Texas can take step forward this spring

AUSTIN, Texas -- A year ago Texas offensive line coach Stacy Searels had no idea what his offensive line would be.

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz knew who would play linebacker but didn't know if they could grasp his system.

And co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin had no idea who his quarterback would be. OK, so that last one still hasn't been figured out.

But a year into the job and a second spring underway, the Texas staff has figured out each other, the place, the personnel and what it needs to do.

"We have got to go back in the spring and make sure we know what our personnel can do best, and play to it," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "Last year, I'm sure our decision makers had to learn, and had to look at different guys, and then we had some injuries, especially on offense, that set us back."

Because Texas played 18 true freshmen in 2011 it doesn't have to waste time this spring discovering new players. Additionally Garrett Greenlea, one of the freshmen who did redshirt, already has shown the Texas coaches enough to secure himself some playing time at either guard or tackle.

So Texas knows it personnel. That is a huge first step in knowing what it can do with both its offense and defense.

"We will be able to progress in those areas a lot faster than we could have last year, because this time last year, we had never lined up, on offense or defense," Brown said. "We didn't have a clue what we were doing.''

That much became glaringly obvious at various points of the 2012 season, particularly at the quarterback position. But again, Texas spent the spring of 2011 working almost exclusively with Garrett Gilbert.

Harsin had no idea what type of quarterback Gilbert was, so he had to spend time to find out. And Gilbert does throw a great ball in practice. Because of that, David Ash and Case McCoy, the two eventual starters, were more bystanders than participants when it came to spring ball in 2011.

Added to that was the fact that neither had significant or any experience. Ash had never played. McCoy had nine snaps.

"So we just feel like today that David and Case will go out there and run the practice, and Bryan will be helping them, but it's not like last year where he was saying, 'No, no, no,' " Brown said. "Most of it was, 'No, let's do it again.'

"... they should have a great feel," he continued. "They are just so much further along. And it starts with the quarterbacks. But the whole team should be further along."

The team also should be better conditioned, therefore allowing them to practice instead of work on getting in shape. Last year, because of the long layoff without a bowl and the transition of coaches as well as the changes in the strength and conditioning program, the players had an almost two month layoff from the end of the Texas A&M game until Jan. 17.

"Guys were in pretty poor condition, and it took us a while to get them started," Brown said.

Strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie joined Texas in early January of 2011 but significant gains in conditioning didn't take hold until the summer program. That conditioning should help when it comes to keeping players on the field this spring. It also should help as it pertains to one of Texas' main goals this spring -- building depth.

"One of the reasons we won so many games around here in my estimation is that we were able to overcome injuries," Brown said. "We were able to stay fresh at the end of games when a lot of teams that we were playing would get tired, because they didn't have the same number of players. And we didn't have as much depth last year, and that really hurt us."

But now that Texas is secure in who the starters will be and, aside from a couple of positions, who the top two are at each position, it can go about securing that depth. That will allow the coaches, who now know the capabilities of the players, to work with those players in a more efficient and effective manner through spring.

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas sports and recruiting for HornsNation

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