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August 6, 2013

First practice, Ash, Diaz, VY, Hard Knocks and more ...

1. Here are a few of my thoughts from the first day of practice.

… One of the biggest things about the way the defense practiced was the spirit and intensity the unit showed as a group. That defense is going to have to play like a swarm this season to improve as a unit without S Kenny Vaccaro and DE Alex Okafor.

…The interception by LB Kendall Thompson against Case McCoy in two-minute drill was an athletic play in which Thompson tipped the ball to himself before making the grab.

…There's a reason LB Naashon Hughes was getting praise in our summer workout reports, because he moves really well. He was in coverage against Miles Onyegbule and looked completely comfortable dropping back into coverage and moving forward.

…LB Jordan Hicks and LB Peter Jinkens sniffed out several running plays in team work. That needs to continue.

…CB Duke Thomas nearly had an interception during one of several two-minute drill scrimmage sessions.

…WR John Harris needs to do whatever his coaches are asking, because the guy can make plays like he did Monday on a deep pass against CB Leroy Scott. But coaches want to see much more consistent want-to and fire from him.

…RB Joe Bergeron has clearly lost some weight. Looks like about 10-12 pounds. He looked really good catching the football on Monday.

…RB Malcolm Brown, on the other hand, looks bigger and stronger.

…RB Johnathan Gray and RB Daje Johnson both had good days catching the football. This should be a big part of the offense this season.

…TE M.J. McFarland is much bigger and stronger, but he's still wearing a wrap on his right knee and looked like he was still favoring it a bit. (He had fluid drained from it during the summer and missed some time.) But we reported McFarland was a weight room warrior this summer, and he looks it.

…Echoing what Suchomel and McComas said, OT Desmond Harrison had a good day. In one-on-one drill work, he handled Jackson Jeffcoat and Reggie Wilson and put Shiro Davis on the ground as well as stoning Shiro on a bull rush.

If first impressions are everything, Harrison appears to have what it takes to help Texas in 2013. It's early, but he's got good feet and is asking all the right questions.

… I also thought OG Darius James, OG Rami Hammad and OT Kent Perkins showed flashes on Monday. Those guys are big bodies who have a chance to move into the two-deep.

…With Mike Davis (hernia) and Jaxon Shipley (hip) watching, I thought Kendall Sanders had the best day of the receivers, followed by Marcus Johnson.

…CB Bryson Echols is feisty and made a couple nice pass breakups, including one to end a drive in a two-minute drill. He won't concede anything to Duke Thomas and Sheroid Evans, and that's a good thing.

…Speaking of CB Sheroid Evans, he has the size (6-0, 192) and strength and used his hands to re-route Kendall Sanders to the middle of the field, where he had safety help, but Sanders didn't give up on the play.

Sanders ultimately shook loose and got open deep as Evans looked at the quarterback momentarily and lost Sanders deep.

Duane Akina praised Evans for the press coverage at the line, but admonished him for not staying attached to Sanders down the field. Growing pains.

Evans had more positive plays than negatives on Monday.

…I laughed when Mack Brown kept yelling, "Butt down, Kennedy! Butt down, Kennedy!" at OT Kennedy Estelle (while Estelle was being beaten in one-on-ones by Reggie Wilson on two straight plays).

…Other moments in one-on-one pass-rush drills that stood out to me:

… Caleb Bluiett getting by Kent Perkins but not getting by OG Rami Hammad on the next play.

… Freshman OG Darius James holding his own against DT Malcom Brown.

… Junior DT Desmond Jackson driving freshman OG Rami Hammad back with a bull rush, but not getting by him.

… Senior OG Mason Walters holding off DT Chris Whaley on one play and then Whaley getting by Walters on the next.

… OT Donald Hawkins driving DE Jackson Jeffcoat to the ground as Jeffcoat tried to use a speed rush to the outside.


2. We talked to QB David Ash and OG Mason Walters after practice on Monday.

The best quote came from Ash when asked about how demanding Major Applewhite can be?

"He's extremely demanding, which is what any good player wants from a coach.

"He ripped me today already. And I'm looking forward to more rippings. It's going to be good.

"Usually when he rips me, I don't make that mistake again. I think that's how you have to be, if you want to be the best."

On receiver Marcus Johnson, Ash said:


"Marcus has been making huge strides from where he was in the spring. I'm really excited just because with the nature of the offense and what  we're doing now, he will have to be a big part of it.

