September 17, 2009

The Ticket City Locker Room

Q: (iluvdahorns) - Do you see Dan Buckner fully committing to the TE position this off-season? He looks like a carbon copy of Jermichael Finley at the early stages of his career and he appears to have the frame to add good quality weight if he committed himself over the course of an 8 month off-season. IMO his NFL stock would be much higher as TE than it would be at WR assuming he dedicates himself to the position and commits to becoming a viable blocker in the run game.

A: I think there are a couple of different layers to this conversation. First, I don't truly know if Buckner should be talked about as a tight end at this point in his development. He's certainly lining up at the "flex" position, which is where the Longhorns would designate their tight ends in the passing game if they had any healthy, developed tight ends that they could slot into the passing game, but it's also the exact same spot that Jordan Shipley played in the Oklahoma game and throughout parts of last season. Obviously, not a single person that watched Shipley line up in that position last season would suggest that he was a tight end.

I pretty much view Buckner as a guy in the middle right now. There's no question that his long-term future seems to scream H-Back and I've been saying it since he was a junior in high school, but there are still a few considerations to remember:

1. He's pretty much like Shipley was last year - a receiver catching passes in the position normally reserved for the tight end/H-back. He's just bigger than Shipley, which has caused everyone to let their imaginations run away from them to a degree. I've had people emailing me with questions about whether he'll be 250+ pounds by 2010.

Which brings me to the second point…

2. Buckner still views himself as a wide receiver and that's a very big piece of the puzzle. So far, Buckner has embraced the role at the "flex" because it's his quickest route to the field and it's allowed for his star to break out this season. However, there's still a long-term evolution of body and mind that will have to take place if he wants to get paid to play football for a living. If he's going to be an NFL tight end/H-back, he's going to need to develop his body and mind for such. At this point in his career, he's not any kind of help as an end-line blocker and won't be at any point this season because that's not who he is. If you're going to play in the NFL, you have to be able to throw your body around as a blocker as well. Ask David Thomas. Ask Jermichael Finley. Ask Chase Coffman. It doesn't matter that Coffman caught 100 passes at Missouri last year. If he can't block, he can't play.

In Buckner's heart of hearts, he still views himself as a wide receiver and he probably has every reason to after the strong start to this season. I'm in the camp that thinks his best position is at H-back, but that doesn't mean that I don't believe he can't have a successful career as a wide receiver. He was soft as butter when he first got here and a lot of people wondered if he had "it". Its one thing to be a little slow off the line, but it's another to let defensive backs throw you around and Buckner did exactly that last season. However, Buckner worked his backside off in the off-season and made a true commitment to improving his weight room work ethic. The one thing you never know about a guy until he's forced into the position is whether he's willing to work for his success… really work. One of the knocks on Buckner coming out of high school was that he was a bit of a class clown and might not have the personality that would push him to maximize his potential. He deserves a lot of credit for recreating himself in such short time.

The jury is probably still out on when it comes to his true long-term prospects. Let's see what he's able to do in 13 games this season as the starting flex/back-up split end. It's possible that he'll never come out of that spot in any of the next three years, but it's also possible that he'll emerge as a starting-level split end after Jordan Shipley departs. I'm sure if you asked Buckner, he'd tell you that he'd still prefer to be Limas Sweed in two years over Jermichael Finley if given a choice.

Q: (caldonna) - The upcoming Tech game has me thinking about boxers who fight in their hometown against a big opponent. They come in so wired up to look good that they take a crap for the first three rounds, get scuffed up a bit, and finally get on track to win the fight, although they don't set the world on fire in the process.

Am I being paranoid, like any good 4th generation 'Horn, or do you think that will happen.

If you notice, I avoid the many loonies.

Love the sight, though. Especially Locker Room and War Room.

A: I expect Texas to have a perfect-storm kind of night on Saturday, just like Texas Tech had last season, except in Texas' perfect-storm setting, they don't win on the last second.

