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Texas spring practice preview

The Longhorns get a jump on preparations for the 2012 campaign. Dave Miller

Print This February 23, 2012, 05:35 PM EST

Texas kicked off spring practice on Thursday, and longtime head coach Mack Brown will be looking to see how his Longhorns progress over the next five weeks as preparations begin for the 2012 season.

Let's take a look at some of the position battles to watch during the Longhorns’ 15 spring practices as they look ahead to the September 1 opener against Wyoming.

2011 Record: 8-5, 4-5 Big 12

Quarterback: David Ash, Case McCoy and Connor Brewer

Case McCoyICONCould Case McCoy eventually emerge as the starter over David Ash?

All eyes will be on who lines up under center. Ash took every snap in the team's Holiday Bowl win, earning MVP honors. So he's the presumed starter, although he certainly didn't have a standout performance in the victory over Cal. He'll enter the fall as a true sophomore hoping to improve on a debut campaign in which he threw four touchdowns and eight interceptions. Brown and offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, however, want to make sure there is a Plan B in case Ash doesn't develop as quickly as they would like by the opener. When Garrett Gilbert failed last season, Ash and McCoy were overwhelmed. So McCoy will get equal reps this spring, especially because he needs to have a fair chance to win the job -- or else he could potentially transfer. That brings up Brewer, who is the future at the position in the eyes of many Longhorn fans. The early enrollee true freshman won three straight state championships and went 41-2 as a starter. He threw 100 career touchdown passes, only throwing an interception once every 40 pass attempts. While he ideally would be redshirted, he is more polished than Ash was coming out of high school. But Brewer will also be seeing the speed of the Texas defense on a daily basis. He'll get third-string limited reps initially. Dual-threat freshman Jalen Overstreet then joins the team this summer.

Defensive Tackle: Brandon Moore, Ashton Dorsey, Desmond Jackson and Chris Whaley

With Kheeston Randall moving onto the pro game and Calvin Howell dismissed from the program earlier this month, Manny Diaz's defense needs to find some new beef up the middle as he enters his second season in Austin. Moore is a junior-college transfer whom the coaching staff wants to see earn a starting job. The 6-5, 335-pounder won a national title as a backup at Alabama in 2010 before starring at East Mississippi Community College last season. Meanwhile, Dorsey received four starts at nose tackle last year before losing his job to Howell. He has played in 21 games, however, and Jackson recorded two sacks as a true freshman while playing in all 13 contests. Whaley is a former running back who played defensive end last fall. And don't forget about stud freshman Malcom Brown, who could find his way into the rotation when he joins the program this summer.

Also keep an eye on:

Tight end, where D.J. Grant, M.J. McFarland and Dominique Jones will compete for playing time in Harsin's run-oriented offense. Grant rebounded from knee injuries in 2009 and 2010 to play well as a junior, while McFarland added weight during his redshirt season to emerge as a potential target for whoever is at QB. Jones is more of a blocker but should help in the run game.

Kenny VaccaroICONKenny Vaccaro returns at strong safety, but who will join him at the other safety spot next season?

Free safety, where Adrian Phillips, Mykkele Thompson and Sheroid Evans will try to replace Blake Gideon, who started 52 games in his career. Strong safety Kenny Vaccaro is back, and Phillips could emerge as the starter to pair up with him. However, Phillips will be out this spring after undergoing shoulder surgery last month. The junior is a good cover man, but he'll compete against Thompson and Evans, two players who saw the field as true freshmen last fall. No matter who wins this job, the Longhorns will be stingy against the pass next season.

Other notes

The power running game can be effective and prevalent in Austin if running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron stay healthy. The duo combined for 1,205 yards and 10 scores last season, and they will be joined by Class of 2012 incoming freshman Jonathan Gray, arguably the top running back in the nation.

There may be competition at DT, but the team's defensive line returns two potential All-Americans at end with Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat.

Replacing linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson won't be easy, but Jordan Hicks is ready to become a leader. Steve Edmond played very well as a freshman and Kendall Thompson is an option for the other spot. But keep an eye on incoming freshmen Peter Jinkens, Dalton Santos and Alex De La Torre in the fall.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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