Mack Brown met with the media for the last time in pre-season camp, and the topic that dominated the conversation was the surprise release of a full depth chart.
Taking top billing on depth chart discussion, of course, was quarterback, where David Ash was listed alone as the starter, backed up by Case McCoy. Brown said it was a close race because both players have made significant strides from last year.
"It's obvious you have to have one to walk out there first. Both have played well," Brown said. "They're both much better than they were at this time last year, in our estimation. David hadn't taken a snap and Case had taken nine snaps the year before.
"And we also feel like both of them have been really good leaders. Case is one of the best leaders on our team. They handled summer well, they handled pre-season well, they're getting along well. We are not hesitant to put either one of them in the game but David will start."
The starting nod to Ash has seemed to have been in the works going back to December's Holiday Bowl win over Cal, when Ash took every snap and earned MVP honors. What is still undecided is how McCoy will be used.
"We'd like to play him in the games because he's playing so well," Brown said. "But as soon as I tell you he's going to play and he doesn't, I'm a liar. So we've got to soften it a little bit."
Similar to other positions, there are no current plans on how the quarterback reps will be divided, or if they'll be divided at all. Like he'll do with Major Applewhite in discussing the running backs, Mack said he'll sit down sometime next week with Bryan Harsin and go over a plan on how they'll handle the quarterback snaps, but things may change on the fly.
"What we have constantly said and what we believe, both quarterbacks are good enough to win games and both of them will play," Mack said. "We do not have a plan of exactly how that's going to be done yet, and we don't have to. That will probably be next Thursday."
Mack said both Ash and McCoy responded well when given the news. Both practiced hard on Wednesday morning.
"They've both matured a lot since last year. It's more about the team that it is about them. I'm really proud of both of them," Mack said. "You would not have known any difference. Case took practices with the 1s this morning. It will continue to be how it's been because we sincerely want to play both of them.
Of the two true freshmen, Connor Brewer would be the guy to go in first ahead of Jalen Overstreet because he's further along as a passer. The coaches still hope to redshirt both players.
A quick rundown of the remaining practice schedule before the team takes the field on its season opener ...
Thursday - Morning walk-through with kicking game. Later, they'll work on a situational scrimmage. They'll focus on game-day routines to help get players ready, especially the freshmen (show how they arrive at the stadium, pre-game meal with coaches and players, pre-game warm-ups like a game, etc).
Friday - 90 minute practice in shorts on before giving the team the weekend off.
Sunday - Players and coaches return. Practice Sunday night.
Monday - Team is off for press conference and film review.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday - Practice (normal game routine).
On Fera's availability: "That will still be in question. He will not be on the depth chart today because they will have to look at him next week to see if he will be available for the first game."
"Jaxon Shipley had a great scrimmage Sunday night. He had a slight pull. He could probably play if we played today, but we'll hold him out of tomorrow night's scrimmage. He should be ready to go on Sunday."
"Mike Davis had a little tweak of his ankle yesterday. They feel like he'll be full speed and ready to go for next week.
"Unlike in the past, they'll put a boot on anybody who is sore (Davis was seen wearing a boot), or to try to keep the swelling down. Just because a young man is in a boot or on crutches doesn't mean like the old days, that he cannot play."
Overall, Mack said the team has had fewer injuries this year than ever at this point of fall camp.
"I think that credit goes to our strength staff and our new nutritionist. You go back and look at what Jeff Madden and Bennie Wylie has done and the guys are in great shape. Their bodies are in better shape," Mack said. "We've had few injuries, we've had fewer pulls."
Last year, Mack and the Texas football staff drew criticism from fans and media for what was perceived as being less than forthcoming with the team's injury news. It was a constant guessing game as to who would be available, especially regarding running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, and there were times when the backs were held out of action despite reports given by the school that both were available for action. Mack addressed the topic and said injury news can be tough to pin down because things are constantly changing.
"When you're asking about injuries and updates, it's a very difficult thing to do because rumors get out. A lot of time the rumors are not true but modern-day media, social media, things spread and it puts the kid in a tough spot. It's a distraction.
"I've always been asked about the reports that Joe Bergeron had a cramp during the ball game and it was more than that," Mack said. "I reported what I was told by the trainers after the game. Then it was more extensive on Tuesday because it took them a couple days to see. But Joe thought it was a cramp and they thought it was a cramp. Then it was more of a hamstring. They told us they thought Joe and Malcolm would play in the Missouri game and then they didn't. Anybody that's been sick or been to a doctor knows that everybody heals differently. We can't sit here and tell you exactly what's going to happen. Some of those things change. So when we give you a report, it's a report based on what we've been told. That's all I can tell you. I can't do any more than that. I'm sure not a doctor and don't want to be."
One positive of having both quarterbacks compete all spring and in fall camp, Mack said, is that the team is in a much better position this year than they have been in the past if one guy gets injured or isn't playing well.
In the past, Texas has always leaned heavily on its starter and given the back-up very little work (who wouldn't with guys like Vince Young and Colt McCoy holding down the spot?). That philosophy burned the team when McCoy was hurt in the national title game against Alabama, and it put Texas in a bad position last year when projected starter Garrett Gilbert didn't pan out. Mack Brown said all off-season that he'd like to get the program to the point where it has more than one quarterback capable of winning games, and he feels Texas is finally in that position.
"If one of them is hurt or not playing well, we can put the other in the game and feel like he has a chance to still help us win," Mack said. "If something's not working at one time or the other, we can change. And they know that.
"Some people say they'll be looking over their shoulder or have fear. If you're scared about not having enough confidence at quarterback, you shouldn't be playing anyway."
