January 4, 2009

Fresh faces making an impression on coaches

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. - Bowl practice means a chance to observe some of the young players who will be counted on in 2009. We've got a rundown of some of the fresh faces who are making an impact in bowl practices and will be expected to continue momentum into the spring.

These are names Mack Brown gave me when I asked him today for some of the non-starters who have been making plays in the scrimmages among the young players in bowl practice.

QB - John Chiles

Mack Brown said Chiles has been a different person since telling coaches he only wants to play quarterback and has no interest in working at receiver or running back.

"John is fully committed to being a quarterback, has really worked hard and is getting better every day," Brown said. "He will not be playing other positions and will focus solely on being a quarterback. He's getting good reps in practice and putting in extra time afterwards. He's really improved since midseason.

"Trying to deal with playing two or three different positions in the first half of the year set him back a little. Now he's passing the ball with much more accuracy and we're really excited about his future as a quarterback."

RB - Tre Newton

The son of former Cowboys' offensive lineman Nate Newton has been wowing teammates and coaches in bowl practice and could someone to keep an eye on as the running back race sorts itself out in the spring and next season. He's hitting holes hard, asking all the right questions and showing he can make people miss. With Chris Ogbonnaya moving on, Newton will be competing with Vondrell McGee, Foswhitt Whittaker and Jeremy Hills for carries.

WR - DeSean Hales

In addition to wowing teammates in practices, Hales really intrigues Brown because of his slippery speed despite his smallish stature (5-11, 175). If D.J. Monroe ends up leaving the team because of academic difficulties, Hales will be even more of a guy to consider at receiver and on special teams. This kid has electric cut ability.

WR - Brandon Collins

Brandon was a guy pointed out as a star in practices lately by several teammates, including Quan Cosby. I asked Cosby to give me the word he comes up with when he hears Collins' name, and Cosby said, "Swagger." Coaches have told Collins if he'll commit to the weight room this offseason, they feel like the sky's the limit for him.

OT - Luke Poehlman

The 6-7, 257-pound freshman from Brenham has shown the toughness to run block and the athletic ability to block down and get to the second level in the zone blocking scheme. Poehlman may represent the future in more ways than one. Texas has talked about trying to recruit offensive linemen who are sub-300 pounds so they don't end up with behemoths who can't run block in the zone scheme.

DT - Kheeston Randall

Will Muschamp praised Randall the other day, talking about how Randall is a big body with incredible flexibility and athleticism. Randall will be a key part of the tackle rotation next season as Roy Miller and Aaron Lewis move on. Look for Randall and Lamar Houston to start at tackle next season as Ben Alexander is more suited to defend a power running game and lacks the athletic ability to defend most spread teams.

DT - Michael Wilcoxon

Because defensive tackle could be an area that lacks depth and experience next season, the fact Mack Brown mentioned Wilcoxon to me as a guy coaches have been happy with is a big plus for the Longhorns. When Texas has been at it's best defensively, they've had three and four defensive tackles they could rotate. Having Houston, Randall and Wilcoxon be productive will be a key for UT.

LB - Ryan Roberson

Roberson has been doing a little bit of everything in bowl practices, but Mack Brown pointed him out as a guy who has made some positive impressions on the coaches. Roberson was in charge of simulating Beanie Wells on the scout team offense, and has made some big hits in the scrimmages among young players at linebacker at the end of practice. I mentioned Will Muschamp is really excited about Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho at linebacker, meaning the depth in the back seven next season should be outstanding.

CB - Aaron Williams

Sergio Kindle said Aaron Williams is simply blowing up in Fiesta Bowl practices. It's looking like Chykie Brown and Curtis Brown will probably be the top two corners going into the spring. But Aaron Williams is right on their heels and appears to be ahead of Deon Beasley as the nickel corner. "Aaron Williams is just a flat-out baller," Kindle said. "He's just always around the ball. Playmaker."

"The work we've put in with the younger guys scrimmaging at the end of practice every day during bowl preparation has been invaluable," Mack Brown said. "We've been really pleased with what we've seen and are looking forward to the competition in the spring. Several young guys have stood out and we expect that will carry over well.

"We're losing several great senior leaders on both sides of the ball so there will be a lot of work to do and need several young guys to step up in the off-season but we have some strong leaders coming back to keep things going"

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