May 17, 2010

Mailbag: What's the Plan in Texas and Oklahoma?

The Mailbag is a feature for our fans to get questions that may require a little more depth and clarity of explanation directly from assistant editor Josh McCuistion. Each week we'll field questions for the mailbag and get you all answers at the week's end!

This week's mailbag has a look at just what Oklahoma is doing in it's Oklahoma and Texas recruiting, what type of gameplan do the Sooners have to combat the Longhorns in the Lone Star State, and are they losing control within their own state borders?

I very well could be in the minority on this, but I am concerned about OU's recruiting in the state of Texas. Oklahoma seems to me to be relegated to a wait and see approach to see what Texas does. OU is way better than that. It seems like a passive way of recruiting to me. OU has just as much to offer a recruit. What changes did UT make to have athletes basically begging for a offer so they can commit? Yes, I know OU got another great class, but that was with some studs from Kansas, Florida, Missouri and California. How many times can OU go into these states and pull that kind of talent out to supplement their lack of top shelf Texas talent? Beside wins in October over UT, what can OU do to at least get some time to recruit Texas athletes instead of having the door slammed in their faces in March? What happens if A&M starts digging into the level of athletes OU gets?

Now on the flip side why is it that Oklahoma kids aren't knocking down OU's door to sign? I know many of the top kids end up at OU, but not without making OU work to get them. What can OU do to get that UT treatment from Oklahoma athletes? Speaking of in-state players, who is waiting to surprise everyone with his talent? And what was the cause for such a bad miss on No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford? All this and much more in this week's Mailbag!

- Keith

This is something I touched on a bit in last week's mailbag but I have to admit the change that I think helped swing things in their current direction were mocked by some, myself included, but I think they really are the fundamental change to how the Longhorns currently recruit in-state.

I was talking to someone with a knowledge of how Mack Brown handled things during his time at North Carolina and they were discussing offering kids that were lifelong Tar Heel fans, or simply guys that may never have felt they were good enough to play at that level. Those players of course, when offered, immediately committed and began working on the guys they'd played against their whole lives to go to Chapel Hill and play together.

You work up a level of excitement about a program and when you have others selling it for you, you limit the amount of work you have to do.

Now you multiply that factor times the reality that most of these kids grow up their whole lives hearing about Texas football and they've never known a bad football team in Austin and you've got a pretty powerful combination.

But of course it has to be remembered, Brown is a dynamic recruiting head coach with few, if any, equals in the art of sitting in a living room and making sure a recruit heads to 'the 40 Acres'.

However, while you've got some concerns I feel like Oklahoma has been much more successful this year in-state than they were last year. It seems to go on an odd-even schedule. One year Texas truly dominates, the next year Oklahoma either gets a few steals or does some dominating of their own (see 2004 and 2008). But expecting Oklahoma to truly have a chance for every recruit just isn't very realistic.

The depth of that was well worded by current Sooner commitment Nathan Hughes as he talked about how he handled recruiting after he was, surprisingly, not offered by Texas during their junior day.

"Before that I was talking to everybody but I was never really in the process because I thought I was going to be at UT," he said.

That's the mindset a lot of these kids have, Oklahoma can send them five pieces of mail a day, promise them a starting spot from day one and have 10 former No. 1 overall draft picks at the position, and some kids are still going to go to Texas.

To me the flip side is the bigger question about this whole thing. It's not so much that Oklahoma sees a lot of top flight guys leave state, although Demarco Cobbs and likely Josh Turner make one wonder if a trend isn't starting, but they don't seem to go crazy over a Sooner offer in the same manner.

I think the answers are in two parts. First, Oklahoma doesn't do the same type of thing, there aren't Brock Fitzhenry type offers in-state, they don't take guys that almost from minute one don't look like real impact guys simply to grab a commitment, and as I said start to build some early buzz about the recruiting class.

Oklahoma could have already offered Dylan Dismuke, Austin Beck, Hunter Davis, and several other BCS-caliber players in-state and each would already be part of the 2011 recruiting class. However, Oklahoma is only going to offer guys when they are certain they can make an impact. That time may come for the trio, but it's not here at this moment.

Secondly, it's been well documented that Texas and the way they 'offer' many players at their junior day, which makes up a huge piece of each of their talented classes, is to basically say 'if you commit, you've got an offer'. This works for them in two ways, obviously it helps them land commitments but it also helps them say on National Signing Day that they offered 30 guys and landed 25 of them, which in turn creates even more buzz about the class because, on paper, it makes each offer look that much more unattainable to each and every recruit in the state of Texas.

