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July 8, 2011

Six-Pack: Summer workouts, Longhorn Network, more ...

1. With the Longhorn Network airing a second football game this season, you are already seeing ESPN taking extraordinary measures to make LHN an attractive product.

A source with direct knowledge of the situation told me ESPN is dipping into its Tier 1 inventory to bring a game to LHN, which has Tier 3 rights.

A refresher: Tier 1 is the best of the best games, and ABC/ESPN has paid big money for those rights so that it can air the most attractive football and basketball games in the Big 12. Fox has the Tier 2 rights, which is the next-best football games. And LHN has Tier 3 rights - basically whatever is left after ABC/ESPN and Fox have taken what they want.

ESPN notified Fox that it might move a Tier 1 game to the Tier 3 level and received a waiver to do so.

So here we go.

If you look at Texas' schedule, the game in addition to Rice that could end up on LHN is one of Texas other home games.

This year, that includes the Texas-OU (which is a home game for Texas this year). But that won't happen; ABC has already announced that game as a wide distribution game on ABC.

The BYU game on Sept. 10 has already been slotted for ESPN2, so ABC/ESPN won't take that game to a lower tier.

That leaves Oklahoma State (Oct. 15), Kansas (Oct. 29), Texas Tech (Nov. 5) and Kansas State (Nov. 19) as the games that could end up on LHN.

If ABC/ESPN wanted to make a lot of noise and draw attention to LHN, it would have Oklahoma State as the game because the Cowboys are a Top 15 team, and are a solid TV draw this season with QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon coming off a school-record, 11-win season. But that's the kind of game that could end up on ABC primetime and command top ad dollars. So not likely.

The more likely candidates to end up as the second game on LHN are Kansas, Tech or Kansas State. Those are teams picked to finish in the second half of the remodeled Big 12, so if predictions play out, these are games that might not draw a lot of national interest and might be more suited for a second or third tier broadcast platform.

Because LHN right now is licensed for Texas home games, we are likely looking at the Kansas, Tech or K-State game as the second game on LHN. The Longhorn Network begins airing on Aug. 26 and will televise its first football broadcast on Sept. 3, when Texas plays Rice.

Negotiations between ESPN and cable carriers are still ongoing, so there may not be a bunch of answers at this point.

2. I think we have a pretty good idea who the leaders on the team are right now: Mike Davis, Foswhitt Whittaker and Cody Johnson on offense, and Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho, Kheeston Randall and Blake Gideon on defense.

If Mack Brown could have three more players on offense and three more players on defense emerge as solid players AND leaders, I bet they would be …

Garrett Gilbert … All of that experience in Year 1 can't go for naught. His confidence took a beating, but he can still have a great final two years if he can thrive in an offense with a clear identity and grab the leadership rein. Being a vocal leader is not really in his personality. But he's tried to get out of his comfort zone by taking charge of summer workouts. An essential first step if he wants to be THE guy.

Malcolm Brown … No offense to Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson who are both great guys, solid players and leaders in their own right - respected by all their teammates, but the future is Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. Get Brown on the field as soon as possible and let him start to put his personality stamp on the offense. And next season, when he's joined by Gray, this offense will be filthy. By then, Stacy Searels will have had a year to mold his big uglies up front. Boom goes the dynamite.

Trey Hopkins … He's been compared by the coaching staff to Justin Blalock. Guys up front don't have to be vocal. It helps. But they don't have to be vocal. And Hopkins is not vocal. But he's a grinder, a worker and a perfectionist who really cares about football. He's also smarter than a tree full of owls. He's the future, so it's time for him to step out front and lead, even if it's by example.

Jackson Jeffcoat … This guy is the next big thing at rush end. It's time for him to take over this defense up front.

Jordan Hicks … He is the real deal at linebacker and the runaway leader at this position in 2012. Step up now and grab the leadership rein for guys like Steve Edmond, Chet Moss and the rest of the guys coming up. I've been told he's already doing that.

Kenny Vaccaro … Vaccaro leads by example. It would be great if he was a guy who could go facemask to facemask and ask for more from each player. He's maybe the most physical player on the team, so he already has the respect of everyone. Now, he needs to trade on it for the next two seasons.

If these six guys step up and become the heart and soul, the work ethic of this year's team and next year's team, holding everyone in their position group and on their side of the ball accountable, then the Longhorns will be ready to bounce back in a hurry.

Obviously, if Gilbert isn't the guy, and there is a QB controversy, then the progress of the offense could take a while or worse - blow up - while the next guy in line is identified.

We've seen that work a couple ways at UT. We've seen it blow up (Simms-Applewhite in 2000), and we've seen it go relatively smoothly (from Richard Walton to Major Applewhite and from Chance Mock to Vince Young).

The QB position is the part of the science lab that has some nitro glycerin laying around IMO.

