Here are my thoughts after watching the Longhorns at the Spring Game under Coach Strong, Clint Eastwood style.
The defense as expected was the shining star after the first drive by the offense resulted in an early touchdown. The defense line led by Caleb Bluiett (8 tackles & 2 sacks) ran roughshod over the offense line. The real test is to see if this group can excel against better offenses.
The defense backs had its share of interceptions lead by Mykkele Thompson who returned one back for a score. The QB play did not give much of an indication if this group will be up to task, but they gained a measure of confidence in the way they played.
Malcolm Brown and Jalen Overstreet showed promise in their running styles (Thunder & Lightning) in the way they attacked the defense. It was good to see these two step up as the passing game will start with a big question mark.
I liked that Coach Strong put the offense and defense on opposite sides of the field. It gave the fans the experience that one group was going against the other in a game. Charlie Strong strode across both ends of the field during the game to watch the coaches and the players actions.
We knew that the QB play would be the most scrutinized position on the field. It was evident that Tyrone Swoopes needs more time to develop as a passer. The athleticism is evident but the decision making and the timing of his release leaves room for doubt. If the incoming Max Wittek and Jerrod Heard can take the reins, it might be better to have Swoopes be the tight end that would remind us of Jermichael Finley. I will trust this coaching staff that they will put the kids in a position where they will succeed.
The offense line needs to come together quickly. There were some key absences on the line, but the boys in the trenches need to step up. The moving pocket allowed the line some success, but ultimately these road graders need to help this stable of running backs.
The audio coming from the Godzillatron was horrible. The timing and the placement of the music was bad. The big video board will be replaced because the company that created this monster is no longer around to feed the beast or get replacement parts. I hope the Athletic Department revamps the way they use this tool for the upcoming season.
The practice uniforms that the kids are wearing are hideous. I am going to the give the coaching staff a break because they have been preoccupied with establishing their culture and attitude with the team. I have been an advocate of providing the players an alternate game day jersey that will energize the players and help with new recruits.
As Clint said in the famous movie, “You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig.” Will the Longhorns have the loaded gun on the field or will they be the team digging?
Longhorn fans got great news Saturday night as Texas Head Athletic Trainer Kenny Boyd announced that quarterback David Ash was cleared to train and practice with the team:
Update on QB David Ash: Head Athletic Trainer for Football Kenny Boyd confirmed Ash is clear for offseason training.
— Longhorn_FB (@Longhorn_FB) January 19, 2014
Ash is anticipated to be available for full participation in spring practices.
— Longhorn_FB (@Longhorn_FB) January 19, 2014
Ash has been out due to concussion symptoms since September 21 against Kansas State. He and freshman Tyrone Swoopes are the only two scholarship QBs Texas has so getting Ash back is huge news. Obviously it’s also great news for Ash as he can finally get back playing football. Hopefully for the sake of his career and his life after football he can stay healthy from here on out.
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.
The Texas Longhorns gave us the first real look at what next year’s team is going to look like on Sunday for the Spring Game. Of course these games need to be taken with a grain of salt because both sides bring vanilla game plans. [tag]Sergio Kindle[/tag] didn’t play very much, but the defense dominated for most of the scrimmage. Here are five things we learned from the game.
1. The secondary has grown up.
A few months removed from being the perceived weak link of the defense the Longhorn secondary dominated the offense the whole game. The defense played predominately out of the 4-2-5 and showed very little blitzes but they made plays. Last year the group had troubles creating turnovers but the safeties intercepted two passes, the first by [tag]Nolan Brewster[/tag] against the second team offense. The second interception was the play of day, a pick six by [tag]Earl Thomas[/tag] off of [tag]Colt McCoy[/tag]. Thomas was far and away the best player on the field on Sunday. The sophomore was everywhere, he showed off his coverage ability, he was a sure tackler, and show off his speed by running down a kick returner. Texas has four safeties that could start and all of them have at least three years of eligibility left. The corners looked good too. [tag]Aaron Williams[/tag] and [tag]Chykie Brown[/tag] have an opportunity to leave campus as the best duo Texas has had at cornerback. Add [tag]Curtis Brown[/tag] and [tag]Deon Beasley[/tag] and this group is deep and athletic. [tag]Will Muschamp[/tag] couldn’t blitz as much as he might have liked last year because of the inexperience in the secondary, but the training wheels will come off this season. And it may just be scary good.
