|ESPN.com: Big 12||[Print without images]|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has a simple, direct aim for his players.
"Any time you walk on the field, you want to compete and play well," Muschamp told reporters after the Longhorns practiced on Wednesday. "We're looking to shut the offense out. Our kids need to play hard and execute what we're going to do because we're not going to do a whole lot. It'll be the first time for a lot of these kids to line up in this stadium, so it will be an exciting time for them."
Because of construction at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, the field will shrink to only 90 yards for the scrimmage. But even with that reduction, Muschamp is expecting a big effort from his team at an event that could attract up to 30,000 fans.
One area of concern heading into the scrimmage has been the defensive front. The Longhorns are effectively replacing three starters with returning starters Lamarr Houston and Sergio Kindle, who moves from linebacker to defensive end.
"We need to get better up front, that's the bottom line," Muschamp said. "We need to have more effective rushers than Sergio and we need to get better up front."
Muschamp has seen some recent improvement after some uneven work in the early part of the spring.
"We were OK in the first seven practices," Muschamp said. "I think as a defense we made some strides in the eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th practices, but we're still not where we need to be, especially at that position."
Freshman defensive end Alex Okafor, an early arrival from Pflugerville High School, has had his moments early in training camp. Muschamp is interested to see how Okafor will handle his first action in the mammoth stadium.
"He's a good athlete, he can play in space, he's a very smart kid and he's learned well in the time he's been here," Muschamp said. "But he's one of those who hasn't lined up in this stadium, hasn't lined up in front of a lot of people. So I'm looking forward to seeing him competing on Sunday."
Earlier in practice, Okafor received some rave reviews for his early work from coach Mack Brown.
"I would say the guy that's made the biggest impact has been Alex Okafor because he's really been good at pass rush and that's what we hoped," Brown said. "Now, he's just got to continue to get better against the run."
Texas' secondary has been fluid throughout spring and Muschamp said that the positional battles remain tight. Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams have emerged as the starters at cornerback, with Curtis Brown and Deon Beasley behind them.
Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas, last year's starters at safety, have reclaimed their starting positions with Christian Scott, Nolan Brewster and Ben Wells providing depth at the position. Williams and Thomas have also played the nickel back in the Longhorns' early spring work.
"We've been kind of by-committee day by day, based on our production from the previous night," Muschamp said.