3. I'm fascinated by the offensive line this year.

It's been the Bermuda Triangle position at Texas since Kasey Studdard, Lyle Sendlein and Justin Blalock left after the 2006 season. Tony Hills was the last Longhorn drafted off the offensive line after the 2007 season (three long seasons ago). And now that Stacy Searels is on the case, I can't wait to see how the personality of this line changes.

Texas has been a paradox at this position because it had big guys up front who would go backwards in pass blocking from a two-point stance and hold up pretty well. But when they had to go forward in the run game, either in a zone scheme or in man or combination blocking, it's been choppy to say the least.

I spoke to former NFL lineman Ross Tucker (now with ESPN and Sirius Radio), who played with Mike Williams in Buffalo in 2002-03, on Wednesday, and he can't believe what he perceives as the misevaluation of talent that has occurred on the O-line at Texas.

"They should get whoever they want on the line down there," Tucker said. "From an offensive line standpoint, it's one of the biggest mysteries in college football, really."

Is the young talent (guys like Trey Hopkins and Paden Kelley) an upgrade from last year? Can Searels get the big guys up front to pass block and run block? The answers should be YES!! If not, duck.

If you want your players to take on the personality of their coach, then Searels is the guy. He's big (6-6), tough and has the chip on the shoulder you want all of your players to play with. Now, it's about technique. It's about guys being in shape so they can get to the second level. It's about playing with attitude.

And the best guys have to play. If they are young guys, they need to play.

Mike Sherman should be commended for playing Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel last year as true freshmen and living with their young mistakes because he knew they were the future and needed the most reps in practice to start reaching their potential. That mindset needs to be in Austin this season.

If Sedrick Flowers is the future, then get him out there, etc.

I will be writing about the offensive line a lot this year.

4. Roy Williams has brought new meaning to the phrase "mail-order bride."

So, according to TMZ.com, Brooke Daniels' mother said the $76,000 ring has been returned to Williams' attorney near Houston.

That proposal went smoothly.

I'm telling you there is a Farrelly Brothers' comedy to be had based on Roy Williams.

When I heard Williams mailed off nearly 80 grand worth of engagement ring in a box that included a baseball as a gift to Miss Texas 2009 and went Postal (U.S. Postal) to ask her to marry him, I heard Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) in Dumb and Dumber saying, "So you're telling me there's a chance."

We could rewrite the script to make the $45 million receiver (thanks to Jerry Jones) a cross between Leon from the Bud commercials and Ron Artest. We could call him Leon Metta Peace (LMP for short).

When the pizza guy comes to the door in Detroit, LMP would make the guy answer three questions about his football career to earn a tip. Even if the pizza guy answered the questions correctly, LMP would say the pizza guy was wrong so that he doesn't have to tip him.

LMP would take his dates only to places with buy-one-get-one-free coupons yet spend tens of thousands on black velvet artwork of himself (replete with the purple lighting that makes it glow).

Then, on Sundays, if he dropped a pass that could have helped his team, he'd throw a Leon line out there, like, "Leon can't do it all."

Would appreciate your Farrelly thoughts on this … (or simply flame away.)

5. Jordan Hamilton wrote a letter to Longhorn Nation thanking everyone for his time at Texas.

Good move.

After being quoted by AOL saying he thinks he slipped in the NBA Draft because Rick Barnes might have told some teams he's "uncoachable," Hamilton went on the offensive to try to set the record straight.

I've included the letter (published in the Daily Texan Thursday) in which Hamilton said he never mentioned Barnes in the interview with AOL. If that's true, good for Hamilton to reach out and make his case.

I think Hamilton was one of the best stories in college basketball last season. He completely changed his mindset from his freshman year after a tough conversation with Barnes.

RB basically told Hamilton he would help him transfer if he didn't want to work to become a complete player. Hamilton then put in the work and was a national player of the year candidate with a couple weeks left in the regular season.

Even Hamilton didn't argue that he needed to grow up after his freshman year at Texas, and it appears he's trying to do that. Good for Jordan.

It's important that he go on the PR offensive because people would probably believe the "Old Jordan" could say something like he was quoted as saying by AOL. The "New Jordan" is trying to be the mature professional now.

Nothing wrong with good PR.

I give credit to Terrelle Pryor for apologizing to Ohio State and Jim Tressel, even if the apology included "a special shoutout" to the Sweater Vest and was probably ordered by Drew Rosenhaus.

Hey, Pryor's apology to Ohio State was more than USC ever got from Reggie Bush.

Good for J-Ham for trying to keep Longhorn Nation on his side as he continues to mature.

6. Kevin Durant had his camp in Austin last week, and he was at every part of it, from start to finish.

No putting his name on a camp, commanding big bucks and only showing up for one hour each day. So many other stars do it that way.

Not Durant.

He's there from start to finish, actually helping to determine which campers get awards and taking his picture with the award winners. (Sean Adams' son was an award winner, by the way.)

Yet another reason to celebrate Durant for the little things he does when only a few people are looking.<


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