It's genius in it's simplicity but it's just not something I see Oklahoma ever doing as it's a kind of pressure tactic and I don't think I've ever heard a kid talking much about a coach asking when they might commit. Oklahoma tells guys 'we've got one spot left at your position, and three guys with offers'. That's about the extent of the pressure because they know all three guys can help them and it's a first come, first serve situation.

It's just two different approaches to recruiting and frankly I think Oklahoma likes having a few more spots towards the end of recruiting to give them spaces for the annual late-bloomers like Austin Haywood, Eric Humphrey, or even current Sooner All-American, and Texas prospect,Jeremy Beal.

While Oklahoma doesn't win the majority of the battles in Texas against the Longhorns, they do a brilliant job with their evaluations and it helps level the playing field.

As an example when Beal signed he was seen as a knock-off of as five-star Texas-bound Eddie Jones. To say Jones' career has fallen short of Beal's is akin to saying that Pete Best may have made an error in not staying on with his buddies from Liverpool.

Oh and has anyone spent time lamenting the loss of J'Marcus Webb, the nation's No. 3 offensive tackle in that same class of 2006? He was a star from an area that is supposed to be good to Oklahoma, yet Oklahoma settled for a little known tackle from East Texas, who just became the fourth overall draft pick.

To count on this happening every year would be silly which is why Oklahoma pursues the best in Texas but when they miss on the guys who everyone is talking about, they need to be commended for their ability to find the guys who nobody is at the time but may very well be in the near future.

Are there any Austin Haywood types in-state this year? Guys that are just off the radar for whatever reason but have all the talent to emerge as big-time talents?

- Anthony

I think we may have already found our version for this year in Del City's Jamelle Naff. The big offensive tackle has the feet of an NBA power forward and really has a chance to make a name for himself if he'll continue to develop as an offensive lineman rather than simply a great athlete trying to block people.

But if you made me pick another guy that is worth keeping an eye on from a bit off the beaten path I'd probably select Ashton Dandy of Tulsa East Central.

I'm still awaiting film on him but he was a guy who showed up at the combine a few weeks back and just blew everyone away with his physical make-up as well as his testing times. He really is an elite type of athlete but until I've seen film it's hard to know what type of player he is just yet. Another interesting aspect to him will be just where he fits into a defensive scheme. He has played defensive end for Travis Hill's bunch but looks to be an outside linebacker moving forward.

There are a few other guys that are worth noting but he is the player who may have the biggest upsides of any of the others.

When you look back at a guy like Sam Bradford and see that you had him ranked as the No. 6 player in the state, do you ever go back and try and think about 'what did I miss?' or anything like that?

- Aaron

Absolutely, you can always learn from stuff like that and Sam was/is obviously a big miss on my part.

I've gone back and watched his film a few times and I think the things people, including myself, failed to acknowledge was Sam's footwork and overall size. You'd watch him throw and wouldn't really see a lot of velocity but Sam threw flat-footed very regularly and when you add in how thin he was he was always going to fill out and gain some notable arm strength.

Some mistook his interceptions as during his senior year as an accuracy issue but it seems that we placed too much burden on Sam himself and not enough on the problems he had with blocking and the complete lack of a running game from the North offense during the 2005 season. When you go back and look at Sam's reel when he had time to set his feet, even if he didn't have time to step into the throw he was incredibly accurate.

Frankly we all fell too in love with the obvious things and ignored some subtle tipoffs. We also didn't take into account the one thing we STILL can't measure, character. Sam is a tireless worker and got the most out of his own ability.

You've seen Charles Jackson and Tevin Mitchel up close so was it a surprise to you that Oklahoma offered Mitchel first?

- Thomas

I think perhaps athletically it is a bit of a surprise as what I've seen of Jackson is just nearly off the charts type of raw athletic ability. That being said Mitchel is no slouch but perhaps isn't quite as big and physically impressive as his counterpart from Klein Collins.

Taking out just the obvious physical traits, as I said above that can be dangerous, Mitchel was pretty much the unanimous choice as the TCU NIKE camp's top cornerback over not only Jackson but Josh Turner, and numerous other FBS prospects.

And perhaps in this case Mitchel is just seen as a bit of a better fit for what Oklahoma does than Jackson who seems to be a guy a few years away from being a pure man-to-man type of cover corner. Now don't misunderstand me, Jackson can be a difference maker for Oklahoma I just think at this point with so few offers they almost have to go on a one-for-one scale and right now they had to pick one and Mitchel may be the more immediate fit.

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