September 2, 2010

The Ticket City Locker Room

Q: (randoke) - Give me a list of "now or never" players. Meaning guys who better step up now or face being bumped down the depth chart. I'll leave how and who up to you, other than one name I want you to consider, Alex Okafor. Not ready to call him a bust myself, but thought we would be hearing more, I realize he's only a true soph.

Who do you think will be the next assistant coach to depart and when will it be? Also, can you throw out a replacement name for each? We have some really nice continuity going on now and I hope it lasts.

Last thing, you guys are doing a great job.

A: Good stuff. As the Longhorns enter this season, I think any second- or third year player who isn't on the two-deep that was released this week needs to understand that they are either in a very critical stretch of their collegiate career or they soon will be. You can look at every single position on the team and see the same thing. It's pretty hard to spin getting passed up by younger players on the depth chart because the path to playing time can become extremely difficult.

There are probably some positions where the urgency is more apparent than others. For instance, the log jam at running back has created a situation where the pecking order created by the results of this season will matter quite a bit when 2011 commit Malcolm Brown arrives. If you believe that Brown can be an impact player in year one as one of the team's top two backs, then you can see where 2010 looms as a make-or-break year for a lot of players at that position alone.

The pressure probably isn't as intense at positions where the depth isn't as strong and more than one or two players are involved in a usual rotation such as defensive end and defensive tackle, but at just about every other turn you're going to find players who need to make noise or face the risk of getting replaced on the long-term blueprint with the incredible influx of talent that keeps arriving each year.

Your second question is an interesting one. When you look at the offensive staff, it's hard to see any of them leaving at this point outside of Major Applewhite. Most of the guys on that side of the ball have had numerous chances to leave over the years and they seem content with their role in one of the nation's elite programs. The same reads true on the defensive side of the ball for the most part. Of course, everyone is going to have an eye on Will Muschamp because of the yearly head coaching offers, so he's probably the guy on defense. It's probably a wild guess at this point as to what would happen in terms of a replacement if any of the current staff needed to replaced, but Gene Chizik's staff is probably a good place to start if history means anything. Or does Mack simply go to Lubbock? Maybe Mack could recruit Ricky Williams for a second turn in Austin if Major were to get a job he couldn't turn down?

Q: (Marka1) - Mack Brown has always done a real good job in playing one week at a time and focusing the team on the current week opponent. However, there has been a constant drumbeat coming from Lincoln for the game on Oct 16th. Have any of the coaches or players given a vibe that this game is a little extra special this year and they want to give the Huskers a tap out from the Big 12 that they will always remember?

A: Honestly, I don't think most of the players are giving two seconds thought to that game in October. Don't ever confuse the players with the mainstream public because they might as well live on different planets when you consider the filters through which they view the world. Yes, the Texas players are looking forward to that game, but there's zero sense from my perspective that it's anything remotely close to being a distraction. All I can tell you is that the vibe in Austin isn't the same as the one in Lincoln.

Q: (Billpricetx) - After the stories we've heard about the troubles Urban Meyer has had with his "top-ranked" recruiting class, what perspective should we have on how Mack decides whom to recruit and how to build a program? I can't fathom something like that EVER happening with this program. How would you compare the two programs' trajectories at this point?

A: It's important to understand that Mack and Meyer aren't in completely similar situations in completely similar environments, so I don't think it's completely an apples to apples comparison. That disclaimer out of the way, the truth of the matter of that Mack is the old bull here and that's a key part of this discussion. Simply put - he's been at Texas twice as long as Meyer has been at Florida. That means that while Urban was getting his feet wet in year one at Florida, Mack was entering eight at Texas. There's a lot of trial and error that Mack had already gone through that I believe has crafted his philosophy over time, and I think Meyer would be served well to follow up the lessons learned. For instance, I think Meyer is going to deal with some of the same issues that Mack was forced to deal with post-VY now that he no longer has Tim Tebow running the program's player ranks for him. Mack has lived through the self-entitlement eras that plagued the program both before the championship and in the two years that followed it. It's all led to a point where Mack evolved his program around a lunch-pail attitude and with kids that want to be at Texas above all else. Even with the transition from Colt McCoy to Garrett Gilbert, the make-up of the program hasn't changed at all. You might not be able to fathom the things happening at Florida right now in a Mack Brown program, but the truth of the matter is that Mack already lived and learned from them.

