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February 24, 2011

Brown, Texas set to begin spring cleaning

Last season, Texas lost seven games. The Longhorns followed that by shaking up their coaching staff.

The question in Austin, then, is will the overhaul of Mack Brown's coaching staff reverse the on-field fortunes and return the Longhorns to their usual status as championship contenders in the Big 12?

Some new ideas and styles were probably needed. Texas' offensive line and running attack were poor, quarterback Garrett Gilbert was inconsistent and mistake-prone, Texas struggled in the red zone and the defense was vulnerable against the run.

That's a long list of problems to be fixed. Brown and his new coaches have a lot of issues to address this spring to clean up the mess of last season.

Texas was the only team in the Big 12 South that wasn't bowl eligible last season, which means the Longhorns went from playing for the 2009 national title to sitting at home for the holidays.

Longtime offensive coordinator Greg Davis "resigned" after the season, and there will be co-coordinators this season with holdover Major Applewhite and newcomer Bryan Harsin. Harsin, who had been coordinator at Boise State, will call plays and also serve as quarterback coach. Applewhite will continue to oversee the running backs. The new offensive line coach is Stacy Searels, who had held the same position at Georgia. He replaces Mac McWhorter, who retired. The new wide receiver coach is Darrell Wyatt, who had been co-coordinator and wide receiver coach at Kansas. Wyatt, who's also a former assistant at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, replaces Bobby Kennedy, who now is receivers coach at Colorado.

There's also a new coordinator on the other side of the ball. After Will Muschamp, who also had been Texas' coach-in-waiting, was hired as coach at Florida, Brown turned to the SEC for his replacement. The new guy is Manny Diaz, who spent last season coordinating Mississippi State's defense. He had been hired by the Bulldogs in December 2009 after a stint at Middle Tennessee. Brown also turned to the SEC for his new defensive tackle coach, nabbing Bo Davis off Alabama's staff. Davis replaces Mike Tolleson, who retired from coaching but now will be a fund-raiser at the school.

Secondary coach Duane Akina left for Arizona in January but returned to Austin last week. His return came after his replacement, Jerry Gray, spent less than two weeks on the job before leaving to become the defensive coordinator with the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

Here's a look at what the rebuilt coaching staff has to work with this spring.

TEXAS AT-A-GLANCE
QB Garrett Gilbert needs to show more consistency or risk losing his job.
THE BASICS
Coach: Mack Brown
Last season: 5-7 overall, 2-6 in the Big 12 South.
Spring dates: Feb. 24-April 3.
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum seven starts last season)
Offense (5): QB Garrett Gilbert, WR Marquise Goodwin, C David Snow, G Mason Walters, TB Foswhitt Whittaker.
Defense (6): LB Emmanuel Acho, FS Blake Gideon, T Alex Okafor, NT Kheeston Randall, LB Keenan Robinson, SS Christian Scott.
Special teams (2): K/P Justin Tucker.
Positions of strength

Texas' linebackers could be extremely good. All-Big 12 selection Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, who posted a team-leading 113 tackles, head up the group. In addition, heralded '10 recruit Jordan Hicks could break into the starting lineup after making 23 tackles as a reserve last season. But the Longhorns need to do a better job in the middle. Safety is sound, too, with starters Blake Gideon and Christian Scott back. But Scott will have to fend off challenges from Kenny Vaccaro, who could end up at corner, and junior Nolan Brewster, who is coming off a redshirt season.

Help is needed

Where to start? The Longhorns lost CBs Chykie Brown, Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams. A combination of those three started every game the past two seasons. The offensive line was an absolute mess in 2010 and three starters are gone, which might not be so bad. New line coach Stacy Searels faces a big job in revamping that unit. Running back also is an area of concern. The Longhorns haven't had a running back reach even 600 rushing yards since Jamaal Charles in '07. The boost they need may not show up until this summer, when highly touted freshman Malcolm Brown is set to arrive.

3 guys to watch

WR Mike Davis: Last season, he set a team freshman record with 47 catches and already is the team's best receiver. He could emerge from solid player to rising star this spring. He's also shown leadership qualities, which Texas' offense desperately needs.

QB Garrett Gilbert: Last season, his first as the starter, Gilbert passed for 2,744 yards. But he threw only 10 TDs and 17 interceptions, and struggled in the red zone. He has to show progress is making decisions, eliminating mistakes and taking charge of the offense. If he doesn't, there are some intriguing prospects on the roster.

TE Blaine Irby: Knee injuries have prevented him from playing since the third game of the 2008 season. Coincidentally, the tight end has been virtually absent from Texas' offense since that time. Irby is aiming to make a comeback this spring. If he's successful, he can add an offensive element that's been missing.

The pressure is on

OT Tray Allen: He arrived in 2007 as a high school All-American and a five-star prospect, but he hasn't shown much. He has had injury issues and even got a look on defense. Texas has some good young linemen, so Allen has to have a strong showing this spring or spend another season as a backup to complete a disappointing career.

The buzz

Texas expects to win championships every season, so when the Longhorns don't even reach a bowl, it obviously doesn't sit well in Austin. Coach Mack Brown has declared open competition at all positions. With a rebuilt coaching staff, seemingly no job is safe. The Longhorns' past three recruiting classes were each ranked among the nation's top five. There are talented young players on the roster who must show this spring they're ready to move into the starting lineup.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.


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