Q: (Coopaloop87) - There has been a lot of talk about the running game and if it will be able to get (no pun intended) off the ground. I want to get your opinion of Major Applewhite. Sure he deserves a lot of credit for what he meant to the program when he played, but my question is whether he is as effective as a running back coach as he needs to be. No doubt there is talent at running back, and I also understand that for a running back to be successful it takes the other ten guys on offense. It just seems like the last two years, we have had average running backs and I cannot help but think with all the talent the state of Texas produces, including the best running back in the class of 2010 (who probably isn't headed to Austin), that excuses for not landing talented 'elite' level guys and/or guys that can be the foundation of a running game are running out. I certainly do not want to be the judge or jury on Mr. Applewhite, but it is Texas, and the goal is a national title every year so it is cut throat. I just think there is no excuse for an elite team like Texas not to have a solid running game that they can rely on. What are your thoughts?

A: Wow. That might be the most-loaded Locker Room question I've ever received. Let me start off by saying that I think it's way too early to judge Applewhite, but I absolutely agree with you the Longhorns should have a running game and a running back stable that can match-up with anyone college in the nation. As a matter of fact, that's what Applewhite wants as well, so we're all on the same page so far.

It's important to note that there's not a running back on the roster that Applewhite was truly responsible for evaluating and recruiting. When he arrived on staff, the decision to target Chris Whaley had already been made. He was going to be the only running back that they took and that's just the way it was going to be. That's not to say that Applewhite wasn't 100% on board with the decisions in 2009 or that he doesn't deserve credit for being able to get Whaley to come on board and then holding him until signing day. It just means that the wheels were already in rapid motion when he arrived.

Therefore, Applewhite is working with a group that is almost 100% inherited, so if there's a talent issue at the position, you can't really hang that on him. If you look back at the 2008 running backs, Applewhite wasn't exactly dealt a group that featured a lot of experienced, elite-level players, but he was able to get more out of Chris Ogbonnaya than anyone else ever had and if he did nothing else, he fielded a running back group that didn't hurt the team. They protected, made an occasional big play and never lost a fumble. I'd actually credit Applewhite quite a bit for the coaching his given his current stable of backs because I don't think there's any doubt that each player's football skill has improved under his tutelage.

If there's an area where the jury is still out on Applewhite, it's in recruiting. The 2010 recruiting class represents the first true opportunity for the Orangeblood Nation to witness his skill as a recruiter and although it's true that he hasn't been able to land a true nationally elite running back prospect, we haven't really seen a large enough of a sample size to be able to form a stable opinion of his abilities as a running backs recruiter. On the other hand, I know he played a huge role in the recruitment of Connor Wood and a number of other players in the 2010 class, so his impact on the staff is being felt, even if it goes unnoticed.

Lache Seastrunk is an elite talent, but I'm not going to let what's happening in his recruitment serve as an indictment on Applewhite. If Mack Brown doesn't want to buy front row tickets to the circus, I'm not going to blame Applewhite for not getting to see the clowns. All of that being said, I think 2011 is a huge recruiting year for Applewhite. It's a deep class with a lot of options and it'll be interesting to see the decisions that are made. For the first time since he's been in Austin, I think we'll truly get a view for his abilities as a recruiter.

Q: (Texas Diesel) - I have a hypothetical for you... Let's say Oklahoma State runs the table, other than their game against us, and makes it to and wins a BSC bowl game. If they run the table and we beat OU, like we should, OU would have three losses and maybe four relegating them to the Holiday, Cotton, or Alamo bowl. If this plays out, how does it affect recruiting? I'm going to assume Texas will continue to get who they want, but with OSU's potential success in conjunction with OU's potential lackluster season, would there be a possible shift in power from OU to OSU concerning mindsets of recruits? Once you add in the new updated facilities at OSU, it makes me hopeful there could be a flip flop within the borders Oklahoma and the downfall of the Sooner might be upon us.

Editor's note: This question was submitted before Oklahoma State's loss to Houston, but the premise still holds true. If Oklahoma State ran the table from here on out (with the exception of the Texas game), they'd be 10-2 and would probably be the Big 12's first option as a BCS at-large. That doesn't mean that they would definitely be in, but they'd certainly be in the mix.

A: I don't think any one year ever truly changes the dynamics of a recruiting landscape, just like one game seldom determines the outcome of an individual recruitment. Of course, there are exceptions, but it's very, very far from the rule.