Q: (texaztom) - This is the time of year when we all look forward to seeing what the freshmen can do, and whether any of them will be major contributors right away. I've always wondered something about the new players when they arrive on campus. Given the fairly limited direct contact with players on anything other than an observation/interview basis during the recruiting process, are coaches ever hugely surprised about the abilities of new arrivals? I guess any surprises could go in both directions (pleasant surprise or disappointment), and I wouldn't want you to call out any specific player, but is there ever that "head scratcher" when the coaches actually get to work out players?

A: Yes, it happens all the time. It was a total shocker for the coaches last season when Marquise Goodwin arrived from the track scene and forced them to play him from the jump. If you're looking at this year's team, I think it's safe to say that they thought Taylor Bible would be more ready to play than he is, but that happens from time to time. I remember when Mack Brown was calling for Ben Alexander to come in and play right away as a true freshman in 2006 and he wasn't ready to go at this level at that age. On the other hand, I'm sure the coaches didn't think that Dominic Espinosa would look this good, this early.

Q: (HKHORN10) - Talk to me about the RB situation now.... it's something that for a LONG time has been a concern and now, all of a sudden, there's nothing but hope. CJ seems to be coming on. Newton/Monroe/Fozzy give us a stable of situational guys. Malcolm Brown is coming next season. It seems we've turned the corner. So what are your predictions for the next few years, and what would you recommend we should do going forward with trying to pick up another elite back like Green or Gray? How would an acquisition like that affect the overall picture?

A: Cody Johnson has a chanced this month to take the running back job for the rest of the season and make it his and his alone. Fozzy Whittaker and Tre' Newton will certainly be situation back-ups, but when I asked Greg Davis about Johnson on Monday, he couldn't have stressed home the fact any stronger that he considers him to be the starter and the guy at the position. Therefore, Johnson has to take the opportunity and run with it, starting on Saturday.

I'm not sure I can predict how this season plays out, but all of these players are positioning themselves for next season because Malcolm Brown is going to move up the depth chart quickly and he's going to pass some guys that haven't made a dent. In my opinion, you better make a dent this season or you're going to be in trouble when Brown arrives. Of course, if a guy develops into a game-breaking impactful player, the Horns will get him on the field. Texas' problems have been that they haven't had enough really good players, so the idea that suddenly because they've recruited well enough at the position that other great backs would run away afraid of the competition is far-fetched. Outside of Brown, there's not a back on campus right now that would cause anyone to pause at this point on the competition scale. The fact that college football has evolved into a sport where the elite programs rotate backs constantly plays right into UT's hands in the next couple of recruiting classes.

Q: (Bill Boy Bryant) - This topic has been discussed at times on the Board but wanted to get your thoughts on QB's locking onto receivers and in the college game it seems to be very prevalent especially with young QB's. I am curious to see the development of Gilbert and his ability to read defenses and also hopefully not lock onto receivers as he enters his first season as the starter. I would assume his INT number at the end of the season will give us a pretty good read on this as well. And how would you rate the starting QB's in the Brown era in terms of reading defenses, looking off receivers and not telegraphing passes.

A: It's probably hard me to comment on the development in that area from Gilbert until I see a little more from him in live action under the lights, but he's had a terrific camp and the fact that he's only thrown one true interception in the last month is a pretty good indicator that he's not giving away a lot on his end.

Overall, Major Applewhite was probably Mack's best player at making look-offs, progressions, check-downs and third-option reads, but his physical limitations created problems that could sometimes neutralize those strengths as a player. I'm not sure that there's a ton of difference in the look-off department between the rest of Mack's quarterbacks. I'm not sure that Vince Young or Colt McCoy would stare into the souls of defensive backs quite like Chris Simms would occasionally do before letting go of the football, but the two-man concepts that the Longhorns have long featured in the passing game have created consistency some consistency in a few areas, with that probably being one of them. I don't know that it's been an issue in the program with any starter in almost a decade.

Q: (SouthPaugh) - 1. Have you heard if we are still utilizing the rugby punt?

