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March 5, 2013Let's start with some transfer news: Houston Cougars DE Zeke Riser, who had 38 tackles, 4 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 2012, will graduate from Houston this semester and come to Texas for his final year of eligibility.
We're nearly at the halfway point of spring practice and finally got to talk to some players Tuesday night: QB David Ash, OG Mason Walters, S Adrian Phillips and DT Chris Whaley.
Ash said he is trying to make the most of having Vince Young back on campus (Young is considering working out for the NFL at UT's Pro Day on March 26).
Ash said Young has taken to calling him, "Ashley."
When reporters asked why on earth Young would call him that, Ash laughed and said, "Maybe he thinks I'm pretty."
Ash said Young has told him to be very visible to his teammates and to really work to bond with them during this offseason, so that when the team gets into a tough spot during the season "there's real chemistry at crunch time, and you are really pulling together."
When I asked Ash how he plans to pull that off, he said, "I see these guys most every day. So you joke around with them, and then when it's time to play football, it's business."
Ash said the up-tempo, no-huddle offense being deployed by Major Applewhite and Darrell Wyatt "makes it easier" to be a vocal leader because "I'm yelling at people all the time."
Ash said "it feels good" to have Mack Brown call him the "clear-cut starter" at QB.
"It feels good to have the confidence of your coaches. I don't want to disappoint them. I'm ready to start winning all the games."
Asked if that put more pressure on him, Ash said, "I don't see it as pressure. I like pressure. It's more of a relief than anything.
"I don't get worried about stuff. I know Jesus is going to pull me through."
Ash was asked how he kept from getting down after being benched against OU, Kansas, TCU and for the K-State game.
"In James Chapter 1, it talks about a double-minded man. You can think God isn't being faithful to you. But even in the valley, God's there and is teaching me greater lessons for the future."
Ash was asked how he deals with his devout Christianity with teammates.
"I want my teammates to know I care about them," he said. "I do want people to know I'm a follower of Jesus. That's the most important thing.
"I want there to be a Christian community on this team. They're grown men. They can make their own decisions. But I know a lot of guys are believers on this team."
Ash said he's got a list of things he's working on this spring:
***Improving his footwork
***Improving his timing on throws and becoming a better "anticipator" when throwing deep
***Becoming a smarter player
***Becoming a better runner
***Becoming a "better encourager of my teammates and more vocal."
Ash said the Apple-Wyatt offense is "kind of like what I did in high school for three years," so he's very comfortable with it.
Ash called Major Applewhite "a great teacher and a great competitor."
On the emergence of WRs Cayleb Jones and Kendall Sanders, Ash said, "Cayleb has the big body with good hands. And Kendall is a great athlete who is a big jumper with long arms who runs good routes."
When Ash was asked if he cared about what people think of him, he said, "You take it and use it to fuel your fire. I like to prove people wrong sometimes. I care about what people on the team think of me and what my coaches think of me."
I asked him about his speech at halftime of the Texas-Kansas basketball game in which he said, "The bar is set high for next year."
He said it meant "win all the games."
"We had a bad year (in 2011) and then kind of improved (in 2012)," he said. "We're on the verge. We're on the brink. We just need to take the next step or two and get Texas back on top."
I told him he was playing great last year until he got to the Oklahoma game, when he was ultimately benched in a blowout loss, and asked him how he plans to attack that game this year?
"I've been in it twice now. I'm just ready to play in that game. I'm ready."
S ADRIAN PHILLIPS
Phillips says Manny Diaz is "more intense and working a lot harder."
Phillips said his "main mindset is to get better as a senior. I have some big shoes to fill. But I'm a veteran, and I know how it needs to get done."
Phillips said last year "leaves a real bitter taste in my mouth."
Did his shoulder surgery coming off of the 2011 season hold him back from having a strong 2012?
"I didn't do what I was supposed to do last year. Blaming it on my shoulder would be an excuse. I'm trying to change that."
When asked how he's trying to be a senior leader, Phillips said, "By holding everyone accountable, making sure everyone is running to the ball, is accountable for their gap and knowing your assignment before going onto the field."
Phillips said, "At the moment, no job is safe. Everyone, across the board, is fighting for a position."
Texas' new, up-tempo offense is making the defense's job "tougher."
"We will all be better for having to face that tempo when the season starts," Phillips said.
When asked if Quandre Diggs will ultimately be moved to safety, Phillips said he's confident he and Mykkele Thompson can handle the safety duties but that the ultimate call will come from Duane Akina and the coaches.
On Adrian Colbert, Phillips said, "He's a great athlete who is working hard on the mental side of the game. He's very coachable."
When asked if the safety position needs a thumper like Kenny Vaccaro to pose a physical threat to opposing receivers, Phillips said, "Everyone can make hits. But our main emphasis is getting people on the ground."
On Cayleb Jones and Kendall Sanders, Phillips said, "Cayleb can pretty much get any ball in the air. Kendall is a great athlete and a good route runner."
Phillips said David Ash has gotten better at looking off defensive backs.
"Each year, you want your quarterback to take a step forward. He's looking people off and making better reads," Phillips said.
DT CHRIS WHALEY
Whaley said there's a lot of "energy and intensity" on defense this spring.
"It's the most intense spring we've had because the coaches are demanding that out of us," Whaley said. "Coach Diaz is demanding greatness out of us. He's not accepting missing a tackle here or a tackle there. He's demanding greatness."
On the DT group in 2012, Whaley said, "We played well, but not great. This year, we need to play great. We need to take a huge step in defending the run and getting pressure on the passer."
On DT coach Bo Davis, "He's looking for four DTs who can ride. He wants four DTs who can roll in and out of the game without any dropoff."
On Brandon Moore deciding to turn pro, Whaley said he and other Texas players "were shocked. I guess he sees it as an opportunity."
Whaley said he's seeing great work ethic from sophomore-to-be DT Malcom Brown.
"He works hard in the weight room and in his conditioning. He shows that he wants to be a great player," Whaley said.
When asked what kind of identity the defense wants to have in 2013, Whaley said, "a physical identity."
The up-tempo offense is forcing "everyone to get into better shape."
On his goals for his senior year, Whaley said, "I have to be one of those great players like Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro and lead this team."
In facing center Dominic Espinosa in practice, Whaley said he's noticed Espinosa has added weight and strength in the off-season.
"He's improved," Whaley said. "He's always had the tough attitude. But now he's added the strength to back it up. He's physically stronger."
OG MASON WALTERS
I asked Walters about Mack Brown saying Saturday he wants Walters to go from good to great.
"I definitely don't think I've reached my potential," Walters said. "I'm giving full effort on everything I do. That's the only way I can take that next step."
On the changes needed for the new, up-tempo offense, Walters said, "It's tough to go from a huddle team to a constant, no-huddle team. But the coaches have it in their heads what they want this offense to be, and they are not going to accept anything less.
"And to run a fast-paced offense, it has to be urgency on the part of the players. We have to drive it."
When asked if the transition can be made successfully by the fall, Walters said, "Absolutely."
The hardest part of the change is - what else? - conditioning.
"We're big guys on the line, so getting up to the line, running a play as fast as you can and then doing it over and over again requires a lot of the big fellas. It was tough on us. But now, we're getting better at maintaining our technique while going fast."
Walters is seeing good things from Kennedy Estelle, who has stepped in as the replacement to Josh Cochran, who suffered a leg stress fracture after getting rolled up on during a spring practice last week.
"He's showing a different mindset than when he was a backup," Walters said. "He's showing he might be able to help this year."