Texas looks for -- and finds -- answers in spring drills

Updated: April 1, 2005, 6:05 PM ET
Associated Press

AUSTIN -- Spring football practice started a new era for the Texas Longhorns.

Gone from the lineup for the first time in four years are running back Cedric Benson and linebacker Derrick Johnson, who are waiting to be drafted by the NFL.

Their departure left coach Mack Brown trying to fill some big holes if the Longhorns hope to return to the Rose Bowl, this time to play for a national championship. Texas concludes spring drills Saturday night with its annual Orange & White scrimmage.

Replacing Benson and Johnson are the top concerns before the season starts Sept. 3 against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Benson finished his career as the fifth-leading rusher in Division I history with 5,540 yards and Johnson was one of the most dominating defenders in the nation last year.

Selvin Young, who was expected to start at tailback in the fall, has missed spring drills because of academics and is still recovering from an ankle injury suffered last fall. That left room for speedy Ramonce Taylor to make a move for the starting role.

Brown also signed a trio of talented running backs in February, including prep All-American Jamaal Charles of Port Arthur Memorial High School.

Taylor was moved to wide receiver last season but has impressed Brown at tailback this spring.

"(Taylor) has definitely showed us that he can be a tailback. We do not feel that anybody can do what Ricky (Williams) did or what Cedric Benson did and carry the load by themselves. So, we will probably alternate tailbacks next year," Brown said.

"Ramonce runs more like Vince (Young), in that he gets people a little off balance and then he can run through them with his quickness."

The Longhorns also are looking to shore up a group of wide receivers that fell short of expectations last year.

They got an immediate boost with the return of Jordan Shipley, who set Texas high school career records for catches (264), yards (5,424) and touchdowns (73) but missed last season with a knee injury. He has drawn rave reviews from Brown since his return to practice this spring.

For the first time in two years, Texas has no doubts at quarterback. Any questions about Vince Young's ability to lead the team were answered over the last half of the season and with his remarkable four-touchdown performance in the 38-37 win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

Depth is a concern, however, should Young get hurt. Little-used backup Matt Nordgren is the only other quarterback with any game experience.

Defensively, middle linebacker Aaron Harris, a tremendous hitter, appears ready to take over the role of team leader on the field but is unlikely to be able to cover as much ground as the speedy Johnson did.

Harris had 8½ tackles and a sack in the Rose Bowl, a game was Johnson finished with just 1½ tackles.

"He is the big hit guy," Brown said of Harris. "I thought he played with passion and intensity in the Rose Bowl. We have told him that for us to be the defense that we want to be, then he needs to play how he did in the Rose Bowl."

Texas fans will also get their first look Saturday night at new defensive co-coordinator Gene Chizik. He came from Auburn to replace Greg Robinson, who is now the head coach at Syracuse.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press