2. If you had to guess, what do you think the run/pass distribution percentage will be against Rice and Wyoming?

A: The rugby punt remains an option, but the Longhorns appear committed to letting John Gold handle the majority of the punting duties in the traditional style of the art form.

As for your second question, I think the Longhorns are a true 65-35 team against the toughest opponents on the schedule, look for them to be closer to 50-50 in the opening games on the schedule. They are going to make every effort to ground and pound early on.

Q: (Angry Bovine) - With all the hype that Nebraska is getting regarding their so called high caliber defense. Do you see it just as that..Hype? Because to me They seem like the high school bully that once they meet up with an offensive team that is as physical as they are, and get popped in the mouth. They lose their confidence much like they did during the 4th quarter of the Virginia Tech game.

A: I have some serious reservations about Nebraska and I don't like a lot about their team coming into the season. Frankly, their defense just lost the greatest player in the history of their program on that side of the ball - a guy that completely changed the way teams played offense against them - and we're supposed to believe that they'll be the same type of unit? Hell, I don't even remember ever seeing Jared Crick in last year's game against Texas. I know he played well, but geez…Suh… he was the VY of defensive tackles. They just lost four of their top five tacklers from that defense to graduation, including the heart and soul at linebacker and safety. That's a ton.

Meanwhile, the offense will still be a mess until they pick a quarterback and prove they can be consistently ok or better.

Finally, I'm not a believer in Bo Pelini at all. He looks like he needs a hug and it's only August.

Add it all up.

Q: (TexasJohnny) - 2008 - Brian Orakpo
2009 - Sergio Kindle
2010 - Sam Acho?

The potential for a third great year with an excellent pass rusher to thrive under Muschamp is great. How do you see Acho's season panning out in comparison to the style and statistics produced by Orakpo and Kindle? Who will Muschamp have moving all over the field ala Predator style last year?

Also, with the recent confirmed/unconfirmed injury to Marquise Goodwin, which WR stands to benefit most in terms of playing time and production?

Finally, what will happen when I ICE you at LHR's tailgate?

A: It's important to note that you listed Kindle as the guy in 2009, but Acho had the better year in the pass-rush department (10 sacks vs. Sergio's 5.5) and was near his equal as an enforcer and playmaker. He's a different type of player than Kindle and the versatility that allows him to move inside could potentially impact his sack number slightly, but the coaches expect a big year from Sam - he's the best defensive lineman they have right now.

Also, Marquise Goodwin is fine. The competition at wide receiver is on fire right now and the only thing that will decide that are the results from the games. Keep an eye on Mike Davis because his star is on the rise.

Finally, you're going to make me your "In Case of Emergency" contact?

Q: (RC Didnt Offer) - 1) In your opinion is there any merit to the aggy's rumor of Cedric Reed looking to bolt?

2) IMO Mack Brown has shown loyalty to a fault when it comes to his coaching staff with those who fall to meet expectations. Do you think Muschamp will be similar to Mack in this regard or do you see some coordinator/assistant shake-up if he takes over in the near future?

A: There are always going to be rumors from College Station that they are on the verge of stealing this recruit and that recruit, but just know two things - a) they are still waiting on Roy Williams to play receiver for them b) Reed was a Texas heavy-lean from the start. It would be a total reversal of field for him and the depth chart part seems pretty open heading into next season with Eddie Jones and Sam Acho set to depart.

As for your second-question, it's impossible to say, but if Muschamp takes over at Texas, I can't see him pushing guys out? Why would he? The program has never been better in any area?

Q: (lsampson) - We have all seen the exciting ability of D.J. Monroe both on special teams as well as on offense. I have read and heard of the comparisons of Monroe's ability on the field to Ramonce Taylor, but I'm not so sure I see him as having the same catching ability between the two. Where should we expect to see DJ this year in the offense? Is he going to have a specific role or is he going to be a situational or specialized player with only a few offensive plays set for him only? I'd hate to see us waste his talent.

A: Mack Brown and Greg Davis have both said that Monroe is one of a couple of players who have a package of plays that are their own and fit their current skill strengths. He's not a true running back and he's not ready to handle the role of receiver. That being said, he might be the most dangerous guy on the team with the ball in his hands. Look for the staff to try and get him as involved as possible, but he is a specialty player at this point. It'll be fascinating to see how diverse the offense can be with him involved.

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