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Monday, August 5, 2013
Opening camp: Texas Longhorns

By David Ubben

Texas is the next Big 12 team who'll begin preseason camp. Let's have a closer look at the Longhorns.

Schedule: Texas will have its first practice Monday after players reported on Sunday. In a somewhat surprising decision, the Longhorns will host three open practices for fans at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. They'll all be this week, beginning with Thursday and Friday's 7:30 p.m. ET practice and followed by an 8 p.m. ET practice on Sunday.

Setting the scene: It's no understatement to say this season could define Mack Brown's tenure at Texas. If the Longhorns turn the corner and find themselves in a BCS game come January, he'll have successfully turned around Texas. He'll have a strong team returning in 2014 and an uptick in recruiting that signals greener pastures ahead and a more placid end to his career in Austin, whenever that happens. If we see an 8-9 win season or worse, an amazing run in the 2000s will have led to a post-Colt McCoy downfall and Brown likely won't be around to coach those 2014 and 2015 recruits. It'll color how he's remembered and this season will have a huge impact on what the next three to four years look like at Texas.

All eyes on: The defense. We're not going to learn anything about David Ash in preseason camp, but the defense has to show signs that it's capable of bouncing back from last season's nightmare that gave up more rushing yards than any team in Texas' history. Manny Diaz stuck around, and the Longhorns brought back 2004 defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to analyze film and do other tasks to help out, mostly from his home in Los Angeles. The personnel is there with the return of Jordan Hicks and stars Jackson Jeffcoat and Quandre Diggs, but this unit has a lot to prove. We'll get an idea of their progress in camp.

Key battle: Offensive tackle. Sophomore Josh Cochran (right) and junior college transfer Donald Hawkins (left) both turned in good efforts a year ago, but Cochran missed the spring with a broken leg. Junior college tackle Desmond Harrison has finally joined the team and could complicate that race. Texas may shift some guys around, like the versatile Trey Hopkins, but the battle for the tackle spot should be one to watch over the next month.

On the mend: Jeffcoat (pectoral) and Hicks (hip) are finally both healthy and ready to go, and the best news of all for Texas is Hicks being given a medical redshirt. That makes him a junior again this season and means he didn't waste last season when he missed 10 games. Jeffcoat has dealt with pectoral injuries in consecutive seasons as well as a high ankle sprain as a freshman. He's got to stay healthy.

Breaking out: Peter Jinkens. The sophomore linebacker had a big finish to the season after grabbing his first start against Iowa State. He had three tackles for loss and a sack against Kansas State, and nine tackles and a pick against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl win. He's got a lot of speed at 6-foot-1 and 218 pounds roaming the outside, and earned playing time at both weak and strongside.

Outlook: Texas has the potential to be better than any team in the Big 12 with a talented defense, experienced quarterback, deep stable of running backs and a physical, experienced offensive line. Still, all you have to do is look at games against Oklahoma and Kansas a year ago for a healthy, fair dose of skepticism. That's how a team that won nine games a year ago and returns 19 starters gets picked fourth in the Big 12 by the league's media. These Longhorns have a ton to prove, and a bit more experience and talent to do it than they've had in any year since 2010.

Quotable: Brown, on the struggles over the past few years. "We're a quarterbackdriven league, and if you just look at the last ten years, this league has been known for the best quarterbacks in the country and the best passers and the best offenses. So the fact that we've struggled at quarterback for two years on and off is a true fact that we've struggled as a team some because he touches it every time. ... So when you think about the importance of that player at all levels of our game, it is really, really key, and that's why we're so excited to have David with experience, with maturity, with confidence not only in himself but in his team.  He's leading the team much better, and they believe in him right now."