As it stands, Texas is the runaway big dog in the state of Texas, followed by Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State has been trying to penetrate that force-field surrounding the Big 12's top two schools, but they haven't been able to do it. In my opinion I don't think Oklahoma State will ever crack the current pecking order because much of the positioning by UT and OU is 100 years in the making. One BCS game alone and improved facilities is not going to make people forget that they are the No.2 school in the state of Oklahoma in the eyes of the mainstream majority.

They'll win an occasional big-time recruit in Texas, but they are clearly on a separate tier and there aren't many 10-2 seasons that will change that.

Q: (GetHooked) - The board seems divided on the importance of the running game.

What do you think? Is a team weakness? Do you think we can be a much better team with a consistent running game? Do you think we are good enough to achieve all our goals if it doesn't improve?

In your opinion, what is your sense about the coach's perception of our running game?

A: I'm probably with the coaches on this one - it's a work in progress. I'm not sure that I would describe it as a team weakness, but there's it's not in the same state as other positions on the roster. Still, let me bring some levity to this discussion. The top three backs on the roster right now (Vondrell McGee, Tre' Newton and D.J. Monroe) are all averaging better than 5.0 yards per carry through two games. If that's a weakness, what's the definition of team strength?

Obviously, we've only seen two games and the competition gets much tougher, but it really is impossible to draw a conclusion at this point. There's no question that this team becomes much tougher to beat if the running game can be consistently above-average in every game they play this season.

I don't know if Texas can win a national championship this season without a more potent running game, but they almost got there last season without one and I'm not sure that you can pin the Texas Tech game on the running game issues. There were a lot of things that were off in that game, including the staff's clock management in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

At the end of the day, I'd remain optimistic that the Longhorns are going to figure this thing out. I love what Newton has shown and I firmly believe that Monroe's importance to the offense will increase as the season unfolds. Truth be told, I don't have the answers you want for most of your questions.

Q: (Beagleme) - Is Chris Whaley in Major's doghouse for not arriving in tip top condition this summer? Is he a probable redshirt candidate ? Also, do we switch punters anytime soon based on John Gold's issues last weekend or is a blocking scheme issue ?

A: I'm not sure if Whaley is in anyone's doghouse, but it really doesn't matter. He's simply not among the team's five most ready-to-play players at the position and he's not a factor at this point. Everyone still loves his upside, but he needs to use this season to dedicate himself to the weight room because he's going to have to work for it (see Dan Buckner) if he's to obtain success at this level. My guess is that he's headed for a red-shirt, although it's possible that he'd take some late game snaps if he really wanted to play this season and the coaches simply wanted to grant him his preference. Again, in my mind his eye needs to be on the weights and not on the field.

As for Gold, there's no question that he needed to show a little more urgency in getting those kicks off, but the protection issues were so extreme that it's hard to point the finger at the punter. I don't think the staff's commitment to Gold has lessened a bit.

Q: (ut_alh) - Whether we like it or not, I strongly believe that Texas has become a pass-first team. Given this, I have two questions. First, do you think this is the case in the minds of the coaches (and if not, why since I think the evidence on the field would not support this). Second, what are realistic goals for a running offense in a pass-first system? To me, the key is to be able to be 2-dimensional on 3rd down with 4-5 yards to go for a first, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on this

A: Don't confuse the coaches understanding that the pass is their No.1 offensive strength this season with them publicly confirming that the 2009 identity represents who they are from an offensive philosophical vantage-point.

Yes, the coaches know that the pass will pay for dinner all season, but they want the running game to be able to chip in the tip at the very least. I think you hit the nail on the head with respect to what Texas needs from this year's running game. They absolutely need to be versatile - able to contribute in a variety of manners. They also need to be able to run for the tough yards when they need them. If it's third and two, the Longhorns have to be able to get those yards. It's not rocket science.

Q: (wabash512) - This one requires some research, but here's the question. It's pretty easy to evaluate the job Muschamp is doing because we have and will face a number of good offenses. On the other hand, Davis has a lot of talent to work with but doesn't seem to face many good defenses. Can you look at how many top 20 defenses Texas has played against over the last 5 years and how well we've done?

A: Wow, you really made me put my research cap on. Here's the list of games from the last five seasons where Texas faced a top 20 defense (for those wondering, I'm using end of the season stats):


Loss - 12-0 vs. Oklahoma (ranked No.13 with 299 yards per game) - The Longhorns were shut out and totaled 240 total yards of offense (154 passing/86 rushing), while averaging 3.8 yards per rush, totaling 13 first downs and committing three turnovers.