2. The tight end position is on life support.
It is true that this program has been spoiled at the tight end position in recent memory. It didn’t look like that was going to change with the emergence of [tag]Blaine Irby[/tag]. A horrific injury to Irby, a few injuries to the back ups, and a few misses in recruiting later and we’re left with the current situation. [tag]Ian Harris[/tag] bobbled a ball to cause the first interception of the game and [tag]Greg Smith[/tag] almost did the same later on. Right now it looks like Texas may have to use the four or five receiver set as their base offense this year when they really want to move the ball. Mack Brown is hesitant to abandon the run, but having a tight end on the field is becoming a liability. Irby is nowhere close to be being back, and there is no guarantee he will ever be the same if or when does get back. Maybe if [tag]DJ Grant[/tag] gets healthy or one of the two incoming freshman come in ready to contribute the position has a chance. But as we stand right now Greg Davis really needs to think about using the offense he used in the second half against Oklahoma for the majority of the snaps. Luckily Texas has the receivers to play that set with no problem. In fact keeping one of them on the sideline in favor of the current tight end on the roster is a form of football dyslexia.
3. [tag]Cody Johnson[/tag] needs to be in shape
Both [tag]Vondrell McGee[/tag] and [tag]Foswhitt Whittaker[/tag] found the endzone on Sunday, and each showed a few flashes of their potential with the ball in their hands. But Texas averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry. Before his hamstring injury in the second half of the spring coaches and insiders had been raving about Johnson’s progress both running the ball and dedicating himself to being in shape. The knock on Johnson has always been his weight, but right now the coaching staff has decided to worry more about his body fat. Johnson is going to be counted on as the every down back if he can prove he can handle it. Right now Whittaker offers the team the skills needed in a third down back as long as he can prove he’ll block blitzing linebackers. Where that leads McGee is anybody’s guess, but with a good summer and fall practice it couldn’t be a total shock to see him get the opening day start. The variable in the whole situation is incoming freshman [tag]Chris Whaley[/tag]. The big back from Madisonville just participated in the 100M at the Texas Relays and by all accounts the young man is an athletic specimen. The staff was so high on him as a running back, many experts project him to outgrow the position that they chose not to recruit another one. If he reports in shape and ready to take the punishment he will be given every opportunity to win the job. If all else fails the Texas offense may look like something from Lubbock. Is that a bad thing? I can’t decide.
4. Colt McCoy will have plenty of targets.
Texas’ leading returning receiver, and Colt McCoy’s roommate and fishing buddy if you haven’t heard, [tag]Jordan Shipley[/tag] didn’t participate in spring practices to recover from injury the Longhorns fielded maybe the best trio of receivers ever at Texas. None of the wide outs are on the level of Roy Williams, but collectively this group may be better than the BJ Johnson and Sloan Thomas group. They weren’t as highly recruited but [tag]Malcolm Williams[/tag], [tag]Brandon Collins[/tag], and [tag]James Kirkendoll[/tag] all bring something different to the field and they work great in this offense. The quarterbacks struggled with the wind, and the secondary had seen all the patterns every day in practice, but it was obvious how much big play potential will be on the field at all times. Kirkendoll showed off his speed on a reverse, Collins works the middle beautifully and led the team in yards, and Williams can get deep whenever he wants. McCoy’s bugaboo has been the deep ball and twice he nearly missed huge plays on the outside deep down the field with Williams. One was completed but the ball was too far outside to be kept in bounds and the other was thrown a little too far in front of the streaking Williams. The sophomore just looks the part out there in his number 9 uniform. Williams, fellow receiver [tag]Dan Buckner[/tag], and Aaron Williams just jump out at you from a pure athletic stand point when you look at their physique. Watching this group work has to put a smile on the Longhorn nation’s faces because they will be on campus for a few more years. That’s not even taking into account Buckner, [tag]John Chiles[/tag], and the red-shirt freshman on campus. With the questions at tight end and in the running game the receiver becomes the most important position besides quarterback for this offense.
