arms tight and hitting his target square. Cochran because he’s very smooth at transitioning from his initial contact up to the second level. Some players have a hard time taking the right lane to the second level in zone blocking (often called running the track) but Cochran is a natural. Espinosa was getting the most attention from Searels. Searels made him double rep several times to correct his first steps in inside and outside zone when he was the covered lineman in the 2 man combos.
The other linemen who really popped in the drill work were Sedrick Flowers and Camrhon Hughes (for opposite reasons). Flowers has a squat build and extremely quick feet: imagine a 315 lb turtle with duck feet waddling at you full speed. Flowers was one of the biggest surprises of the practice for me… he plays low and square and he’s extremely powerful through contact. I expect him to play considerably after watching him today. Camrhon Hughes needs a redshirt and I hope we get it to him because he needs a year just to get his footwork to settle in and condition for the college level. He’s long, raw, and his footwork is a sloppy mess. But he came to the right place to develop into a player.
After individual drills the team lined up for the best part of the whole practice. At the 50 yard line 10 lanes are created for 1 on 1 matchups. The rules are simple: physically dominate your opponent in any way that you can… but most importantly, win at all costs.
Searels starts each battle and the entire team is watching each 1 on 1. Pride is definitely on the line. The linemen line up in their stances 2 yards apart whereas all non linemen start off in a clutch with each other. The drill began with Cochran and Reed and Cochran edged out that battle. This was followed by Mason Walters versus Desmond Jackson in what was clearly a competition for baddest mother fucker on the field. Jackson got the better of Mason but also got a hand up in his face in the first match up and Searels was pissed and made them start over. Cochran and Reed went at it again and then D. Jackson and Walters lined up for round two. When Searels lets them go, Jackson exploded out low and Walters had to crouch and adjust to get square on him and Jackson drove Walters into his heals and then climbed up to dominate the contact in a decisive victory. The entire team erupted and Walters tore off his helmet in rage. In other words… it was awesome. Other memorable battles were Bergeron getting manhandled by Edmond and Mike Davis driving a defensive back (think it was Duke Thomas) 15 yards down the field and to the ground. But the important thing wasn’t necessarily the individual battles… it was the unquestioned commitment to violence that every single battle reinforced. Texas will no longer harbor soft players.
Following this the team worked on the running game on both halves of the field 1v1s and 2v2s at the same time. The defensive was sitting primarily in a 4-3 even front and the offense was practicing inside zone, outside zone, power, and pin n pull. The 1s defense won this portion of practice fairly decisively. In particular the first team defensive tackles (Desmond Jackson and Ashton Dorsey) really shined here. They would actually switch up which one of them was playing the 3 tech and which one was playing the 1 tech and both of them were extremely disruptive as 3 techs. Jordan Hicks also single handedly blew up a pin n pull play as the force man on the strong side before the blockers could turn the corner. The few spots the offense found were the result of the running backs slowing down and finding a cut back. The thing I did really like from the offensive line here was that they was no one struggling to find work but they did lose a few individual battles.
Then the team progressed into passing work in the hurry up offense. David Ash definitely looked over amped in the first series of 1v1s. His passes were sailing on him a little bit. Then on the second and third series he settled in and started being a lot more effective. The biggest change I saw in his game today was the ability to take his drop and scan then step up into his protection and either find a lane to scramble or make a late pass. The biggest play of the day from him was in the scrimmage work (which actually came in a later period). The defense brought two wide blitzers on the strong side right before the snap of the ball (very similar to the overload pressure look that Oklahoma pantsed us with repeatedly). Cochran and the back worked together to make the blitzers take an outside path while the rest of the protection slid left. David took the shotgun snap, looked to his hot route, then stepped up into the lane created by the slide protection and escaped right behind the blitzers and hit Mike Davis in the flat for about a 7 yard gain. He had other throws for more yardage, a tough 3rd down conversion and he threw into tighter windows but that was a play that represented tangible progress to me.
One on One's
After the first full team period, the team went back to 1-on-1’s. The offensive and defensive linemen on the south half and the wide receivers and defensive backs on the north half. Again, I didn’t catch much that happened on the north end. What I did get to watch was some great pass protection/rush battles between Trey Hopkins and Ashton Dorsey along with Reggie Wilson and Donald Hawkins. In Hawkins we definitely have a left tackle, particularly in pass pro. His first step is great and then he is patient and absorbs contact well. He didn’t dominate many blocks today, but he is difficult to beat and he plays with a comfort level on the outside that we don’t have on the team right now. Good get.
Oh. And then there’s Brandon Moore. Texas picked up a very interesting, if raw, talent in Moore. No bullshit, Brandon Moore is easily the strongest player that has been in a Texas uniform since Mike Williams (the offensive tackle) was drafted. But he is a diesel engine with a small gas tank. Back to back snaps and Moore is running on empty, hands on hips until he gets a chance to rest. When he is fresh he will drive his target into the backfield at will… and I mean there isn’t a player on our roster who can stop him. He stood up a combo from Flowers and Porter on an inside zone play with ease while a linebacker waltzed into the backfield untouched. When he runs out of gas, Moore just becomes a hard to move object and a liability on outside runs and screens. Contrast that with a rested Moore that runs down a quarterback scramble to the opposite side of the field (probably one of his best plays of the day). Did I mention that he has no idea how to use his arms? Basically he bandies them about randomly while he rams his body forward directly at his target (somewhat similar to a flying fisted windmill technique I used as a 6 year old to strike fear in my cackling older sister). He had a hilarious one on one with Trey Hopkins where Trey got both arms inside and one up in the armpit of Moore. Moore proceeds to walk him straight back for about 5 yards his arms flailing wildly the whole way. I digress. Right now, Moore is a devastating presence in small doses. If he makes no progress in conditioning from now to the fall I think his role will be as a pocket collapser on 3rd and longs. If Bennie Wylie can make a pet out of him and he improves his technique then we end up with a game changer for the defense next season. Another good get by this staff.
After one on ones the team went back into full scrimmage mode, with two drives from each offense. Desmond Jackson was the most dominant presence on the field in the 1v1s and he gave a two hour clinic on pad level and motor today. If there was an MVP of the practice, it probably goes to him. Brandon Moore also busted into the backfield and swatted down a pass from David Ash. Texas went to a 2x2 gun look on 3rd downs today that featured two flexed tight ends. Darius Terrell actually did a some really nice things from that look. He made a nice 3rd down catch on one drive and got the better of a collision with Diggs. He was a guy I thought flashed a few times last year so if he could take a step up this offseason, that’d be huge for us.
Back to Position Drills
At the end of practice the team broke back into position drills and repped fundamentals. Again, the intent is clear and the priority is tangible in every phase of the practice. Start and finish with the tools to get the most out of your raw skills.
There were a lot of eyes at practice today and I’m sure many of them saw things I didn’t. Let me know if you have any questions I might be able to answer but generally speaking if I didn’t mention it, I didn’t notice it or I didn’t think it was important.