September 30, 2010

The Ticket City Locker Room

Q: (LZL) - Why are they trying to protect Garrett Gilbert so much in regards to putting it on his shoulders? This guy won two state titles and we should be putting it on his shoulders. We need to become a passing team and somewhat forget the run except to catch them off guard with D.J. Monroe and Fozzy Whittaker. We do not have the line and/or the RB's to be successful with a down-hill running game like Alabama. Alabama has two RB's that would be successful at any school with that scheme. Texas will lose 2-3 more games if they do not just start playing to their strengths and TX will be in the Cotton Bowl at best.................
What are your thoughts? Garrett needs to start slinging.

A: There are several layers to this discussion. Let's start at the beginning and work our way through the discussion. It's been talked about on many occasions, but the decision to try and go away from the spread offense that has been featured in recent years and towards more of a physical, under-center ball control attack was made by head coach Mack Brown.

At his roots, Mack is an old-school, power running game, offensive football coach and when he looks back at the last decade, he sees a UT program that has lost at least two conference championships and perhaps a national championship because of its recent inability to consistently run the ball with confidence. The feeling from within the coaching staff was that if there was ever a time to make a move back to the offense that they prefer, now was the time to do it, as they make the transition from one quarterback era to another with a guy that has more initial NFL upside than anyone they've probably ever recruited at that position.

The problem for the Longhorn staff is that the reality of their situation leaves them without a winning answer that doesn't include some potholes to dodge. For instance, part of the reasoning for forcing the transition this off-season revolved around the staff wanting to relieve the quarterback position from being the end-all/be-all component of that side of the ball because they didn't want a sophomore quarterback being responsible for every breath made by that side of the ball and they felt like they couldn't keep leaving themselves in situations where the offensive identity goes right out the window as soon as the No.1 quarterback gets dinged up.

The rational make sense until you realize that the Longhorns lack the personnel to truly make the move they want to make. They don't have a scholarship fullback that they currently like. Their tight end play is below average. The running backs haven't proven to be consistently above-average or the ability to stay healthy. Mix in an offensive line that lacks athleticism and top-notch power players and it's not hard to see why that kind of offense would fall on its face. The parts simply aren't there.

Compounding the issue is that the coaches are trying to recruit personnel to fit their preferred style of play and prospects like Malcolm Brown want to know that the sales pitch from the coaches isn't simply lip service. It has helped create a chicken and egg situation for the coaches because they can't run this attack without the right personnel, but the personnel won't come until they see the attack in action.

This is where the offensive recruiting from 2006-08 really hurt this program, whether you're talking about selection or development - all of it has been bad if we're using University of Texas standards.

Deep down, I thought I lot of this discussion in the off-season wouldn't amount to a hill of beans because I was certain that the Texas staff would understand the offensive personnel even better than I do and they'd realize that they best thing they can do until the right personnel arrives is remain in an offense that best features their current personnel. The inability to spot this in the spring (if that was even needed), let alone in the fall workouts, is mystifying. Is the dog leading the tail or is it the other way around?

The best news is that the coaches finally seem to be making the concessions to the fact that they don't have the parts to remain stubborn and although Mack's skin might crawl, I'd guess this team reverts back to the type of offense we've seen the last two seasons, which means that we're going to see Gilbert shouldering the entire load on offense and the receivers have to make plays each week or else.

This is why the loss of Jordan Shipley has been so cruel. He's the piece from last season that has never been replaced.

Q: (jhendricks) - Why do we have a former Longhorn tight end dominating in the NFL, that left early mind you, but we can't use one or develop one in the most lucrative and successful program in the nation?

A: The tight end position has featured a lot of bad luck, along with some poor development and bad evaluations all at the same time. Never forget that this should have been the senior season for Blaine Irby, who might have been an All-American this season if healthy. In fact, injuries have ravaged the position over the last few years. Top 2008 prospect D.J. Grant appeared to be emerging as a possible impact player and starter at H-back before last season before he injured his knee to the point where many wonder if he'll ever be the same guy. Plus, starting 2009 H-back Dan Buckner broke his brain in the off-season and was forced to transfer.