Win - 28-20 vs. Missouri (ranked No.14 with 301.4 yards per game) - The Longhorns scored three offensive touchdowns and totaled 299 total yards of offense (106 passing/193 rushing), while averaging 4.9 yards per rush, totaling 15 first downs and committing three turnovers.


Win - 25-22 at Ohio State (ranked No.5 with 281.3 yards per game) - The Longhorns scored two offensive touchdowns, had five offensive scoring drives and totaled 382 total yards of offense (270 passing/112 rushing), while averaging 2.9 yards per rush, totaling 19 first downs and committing three turnovers.

Win - 66-14 vs. Kansas (ranked No.11 with 303.5 yards per game) - The Longhorns scored eight offensive touchdowns, had nine offensive scoring drives and totaled 617 total yards of offense (281 passing/336 rushing), while averaging 6.3 yards per rush, totaling 29 first downs and committing one turnover.

Win - 45-13 vs. Oklahoma (ranked No.13 with 306.7 yards per game) - The Longhorns scored five offensive touchdowns, had six offensive scoring drives and totaled 444 total yards of offense (241 passing/203 rushing), while averaging 5.1 yards per rush, totaling 20 first downs and committing one turnover.


Loss - 24-7 vs. Ohio State (ranked No.12 with 280.5 yards per game) - The Longhorns scored one offensive touchdown and totaled 326 total yards of offense (154 passing/172 rushing), while averaging 5.5 yards per rush, totaling 20 first downs and committing two turnovers.

Win - 28-10 vs. Oklahoma (ranked No.16 with 287.1 yards per game) - The Longhorns scored three offensive touchdowns and totaled 232 total yards of offense (108 passing/124 rushing), while averaging 4.6 yards per rush, totaling 13 first downs and committing zero turnovers.


Win - 34-13 vs. TCU (ranked No.15 with 323.6 yards per game) - The Longhorns scored three offensive touchdowns, had five offensive scoring drives and totaled 415 total yards of offense (239 passing/176 rushing), while averaging 4.9 yards per rush, totaling 19 first downs and committing two turnovers.



Q: (TX82) - Not that it's an urgent concern today, but who do you see backing up our sophomore starting QB next year? Will it be one of the true freshmen? Or, is it possible that Sherrod Harris redshirts, and the coaches have a calming influence to mentor the youngsters? Am I overlooking another alternative?

Thanks for everything your staff does

A: I think Sherrod Harris is likely going to be Gilbert's back-up this season and they'll probably do everything they can to redshirt incoming freshmen Connor Wood and Case McCoy.

Q: (bman25)- Is Darrell Scott a bust in any shape or form? I'm not asking is he good, but was he deserving of #6 player in the country, #1 running back, five star? Some on this board have said he has good vision and balance, but lacks the explosion one would expect from his ranking. Are we just a bunch of haters?

Also, you refer to Aaron Green as a future five-star, but you feel the same way about Malcolm Brown? Do you think he's a sure fire five star or do you think he "has a shot" at it? Do you think we get either of those two?

A: Scott has not looked like the nation's No.1 running back since he's been at Colorado. He showed up out of shape (see Chris Whaley) and basically lost his freshman season. I think he might be the best offensive player on the CU team, but that doesn't mean that he's looked like a future NFL player. He has some improvement that still needs to be made.

As for the 2011 running backs, I'm not sure what direction Texas is going to go in, but Green and Brown will be at the top of every wish list. Green is the best running back prospect I've seen in the state since 2004 and Brown isn't far behind him. Both will be under serious five-star consideration.

Q: (dhorn) - I wonder if you feel like I do that we find ourselves in the golden age of Longhorn Sports? I understand that Florida, Oklahoma and USC are having a good decade but no one team has fired the imagination of the viewing public like the 2005 team. Everyone agrees that this team has a chance to rival that one. Now comes TT in the 3rd week. Do you anticipate a statement of the 2009 Horn's intentions or another week of learning and depth building?

A: Yes, this era of Longhorns athletics is the greatest time period in the school's history when you look at all of the sports across the board. Also, Texas is going to make a statement against Tech on Saturday. Stay tuned…

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