August 7, 2008

My 20 thoughts from Wednesday's practice

First impressions.

That's what was on the line tonight for every single University of Texas football player, as the team took the practice field for the first time tonight in helmets, shoulder pads, shorts - and there was a live audience on hand to boot.

While you never want to make too much out of one practice, you only get one chance to make a first impression and that was what was at stake for players on both sides of the ball. With only two practices scheduled to be open for the public's viewing, all that were on hand were glued to the action from the very get-go.

Here's a look at my top 20 thoughts from Wednesday's open practice session.

1. After all of the off-season talk about the development (or perceived lack thereof) of sophomore quarterback John Chiles, I came away feeling like he was the most impressive performer on the offensive side of the ball tonight. When the team went to 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 work, I thought Chiles needed a few series to catch up to the speed of the game, as he delivered a few passes after the quarterback alarm went off. But, there's one very important thing to remember about each of those passes - they were all on target. As the night went on, Chiles seemed to get better and better and he was the only quarterback to successfully throw the deep intermediate ball in team scrimmage situations. Chiles did a great job all night tonight of distributing the ball to the tight ends (surprise!) and he looked confident and comfortable. Yes, he was working against the No.2 defense, but it was a good first night for him.

2. If you liked the first thought of the night, you're going to love this one. The Longhorn offense looked like they plan on using Chiles just the way he needs to be used. He lined up all over the field tonight and the staff didn't show much from the formations, but the potential is there for them to run zone-reads (from Colt to Chiles), counters, draws, sweeps, reverses, fake reverses and much, much more. Also, the one time they did flank him out wide left at receiver and kept him there, he caught a screen pass and made it look effortless. If Greg Davis keeps adding to this package and developing it, you'll be happy about the offense this year. The small glimpse they showed tonight looked like a version of Arkansas' "Wildcat package" that featured Darren McFadden.

3. Now that we've gotten the player of the day on the offensive side of the ball, it's time to talk about the defense and my defensive MVP for the night - junior linebacker Sergio Kindle. Although he was with the second-team defense for most of the night, Kindle showed that he might stay there for long. In fact, he was running some snaps with the first-team by night's end. So, what did he do? It started with him coming off the edge as a pass rusher on consecutive snaps and recording back-to-back snacks, both times blowing through the running back in pass protection. At one point, Kindle actually put his hand on the ground and was used as a pass rusher off the edge. Of all the things I noticed about Kindle, his knee wasn't one of them. He ran around like his life depended on it and there was a sense of urgency to his pace.

4. Memo to Sergio - Stay healthy. Please. I just want to see what you can do.

5. Next up on the list of people to talk about - defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Who knows what he might do from game to game, but he brought heat from everywhere tonight. The defense stayed in the base 4-3 for almost the entire night, but it wasn't any kind of 4-3 defense I've ever seen at Texas. There was pressure coming from all places and it seemed like the SAM linebacker or strong safety was coming on every play. Muschamp said the defense was going to be multiple and that's about the only word I can use to describe what I watched. Either that or frenetic.

6. Starting quarterback Colt McCoy had a good night, but there wasn't anything that really jumped out at me about his performance. The script on offense seemed to call for the quarterbacks to work the short and intermediate passing game almost exclusively, as there were few balls thrown vertically. The best news about McCoy's night is that he didn't throw a single pick. In fact, none of the quarterbacks threw an interception, which might have been the whole point of focusing on the short stuff for the night.

7. Not much to report on the running backs tonight, although there was a lot of focus on the running game. Frankly, the defense kind of whipped the offense tonight and it wasn't just because there weren't pads on below the waist. Those guys had a different pace about them tonight and it was quicker than the offense's, which directly impacted the success of Vondrell McGee and Foswhitt Whittaker. The only time I really raised my eyebrow over a play by a back tonight came when Whittaker was able to get to the corner on 11-on-11 action. All it took was one bad angle from the safety and it was off to the races.

