New program stresses improvement

AUSTIN, Texas -- It has been three years since Garrett Porter started a football game.

The last time he was in high school. He was a 6-foot-6 offensive lineman pushing around players significantly smaller and lighter. Since then, at Texas, Porter has been the one being pushed around.

Now the junior has started to push himself. And Texas has given him the setting in which to do it.

This offseason the Longhorns implemented an accountability program. Every workout, every drill, every meeting, every class, everything the players do is now measured.

"We graded each of the players," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "We will talk to the players about their overall grade and who was poor, who was average, who was good, and who was exceptional.''

The most exceptional was Porter.

"He has done a tremendous job, and he was nearly excellent," Brown said.

What Texas is trying to do is to get every player to excel like Porter. That doesn't mean everyone is gong to be a star. It doesn't even mean Porter is going to start. In all likelihood he will still be a backup on the offensive line.

"But everybody should be able to give their best effort and be exceptional, and that's what we are working toward," Brown said. "And those grades should reflect that today and we haven't given them a grade in the past, so this is a new thing for us that should stimulate some conversation and show them how serious we are.''

Texas is serious because eight wins are not enough around here. Ten are not enough either. Brown, with his new contract extension and apparent renewed energy, is back to pushing the extreme possibilities again.

But he can't get there by himself. He needs the players too. And, because of their youth, they need him.

That's because when there is not a clear on-the-field leader present to push the players, they each need to be individually motivated through coaching. The grading system, which gives them tangible results and subsequent reward or admonishment, does just that.

It allows the coaches to have a quick, individual reference to exactly what each player is doing and how he is performing. Therefore players are less likely to slip through the cracks or not fully develop their potential. At Texas the latter has been a long-discussed and lamented problem.

Whether that is because players were coddled or the coaching staff became lazy or both, Brown and his staff have now at least recognized the problem and put in place a possible solution.

"[Accountability is the] biggest thing that's out there, but it's a thing that's hard to measure,'' Brown said. "And we are trying to give them measurables to show them who on their team is doing the best they can do and who we feel like is not."

The genesis of the grading program is ambiguous. No other coach brought it from another staff. No one received credit for implementing it at Texas. It apparently is something that was created by the staff, including strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie, and put into place this offseason because now the time is right.

"We just thought that we know everybody now," Brown said. "Last year, we were growing and saying, `This better pick up.'

"We don't need to be sensitive anymore," he continued. "It's time to say, 'You need to do better.' And it's a measurable. We can say, 'This one did this and you didn't.' So you're wondering why you're not playing? Here is one of the reasons. A mom comes and asks. `Here, mom, it's pretty simple, poor, great. Get to great, come see me again.'"

Or get to Porter's level and get a shot at being seen on the field.

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas sports and recruiting for HornsNation

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