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August 19, 2010

An OB Close-Up: QB Garrett Gilbert

The subject of tackling and being tackled came up with Garrett Gilbert and a group of reporters this week.

When it comes to being tackled, Gilbert said if he saw Texas safety Christian Scott lowering down on him, he'd concede.

"I used to play baseball. I don't know if I slide very well," Gilbert said. "But I've got it down enough to get out of the way."

When it comes to tackling, Gilbert said if he had to do it over again against Alabama, he would have gone low on cinder block defensive tackle Marcel Dareus, who picked off a shovel pass and returned it for a touchdown right before the half.

"I've gotten a lot of grief for that," Gilbert shrugged.

He can smile about it now. That's a positive. Watching a replay of Gilbert trying to make that tackle, he looks like a teddy bear caught in the blades of a power boat.

But to Gilbert's credit, he really tried to make the tackle. He didn't dive in front of Dareus or throw his shoulder into the guy. He tried to wrap up Dareus and bring him down. The only problem: Dareus is built like a fire hydrant. OK, 100 fire hydrants.

After Bama punched in two straight touchdowns to end the game, both off of Gilbert turnovers, Mack Brown went to Gilbert and apologized for him being thrown into such a tough situation.

"Garrett responded by saying, 'No, I'm sorry. If I don't turn the ball over, we win the national title,'" Brown said. "That tells you a lot about Garrett Gilbert. He's a stand-up guy."

NOW, GILBERT IS THE MAN

It was the lowest moment of the Garrett Gilbert Era at Texas so far. An era that is essentially less than four quarters old (unless you count his inability to find his helmet when McCoy went down in that game, forcing UT to take a timeout). If that five-turnover night (four INTs and a fumble) ends up the lowest moment of the next three years, life in Austin probably will have been pretty good.

His two-TD pass rally in the second half of that Alabama game (cutting a 24-6 deficit at halftime to 24-21), led by a shutdown performance from the Texas defense in the third quarter, has a whole bunch of people buying stock in him.

Expecations are high. Texas is No. 4 in the coaches poll. Mack Brown says this may be the best defense he's had in 13 seasons at UT. The last two quarterbacks at Texas each won Big 12 titles, were the masters of fourth-quarter comebacks and won national player of the year awards.

PRESSURE? WHAT PRESSURE?

No pressure, right Garrett?

"I wouldn't have it any other way," he said. "Vince and Colt are such great players. It's a real blessing to even be mentioned in the same breath with those guys.

"They are guys I grew up watching and trying to emulate my game towards. So it's a lot of fun to be in their shoes.

"When I was younger, watching Major (Applewhite) was the first real good one. Then Chris (Simms), Vince and Colt. Those are the guys I grew up watching, and that was my dream to be in their shoes."

Now, Applewhite is advising Gilbert to "reserve the right to punt" by making sure he takes a checkdown pass to a back rather than using that cannon arm to gamble downfield.

"Coach Davis really preaches that too," Gilbert said. "In playing against such great defensive backs every day in practice, sometimes the only thing open is the checkdown.

"So going against them has really helped me learn that. I've been able to improve upon that slowly. I still have a ways to go. But I feel like I've been able to get my eyes to find that a little bit better."

BECOMING A LEADER

McCoy is reminding Gilbert in text messages from Cleveland to "be yourself." McCoy told him if he tries to put on some front to be more of a vocal leader, his teammates will see through it.

Gilbert said his biggest mission right now is not the playbook, adjusting to taking snaps from under center or even developing timing with an array of receivers. It's leadership.

"The older guys on the team have really helped me ease into that role," Gilbert said. "So now I feel like taking it upon myself to be more vocal and be able to step up and say something when things aren't going right."

What Gilbert learned most from McCoy was his ability to connect with teammates.

"He was a vocal guy, but he was able to tell someone what they needed to hear, and they responded really well to him," Gilbert said. "That's something I've been really working on in the off-season. I'm feeling more and more comfortable with that."

Gilbert reached out first to the guys who will be trying to keep the likes of Jeremy Beal, Jared Crick, Colby Whitlock and Von Miller from flattening him.

"The chemistry with the offensive line is going really well," Gilbert said. "During the summer, we go out and eat all the time. We've been able to develop a relationship off the field, and I think we feel very comfortable with each other and knowing where each other's going to be and what we're going to do."

GOING UNDER CENTER

In one of the most discussed makeovers of the off-season, Gilbert says he too has noticed a new personality along the offensive line.

"The offensive line has really taken it upon themselves to get an attitude," Gilbert said. "The running backs have done a good job of getting downhill and picking up 4 or 5 yards a pop. So that's been really good for us so far.

"The play-action really helps take a little pressure off. With all the great pass rushers we have, it's a challenge for our line every day. It's a challenge for our offense every day. We've done a great job working against that."

