Saturday’s Longhorn practice wasn’t at the fever pitch that I witnessed on Friday. The layout of practice was very similar with slightly more of the time devoted to 11-on-11 work. The second open practice also featured a scrimmage period where the defense opened things up a little bit.
The team worked on protections again today before the warm-up period. Barrett Mathews was working with the first team line as he did for much of the practice (although there was quite a bit of rotation).
After warm-ups I followed the linebackers through there position drills. In the first few periods the defense rotates between three stations: catching balls, causing and scooping fumbles, and a tip drills. Every single defender gets a couple reps at every skill. Again, you don’t have to ask what’s important to this staff because you can see it.
During the next period the linebackers worked on ripping out of the clutch of a defender and closing on the ball. About 8 pads were used on the ground to force the linebacker’s footwork as they worked laterally toward the ball carrier. Diaz’s main focus was making sure the rip was one clean motion and the beginning of the drill, then making sure the defenders were staying square through contact at the end. Jordan Hicks fluidity as an athlete was evident in this drill. As the linebackers finish the pads and transition into running downhill to the ball carrier, the more rounded their path, the less precise their footwork. If you watch the linebackers through any drill, your eyes will naturally gravitate toward Steve Edmond (gravity may actually be involved in that phenomenon). One thing I’ve noted about Edmond is that he moves with an almost constant forward hunch, so when he makes contact his shoulders and head crunches down into them at the same time that his arms cradle upwards. Even at only thud level, the effect causes a big immediate snap back of the shoulder pads and head. Today was the second practice in a row where Edmond met a ball carrier right as they were trying to turn upfield on an off tackle run during 11-on-11 work.
After the rip and close drill, the linebackers worked on a coverage drill where the backer gives an initial bump to knock the receiver off their route and then trail the route. The goal of the drill appeared to be to work on a quick transition between the forward strike to the trailing footwork. Kendall Thompson and Jordan Hicks looked the most polished in this drill. Whereas most of the linebackers had to close the gap on the receiver following their bump, Thompson and Hicks were able to reverse course through the contact and stay right on the receiver’s back hip.
11 on 11s
Following position drills, the team went into 11-on-11 work for a few periods. On the very first play of 11-on-11 work, Kenny Vaccaro broke on Malcolm Brown in the near flat and lit him up causing him to fumble the ball. This was followed a few plays later by a great pop from Steve Edmond. I thought we were going to be in for a real treat because it looked like the team was going to go full tackling for the practice but then Akina told the defenders they were staying up this practice. The defense seemed nonplussed. Me too.
David Ash looked for comfortable for the entire practice to me today. Whereas yesterday it took him a few series in the full team work to settle in, today he was moving well with the pocket from the start. Today he again made several good plays because he stepped up into the gap created by a protection and that gave him a running lane or passing window. The offense was definitely called to focus on working the seams. Ash had about 4 completions on inside breaking routes where he stepped into a throw and tagged a receiver right as they were coming out of their stem. The best of the day in my opinion was again to Mike Davis on a post route… almost a carbon copy of the timing I saw between them on a play in Friday’s practice. All of that said, I think it’s really important to note that 11-on-11 work is not the same as game or even a real scrimmage. David very rarely had to look off his initial read and the defense is just playing from a base front with different coverages from play to play. In other words, there wasn't a lot of unscheduled processing taking place post snap here, just working on executing the offensive play.
The other takeaway from 11-on-11 work was that the first team offense had quite a few successful plays in the running game and passing game in situational work. The offense focused on slower developing runs today with the outside zone, pin n pull, and draw play all showing up repeatedly and the key to success was patience from the running backs to let the linemen work their blocks and look for a lane behind them instead of trying to get outside. My favorite play of the day was a pin n pull play where Darius Terrell sealed Reggie Wilson and both pullers and the running back had a ton of real estate to work with. A few plays later they tried to come back at Wilson on the other side with the same play and he rode M.J. McFarland’s block right out toward the sideline and sabotaged the play.
The pecking order at tight end looks like it would go D.J. Grant, Barrett Mathews, Darius Terrell right now and they are trying to figure out where McFarland fits in, so he’s mixing in a lot. As I mentioned yesterday, Terrell might be the one to watch here… he gives you some of the same athleticism that Grant gives you and I have been more impressed with him as a blocker thus far. McFarland is a long athlete and in watching him block he sometimes struggles to grab and maintain leverage. In fact, I would say that’s a theme that carried over from the season for me. In watching practice, Chambers is the only coach who worked with tight ends on blocking and he works on chips and base blocks using a pad. One thing to note about Searels is that he doesn’t use blocking pads… the linemen are striking another offensive lineman on every drill and I personally think that the feel of the block in repetition is key in making the block commit to muscle memory the right way. I definitely found myself wondering if there would be a way to get the tight ends grouped with the linemen for part of their practice routine so that they could get some instruction from Searels.
Once the team finished with 11-on-11 work, they went at it with pass rush and 1-on-1 passing drills. The linemen did two rounds of 1-on-1 work then worked on 2-on-2 and 3-on-2 combos. Alex Okafor played a full practice today and he really shined in this drill. He and Desmond Jackson worked Ashcraft and Poehlmann on a twist. Dominic Espinosa stonewalled Ashton Dorsey 1-on-1 in one of the most decisive victories of the drill. Generally speaking, when the offense started working in combos, there defensers had a hard time getting to quarterback cone but 1-on-1 the defenders won the majority of the battles.
Practice ended with a longer scimmage period. Alex Okafor made his presence known with free run at the Quarterback and easy whistled sack. The defense definitely opened up the pressure looks during the period more than they had at any point on Friday. Despite that, I would say that the first team offense got the better of the exchange with good completions from Ash to the seams again. The were several plays where Ash's movement in the pocket and the protection gave him good time to find a target. The play of the scrimmage was a great elevating catch by M.J. McFarland near the sideline between two defenders.
I left practice still feeling encouraged about the potential of this team. The two days of practice served to reinforce the notion that Texas is becoming the type of program that I had always wished I was pulling for. Great things are coming for these coaches and players and they will have earned every one of them. Let me know if you have any questions, I primarily watched the tight ends and linebacker today.
You can also check out what Wescott thought over on BON.