March 21, 2011

10 stories to watch in second half of spring football

Here are 10 stories to watch in the second half of spring football.

10. Demarco Cobbs starting to make an impact at OLB.

The word I keep getting is that Demarco Cobbs has found a home at Texas - and it's chasing the ball sideline to sideline. Sergio Kindle was a heck of a running back in high school - like Cobbs - and Kindle's move to linebacker at Texas turned out pretty well. Cobbs' progress comes at the right time, considering Tevin Jackson is a year late arriving on campus and Aaron Benson still appears to be figuring things out.

9. Can Quandre Diggs make up significant ground as an early enrollee freshman CB?

Diggs is definitely a freshman to watch. He's an early enrollee at a position of need. And we know he's a guy who will put in extra effort to give everything to his team (including calling fellow recruits during Mack Brown's multiple coaching searches to tell the commitments in the 2011 freshman class to sit tight and keep the faith.) Aaron Williams got on the field as a freshman in the nickel and on special teams. Can Diggs get on the field at corner. Coaches can use the depth.

8. David Snow and Mason Walters shining early on the interior of the offensive line.

Snow has been playing with a big sense of urgency, and that's a good sign because Garrett Porter and Dominic Espinosa (when healthy) are capable challengers to the center position. Walters is lighting fires under people and wants a lot of improvement up front from last year. The more leadership this group can provide the better. Stacy Searels is looking for answers. Snow and Walters appear to be trying to impress the new boss.

7. Alex Okafor moving from DT back to DE

Two things going on here. Okafor is a big body that can hold up at the point of attack on the left side of the line in Manny Diaz's scheme. But you don't move Okafor from DT back to DE if you're not at least seeing some progress from the guys lining up at DT. Right now, it looks like Kheeston Randall, Ashton Dorsey and Calvin Howell are showing enough that coaches felt comfortable moving Okafor back outside.

6. The 2010 recruiting class of receivers - Mike Davis, Darius White, John Harris and Chris Jones - making a move.

With Marquise Goodwin and Malcolm Williams not taking part full-time in spring drills, there is a lot of opportunity. And Davis, White, Harris and Jones appear to be making the most of it - as well as DeSean Hales. Light bulbs appear to be turning on all over the receiving corps, which is good news after last season's underperformance. Lots of new offense to learn, but there appears to be some serious hunger among the youth in this group.

5. Trey Hopkins at left tackle showing leadership.

When Tray Allen told me that Hopkins was the one pushing and leading him when things were getting tough in practice or workouts, that was a huge sign. Hopkins doesn't say much. But the coaches are totally convinced this kid can be special. There may be growing pains, but Hopkins is a perfectionist. He wants to be great, and that's a huge step in the right direction.

4. Adrian Phillips makes the move from safety to CB and makes a push for a starting job.

This is a huge development and speaks to Phillips' incredible athleticism. It also speaks to the depth at safety (Kenny Vaccaro, Blake Gideon, Christian Scott and Nolan Brewster) that coaches felt comfortable moving Phillips (and Bryant Jackson) to corner. Phillips showed up big in the scrimmage before spring break with an interception of Case McCoy. Most expected Carrington Byndom to make a strong move for a starting job at corner, but may not have had Phillips on their minds. There are big vacancies at corner after the departures of Aaron Williams, Chykie and Curtis Brown. But Phillips is not afraid of the challenge.

3. Garrett Gilbert and Connor Wood both shine in the first scrimmage.

Garrett Gilbert has looked like a quarterback with a season's worth of starting experience. And Connor Wood has looked like a guy ready to compete for meaningful minutes coming out of a redshirt. And David Ash has looked like a young QB with a ton of upside. Case McCoy probably did some soul searching during spring break about how badly he wants to compete at Texas. The heated competition is just what Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite needed to keep the edge in this position and across the offense.

2. Manny Diaz wants his defense to use its instincts to make plays.

Diaz wants players to be instinctive and make plays. So if you prove to him you can handle that, he'll let you take some chances. Diaz will provide cover for his secondary by bringing constant pressure. He wants more eyes on the football this year than last year. It could mean some more zone and some more zone pressure. But Diaz has a plan, and he's sticking to it. A philosophy of pressure and allowing players to make plays has helped get everyone to buy in.

1. Players energized by Bryan Harsin's offense.

Harsin has come into Austin like a lightning bolt. The energy of his offense has sent the same kind of surge through the football team that Will Muschamp's arrival in 2008 seemed to provide. The best players on this team appear to be a year away from making their biggest impact. And so this very well could end up a transition year (I've put the over/under for wins in 2011 at 8). But rest assured the players on offense and defense are captivated by the philosophy Harsin has brought in. The defense says the constant shifting and motion of players has forced them to really sharpen things up (even needing a cheat sheet at times by looking at the offense's installation notes). Let's just say the players are into it.

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