Gilbert hadn't taken a snap from under center since pee wee football. His entire career at Lake Travis, which ended on a 30-game winning streak with two straight state titles, was from the shotgun.

"Going under center has been a little bit of an adjustment," Gilbert said. "We've been working on it since spring. I've really felt like we've been able to get it down, and now it's like second nature.

"I feel like we're just as comfortable whether we are under center or in the shotgun. The thing from under center is you get a little bit more time going into the play-action pass.

"Hopefully we'll get linebackers moving forward and then I have to get my head around after the fake, ready to throw."

POUNDING THE ROCK

Mack Brown has been talking about beefing up the running game for years. Malcolm Brown should help with that beginning in 2011. But something that undoubtedly caught Malcolm's attention was Mack Brown's decision to cut back on the "reach blocking" that occurred with the team's featured running play the last six and a half seasons.

While zone blocking is still a part of the team's package, there is much more "man blocking" with double teams and kick outs.

The offensive linemen have all said how much they are enjoying firing off at the man across from them as opposed to washing left or right. Time will tell if the results are any different.

But if there's a game in which the running game sputters and Gilbert is forced to win a game with his arm, he says he's ready.

"I'm very confident in the running game and the way it's been going so far," Gilbert said. "So I look forward to that being something we can count on game-in and game-out.

"The offensive line has done a great job with that. I've got a lot of great athletes around me, so I just need to get them the ball and let them make plays."

PLAYMAKERS A PLENTY

Gilbert had already developed some chemistry with receivers like Malcolm Williams, James Kirkendoll, Marquise Goodwin, John Chiles and DeSean Hales. Then, along came freshmen Mike Davis and Darius White.

"All the freshmen receivers have done a great job right away," Gilbert said. "They've been eager to learn. They're very confident guys to stick their heads out there and go make plays. So I really expect them to go out and be able to compete for playing time. I'm excited about them."

When Gilbert was asked about Mike Davis, who is already gaining a reputation as an overachiever by being early to 5:40 a.m. meetings, he said:

"He was really excited to learn the offense," Gilbert said. "He got his playbook very early. He was a guy we knew could be a playmaker after seeing him in high school. The sky's the limit for him."

Tight end is one position Texas can ill afford any more bad news after Barrett Matthews was slowed early in camp by a muscle pull, and then freshman Trey Graham was lost for the season to a knee injury.

"With the new focus on the running game and trying to get downhill, the tight end has become a big focus for us," Gilbert said. "And all of our tight ends have really done a great job being blockers and, when the time comes, become pass catchers.

"With the depth we have, it hurts to lose Trey (Graham), but we're excited about that position."

Gilbert stopped short of saying the tight end position at Texas is a modern-day Bermuda Triangle after losing Graham, Blaine Irby (2008), D.J. Grant (2009) and Ian Harris (2009) to season and career-ending injuries in the last three seasons.

"I don't know about a curse," Gilbert said. "We have been unfortunate with some injuries to that position the last few years. But the guys like Barrett (Matthews) and Greg (Smith) have really done a great job with the run blocking and being pass catchers whenever they get a chance.

"I'm excited about those guys and very comfortable with where that position is and throwing it to those guys."

30-GAME WINNING STREAK

Gilbert has won his last 30 starts, dating back to two straight 4A state title runs at Lake Travis. Oddly enough, Lake Travis will play this season at Royal-Memorial Stadium before Gilbert will. Lake Travis faces Westlake in the season opener at DKR next week.

Even though much is made of Alabama QB Greg McElroy's 30-game winning streak dating back to his days at Southlake Carroll, Gilbert doesn't put much stock in his consecutive victories as a starter.

"It's a whole new ballgame up here," Gilbert said. "So you take a little from it about how to win, but obviously the game and the speed are so much different here. It's a whole different game."

Until Texas takes the field at Reliant Stadium on Sept. 4 against Rice, it's a few more interviews like the one he did with Erin Andrews on ESPN's College Football Live recently.

"I didn't get to see it, but a couple of my friends called me and said I did all right," Gilbert said. "I guess it went pretty well."

One last thing about Gilbert and tackling, considering Colt McCoy's stop of Oklahoma's Brian Jackson after an interception in last year's 16-13 victory over OU was one of the plays of the season.

Gilbert knows how to tackle. He blasted a kid from Cedar Park after a pick last year into the bleachers.

Now, he says the biggest thing he's trying to tackle is all the media attention he's getting.

"Colt told me to just take stuff as it comes and be myself," Gilbert said. "I've tried to take that to heart and try and become more comfortable with that stuff.

"It hasn't been bad. I've enjoyed the spring and summer and just being out there with the rest of the team. I think as a team we're just excited about school starting and the rest of the season starting.

"As an offense, we feel very comfortable together and feel very good about where we are."





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