5. Texas football is in good hands.
Mack Brown has been the best thing that has happened to this program, and maybe to the University as a whole from an athletic standpoint, than anybody since Darrell K. Royal. With as good as Brown has been, head coach to be Will Muschamp has injected an energy into this program that needed a little jumpstart following the departure of Vince Young and the rest of the 2002 recruiting class. With one hire, and Brown deserves credit for making it and then realizing he couldn’t lose his personal energizer bunny on Red Bull, the stigma of Texas being soft or unmotivated was erased for the present future. Just a few years ago these Spring Jamborees were offensive exhibitions. Remember when the opening kickoff was returned for a touchdown every year? That won’t happen anymore. Muschamp has made everything competitive. He has given the defense pride, and more importantly, thanks to Brown he has given them stability. A stability that the offense has had the luxury of since Brown and Greg Davis arrived on campus. For the first time in a decade the defense is going to have a steady hand leading the way. With Muschamp the hand might not be steady, it may be pumping up and down, but I’ll take it.
The spring game comes around Sunday just in time to help with detoxing off of football season. After Sunday football junkies only have the draft and Mel Kiper’s hair to look forward to. We all know the familiar faces: [tag]Colt McCoy[/tag], [tag]Sergio Kindle[/tag], [tag]Roddrick Muckelroy[/tag], etc. But what about the guys who didn’t play as much last year but will be counted on in 2009? Here is a list of guys you need to watch in the spring game.
- [tag]Christian Scott[/tag] – The Longhorn defense played the majority of the snaps last year with five defensive backs on the field. Last year, Will Muschamp used two safeties and three cornerbacks in the nickel defense. This year Muschamp is trying to use Earl Thomas’ cover skills to get three safeties on the field in the 4-2-5. Having three safeties on the field will help in run support and with blitzes. Most feel Scott is just too good to not have on the field, but if mental mistakes and inconsistency rear their ugly head Muschamp will have no choice but to bring a Curtis Brown or Deon Beasley off the bench. I think it is safe to assume Thomas can handle the slot, so it will be up to Scott to make the formation work.
- [tag]Ben Alexander[/tag] – The defensive line was hit hard in departures this offseason. Guys like Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller, and Aaron Lewis are working out for pro scouts. The only guy up front with significant experience on the defensive line is Lamarr Houston. Alexander is entering his senior season and he knows it is his time to shine. If not now, when? By all accounts the big guy has lost some weight and added some quickness. The coaches had moved Houston, a former defensive end, to the nose tackle position to start the spring, but with the emergence of Alexander, who is a more natural one technique, Houston can move back to his more familiar three technique.
- [tag]Vondrell McGee[/tag] – Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’m holding out hope McGee lives up to the hype he had coming in. People forget McGee had a great freshman year as the short yardage and goal line guy. He showed great explosion in the Tech game that year when he was in for a hobbled Jamaal Charles. Flash forward to now and the Longview native is entering his junior year after not even getting a snap in the bowl game. This spring is huge for McGee. Cody Johnson had been emerging as the starter before he went down with a hamstring injury and Foswhitt Whittaker is injured again. That leaves McGee and two second year guys who haven’t been counted on yet. McGee was hurt at the beginning of the season, but he had begun to emerge before the Fiesta Bowl fiasco. If he can get his burst back, he may get his job back.
- [tag]Sam Acho[/tag] – Quietly Acho has cemented himself as the starter at the strong end position this spring. The junior has a nose for the ball and has shown he can get to the quarterback as well. Eddie Jones may get a look on that side when he recovers from his injury, but he’ll likely play at the quick end when Kindle is playing outside linebacker. Acho is a smart and hard working player who wasn’t overly hyped coming into the program, but has made plays ever since he showed up. The concern with Acho is at the point of attack. Texas received great play from Henry Melton at the power end last year, and Acho going to have to step up to prevent any drop off.
