OK, so it’s not exactly the equivalent of the Berlin Wall coming down, but it’s close.
When Mack Brown announced he was opening Texas football practices to the media for six days, well, let’s just say Christmas came early. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen 100-plus young men sweat and grunt in person. I joined about 25 of my colleagues and watched every minute of Longhorn workouts this week. Hey, it’s a little like Halley’s Comet; who knows when it’ll happen again.
The only thing that could match the euphoria is the feeling we’ll get when the Longhorn Network becomes available on local cable in 2035.
• Day One, Monday
4:58 p.m. — Walk into Frank Denius Fields with the man himself. Mack Brown gives me a hug. Seriously. Or is he trying to strangle me? I’ll get back to you on that one. Gabby, terrific SID aide, hands out rosters and a list of the rules we must obey: No photography. No live tweets. No Facebooking. No nothing. We have to sign in. Fortunately, she doesn’t hand out blindfolds.
5:35 — The Horns are practicing inside the bubble where temperatures range between 80 and 85. Hmmm, I wonder if the Sooners are practicing inside, so I checked. They’re not. OU school spokesman said they’ve been outside all week. Their temps hovered below 100 degrees and reached only 80 on one day, but the heat index has hit 106. They begin practice at 5:45 a.m.
5:44 — Anthony Fera and Will Russ bang punts off the ceiling. Make mental note to tell DeLoss that Mack needs a bigger bubble.
6:12 — Wideout Kendall Sanders makes sensational diving catch. The guy is for real. So’s Marcus Johnson. Sanders has star written all over him.
6:17 — Offensive tackle/solar eclipse Desmond Harrison, who’s 6-8, backpedals out of stance and blots out the entire backfield. Dude is huge.
7:04 — Tight end M.J. McFarland grabs reception, rumbles down the field. Has NFL body. “But junior high hands,” says one cynic, not me. Tight end Greg Daniels looks better as well.
7:37 — Offensive guard Mason Walters tells us, “I wouldn’t want my job to be safe.” Good, Mason, it’s not. No one’s is, if Mack is telling the truth. New accountability?
7:43 — Quarterback David Ash visits with the media and doesn’t cringe once. Appears as confident as he says he is. I’m on David Ash bandwagon, which still has room.
• Day Two, Tuesday
5:24 — We notice Harrison is missing because no one’s head scrapes the ceiling of the bubble. He’s fulfilling academic requirements. We are curious.
5:49 — Are Quandre Diggs’ calves even thicker? Looks like it. … Secondary coach Duane Akina calls defensive players “a bunch of (bleeping) cheerleaders.” Liking it.
6:11 — Tyrone Swoopes is big. Really big. He throws another incompletion. Reminded he’s a true freshman. Because he’s 6-5, doubt Mack’s worried about any snaps going over his head, but he has big-time accuracy issues. Personally, I think the dreadlock man, Jalen Overstreet, may offer bigger upside. Think ‘Street will have a big year.
6:36 — Case McCoy’s arms look bigger. Turns out an American businessman built a $300,000 gym in Peru, and the Horns’ backup quarterback worked out there four days a week in between installing water purification systems. Rumor Jim Harbaugh was there, too. Probably picking Case’s brain about Colt, the newest 49er.
6:51 — Offensive tackle Donald Hawkins is Stacy Searels’ whipping boy for the day. “Finish,” screams the offensive line coach. Searels is not happy, Hawkins less so.
7:12 — Chat up Frank Denius on the sidelines. The Texas benefactor and lawyer has been coming to Longhorn practices since 1957 — sometimes in his suits — when he befriended Darrell Royal the day after he was hired. This year will mark the 67th straight OU game he’ll attend. Denius focuses on the linebackers, his favorite position, and loves Peter Jinkens, Kendall Thompson and Dalton Santos. “I’m a defensive guy. (Former Longhorn running back) Ted Koy’s my offensive coordinator.”
7:18 — Manny Diaz, channeling his inner Duane Akina, is screaming his butt off. Screaming is good when you’re coming off a season with 112 missed tackles.
7:21 — Mack yells at defensive end Bryce Cottrell for accidentally rushing Swoopes and getting tangled up, risking injury. Lucky for Bryce Cottrell that Mack really loves his upside.
• Day Three, Wednesday
5:15 — No Harrison sighting. Curiosity leads to concern.
5:31 — Team nutritionist Amy Culp hands out electrolyte gummy bears to keep the players’ energy level high. Asked if they only come in orange, spokesman John Bianco says, “No, we eat other team’s colors, too.”
6:04 — Isn’t that Riley Dodge, son of former Texas quarterback Todd Dodge? It is. He’s a full-time quality control coach who spends a lot of time with the quarterbacks and tries to keep their spirits up during tough times, his dad tells me Friday. “He loves it here.” Riley, who got married in June, worked at Texas A&M last season.
6:19 — Quarterback-turned-tailback-turned-Wild formation guy-turned loose Overstreet throws a bullet on the run to freshman Chevoski Collins, a high school quarterback playing wide receiver for the first time and looking really, really special. Collins may move to safety this week.
6:57 — Team moves outside for first time all week under punishing Texas sun. Must have heard Bob Stoops is practicing outside.
7:11 — Check on fantasy baseball team. Still in ninth place. Damn that Verlander.
7:34 — Mack addresses the media, asks if we like open practices. We do, kiss the ring.
• Day Four, Thursday
6:47 — On the first play of the workout open to about 1,500 fans, running back Malcolm Brown catches a swing pass and absolutely blows up cornerback Carrington Byndom, who is also having a great camp.
6:48 — I have a headache just watching the hit. Byndom’s fine.
7:03 — A Longhorn Network cameraman is hit in a place you don’t want to get hit by an errant pass.
7:04 — I have another ache where you don’t want to ache; the cameraman’s a trooper and keeps taping.
7:12 — Still no Desmond Harrison, third day in a row. Worry becoming full-blown panic despite assurances it’s routine.
7:50 — Mack chatting up visitor Gene Chizik, in town for a Sirius radio show and wearing pink shoes I assume in honor of Wendy Davis. Let’s recap. One day Greg Robinson’s at practice, then Chizik. Who’s next? Leon Fuller? Wondering if Manny Diaz is looking over both shoulders.
8:32 — Joe Bergeron tells us he’s dropped 20 pounds on his Oatmeal pies-free diet, now weighs 223. Johnathan Gray says he wants to run and catch passes for a combined 1,500 yards. Very doable.
• Day Five, Friday
6:35 — Bill Powers in the house in trademark jeans and sandals. Is the Texas prez offering contract extensions?
6:49 — Bergeron flattens cornerback Sheroid Evans. He’s running with conviction.
7:02 — Ball-security drill with coaches poking at footballs with sticks, pads. Tight end John Harris only one to fumble.
7:23 — Can’t get over how smooth wide receiver Jacorey Warrick runs routes. The freshman tore the meniscus in his right knee last October.
8:32 — Jackson Jeffcoat tells us he weighs 250 pounds and feels stronger than ever. May have negative body fat.
• Day Six, Saturday
7:14 — Harrison out for fifth straight day.
8:18 — Cornerback Adrian Colbert blows up tight end Greg Daniels in the hit of the week.
9:52 — Phew. Watching practice is hard work. Barnes isn’t going to open practice, is he?