McCoy, Charles bulking up for 2007 season

AUSTIN, Texas -- His teammates joke that they notice new biceps on Texas quarterback Colt McCoy more than ever before.

A buffed-up McCoy might still bear a striking resemblance to the title character of "Malcolm in the Middle," even at a hulkish 210 pounds. But McCoy said the added weight should have him better prepared for his second season as the Longhorns' starter.

"I need to be," McCoy said. "I'm tired of being thrown around and I don't want to get hurt again. I spent a lot of time in the weight room to get ready for the season. Everybody has."

McCoy's dedication for preparation has mirrored that of his team, which is aiming to rebound after last season's 10-3 record.

The Longhorns collapsed down the stretch with late losses against Kansas State and Texas A&M. Those defeats -- triggered in large part by a neck injury to McCoy -- cost them not only a potential chance to challenge for the national championship, but also an opportunity to repeat as the Big 12's South Division champ.

That late slump has brought an attitude change for the Longhorns, who return 13 offensive and defensive starters and 46 lettermen from last season's team.

And while the lineup might not be dotted with the star power of some of his previous teams, Texas coach Mack Brown is excited about the chemistry of his team as it begins spring practice.

"We feel like we're in better shape because we've got a lot of depth," Brown said. "We have fewer stars on this team than probably any we've had since we've been here. There are a lot of talented young guys, but fewer stars."

Brown said the rebuilding job for his upcoming team might be his most extensive since his first season at Texas in 1998.

"It really is exciting," Brown said. "It's fun to go back and try to have your best team with maybe not your best personnel."

But before anyone feels sorry for Brown, remember this is still Texas. And the group of young players who will start to get their opportunities this spring came to the Forty Acres nearly as ballyhooed as players like Vince Young, Roy Williams, Cedric Benson and Derrick Johnson before them.

McCoy's confidence in his second season as a starter is a good starting point. After scrambling to beat out Jevan Snead in training camp last season, McCoy responded by throwing for 2,570 yards and 29 touchdown passes, which tied the NCAA single-season record for a freshman.

That performance has helped settle McCoy as he prepares for his second season as the starter.

"I walked out and definitely was not as nervous as before," McCoy said. "I know all the players and everything about our offense. Now, it's just taking it to the next level."

Rejuvenating the running game will be the biggest spring priority, followed closely by finding a backup quarterback.

Tailback Jamaal Charles had a disappointing sophomore season, rushing for 831 yards and catching 18 passes in spot duty. Charles has given up indoor track this spring -- he was the Big 12's 100-meter dash champion and finished fourth at the NCAA Outdoor championships last year -- in order to concentrate on bulking up for football.

"When the season was over, I realized I needed to stick to football to get bigger where I was getting hurt at," Charles said. "I had weird injuries with my shoulders. I thought maybe to give up a little track to get stronger in my shoulders would help me out."

Charles said he could tell the difference in his first spring practices, easily running over defenders he wouldn't have budged in the past.

"I'm way bigger than I was before I got here," Charles said. "Last year, when I bumped into them, it was almost like they were bumping me back. I'm really comfortable with my new body now. I've gotten really big."

His teammates joke that Charles will never been mistaken for Earl Campbell as a power-running threat, but can tell the difference in his running style.

"Jamaal isn't going to run over anyone and if he has an option, he'll probably run around them," defensive back Drew Kelson said, laughing. "He'll be successful doing that. We're anxious to see what he's going to do with the new frame. He's excited about it and it doesn't look like he's lost a step."

Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis can tell Charles' attitude has changed with his most extensive spring work of his college career.

"Jamaal is a great athlete and I think he was disappointed in the year he had last season," Davis said. "He had set higher standards for himself, and certainly we had. But I feel that him focusing on football early in the spring and then running track will bode well for us in the future."

UT's offensive line must be retooled after losing three of the most decorated players of Brown's coaching tenure. The Longhorns must rebuild without tackle Justin Blalock, center Lyle Sendlein and guard Kasey Studdard, a trio who combined for 145 career games and six All-Big 12 selections.

Offensive lineman Cedric Dockery will not take part in spring drills, leaving Tony Hills, Adam Ulatoski and Dallas Griffin as the only Longhorns with significant playing history.

Despite ranking 34th nationally in rushing last season, the Longhorns will try to tweak their running game that produced 162.6 yards per game -- their lowest per-game average since 2002. The ground game struggled when McCoy got hurt, producing only 94.3 yards per game against Kansas State, Texas A&M and Iowa in the Alamo Bowl. UT failed to average four yards a carry in seven of its last nine games last season.

And while McCoy showed flashes using the zone-read plays made popular by Vince Young before him, the Longhorns never were as explosive running the ball as when Young was in charge.

"When Colt got hurt, we quit running it with him and that obviously let people squeeze down on everybody else," Brown said. "We didn't block downfield as well as we did a year before. Our splits need to get bigger again and we've got to break some tackles. We have to go back and be real direct. It wasn't people catching up with us without Vince -- all the theories are out there, but it's really not the case."

Brown looked to the Super Bowl for validation that his running game can be rejuvenated.

"The Indianapolis Colts ran the same offense we're running and they won the Super Bowl. Execution is what it is, and we didn't do it well," Brown said. "We've got to go back and look at Colt running the ball and be a part of the quarterback running game. That was a vital part of our offense. We wanted to build on it with Colt, but we didn't do it last year."

The backup position behind McCoy is open after Snead left for Mississippi after the end of the regular season. Redshirt freshman Sherrod Harris and incoming freshman John Chiles are the two top contenders in the spring.

The arrival of Chiles, a 4.3 speedster in the 40, has UT's coaches considering a situational combination role much like Florida used with Tim Tebow.

"It's not like we have to come up with another offense, but there's all kind of possibilities because he's a heck of an athlete," Davis said.

On defense, the biggest change will be the arrival of Larry Mac Duff, who was hired after former co-coordinator Gene Chizik took the Iowa State head coaching job. Players have compared Mac Duff, a 36-year coaching veteran who returns to college coaching after four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, to former co-coordinator Dick Tomey because of his attitude.

"With his energy, I don't think there's a difference than with coach Chizik," Kelson said. "I'm excited about what coach Mac Duff brings. He brings some energy and that's one thing that is consistent with all of the coaches that coach Brown has brought in. They are all energetic and want to pull the best out of you."

The Longhorns will be strong up the middle with the return of starting linebackers Scott Derry, Rashad Bobino and Robert Killebrew, along with defensive tackles Frank Okam, Derek Lokey and Roy Miller. The Longhorns' defense suffered when Lokey went down with a knee injury midway through the season last year.

Upcoming talent like Roddrick Muckelroy, Jared Norton and Sergio Kindle all have the potential to push the three returning starters at linebacker during the spring.

Brown's biggest concern is the secondary, which loses three starters from last season including Thorpe winner Aaron Ross and returns only safety Marcus Griffin.

Kelson will return to safety where he started his college career. Upcoming players like Chykie Brown, Deon Beasley, Erick Jackson, Brandon Foster and Ryan Palmer all were highly regarded recruits when they arrived at college.

"We have one secondary guy who has started, and he just started for one season," Brown said. "The rest are puppies."

And while many of the replacements are young, Brown hopes to use the spring as a laboratory to build confidence heading into the fall.

"We'll try to figure out if these guys can play man [defense]," Brown said. "Will we blitz as much? I don't know. We have a lot of questions to answer."

Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.