AUSTIN (AP) — This season, there's a different competition brewing within the Texas offense.
And this one's a little more important to the Longhorns than John Chiles and Sherrod Harris battling for the backup quarterback spot in 2007.
With the early departure of Jamaal Charles to the NFL, the Longhorns are in search of a running back to fill the void left by Charles. The three-way battle between Chris Ogbonnaya, Vondrell McGee and Foswhitt Whittaker has tightened even more after Texas' annual spring scrimmage Saturday.
Both Ogbonnaya and McGee split time at the back-up spot last season and were used more in short-yardage situations. Whittaker redshirted but could become an integral part of the Longhorns offense in 2008 as a change-of-pace back.
"Those three have all had a great spring, and the competition between them is a good one," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "Vondrell did some really good things today, and Foswhitt showed what he can do. What we were looking at today are individuals, and we're trying to see who can make individual plays."
None of the three backs have separated themselves from one another, and the race for the starting job will continue throughout the summer and into the fall before a starter is named.
"We're not going to have a depth chart until we play because we need guys to understand if you don't do your job, you lose it," Brown said. "We used that same strategy leading up to the Holiday Bowl, and it worked for us."
Ogbonnaya started with the first-team offense in the first two plays of the game, but was quickly replaced by McGee so Texas coaches could get a closer look at the two younger running backs. Ogbonnaya, a senior and more experienced running back, carried the ball just once for three yards. Both McGee and Whittaker received equal playing time as Whittaker lined up with the second-team offense.
McGee struck first on a one-yard touchdown run and finished with 26 yards on eight carries. Whittaker looked impressive all scrimmage slashing through the second-team defense for 43 yards on eight carries. Whittaker had a 6-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and was Texas' second-leading rusher behind Chiles, who finished with 75 yards on 9 carries.
"They all looked good this spring and the competition is as even as it could get," Chiles said. "Foswhitt has looked impressive this spring, but it's pretty even. That's why I let the coaches make that decision."
McCoy has also been impressed with the way Whittaker looked in spring practices.
"He's been playing great, and when he came in this spring he wanted to be the guy," McCoy said. "He's definitely playing like he wants the spot."
While it's too early to tell who will get the starting nod, it's highly likely that Texas will use a rotation of running backs in the upcoming season for different situations in the game, as the Longhorns have done in the past. For now, Texas players can enjoy a month off before summer workouts begin.
"This was maybe our best spring since we've been here," Brown said. "Now, we've got the toughest schedule we've ever had coming up in the fall."
Texas opens the season Aug. 30 at home against Florida Atlantic.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.