DALLAS – Forget that " 'T' is for Texas" this fall. For the Longhorns, the "T" better be for toughness.
Coach Mack Brown was blunt when talking during the Big 12 Media Day event earlier this week: "I want us to get so we are a more physical football team from top to bottom."
The makeover began after the highly disappointing 2010 season. Texas lost to Alabama in the national title game following the 2009 season, then slumped to a 5-7 mark in '10. Brown brought in a new defensive coordinator (Manny Diaz), a new offensive line coach (Stacy Searels) and a new defensive line coach (Bo Davis). All three came from programs in the more physical SEC: Diaz from Mississippi State, Searels from Georgia and Davis from Alabama.
Brown said the toughness issue started to come to the fore when Colt McCoy, who graduated following the 2009 season, was at quarterback.
"I thought Colt was so good and so accurate that we became a softer offensive football team from a running standpoint," Brown said. "We were throwing the ball on third-and-4, and I wanted to bring the toughness back."
The Longhorns rebounded with an 8-5 record last fall, but they still have lost 12 games the past two seasons. That's the worst two-season stretch for the Longhorns since they lost a combined 12 times in 1996 and '97; not so coincidentally, John Mackovic was fired as coach after the '97 season.
There was a renewed emphasis on the rushing attack last season. Texas ran the ball 589 times and averaged 202.6 yards per game; that was the most rushing attempts for the Longhorns since 2005, when they won the national title. The yards-per-game average was the highest since 2007 (207.5), when they finished 10-3.
Texas ran the ball 156 more times and averaged 52.1 more rushing yards per game last season than it did in 2009.
Junior guard Mason Walters, who has started each game the past two seasons, said the idea of getting tougher "has taken hold in the coaching staff. It's absolutely more of an emphasis. It's an identity we want to have."
Walters said becoming even more physical "became an expectation" this spring. He said the coaching staff has taken to telling players "we need more of this" and providing examples when scrimmaging or watching film.
This season, Texas is looking to improve what has been a stagnant passing attack. And, yes, that feeds into Brown's toughness mantra.
"I think toughness on offense is the ability to move the ball either by throwing it or running it. … You can't just throw it all the time and be successful," he said. "The knock against the 'throwing teams' for years has been that the field shrinks as you get closer to that goal line. It's harder to score without being able to run."
While the passing attack remains a question because there is no clear-cut starter at quarterback, Texas should be able to run effectively again this season. The Longhorns are a legitimate three-deep at tailback with sophomores Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron and highly touted true freshman Johnathan Gray, a five-star signee who was the No. 5 player overall nationally. Brown was a five-star recruit and the No. 10 player overall nationally in the 2011 signing class.
Walters is one of four returning starters along the offensive line. The best part for Brown and Searels? Each of the projected starters is an underclassman, and there is likely to be just one senior in the two-deep for the opener.
Walters is expecting good things from he and his linemates, and gives Searels a lot of credit.
"Coach Searels has a physical, aggressive attitude, and that's what we want to have" on the line as a whole, said Walters, who added the linemen will be to blame if Texas struggles running the ball.
Walters said the grumbling about the 13-12 record the past two seasons hasn't escaped the players' notice. "It hasn't been fun the past two years," he said.
It hasn't been fun for Brown, either. He noted the team's slogan for this season is "R.I.S.E.," as in rise above eight wins. The team promises to be "relentless," have "intensity" and play with "swagger" and "emotion." Brown said he told the players that, for now at least, the "s" needs to stand for "sacrifice." He said he told the players they "have to sacrifice to get your swagger back."
Once that happens, his hope, obviously, is that the Longhorns also will play with "T."Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
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