- [tag]Keenan Robinson[/tag] – I love me some Keenan Robinson. His skill set is perfect for Muschamp’s defense and the type of offenses used in the Big 12. Robinson can play all three downs as an outside linebacker in the 4-3 and as a middle guy in Texas’4-2-5. With his speed the sophomore would appear to be a great blitzer as well. Kindle will play some outside linebacker so in certain formations Robinson will likely be on the bench, but he is setting himself up to be an impact player for this defense. We will begin to see how he is used Sunday.
- [tag]Malcolm Williams[/tag] – The only thing missing in Texas’ aerial attack last year was the deep threat. Quarterback Colt McCoy’s strength is the intermediate passes and for the most part that is where Texas will concentrate, but a guy like Williams has to be given at least two opportunities a game to make a big play down the field whether he is covered or not. The sophomore has proven he can beat people deep, just look at the offense when Williams replaced Quan Cosby in the Texas Tech game. Greg Davis dialed up one fly pattern for Williams in the Fiesta Bowl and he beat Thorpe Award winner Malcolm Jenkins. Colt McCoy didn’t get the ball out there, but hopefully it had to do with not having the timing McCoy has with Jordan Shipley or Cosby. With an offseason without Cosby or Shipley Williams and McCoy should be on the verge of building a great report. Williams can get deep on anybody and a few shots down the field in the spring game would be a good sign.
- [tag]Ahmard Howard[/tag] – Someone needs to step up at tight end, and Howard needs to be that guy. Blaine Irby most likely needs another offseason to get ready and DJ Grant hurt his ankle. That leaves Ian Harris who has a history of stingers, Greg Smith who is a converted offensive lineman, and Howard. Neither Smith nor Howard is going to strike fear in defenses as a receiver but Howard at least gives Greg Davis that option. With Smith on the field last year Texas declare they were running the ball or using max protection. Howard will allow Texas to be more flexible. With the talent at the wide receiver position Texas will go to a four or five wide if no one will step up. Mack Brown wants to focus on running the ball, but he may have to abandon it all together if no one steps up at tight end.
- [tag]Britt Mitchell[/tag] – Starting right tackle Kyle Hix is missing the second half of spring to get healthy. In his place Mitchell has been impressive. Tray Allen has been Texas’ third tackle, but he is being cross trained at guard this spring. That leaves Mitchell in line to be the third tackle and the possible starter at right tackle when Adam Ulatoski leaves (Hix will likely move to the left side). Mitchell has been playing with the ones and will do so on Sunday. He faces some of the best past rushers in the nation every day in practice and has held his own. The junior has flown under the radar in terms of hype, but if he can have a solid spring game he’ll set himself up to contribute next year to a possible national championship team.
- [tag]Alex Okafor[/tag] – Mack Brown hasn’t always been eager to give true freshman real playing time, but nobody can stop talking about the talent of the Pflugerville native. The guy is tearing up practice at a time he should be worrying about Prom. His first step is probably faster than everyone on the roster not named Sergio Kindle. A defense can never have too many pass rushers, especially in the Big 12. It is unlikely Okafor will redshirt so expect a good number of snaps if he keeps this up.
- [tag]Aaron Williams[/tag] – Chykie Brown is a near lock to man one corner back position. The other spot will be manned by Aaron Williams, Deon Beasley, or Curtis Brown. Right now it looks like Williams is in line to be the starter. He is the youngest of the group, but the sophomore probably has the most physical upside. The former McNeil star is also a solid tackler and a smart football player. If the Earl Thomas in the slot experiment doesn’t work, Williams will likely move to the slot. That would leave Beasley or Brown to battle it out for the other corner spot. My money is on Curtis Brown in that one. Where Aaron Williams plays seems to be more of an appropriate question than if Aaron Williams plays so watch out for him on the slot or on the edge. A secondary of Thomas, Blake Gideon, Scott, Chykie Brown, and Williams would be mighty salty to say the least.
- [tag]Antwan Cobb[/tag] – The fullback position has been practically erased from Davis’ offense in the last few years. And while some see it as scheme it really has to do with not having any bodies for the position. People are quick to forget what Ahmad Hall did for this offense in 2005. Many of the Longhorns running woes can be attributed to not having a dependable lead blocker at full back. Cobb’s strength is probably catching the ball out of the back field, but when he is healthy he is more than a capable and willing lead blocker. Texas has said they want to take more snaps under center, and with a fullback who can catch out of the backfield on the field Texas would have options they haven’t had in a few years. It will be telling how many snaps Cobb gets in the spring game.
