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Texas Longhorns Football Practice Report, August 10th - Hicks, Hopkins edition

Our best OL and our most valuable defender hold forth.

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Erich Schlegel

The first week of preseason practice has concluded.  And Desmond Harrison is still wearing a track suit.  Furk.

Let's talk about the players that are eligible.

Jordan Hicks may not be the best defender on the Texas D (though he's in the Top Two), but he's indisputably the most valuable.  Not only for his ability to set the front 7 properly, but because he's the prototype LB for facing the modern spread offense who can defend the run, tackle in space (to the wide side, no less), blitz, and lock down the outer flats that Big 12 offenses feast on unmercifully.

If you're not praying for his daily health, you're failing Longhorn Nation. caught up with the junior:

The defense is doing a great job running with the offense. The offense is doing a good job getting back on the ball and attacking us. I think this is preparing us well for the Big 12 Conference. The offense is doing a great job, especially with the up-tempo. Defensive-wise, we have to just continue to attack them and learn what they're doing because the Big 12 is doing the exact same thing.  So if we can get them down, we are going against the best athletes in the country, then we can attack the Big 12.

The value of seeing first team reps running Hurry-Up No Huddle is invaluable.  Scout teams are nice and all, but they can't bring the heat that the defenders need to feel series to series.  Their decision-making and familiarity is honed considerably.

And what to expect of the much-maligned LB group in 2013?

We know exactly what the perception is of us. We were a weak link last year. But we have taken that head on. The linebackers have gained a sense of swag. We've got a little chip on our shoulders, and we're coming. We're attacking right now.  We're physical this year. We're a lot more physical, smarter, know where to go, and we'll come down and hit you. That's the biggest difference I've seen is we're not afraid to come hit you at all.

Honest assessment is the first step towards change.  This answer rings true on several levels.

First, we're going to be starting different guys.  The core of the 2013 LB corps is Hicks and Jinkens - both in base defense and nickel (where we'll spend a significant portion of snaps).  Last year, for most of the year, it was Edmond and Thompson.  Both were young, not well-suited to battling the spread, and proved a tad slow on the uptake.

Second, young players do get better.  The pervasive internet fan notion that young players who struggle MUST SUCK FOREVER is probably the most irritating notion that I constantly read out there.  Players rarely max out at age 19.

Third, we know have some legitimate depth and competition.

Now for one of my favorite dudes, and our best OL, the reliable, thoughtful, and always enjoyable Trey Hopkins.  I don't love him at Acho Brother levels yet (which, let's face it, is embarrassing for all parties) but he's up there...

On playing center:

It's been great at center. They've been teaching me. I already know a lot about defenses. At offensive line, there's really not that much difference from position to position because everyone needs to know what each other is doing so the o-line can be successful. (Assistant head coach/offensive line) Coach Searels makes it clear every day to each one of us that he's going to put the five best linemen out there. If that means everyone has to flip positions, or run somebody else in, or if somebody goes down and you have to step up to a position that's new to you, that's what has to happen. I think all of us are intelligent enough and know enough about the offense. I'm pretty comfortable at center because it's not a very big adjustment from guard. The biggest thing at center is just getting the snap and I've been working on that a lot. That's that only big difference really besides being a little bit ahead of the other lineman. If they called me in to play center in a game right now then I would have to play at center and I would be ready for that. I played a game in high school at center. Only a couple of snaps but I did well.  Whenever your number is called that's when you have to perform.

OK, a lot to digest there.  The Hopkins center work can be interpreted in a number of ways.  And all of these things may be true at once.  Searels has cards to play and he's looking for the best combination.

  1. The coaches are phasing out Espinosa altogether.  This is an upgrade move.
  2. Hopkins is our true #2 at center, not Garrett Porter.  This is a depth move.
  3. This is an intricate multi-position arbitrage involving Desmond Harrison and Curtis Riser at OG.  There's like, more stuff that has to come light, man.  Certain information, you know?
  4. Searels plans to deal with an injury anywhere on the OL by using Hopkins as his utility caulking instrument, while also looking to identify his best 6th and 7th man off of the bench.
My hunch is that it's an intricate combination of all of the above.  All of these things can be simultaneously true, as each is contingent on a number of other factors.  How's that for an ass-covering?  My point is - don't assume that the coaches are simply trying bench Espinosa.
By the way, Stacy Searels is doing a hell of a job in this specific area and this is precisely what I want out of a Texas position coach.
Texas is a place that's naturally prone to complacency - read about Texas pre-Royal and it's absolutely hilarious stuff.  Gorgeous co-eds were routinely on the practice field blowing kisses and trading glances and players would recline in the grass propped up on their helmets between plays.  Darrell Royal was a rather rude awakening for those show ponies.
Threatened people fight and find focus in the now.  Secure people nap.