"(He'll need to) make plays for us and have to be able to understand that when some of our primary receivers are covered or doubled, he's going to be the guy that gets the ball. I think he's doing a good job of getting prepared for that."

On OT Desmond Harrison, Ash said:


"We're excited for Desmond to be here. He had a great career at the  junior college level. He's a big guy and he's been  picking up on things quickly. I think he can be a great player here."

Senior OG Mason Walters said David Ash has earned respect as a leader.

"I would say trial by fire. He's been through the ropes with this team. He's been there along with us the whole time.

"He's been going through the same thing that everyone else has at different positions, but he's the quarterback so he's very visible. You're just going to see that maturing process a lot more than you do with other positions, and he's doing a great job."



3. Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns have a lot in common right now: chips on the shoulder that should be visible from space.

Young has signed a one-year contract with the Green Bay Packers, which assures him of exactly nothing when it comes to this season in the NFL. The Packers could cut him tomorrow, in a week, a month.

But I always joke that if Derek Anderson (Carolina Panthers), Charlie Whitehurst (San Diego) and Graham Harrell (Green Bay) can be backup QBs in the NFL, Young, with a 31-19 record as a starter, should be able to find a roster spot in the league.

After washing out in Tennessee, Young had chances to catch on with offensive-minded coaches in Philadelphia (Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg) and Buffalo (Chan Gailey) as spread offenses with running QBs were gaining favor in the NFL.

I was told that was alarming to other teams in the league, who felt if Young couldn't make it with Reid and Mornhinweg or Gailey, the guy may not be salvageable.

Recently, Young had officials show up at his house in Houston to take inventory of its contents in case they need to be auctioned to satisfy a $1.7 million judgment against Young for a loan he has defaulted on.

If that isn't incentive enough for Young to do everything and more to make the Packers' roster, then what is?

So, if VY and Mack Brown can both make good on Mack Brown's recurring mantra of needing to "shut up and play," it could be a memorable 2013 for both - for the right reasons.


4. Speaking of redemption: I keep coming back to Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

When it's all said and done for the Longhorns in 2013, Manny Diaz and the Texas defense may determine the fate of arguably the most important season of the Mack Brown era.

Diaz is getting a second chance. Duane Akina got one year as defensive coordinator in 2007, along with his hand-picked co-coordinator Larry Mac Duff.

In 13 games in that 10-3 season, the Texas defense gave up a school-record number of yards (4,825), 342.9 ypg, including 93.4 yards per game rushing and 25.3 points per game. After that season, Akina was demoted back to defensive backs coach, and Mac Duff was fired.

In came Will Muschamp.

In 13 games in 2012, Diaz's defense gave up a new school-record 5,254 yards (404.2 yards per game), including 192.4 yards per game on the ground and 29.2 points per game.

And Diaz was allowed to return.

Mack Brown had more than enough justification to fire Diaz after that meltdown of a season. Especially after Akina's demotion five years earlier. Diaz's D in 2012 made Akina's year as defensive coordinator in 2007 look like a mild success by comparison.

As I was watching Diaz coaching on the field Monday, he was energetic, passionate and vocal. His players played the same way, and the defense seemed to have the better overall day in Practice No. 1.

But winning a non-contact practice and cutting back dramatically on 29.2 points per game surrendered in 2012 are light years apart.

Count Diaz among those in all of college football with the most to prove in 2013.

Mack Brown gave Manny Diaz a second chance he didn't afford Duane Akina. And now Mack Brown's future at Texas may be riding on that second chance.


5. TCU's top returning tackler and projected starting middle linebacker Joel Hasley left the team on Monday.

In the past week, projected starting RT Tayo Fabuluje and Hasley have left the team, and 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year DE Devonte Fields has been suspended for the first two games, including the season-opener at Jerryworld vs LSU (after he was suspended for violating team rules).

In June, CB David Jenkins, a projected starter, was dismissed from the team and from school after he was charged with burglary of a habitation.

Hasley, a junior, was a walk-on who thought he was getting passed by on the depth chart by younger players. Insiders say Hasley was getting burned out and decided to walk away and enjoy his last year on campus before getting his second degree.

