College football never ends, and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the Texas Longhorns and what they'll be working on this spring.
Spring practice began: Feb. 21
Spring game: March 30
2012 record: 9-4
Returning starters: 19 (10 offense, nine defense)
Seven years ago Texas head coach Mack Brown won a BCS national championship. Three years ago he was the runner-up following a loss to Alabama in the title game. Now Brown is merely fighting to keep his job. After a stretch of dominance in the Big 12, the Longhorns have gone 22-19 (.537) in the three seasons following Texas' 2009 BCS National Championship Game appearance. With the emergence of Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference, the Longhorns are no longer the premier football program in their state. The last conference championship for Texas came in 2009. There is a changing of the guard in the Big 12. If Texas doesn't step up, it may be impossible to ignore the fan base's clamoring for a new head coach.
The Least You Should Know About Texas This Spring
-- David Ash comes in as the unquestioned starting quarterback. For the first time in his career, Ash will enter spring practice without having to compete for the starter's role. Ash was consistent last year, throwing for 2,699 yards on a 67.2 percent completion percentage. His 19 touchdowns to eight interceptions in 2012 was good for a 153.3 passing efficiency rating, ranked 21st-best in the nation. The good news for Ash is that Texas' only major loss in the receiving corps is speedster Marquise Goodwin, as Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley -- the Longhorns' two leading receivers from 2012 -- will be back for another season in Austin.
-- Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz needs his unit to improve. In his first season with the Longhorns in 2011, Diaz led Texas to the best overall defense in the Big 12, ranked 11th in the country in yards allowed per game (306.1). Diaz became one of the premier young assistants rumored for head coaching jobs. However, 2012 was a much different story. Texas ranked 67th in total defense (404.2) -- nearly a 100-yard increase from the previous season. Most of the damage came along the front seven, as Diaz's defense ceded 192.2 rushing yards per game, ranked 88th in the country. Making matters worse, Texas loses its best defensive lineman, Alex Okafor, who registered 16.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks in 2012. Senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat is limited in the spring, after sustaining a ruptured pectoral muscle last October. As a result, younger players such as junior linebacker Steve Edmond, who was Texas' second-best tackler in 2012 with 82, will need to become vocal leaders and help make surrounding players better through spring repetitions.
-- Longhorns offense needs to start through the ground game. Despite Ash's improvement throughout his career, Texas' most talented offensive players are running backs. Sophomore Johnathan Gray may be the best of the bunch after leading the Longhorns with 701 rushing yards on 149 attempts. With a solid spring, Gray could make a significant leap in his second season with Texas. Goal-line specialist Joe Bergeron finished 2012 with 16 rushing touchdowns, tied for 15th-best in the nation. Junior Malcolm Brown also returns in 2013, after rushing for 324 yards and four touchdowns. If Texas' running backs can push each other through competition in the spring and throughout the summer, the Longhorns could become one of the premier rushing teams in college football.
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