8. None of the wide receivers did anything tonight that was really noteworthy. I thought sophomore James Kirkendoll had the best night of anyone, but it wasn't like he was setting the world on fire. This just wasn't a night that was geared towards them at all and it looked to be that way by design. If that wasn't the case, then the Texas defensive backs had one of the most dominant nights in the history of UT practices under Mack Brown because there was only one or two completed passes to the wide receivers in team drills beyond 15 yards or so. It just wasn't their night.

9. On the other hand, the Texas tight ends were on fire tonight. Blaine Irby, Josh Marshall, Ian Harris and Peter Ullman all caught multiple passes in seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills and there weren't many drops. In particular, Marshall was a favorite of Chiles and it seemed like they were hooking up on every other play. I'm not sure that I didn't see more passes to the tight end tonight than I have in any practice on any level in my entire life.

10. I didn't get a chance to watch the offensive line up-close much tonight because I was handling the play-by-play on the site, but they were under siege all night long by Muschamp's defense and they held up really well for the most part, especially considering that the defense had the advantage with the offense line limited in the way they can go after the defensive linemen (with the entire team in shorts). While the defense is selling out to win on every play, the offensive linemen are trying to keep from making a block that's going to hurt and unprotected opponent. Adam Ulatoski had a nice night working against Brian Orakpo and Kyle Hix looked good as well on the occasions I focused on them.

11. Sophomore Sam Acho made a couple of big plays tonight that brought howls from his defensive teammates and that kind of allowed him to separate from the rest of the guys at this position in my opinion. He's so quick off the edge and he's an underrated defender against the run. Senior Brian Orakpo also had a sack (beating Ulatoski) in 11-on-11 scrimmage work. I don't really recall seeing Henry Melton or Eddie Jones much tonight in terms of plays off the edge, but every end on the roster played the run very well tonight.

12. The interior of the Texas defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage tonight and there was some serious contact going on out there in the trenches. Roy Miller, Lamarr Houston and the rest of the defensive tackles just clogged everything up tonight. I have a feeling the offensive guys will be licking their chops to get full pads on after tonight.

13. If Kindle wasn't the star of the night on defense, I'd probably be talking about redshirt freshman Keenan Robinson, who started the night with the first-team defense at SAM linebacker and quickly made his presence known with a sack off the edge and he was involved in several other stops against the run. It seemed like a bit of a breakout performance for me, but then Kindle got on the field and just played like a smoking gun. The talent there is strong, strong, strong…

14. Jordan Shipley was suited up, but he didn't practice much and he seemed to be favoring his right leg. Cross your fingers.

15. Earl Thomas just cannot help himself when he's on the field. He has to make contact… he just has to. He put a number of guys on the ground tonight and was active on almost every play. He did get beat by Marshall on a deep crossing route in 11-on-11, but his overall night was impressive.

16. There weren't a lot of passes thrown into the heart of the secondary, so there's not a lot to report in terms of plays in coverage. If you're asking me to pick a guy from the pack, redshirt freshman Ben Wells is my guy. He's just an explosive athlete and he came on the blitz once and looked like a flash bulb.

17. Jared Norton was the only other linebacker on the field that really caught my eye tonight. Rashad Bobino and Roddrick Muckelroy did some nice things, but Norton had a moment in 11-on-11 when he came through the line and stopped just shy of hitting McGee into next week, peeling off just in time, but it didn't stop a crowd of about 500 from giving a loud, "Ooooooh."

18. My true freshman of the night? It's a tie between cornerback Aaron Williams, who looked natural and confident on the field, and Kheeston Randall, who had a sack to end practice.

19. The third cornerback is pretty clearly third-year sophomore Chykie Brown, who was nearly flawless tonight in his coverage. Fellow second-team corner Curtis Brown worked with the freshmen in the first two days (while Chykie was with the veterans) of workouts and he seemed like he was still trying to find his way at times. He's very talented, but he was inconsistent tonight and Duane Akina let him know about it.

20. I know Mack Brown didn't like it, but I kind of liked seeing Tray Allen throw a couple of haymakers at Acho after a spirited rep during team scrimmage work. Was it stupid? Without question. That being said, it kind symbolized what I thought was a high-energy, intense first workout with shells on.


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