The decision leaves TCU dangerously thin at linebacker. Now, the Horned Frogs basically have three junior LBs in Jonathan Anderson (6-3, 208), Marcus Mallet (6-1, 216) and Paul Dawson (6-2, 230) and two incoming freshmen (Sammy Douglas, 6-3, 195 of Arlington; and Paul Whitmill, 5-11, 200 of Bastrop) to anchor the group.

Last season, TCU was missing linebacker and leading tackler Tanner Brock and four other players expected to contribute on defense due to suspension. And the Horned Frogs still led the Big 12 in rushing defense (76.4 ypg) and total defense (250 ypg).

We'll see if Patterson can pull off similar results with an unproven cast at linebacker. He does have a strong defensive line (especially with Devonte Fields in the lineup) and his top nine defensive backs returning, including CB Jason Verrett (6 INTs in 2012).


6. In December, Mack Brown was getting creamed for not recruiting Johnny Manziel to Texas.

Today, I'm seeing more and more comments from Texas fans who say they are glad Brown didn't land Manziel.

What a difference eight months make.


7. The NFL preseason got going with the Hall of Fame inductions, followed by the Cowboys-Dolphins preseason game.

I always love the induction speeches, because you see a side of some of these guys you'd normally never see. Such as Larry Allen actually speaking more than a single sentence.

When I covered the Cowboys from 2001-03, I can't tell you how many times I went to Larry Allen's locker, only to have him give me one-word answers to questions. He did it to everyone … for 12 years in Dallas, before finishing his career with two seasons in San Francisco.

So to hear Allen thanking his wife and cracking jokes about him knowing he would marry her when she "cooked me two chickens, French fries, a cake and brought me a 40" - I was in awe. Allen could do more than grunt out one word at a time.

Hey, if the NFL Hall of Fame induction doesn't bring out some personality, what will, right?


8. As for the game, no one ever puts much stock in an NFL preseason game. But you look for individual players who flash some promise of making the roster.

And I want to see more of DE George Selvie, the former South Florida star. He ran some people over on the way to two quarterback sacks. Those players he ran over may have been cut by the Dolphins the next day.

But I want to see more of Selvie, especially with key backup DE Tyrone Crawford suffering a season-ending leg injury on the first day of fall camp.


9. Hard Knocks starts tonight (9 pm CT on HBO) featuring the Cincinnati Bengals

And I can't wait. This may be my favorite show on television. I've become friends with Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer from my days covering him with the Cowboys, and the guy is must-see TV.

First of all, he doesn't hold back. He has a spit-nails coaching style. And the Bengals keep giving him character risks (Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfect, etc.), and the guy keeps churning out top defenses in the NFL.

I'm in.

I'm also picking the Bengals to win the AFC North this season.


10. The TMZ in me … and other nuggets …

… Meet "Uncle Nate" … Johnny Manziel's business manager in waiting.

You can't make this stuff up.

…I don't get Alex Rodriguez. At all. This guy lives in an alternate universe.

... Tiger Woods keeps winning on the PGA Tour - last weekend in decisive fashion. So what happens to him on the weekend in a major? I'm not picking him to win the PGA Championship or any major until he can improve on 25 over par in his last seven major weekends.

... It is wild to think Tiger is now 37 and is exactly at the same point as Jack Nicklaus in terms of major victories when Nicklaus was 37 and heading into the PGA Championship. Woods has 14, and Nicklaus had 14 majors at the same point.

…Texas A&M just hired the same law firm Auburn used when Cam Newton was being linked to pay-for-play accusations in 2010. The Aggies have made their deal with the devil, and they aren't about to let go of that deal now.

… You gotta love Steelers' coach Mike Tomlin. He said S Troy Polamalu had "a contusion of the birth certificate" as a reason for missing a fall camp practice. (Tomlin's way of saying Polamalu is old and doesn't need to practice every day.)

… Shocker!

LSU sophomore running back Jeremy Hill was not put in jail Monday after a judge who graduated from LSU determined Hill sucker-punching a drunk fool outside a bar in Baton Rouge caught on video (while wearing LSU gear) did not violate his probation for having a 14-year-old perform a sex act on him in high school.

So guess what? Instead of going to jail like most anyone else would have, Hill had his probation lengthened, was given more community service, apologized and was voted back on the team by his teammates and was practicing on the first day of fall camp.

Urban Meyer has nothing on Les Miles when it comes to second chances … third chances … fourth chances … for his problem children … as long as they have talent.

… Lindsay Lohan sort of made me laugh.

… This always makes me laugh.




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