Eyes on Ash, offense at spring game

AUSTIN, Texas -- Forgive Alex Okafor if he has to stifle a yawn or two this Sunday.

It's only because the rising senior has been through this whole spring game thing a time or two before. And because he knows exactly what it will be like for him and most other starters.

"Vanilla," the defensive end said.

If only the real Texas games could be so bland and simple. Instead those are fraught with tumult and anxiety at every turn. At least that's the case when the offense is on the field.

Of course, that was the old offense; the one of 2010 and 2011. Sunday's will be the 2011.5 version. And true enough the play calling, sets and substitutions might be rather vanilla, but there could be a thing or two that might cause an arched eyebrow among the fans.

The first, as it always is at Texas, is the play of the quarterback. The coaching staff is going to put David Ash in the position to be incredibly successful during this scrimmage. Collectively the quarterbacks were 27-of-44 for 287 yards with a touchdown and a pick in last season's Orange-White game. That Garrett Gilbert threw the pick was part of his natural progression.

If Ash stays away from the mistakes, it will be part of his natural progression. He started last season with six interceptions before he threw a touchdown pass, and the coaches have been hounding him over the spring to be much more judicious in his selection of throws.

Ash appears to be taking the lessons in stride.

"Football is a game where you're never there," he said. "You take steps and steps and steps. Someday you get to a level where you can win a lot of ballgames. But you're never there. So I'm just working on everything."

He might be working in the pocket more than usual this spring game, just so the coaches can see what he looks like in that scenario. In other words, Texas has to see what it truly has headed into the summer. To that end, look for Ash to get 20 to 25 pass attempts.

That should help the wide receivers as well.

"We are trying to prove that we can pass the ball and have an evenly split offense between running and passing," wide receiver Jaxon Shipley said.

The running backs -- Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown -- are an established commodity, so there is not too much anticipation surrounding what their performances might be or even signal Sunday.

In fact most of the offensive personnel is the same, with the exception of Donald Hawkins at left tackle and M.J. McFarland at tight end. The reviews for both throughout the spring have been positive.

Hawkins, a junior college transfer, came in with a rather large opinion of himself that caught the other linemen off guard, according to Trey Hopkins.

But, Hopkins added, Hawkins has lived up to the hype and they have started to understand and appreciate his personality in the huddle.

The coaches are interested in watching McFarland as a blocker. They know he is a solid receiver. But they worry about his ability to seal the edge and will try to get some plays on film that require him to do just that.

Defensively, lineman Brandon Moore and linebacker Steve Edmond are the two players to watch.

"Everybody knows he has a lot of power behind him," Hopkins said of Moore. "What you don't realize is how quick he is."

Moore has been going against the second team offensive line and dominating throughout the spring. Sunday could bring an opportunity to see him against starting offensive linemen Mason Walters, Hopkins and Dominic Espinosa.

As for Edmond, this should be the first chance for fans to get a true glimpse at what a destructive force he can be at linebacker. Kenny Vaccaro has been effusive in his praise, calling Edmond, pound for pound, the best athlete on the team.

If the defense is allowed to blitz -- that could be very limited to make sure the QBs have success -- Edmond's abilities will become very apparent, very quickly.