Texas will enter the 2009 season with national yitle hopes after a stellar 2008 campaign. In fact, [tag]Mack Brown[/tag] was pointing towards 2009 last offseason as the team he was looking forward to taking to his second title. Even with the anticipated success there are a few question marks on the field.
1. Will the offensive line play get better?
Texas struggled to run the ball late in games all of last year. Mack Brown wants that to change. So much so that all accounts point to the team spending most of the spring figuring out what needs to change. Outsiders point to scheme, but this is the same scheme that allowed [tag]Vince Young[/tag], Selvin Young, and Jamaal Charles to rack up tons of yards in 2005. The difference is Kasey Studdard, Jonathan Scott, and Justin Blalock won’t be in the starting lineup. The big guys up front have been good, but not great, and with most of them now in their third and fourth year in the program there are no more excuses. Texas’ offensive lineman must play stronger at the point of attack for this offense to be as balanced as Brown wants it to be. The Longhorns may not have a true game breaker in the backfield, but they’re good enough to do damage if given the holes. If Texas can get a running game going the offense could be the best ever at Texas. Guys like [tag]Charlie Tanner[/tag], [tag]Michael Huey[/tag], and [tag]Kyle Hix[/tag] need to step up and be as dominant as most think they can be.
2. Who is going to step up at running back?
For most of the spring [tag]Cody Johnson[/tag] was running with the first team. Texas is looking to go under center more this year, and Johnson is clearly the best downhill runner on the roster, at least until [tag]Chris Whaley[/tag] reports. Unfortunately, Johnson got hurt and will miss the spring game on Sunday. The door could be no more wide open for the likes of [tag]Vondrell McGee[/tag], [tag]Foswhitt Whittaker[/tag], [tag]Tre Newton[/tag], and [tag]Jeremy Hills[/tag]. The staff knows what they have in McGee and Whittaker. McGee is explosive and a hard runner, but doesn’t offer the receiving and/or blocking skills position coach Major Applewhite stresses in his players. A lot of people feel like the staff wants Whittaker to be the guy because of his skill set, but the little guy just can’t stay healthy. There hasn’t been a huge buzz around Hills or Newton but an eye opening spring game could set them up for playing time in the fall. The fact is somebody needs to step up because the running game is the only thing holding this offense back.
3. Who will get to the quarterback?
We all know [tag]Sergio Kindle[/tag] will be on one side, but who will be the other defensive end? Texas feels like Kindle will replace the production provided by soon to be multi-millionaire [tag]Brian Orakpo[/tag], but who will replace Kindle’s? Right now it looks like [tag]Sam Acho[/tag] will get the start with [tag]Eddie Jones[/tag] and maybe even freshman [tag]Alex Okafor[/tag] getting looks on pure rushing situations. Defensive coordinator [tag]Will Muschamp[/tag] has Acho’s brother Emmanuel working at the buck end position along with starting inside linebacker [tag]Jared Norton[/tag]. More than likely it won’t matter who is on the field, Muschamp won’t allow the defense not to get pressure. How much will Texas show in the spring game is a question that can’t be answered, but with a secondary that returns all but one contributor it is likely that Muschamp will unleash the hounds this year. The question is will he apply pressure because of his personnel like last year, or will he have to do it with scheme.
4. Who’ll play in the nickel formation?
For all intents and purposes the Longhorn defense is a 4-2-5. Texas says their base is a three linebacker set, but with the offenses they face in the Big 12 more times than not five defensive backs on the field. Going into the spring there were grumblings about the perceived battle between returning starter [tag]Blake Gideon[/tag] and the message board deity [tag]Christian Scott[/tag] and who will get the snaps, but it looks like Muschamp has found an answer, and that answer is both. The speed and versatility of [tag]Earl Thomas[/tag] has allowed Muschamp to play him in the slot while keeping the brains of Gideon on the field while not sacrificing the athletic gifts of Scott. The cornerback situation appears to have already settled despite what anybody says. Right now [tag]Chykie Brown[/tag] and [tag]Aaron Williams[/tag] are locked in as the starters with [tag]Curtis Brown[/tag] and [tag]Deon Beasley[/tag] backing up. In the past it has been hard for underclassman to jump over guys with more experience but it looks like the talent of Williams is too much to overlook. The true sophomore to be has a chance to be one of the best defensive backs to come through the 40 acres if what the staff thinks about him is true. The whole formation depends on how Thomas does in the slot. If he can stay there, Texas can have three safeties on the field.
5. Who will step up and lead?
We know who the likely candidates are on offense. [tag]Colt McCoy[/tag], [tag]Jordan Shipley[/tag], and [tag]Adam Ulatoski[/tag] would figure to take charge on that side of the ball. All three levels of the defense will lose the guy most pegged as their emotional leader. The defensive line lost [tag]Roy Miller[/tag] and Brian Orakpo, the linebackers lost Rashad Bobino, and the defensive backs lost Ryan Palmer. If last year’s team taught us anything it is that leadership or the lack there of can never be overlooked. If you need any other evidence take a look at the Cowboys. From a talent perspective Kindle and [tag]Roddrick Muckelroy[/tag] would lead the charge, but both of those guys are quiet and low key by nature. [tag]Lamarr Houston[/tag] has been said to be taking charge in the front seven and Thomas has it locked in the secondary. The team keeping the momentum and mentality of last year will ultimately decide if all the goals are met this season.