Aaron Williams was great on defense and electric with the ball in his hands. (Photo: MB-TF)

Aaron Williams was great on defense and electric with the ball in his hands. (Photo: MB-TF)

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.

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Posted December 31st, 2008 by Mike
Filed under: Bowls, Feature, Football

One of the most underrated and under talked about advantage of getting to a bowl game is the extra practices it affords the staff and the players. While teams do focus on preparing for the upcoming game, most teams invest a good amount of time practicing the redshirt players and some guys that played but didn’t see significant minutes. These practices serve as a spring board for spring ball for the team and the individual players. Last year’s [tag]Holiday Bowl[/tag] practices are when names like [tag]Earl Thomas[/tag] and [tag]Malcolm Williams[/tag] began to pop up. Texas would like a few guys to step up this year, much like last year’s team was able to do. Here are some of the players that could use a good showing.

[tag]Ian Harris[/tag] – Harris falls into the group of players that have seen time, but has not been counted on for victories. Texas is thin at tight end, reports have suggested redshirt freshman [tag]DJ Grant[/tag] is getting snaps at tight end so far in practices. The future for [tag]Blaine Irby[/tag] continues to be uncertain. The Longhorns need someone to step up at the position sooner than later. It is clear that [tag]Greg Davis[/tag] would like to have a pass catching tight end in his offense. From [tag]Bo Scaife[/tag] to [tag]David Thomas[/tag], Texas has utilized the tight end very well in the passing game. The position has been silent since the injury to Irby. Ian Harris contains the best skills on campus, and his ability to maximize that potential will be huge for the program. If Harris can’t step up, he is looking at Grant being a full time end with two legit recruits at the tight end position entering campus this fall. Combine that with the possibility of a return by Irby and the depth chart could swallow Harris up in a hurry.

[tag]Tray Allen[/tag] – Allen came out of high school as one touted offensive line recruits this state has ever produced. So far, Allen has not lived up to the hype. Coach Mac McWhorther likes to give every lineman a redshirt year so the guys coming straight out of high school can get a year in the weight room and on the practice field before feeding them to the dogs on major college defensive lines. Allen did not want to redshirt as a freshman so he stands as a second year sophomore. Texas has notoriously used a three man rotation at the tackle position and right now Allen has not been able to be anything more than a serviceable third player in the trio. The Longhorns were fortunate this year in regards to injury to starters [tag]Adam Ulatoski[/tag] and [tag]Kyle Hicks[/tag]. The duo was able to play most snaps which allowed McWhorther to use Allen when he wanted to, not when he had to. At this moment I’m not sure Allen would be the long term solution at either tackle position if one of the starters went down. Allen has to build up the confidence of the offensive staff, and he is going to have to do it in practice.

[tag]Kheeston Randall[/tag] – Texas loses starter [tag]Roy Miller[/tag] and part time starter [tag]Aaron Lewis[/tag] following the [tag]Fiesta Bowl[/tag]. That leaves former defensive end [tag]Lamarr Houston[/tag], [tag]Ben Alexander[/tag], and the true freshman Randall. The big man has gotten some snaps this year, but will be counted on heavily next year if the team gets what is expected out of Randall. Texas likes to have a rotation at defensive tackle to keep the players fresh. The depth at the position has continually allowed for this to be a huge advantage for the Longhorn defense, but for the first time in recent memory Texas’ defensive tackle position will enter the off-season as a major question mark. If the Longhorns can find starter quality snaps from Randall it will go a long way in answering those questions.

[tag]Keenan Robinson[/tag] – It is not a guarantee that [tag]Sergio Kindle[/tag] comes back to college. All reports suggest that he will, but the same could be said for [tag]Vince Young[/tag] and [tag]TJ Ford[/tag]. When the money at the pro level is right in front of you it is hard to convince yourself to come do it all for free. Not just for free, but you have to study too. Either way, the Longhorns are going to be top heavy at the linebacker position next year, with all the likely starters being seniors. Robinson has played some plays this year and when he has seen the field he has been very disruptive. The redshirt freshman seems like the type of player [tag]Will Muschamp[/tag] loves to utilize. Robinson may already be the best linebacker on campus when it comes to playing in space. And with the types of offenses run in the Big 12 a player like Robinson is invaluable. A true linebacker that isn’t a liability in pass coverage is worth his weight in oil. It will be hard to take snaps away from the guys coming back, but with the possibility of Kindle’s absence and the willingness of Muschamp to play whoever is performing the best, a strong showing in the Fiesta Bowl practices would make it interesting to watch.

[tag]Christian Scott[/tag] – By all accounts Scott has the most physical upside of any safety wearing burnt orange. What have seemed to hold him back are his practice habits on the field and in the film room. Anybody who saw Scott in the Kansas game knows the potential is there. The redshirt freshman covers more field, hits harder, and makes more plays than starter [tag]Blake Gideon[/tag]. But what keeps Gideon on top of the depth chart is the ability to understand offenses and what to do as the quarterback of the defense. Scott is not there yet and it is a testament that Gideon has been able to do such a great job in that regard considering he is also a freshman and it usually takes a few years for safeties to line up their defenses correctly. Gideon is a good player and a possible four year starter, but Scott has NFL tools. It is almost a SimmsApplewhite conversation. We all know how that one turned out.

