Big 12 spring practice preview: Texas

Texas Longhorns
2009: 13-1, 8-0

It’s easy to put the fortunes of the Texas Longhorns’ 2010 season squarely on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who will take over for the departing Colt McCoy next season in Austin. But why should we? Head coach Mack Brown certainly isn’t.

While Brown expressed confidence in Gilbert on Thursday when naming him the starter for the opening of spring practice on Friday, Brown has been around long enough to know that winning always comes down to running the football and playing strong defense.

Still, good things are expected of Gilbert — and he’s well aware. He’s also prepared, being pressed into action in the BCS National Championship game against Alabama after McCoy was injured just five plays into the game. After a difficult initiation into the contest, the former national high school player of the year settled down and managed to toss two second-half touchdowns before the Crimson Tide pulled away. For Brown, nothing could be more deceiving than Gilbert’s 15-of-40, four interception stat line for the final game of ’09.

What Brown does see in Gilbert is a son of a former quarterback — father Gale Gilbert played eight seasons in the NFL — and a 6-4, 215-pound frame with a cannon of an arm ready to unload from the pocket. But solid quarterback play will go for naught unless the rushing attack is up to par in 2010.

“We want to run the ball more and run the ball better,” Brown declared on Thursday. “We've got to get more confidence back in our running game. There's got to be some balance.”

Who will step up for the ‘Horns and add that balance to the offense?

Tre’ Newton, last year's leading rusher with 552 yards and six scores, will begin the spring as the starter, with Vondrell McGee and Foswhitt Whittaker seeing plenty of reps out of the backfield. Brown also hopes to operate with more two-back sets and less shotgun, utilizing big upbacks Cody Johnson and Chris Whaley, along with tight ends Barrett Matthews and Dominique Jones.

Not surprisingly the offensive line remains a concern, especially after losing the entire left side. Jordan Shipley’s departure also weakens the receiving corps, so seniors James Kirkendoll and John Chiles, along with junior Malcolm Williams and sophomore Marquise Goodwin will have to run crisp routes to make things as easy as possible for Gilbert. Help from the 2010 wideout class will also arrive in the summer.

Besides a rededicated rushing attack, Will Muschamp’s defense is being looked upon to help carry the post-McCoy load in the fall. The problem, however, is replacing defensive end Sergio Kindle, defensive tackle Lamarr Houston, safety Earl Thomas and linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy. The talent cupboard is not bare in Austin — it’s just young. But neither Muschamp nor Brown is worried.

The secondary should be the strength of the team in the fall, led by safety Christian Scott, while emerging linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho offer support on the second level. Sam Acho and Alex Okafor are just two of the names rotating in and out at defensive end, while defensive tackle Tyrell Higgins will also help wreak havoc on the line.

So while the national chatter about Texas will center around Gilbert’s adjustment to being the man in Austin, Longhorns fans know that a newfound focus on the ground and the maturation of the defense will be especially crucial in helping get the Longhorns back into BCS title contention.

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