Posted April 8th, 2009 by Mike
Filed under: Feature, Football, Spring Football

Nolan Brewster runs back an interception of Sherrod Harris.

Nolan Brewster runs back an interception of Sherrod Harris. (MB-TF)

For the returning starters the spring is for retuning and building chemistry with the new faces around on the team. For the new faces and younger guys the spring is about gaining confidence from the coaches and your teammates. The spring game isn’t always about the starters. Players coming off a red-shirt year or three year guys buried on the depth chart can make a statement and jumpstart the summer offseason program. The 2009 Jamboree had the usual faces making plays ([tag]Colt McCoy[/tag]), it had a few missing ([tag]Jordan Shipley[/tag], [tag]Sergio Kindle[/tag]), and it had a few emerge. We look at who had the best performances and who may have made a name for themselves in this year’s game.

1. [tag]Earl Thomas[/tag]

The sophomore safety was the best player on the field on Sunday. Thomas had the play of the day when he intercepted Colt McCoy’s pass attempt and then outraced the Heisman candidate to the pylon. The Longhorns played predominately out of the 4-2-5, and it sounds like Earl Thomas is the choice at the nickel spot covering the slot. [tag]Aaron Williams[/tag] is also get a look at the slot, but right now it looks like Will Muschamp would rather bring in Christian Scott at safety than [tag]Curtis Brown[/tag] to corner. The truth of the matter is Muschamp is probably comfortable with either, but having three safeties on the field will help with run support and blitzing. It all depends on the play of Thomas, and if Sunday is a forecast of what is to come, Muschamp will have a lot of options come the fall. Thomas has a chance to be an All-American type player in his sophomore year. He has the talent and the dedication to do it.

2. [tag]Malcolm Williams[/tag]

His stats weren’t that great, two catches for five yards. Nobody on offense lit up the stat book on a day that was brutally windy. But when Williams is on the field he has a chance to beat any corner deep. The guy looks the part. He can run, he can jump, he can catch. Colt McCoy has had his struggles in the deep passing game, he missed Williams twice on throws deep down the field on one Williams caught it out of bounds and on the other one he overthrew the open Williams by a few steps. All summer long these two needs to work on connecting down the field because the ability to get deep is one that the Longhorns lacked last season. It is utterly amazing the success UT had on offense last year considering the lack of true running game or deep ball. It makes what Colt did last year that more impressive. Williams can force double teams on the outside with his ability to beat one-on-one coverage. That will allow more room for Shipley, Brandon Collins, and James Kirkendoll. Williams hasn’t been counted on for a whole game yet so his conditioning is still a concern, but his talent is off the charts.

3. [tag]Alex Okafor[/tag]

The kid should be thinking about prom instead he is getting the start for the first group at the University of Texas’ spring game. [tag]Blake Gideon[/tag] did the same thing last year and every one dismissed it as just an able body’s thing and it wouldn’t be the case by fall. Well, Blake Gideon started every game last year and it is too early to say if Okafor will have the same honor, but it is clear he will get some snaps. The true freshman from Pflugerville started where Sergio Kindle is likely to be, but when Kindle plays linebacker that position will be open. Eddie Jones will be back in the fall and the coaches like [tag]Russell Carter[/tag], but don’t overlook the freshman. He doesn’t play like a freshman, and I don’t the coaches are going to treat him like one. If he can add some strength and a little weight in the offseason he has a chance to be a real force this year. At the worst he’s a situational pass rusher and a candidate to be a middle guy on kickoffs and punts.

4. [tag]Nolan Brewster[/tag]

The true sophomore is lost in the shuffle in a crowded secondary group, but this spring he has made a case for some real playing time. Brewster made the first big play of the game, an interception off of a bobbled pass thrown by [tag]Sherrod Harris[/tag] to tight-end [tag]Ian Harris[/tag]. Brewster is an instinctive, hardnosed football player that excels at safety and in special teams. With Thomas, Scott, and Blake Gideon all in line for major snaps it is hard to see where Brewster is going to fit in. But with the offenses in the Big 12 and the three safety formation that Muschamp is going to being the fourth safety may be the defensive equivalent of being the fourth receiver for the Longhorn offense. Brewster is one sprained ankle from being a possible starter for a national championship contender. And he has shown so far he is capable of stepping up.

5. [tag]Britt Mitchell[/tag]

It is unlikely that Mitchell has won a starting spot at right tackle in the absence of [tag]Kyle Hix[/tag] because of injury, but the junior may have cemented himself as the third tackle in the rotation. Texas likes to rotate lineman every third series or so in real game action, and with the injury history of both starters Hix and senior [tag]Adam Ulatoski[/tag] having quality depth at tackle is huge, especially to a football team that passes so frequently. The offensive line wasn’t dominating on Sunday, but they were more than solid in the passing game. Mitchell held his own against Sam Acho and Alex Okafor and opened the hole for the first rushing touchdown of the game. Tray Allen has struggled to make an impact at tackle, and some think he should be moved inside, with the emergence of Mitchell over the last half of spring practice has made that move a possibility.