[tag]Ryan Bailey[/tag]/[tag]Hunter Lawrence[/tag] – [tag]Mack Brown[/tag] has been uncharacteristically fickle with his kickers this year. Ryan Bailey was great last year, and then Hunter Lawrence took his job before the season, then after being perfect for 2/3 of the season Lawrence misses two in one game and is benched in favor of Bailey. Maybe the competition is good for the kickers, but if a game comes down to a kick it has to be better if one guy knows he is the guy. Kicking is already stressful enough before you add in the fact you will lose your job if you miss. The next few days will determine who will be the kicker in the Fiesta Bowl, and I have a feeling the man who wins that job is going to keep it for a long time.

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Posted November 15th, 2008 by Brian
Filed under: Football

Bad news on the injury front this week for the [tag]Kansas[/tag] game. We knew starting center [tag]Chris Hall[/tag] would be out with a knee injury but cornerback [tag]Aaron Williams[/tag] and tight end [tag]Ian Harris[/tag] are also out. The true freshman Williams has been big for the secondary filling in and playing well while starting corner [tag]Chykie Brown[/tag] was out, fortunately Brown is not on this week’s injury report.

Listed as questionable are two key members of the defensive line in end [tag]Brian Orakpo[/tag] and tackle [tag]Lamarr Houston[/tag]. Both players could play and rumors are both should be on the field today in Lawrence. Safety [tag]Ben Wells[/tag] is also questionable.

With the offensive line injury, off field, and performance issues the last few weeks it is very good news that left tackle [tag]Adam Ulatoski[/tag] is probable.

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Posted September 21st, 2008 by Brian
Filed under: Football

Blaine IrbyIt was immediately obvious after watching the first replay of Blaine Irby’s gruesome knee injury but it is now official that the sophomore tight end will miss the remainder of the 2008 season. According to a press release from the university Sunday evening Blaine suffered a dislocated right knee and will undergo season ending surgery. He’ll be able to seek a medical redshirt and should have a full three years of eligibility remaining when he (hopefully) returns to the field in 2009.

Read the full press release including quotes from Irby and [tag]Mack Brown[/tag] below:

Longhorn sophomore starting tight end Blaine Irby sustained a dislocated right knee in Texas’ 52-10 victory over [tag]Rice[/tag] on Saturday, will undergo surgery and is out for the rest of the season, UT Head Athletic Trainer for Football Kenny Boyd confirmed on Monday.

“It’s going to be a long journey, and I just have to take it one step at a time,” Irby said. “I know the tight end spot and the offense won’t lose a beat because Peter (Ullman) and Greg (Smith) are there to lead the way. I’m going to be there too, helping out Coach Chambers. I’ll be there as a coach and a teammate and ready to help anybody in any way that they need me. Coach Brown told me that I could use a medical redshirt since this happened so early in the season, which would give me three more years, but that’s down the road. Right now, I just need to focus on being patient, taking it one day at a time, getting healthy and coming back stronger than ever.”

The 6-3, 235-pound Irby started all three games and had 10 catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns on the year. He led the Horns with seven catches for 62 yards and a TD in their 52-10 season-opening victory over Florida Atlantic. Irby also posted nine knockdown blocks in that game. He had a 23-yard catch at UTEP and registered two catches for 10 yards before sustaining the knee injury against Rice. He played in 11 games and registered two catches for 29 yards as a true freshman in 2007.

“We have a great history of tight ends and Blaine was quickly developing into the type of player to follow in those footsteps,” said head coach Mack Brown. “He was getting better every week and making a big impact in our offense. Blaine was very productive for us at a key time since we lost Jermichael (Finley) early to the NFL. As much as we’ll miss him this season, thank goodness he’ll get a redshirt year and have three seasons left when he gets back.”

In addition to Finley leaving school early, Texas also lost sophomore [tag]Josh Marshall[/tag] during preseason drills. He sustained a left scapula injury and remains out indefinitely. Senior [tag]Peter Ullman[/tag] and sophomore [tag]Greg Smith[/tag] both have played this season and will compete for the starting tight end job.

Redshirt freshman Ahmard Howard will move up the depth chart and compete for action after playing primarily on special teams this season. Fellow redshirt freshman [tag]Ian Harris[/tag], who sustained a neck sprain in August, is expected to be cleared to return to practice soon. Offensive tackle [tag]Britt Mitchell[/tag] has been playing tight end in short-yardage and goal-line situations as well.

We wish Blaine good health and determination through his rehab and can’t wait to see him back catching passes again as soon as possible.

