Texas Longhorns Football: Now That Spring Practice Has Ended, What's Next?
As the saying goes in Texas, there are two sports: football and spring football.
Now that spring football has ended, what's next for the Texas Longhorns?
Even though the team will not be under the microscope which they have been over the past few weeks, make no mistake, the most important work of the college football season takes place during the solitary months of summer.
Let's take a look at 10 things which the Longhorns must do this summer to have the type of season in 2011 that will help the program again move in a positive direction.
10. Setting of Boundaries with the New ESPN Longhorn Network
With the creation of the Texas-only 24-hour network by ESPN, now known as the Longhorn Network, a new set of distractions has become a part of the way of life on the Forty Acres.
ESPN has taken offices in the School of Communications on the Texas campus, solidifying its physical proximity to the daily operations of the Texas athletic department, and more specifically, the Texas football program upon which it will be focused when the network officially kicks off in August.
Mack Brown and his coaching staff must do what is necessary to ensure ESPN doesn't become an unwanted distraction to the players as each focuses on getting the Longhorns back on track in 2011.
9. Solidifying the Final Spots in the 2012 Recruiting Class
The 2012 Texas recruiting class, led by five-star Scottsdale, Arizona quarterback, Connor Brewer, is quickly starting to take shape.
Apart from Brewer, Mack Brown's focus has been on Texas high school defensive talent, selling them on the potential to help fill holes in 2012 left by the departure of six defensive starters from the 2011 squad.
Most recently, Texas secured commitments from two high-profile defensive players from Houston suburb Brenham, Malcolm Brown and Tim Cole. Along with Brown and Cole, eight other defensive players in the state have committed to the Longhorns for 2012.
If Mack Brown and his staff can pull in another surprise player or two on the offensive side, this could be one of the most complete recruiting classes in recent Texas history.
8. Vocal Leaders Must Emerge on Both Sides of the Ball
Every team needs players on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball that lead by example. The best teams have leaders that aren't afraid to be vocal, call out teammates when they are doing poorly, but also praise them when they are doing well.
Sometimes kicking then kissing a temmate is a great way to motivate a player with potential to play to the best of their ability.
As the summer months progress, it will be essential for the Texas Longhorns to find these vocal leaders on offense and defense.
The most likely candidate on the defensive side of the ball is three-year starting defensive back Blake Gideon. Through his aggressive and intimidating play, Gideon has earned the respect of opponents and teammates alike. It's now time for him to step up and be the vocal leader Texas needs in Manny Diaz's new defensive unit.
The most likely candidate on the offensive side of the ball is sophomore wide receiver Mike Davis. While Davis may not have Gideon's longevity, there is no doubt that he will be the catalyst for the Texas offense. The offense will go as Davis goes, and he must encourage everyone to come along for the ride.
7. 7-on-7 Drills This Summer Must Be Productive
One of the most important bonding periods between any college team's quarterbacks and wide receivers takes place during the summer.
Garrett Gilbert, Case McCoy, Connor Wood and David Ash must take advantage of every practice session they have this summer, both as individuals and with their receivers in 7-on-7 drills.
During 7-on-7's, the field is opened up substantially, allowing quarterbacks and wideouts an opportunity to work on timing routes without aggressive pressure from defensive linemen or linebackers and determine how to work best together. It's all about chemistry.
Even though coaches cannot actively participate, this summer's drills could finally create a gap between the No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks for Texas, which spring practice could not.
6. Staying Healthy and Out of Trouble
Summers in Austin bring plenty of temptation.
With all of the scandals present in college football these days, it is more important than ever that current Longhorns keep their noses clean this summer and not do anything, which could endanger themselves or the fragile state of Texas football.
If these incidents do occur, it would be in Mack Brown's best interests to drop the hammer with a zero-tolerance policy to ensure single occurences do not become a damaging trend and the integrity of the program stays intact.
5. Enjoying a Break Away From the Spotlight
The crush of the media spotlight during the football season and spring practice is difficult for collegiate football coaches and players alike.
The summer months offer a retreat, however short it may be, from the unwavering attention and a chance to combine some hard work with some much needed rest.
It will be absolutely vital for Texas to enter preseason workouts in August with clear heads and healthy bodies for the team to be competitive this fall.
College is college, after all, and shouldn't be all about work and no play.
Just as long as that play doesn't involve stints in either the Travis or Williamson County facilities, everything should be just fine.
4. Absorbing the New Offensive and Defensive Schemes
With the implementation of new schemes on both sides of the ball, the Texas coaching staff and the Longhorn players have plenty to study over the course of the next few months.
Whomever takes over at the skill positions on the offensive side of the ball need to be able to hit the ground running when fall practice starts. There is no time available to be wasted on learning the offensive scheme when the season gets underway.
The defensive players must spend equal time studying coach Manny Diaz's new defensive scheme as well this summer, especially given that it is very different from what they were accustomed under Will Muschamp.
How well all of the Texas players absorb these new schemes will be evident in the first few non-conference games of 2011 and will set the tone for the rest of the season.
3. It's Time To Have Some Fun
During the ESPN broadcast of the Texas Jamboree Spring Game, one of the most important points that Mack Brown made all afternoon is that he was encouraging his coaches and players to start having more fun.
Now there's a concept.
It's all too easy anymore with the pressure placed on big-money sports for athletes to lose sight of why they are there to begin with.
At some point, the guys wearing the burnt orange and white loved the game of football, and that love propelled them to play at one of its highest levels.
If Texas can play with passion in 2011, and have a good time doing it, things could turn around quickly.
If it is treated like work, which seemed to be the 2010 team's habit, work it will be.
2. Mack Brown Must Continue to Be High Energy
Seeing Mack Brown on the sidelines during the spring game, one thing was obvious: He looks great.
You're probably thinking...so what?
Why do I care what he looks like?
It's hard to deny that physical health leads to more energy, and vice versa. If Mack Brown will need anything over the summer months leading into the 2011 season, it's energy.
During the 2010 season, Brown often looked worn out physically and mentally.
He is dealing with a complete overhaul of a program for the first time since his arrival on the Texas campus from North Carolina to take over for John Mackovic. This overhaul will require long hours and 100 percent concentration.
The newer, healthier Mack Brown is just the guy for the job.
1. It's Bennie Wylie's Time To Shine
The most important person in the Texas Longhorns football program this summer isn't who you think.
It's newly-hired strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie.
In Division I football, the difference between a good player and a great player has little to do with talent. The talent level is relatively equal across the board, as is the athleticism.
The separation is created through work ethic.
It is Bennie Wylie's charge this summer to encourage his senior leaders to push their teammates in the weight room and on the field during informal drills.
There's very little doubt that a Texas team, which is in shape and able to fight through the wall in the fourth quarter of games next season will be a successful one.
This begins and ends with Bennie Wylie, the most important man on the Texas coaching staff outside of the season.