6. [tag]Aaron Williams[/tag]

It was pretty clear that [tag]Chykie Brown[/tag] was one of the starting corners. He has a chance to be the best corner in the conference. It was unclear, however, who would get the other spot. Would the coaches give the nod to the older player or the most talented player? Aaron Williams, just a sophomore, was thought of the player with the most upside at the position and it looks like that upside is being realized sooner than later. AJ has manned the starting corner spot all spring and has brought rave reviews for his consistency and talent. The former Round Rock McNeil star will be on the field somewhere, either at corner or at the slot in the nickel formation and even showed some return skills in the Spring Game. Williams is in the mold of Nathan Vasher, Michael Huff, and Aaron Ross. He has a chance to be a star.

7. [tag]James Kirkendoll[/tag]

It seems the former Westwood star is the forgotten man at the wide receiver position. He doesn’t get the same hype as Malcolm Williams, Jordan Shipley, and even [tag]Brandon Collins[/tag]. But Kirkendoll just gets the job done day in and day out. He is a great route runner, he has reliable hands, and he can play on the inside and the outside. The junior also proved he can perform in the big games when he made a few clutch catches late in the Fiesta Bowl win over Ohio State. It looks more and more likely that Texas will go to a four wide receiver set for a good amount of snaps because of the problems at the tight end position. That means even more time for Kirkendoll. In the Spring Game he was tied for most catches with three and had a nice 12 yard gain on a reverse.

8. [tag]Ben Alexander[/tag]

The defensive tackle position has to be the most worrisome position on the team. Texas needs someone to step up next to [tag]Lamarr Houston[/tag] and so far the senior has done a good job. It is now or never for Alexander and he has to realize that. The coaches were thinking of moving Houston, a former defensive end, to the nose tackle position but the emergence of Alexander has allowed him to stay at his more natural three technique. Muschamp has said he’d like to have at least five defensive ends and five defensive tackles to rotate. Right now it looks like the defensive end rotation will not be a problem if everyone is healthy. Texas has three dependable defensive tackles right now with a few more on the roster and two incoming freshman showing up in the fall. Texas is going to need one of those two if not both to come in and provide depth. Alexander needs to do everything he can to improve his conditioning and quickness to handle the Big 12 offenses. He will never be an every down play against those styles of offense but 40 to 50 snaps a game would be huge for this team.

9. [tag]Keenan Robinson[/tag]

The evolution of the Big 12 offenses has required the linebackers to be just as good in pass coverage as they are at stopping the run. Texas has two reliable and proven linebackers in [tag]Jared Norton[/tag] and [tag]Roddrick Muckelroy[/tag] (three if you count Sergio Kindle), but Norton is a prototypical linebacker who excels against the run but can look lost at times against the spread offenses. Robinson on the other hand is has the perfect skill set for the Big 12 and Muschamp’s defense. The speed and athleticism he has at linebacker is rare. On Sunday he blanketed tight-ends and running backs. The sophomore can blitz as well. Robinson is a player that could play all three downs in this defense and don’t be surprised if it is Muckelroy and Robinson playing linebacker in the 4-2-5 as the season wears on.

10. [tag]Justin Tucker[/tag]

Not many punters can be considered weapons, but Tucker will be for Texas this year. Last year, he made an impact with his rugby style punts last year, and it looks like he has added another foot to his arsenal. The right footed punter rolled to his left and with his left foot he downed a punt inside the 10 yard line on a rugby punt. He also had a few regular punts that looked good. As a team punting isn’t a good thing, but it is nice to have such a versatile player taking the deep snaps. Besides taking away opposing returners with the rugby style punt, his athleticism combined with his ability to roll both ways will provide huge opportunities for fakes. And with his proficiency with the rugby style Texas can call fake punt options where he can roll one way and if it is open he can run and if it isn’t he can punt at the last minute. It will be huge in close games.

11. [tag]Cody Johnson[/tag]

I know he didn’t play on Sunday, but the play at the running back position proved that Johnson needs to be the guy unless freshman [tag]Chris Whaley[/tag] comes in and impresses. For the first half of the spring Johnson ran with the first team and impressed the coaches enough that [tag]Mack Brown[/tag] and Greg Davis haven mentioned every down back with Johnson’s name. The question on the sophomore bruiser has always been conditioning. The coaching staff has tried to get his weight down, but really the important thing is his body fat. He may not fit perfectly into the current offensive scheme, but Texas has too many negative plays in the run game and Johnson gives you a back that will push the pile forward at the very least. The fact is Texas doesn’t need the run game to be one of the best in the nation; they just need to be able to pick up small chunks of yards when they need to. Johnson being able to stay on the field will be a big part of that.

Share

Related Posts

0 Comments

Comments are closed.

Texas FanGuide - Texas Longhorns fan app with roster, news, and team schedule

Subscribe to the 40 Acres!

Don't miss breaking news or another story from your favorite Longhorns fan site, subscribe to our RSS(?) feed!

Become a fan of the 40 Acres on Facebook