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Posted August 22nd, 2008 by Brian
Filed under: Football

Position Rating: C-
Starter: Blaine Irby
Reserves: Peter Ullman, Ian Harris, Greg Smith

Blaine IrbyTight end was a position of concern headed into fall practice and Josh Marshall’s injury only makes things worse. When [tag]Jermichael Finley[/tag] bolted early for the NFL it left the Longhorns without any proven pass catching threat at the position.

The top returning receiver and most important tight end this season is sophomore [tag]Blaine Irby[/tag]. Last season as a true freshman Irby caught only two passes for 29 yards but Texas fans should be expecting better total numbers by week one this year. With no proven third wide receiver, quarterback Colt McCoy will need Irby to step up to provide him another option or the offense will struggle against better defenses.

Behind Irby the Longhorns have veteran blocker [tag]Peter Ullman[/tag]. Ullman is expected to be the team’s second tight end in two tight end sets. He may accidentally find himself open and catch an important touchdown pass but mainly will be relied on as a sixth blocker on the line.

There’s not much behind the top two with Marshall out. [tag]Greg Smith[/tag] was moved back to tight end last week but as a current/former tackle you know what to expect out of him. Redshirt freshman [tag]Ian Harris[/tag] will be the first guy off the bench if the team needs a TE who can stretch the field a little. He’s 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds so he’s got prototypical size to play the position and block as well as catch the football. I don’t think you can expect much out of him this year but he’s a player to look out for in 2009.

Not much production from the starting slot and little depth make tight end one of the biggest holes going into the 2008 season. If Irby doesn’t show flashes of being the next David Thomas you’ll likely see a lot of four wide receiver and two back formations than in recent years.

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Posted February 18th, 2007 by Brian
Filed under: Football, Recruiting

Ian Harris

Name: [tag]Ian Harris[/tag]
Position: Tight end
Ranking: 1 star1 star1 star

Hometown: San Antonio, TX
School: Churchill
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 217 lbs

Background

One of the last additions to the 2007 Longhorns recruiting class, Ian Harris is a tight end with a lot of upside. Harris was committed to the Missouri Tigers until January when the Horns went after him hard to replace the decommitted Zack Pianalto (those Springdale guys are really good with that whole commitment thing). Harris is one of three tight ends in this class.

Harris was a U.S. Army All-American and was even named a team captain by his coaches for the game. He was All-District as a sophomore, junior, and a senior and had 19 receptions for 283 yards and four TD’s as one of quarterback Nick Fanuzzi’s favorite targets. Has good upside but will need time to develop and hit the weight room to get bigger.

Immediate Impact

Almost certainly headed for a redshirt season, it is unlikely Harris will contribute on the field for the Longhorns in 2007. He’ll have a year to get acclimated to college life and academics, while gaining the strength and size he’ll need to be a Big 12 tight end.

Future

With the talent the Longhorns have at tight end Harris will not be counted on for big contributions right away. He’ll have a chance to redshirt, then contribute as a second or third tight end behind budding superstar Jermichael Finley. Has great hands and could become great pass catching threat and safety valve for Texas QB’s after Finley is gone. Also a chance he could end up at defensive end if he keeps growing or if the tight end position becomes overcrowded.

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Posted January 22nd, 2007 by Brian
Filed under: Football, Recruiting

Ian HarrisIt looked like the Longhorns had their recruiting class wrapped up back in June, but there have been some unfortunate changes the last thirty days that have made things a little more interesting. This weekend the Longhorns hosted several recruits and apparently made a big impression on them. And there’s two more athletes coming in next weekend as well.

Defensive tackle [tag]Tyrell Higgins[/tag] and safety [tag]Christian Scott[/tag] were in town over the weekend on official visits. Higgins made it official as soon as he could and gave Mack Brown his verbal commitment before he left town. Scott left Austin uncommitted but the Longhorns are thought to be the leader for the services of the talented defensive back from Dallas. LSU and Oklahoma are the other teams in the mix.

Two players who were committed to Big 12 rivals until recently will be in town this coming weekend. Tight end [tag]Ian Harris[/tag] (pictured) was a Missouri commitment going into the weekend but today he’s a Texas Longhorn. Zach Pianalto’s decommit to North Carolina opened up a spot for another tight end in this class and Harris jumped on Texas’ offer as quick as he could. Wide receiver/cornerback [tag]James Kirkendoll[/tag] was an Oklahoma Sooner yesterday but now he’s set to visit the good guys. It would be a big surprise if he’s not a Longhorn soon.

Higgins and Harris are solid prospects who help round out Texas’ top three recruiting class. Scott and Kirkendoll would be huge additions who as an added bonus could be stolen from their rivals. We’ll have more news on those two when it happens and plenty more recruiting opinions as National Signing Day approaches on February 7th.

Update

Orangebloods is reporting that Kirkendoll is “nearly ready” and will officially commit to Texas this weekend. He is now listed in his profile as a “soft verbal.” Great news for Texas fans and bad news for the Okies. (1/24/2007)

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