Texas fans get only one chance each spring to see their football team on television, but this year many will have to pony up for the sports package if they want to watch the annual spring game. Unlike previous years where the game was live on FSN Southwest, this Sunday’s game will air tape delayed on ESPN’s college sports network ESPNU.
The scrimmage will begin at 2:30pm and at that time will be televised on ESPN360.com. Then tune in at 8:30pm to catch the game on ESPNU. The FSN telecasts were pretty bare bones and also missed a lot of the plays, hopefully this change means better coverage because it cost me $12.
Schedule of Events
Noon — Fan Fest opens in the Red McCombs Red Zone. Enter through Gates 14 and 16 off 23rd St.
12:15 p.m. — Players walk through the Tom and Cinda Hicks North Gate
1:30 p.m. — Gates to the stadium open
2:30 p.m. — Scrimmage begins
6 p.m. — Sod sale concludes
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.
Lots of [tag]Cody Johnson[/tag] news this week that we’re just now catching up on. When the Horns were coming back to practice earlier this week from Spring Break word was out that he was working hard and impressing the coaches and had risen to the top of the running back depth chart. His performance on the field also had the Texas coaches worrying less about his weight:
Johnson’s personal battle of the bulge has dogged him throughout his college career. But [Mack] Brown is learning to gauge other factors than merely the scales when looking at the 5-foot-11, 255-pound Johnson and his productivity and value for the Longhorns.
“We’ve quit trying to get Cody to lose weight, we’re working with body fat and we think that’s the key to it,” Brown said. “He looks like he’s in good shape. He came back in good shape after the break. We feel like that he’s doing a really good job.”
But then on Wednesday Johnson tweaked his hamstring and threw the whole thing back in the air. The injury isn’t too serious but he will miss the next two weeks of practice including the spring scrimmage on April 5th. This will open things up for [tag]Vondrell McGee[/tag] and Fozzy Whittaker to get more practice reps and impress the coaching staff, and also possibly may make it even less likely that incoming true freshman [tag]Chris Whaley[/tag] will redshirt.
Football season never really ends in the state of Texas, but the start of spring drills is one of the biggest days for every die hard fan. The team hits the field for their first practice tomorrow and several big pieces of news came out today. Injuries and a huge position switch have Longhorn fans buzzing.
The biggest and most surprising news is that second string quarterback [tag]John Chiles[/tag] went to the Texas coaches today and requested he be moved to wide receiver. This is a move many
Internet coaches fans have been calling for for over a year, but not one expected to happen before he gave it at least one more shot during spring practices. Despite struggles, the Texas coaching staff felt Chiles was good enough to be the team’s clear number two quarterback but if he was going to have an NFL future it is clearly as a wide receiver. His position change leaves the Longhorns with only two scholarship players at QB and likely means incoming freshman [tag]Garrett Gilbert[/tag] will not be redshirting for the 2009 season.
It was also announced that 9 players would be missing spring practices due to injury. Sadly, safety [tag]ishie Oduegwu[/tag] has been forced to give up football after several serious injuries and surgeries. He made several starts as a sophomore and missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Oduegwu, a former academic All-Big 12 selection, is on set to graduate on schedule with a Youth & Community Studies major.
Redshirt freshman defensive tackle [tag]Jarvis Humphrey[/tag] will also miss practices with what appears to be a serious kidney ailment. Team trainers said “that Humphrey’s condition would be watched.” Defensive tackle is one of the team’s greatest depth concerns, but with this news a young man’s health definitely takes primary concern.
The other players that will miss spring drills are P [tag]Trevor Gerland[/tag], TE [tag]Blaine Irby[/tag], DE [tag]Dominique Jones[/tag], DE [tag]Eddie Jones[/tag], WR [tag]Jordan Shipley[/tag], DB [tag]Kenny Vaccaro[/tag], and Alex Zumberge.