Some key depth chart notes involved the four true freshmen receivers.
Daje Johnson, one of the stars of fall camp, was not listed and will miss the first game due to a violation of team rules. The other three freshmen pass catchers (Marcus Johnson, Cayleb Jones and Kendall Sanders) are all listed on the depth chart and all are expected to play in the opener.
"We think that all four of those young receivers have a chance to be good. We feel like all four will play this year," Mack said.
"You don't know how those freshmen will respond a week from Saturday. But hopefully they will grow as the season grows. It's just unbelievable how much different it is when you take them into the stadium that second time. Sunday's scrimmage was night and day from the first one."
Other depth chart notes …
--- Josh Turner and Mykkele Thompson are the first two to go in off the bench. Turner, listed as a safety, would also work in at corner along with Duke Thomas and Sheroid Evans.
My rotate both guys in nickel.
-- Luke Poehlmann could play guard or tackle. He would be first lineman to go in off the bench. Thomas Ashcraft has stepped up his game and he would be second OL to go in.
--- Tight end Greg Daniels is making a push towards D.J. Grant and Barrett Matthews "on a daily basis." Daniels is listed as a co-starter with Grant.
--- Offensive guard Trey Hopkins can play center if needed. "Garrett Porter has played well, but (Hopkins) can move in there and play."
--- Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown are listed as co-starters and Mack said it really doesn't matter which guy gets the first snap. "They're both high-quality players. We feel like Johnathan Gray has really shown up in pre-season and he will play in the opening game. He's done well."
The coaches are not yet sure who will be the third-down back. Jeremy Hills is a candidate for that role.
--- Nick Jordan is the starter at kicker, unless the coaches hear something different on Fera's availability. Nick Rose will handle kick-offs. Alex King "has shown a lot of ability as a punter."
Quandre Diggs will be the first guy out as punt returner. D.J. Monroe and Diggs will start on kick returns.
"Nick Rose has shown the ability to be as good of a kick-off man as we've had in our 15 years here. It's been fun to watch him, so hopefully he can continue to do the same during the game."
The deep snapper for both punts and kick-offs is true freshman walk-on Kyle Ashby. The 6-1, 235-pound Ashby is out of Brazoswood High School in Lake Jackson and was discovered at a UT kicking camp last summer.
"Major came up with a great idea last summer ... The last two years, we've had a kicking camp. Deep snappers can come and work in the camp as well," Mack said. "Kyle Ashby walked out there and he was just unbelievable with his speed and his accuracy. We felt like he was a guy that we wanted to come to Texas and he wanted to come, so it's worked really well.
"(He) hasn't had a bad snap for three weeks. I think he's really good."
--- Chris Whaley, Ashton Dorsey, Brandon Moore and Desmond Jackson "can be interchangeable at any time." All four are basically considered starters.
--- True freshmen linebackers Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens had great scrimmages on Sunday night and are "stepping it up fast."
"Manny (Diaz) and I feel like really you've got three that are starters and significant players. And then you have a group back behind them that are trying to get in the mix, so that's not settled yet at all," Mack said.
Bergeron and Brown would both be given first crack as goal line guys. Gray has shown good vision in that area as well, but Bergeron and Brown run with a little more power and size.
The coaches still have not decided on how they'll handle the Wild formation. As of today, Bergeron, Brown and Gray all still in the running for that spot.
Mack was asked if Texas could return to its position of a top-5 as early as this season.
"I think so. If you didn't think that, you shouldn't be at Texas," Mack said.
"I see this team, if we play really good, we have a chance to win every week. If we play average, we have a chance to lose. So the coaches and the players have to do a tremendous job of being prepared to play each week and play at a high level."
This year's fall camp has been one of the most physical in recent memory. The coaches have pushed the guys hard on the field and the strength and conditioning coaches worked the guys extremely hard in the off-season. The hard work has seemed to have built up some camaraderie, Mack said.
This week, the team made the freshmen stand up in front of the team and sing karaoke, as they do every year ("They better make a living in football because they're not going to make it in singing," Mack said). After the rookies were finished, they had the seniors get up and sing 'The Eyes of Texas.' Poehlmann called the freshmen up and said "y'all get up here, you have to help us win."
"That wouldn't have happened two years ago," Mack said. "We kind of had a team that was split. The older ones and younger ones weren't getting along. There was just a disconnect there somewhere and (the connection) is back."
As of right now, Anthony Fera is only working out with the trainers trying to get healthy. The coaches want him to get back to 100 percent before they let him do anything. He has told the coaches he feels like he could probably punt, but Alex King has been doing very well so the staff feels there's no need to force that issue.
"We need him to get well ... We want him to take his time and make sure he's 100 percent before he comes back," Mack said.
Perhaps the biggest single surprise on the depth chart was seeing Greg Daniels listed as co-starter at tight end. If that didn't take the cake, not having M.J. McFarland listed anywhere on the depth chart may have been the biggest shock.
"We feel like the upside is that (Daniels) hasn't played there at all since he's been here and he missed spring practice. So we think that we're seeing some progress," Mack said. "He's not near ready to be anointed the answer yet, but we're seeing enough progress, especially in the blocking area because he's big and strong and has done that before. We feel like he can help us there."
On McFarland, a player who some thought would challenge for a starting role but has struggled this summer as a blocker and as a consistent pass-catcher.
"I talked to him a long time yesterday when we were deciding on these positions and told him he's a wide receiver who has gained a whole lot of weight and moved into tight end. Sometimes it takes longer to get your pads low and learn how to block in there," Mack said. "But he can run, he can catch. He still has a really good upside, but we have to think about what to do to win next week."