Also, it's hard not to forget that Zach Pianalto was the kind of player that would have been an impact player at Texas, but he peeled off as a UT commit in the final month of the recruiting process once family friend Butch Davis took the UNC job.

From the 2007-08 classes, the Longhorns landed or nearly landed three prospects that all would have been dramatic upgrades over the current players that they are forced to sink or swim with.

If you take those three out of the mix, here are the rest of the players Texas went after at tight end from 2006-09: Greg Smith, Ian Harris, Ahmard Howard, Trey Graham and Barrett Matthews.

Of that group, only Matthews was considered a true blue-chip prospect and none from the list have emerged as quality players yet. That's the real source of UT's pain at the position yet. The Longhorns didn't recruit enough good players and they compounded the matter by not developing even one surprise contributor from the group that was left behind. The last really consistent quality tight end for this program was David Thomas and he left in 2005 and was a member of the 2002 recruiting class. Whatever the reasons, that is the reality.

Q: (wgarnot) - With the offensive woes that we've been suffering how do you see it affecting the recruiting of Aaron Green? What about Johnathan Gray? It looks like we're going to abandon the under center, run it down your throat scheme and return to a shot gun four or five wide offense. From comments that I've read on these recruits, it seems to me that they were excited about us becoming a more physical down-hill run team; how does possibly change the way these recruits look at Texas. Also, we had several recruits at the game this weekend; how much do think it hurts us with the kids that are juniors?

A: I don't think it's going to impact wither of the recruitments that you mentioned, especially Gray, who I consider to be a pretty big Texas lean and target at this point. There will be a lot of factors that influence Green's decision, but the fact that Texas' current personnel doesn't fit their ultimate desired offense isn't going to impact recruiting more times than not in the way you are suggesting it might. If anything, it further reinforces Texas' pitch that those players are desperately needed to help them be the team they want to be.

As far as the juniors that were on hand, you need to remember that 16-year old kids probably filtered the experience different than most of the Longhorn faithful that were losing their minds. With the rare exception of an occasional Ivan Williams/Erik Hardeman altercation in the locker room of the Arkansas loss in 2003, I can't remember many home losses for the Longhorns resulting in the prospects on hand turning cool on them.

Q: (philipjk21) - Pretend you are a combination of Mack Brown, Greg Davis, and Will Muschamp. How do you even begin to fix the terrible mess that we all saw against UCLA and give Texas a chance to still win the Big 12?

A: I think the biggest thing this team needs is a true sense of urgency. When the line struggled at times vs. Rice, Michael Huey showed up two days later and gave his group an A+ for the performance. When the team gets into the red-zone, its oldest players suffer through on-field lobotomies with key pre-snap penalties and never seem to be hold themselves accountable for them. For instance, I asked Kyle Hix about the pre-snap mistakes this week and he took the conversation towards the skill players turning the ball over. Even the defensive guys and special teams players don't seem to seem to be truly dialed in completely.

When I asked Eddie Jones if the team lacked a sense of urgency, "I don't know" is probably the worst answer he could give.

If they show up Saturday and play to their ceiling, they'll win this game. The problem is that they haven't come close to touching their ceiling as a team all year.

Offensively, whatever the D.J. Monroe package consists of, I'd make sure he touches the ball at least a dozen times and I'd have every play-action and wrinkle involved in that package in the game-plan. Primarily, I would take the tight ends off the field and press the Sooners with four receiver attack that features Mike Davis and Marquise Goodwin in the slot. I'd also throw the ball to Monroe on various screens at least three or four times and if he drops the damn ball, then he drops it. However, I want to get the kid the ball in space as much as possible. The running game would consist of frog draws, counters an even a little zone read. Just to keep the OU defense, I'd call a couple of designed quarterback draws in an effort to control down and distance. Those are the type of running plays that he had success with in high school and I'm devising a game plan this week that he's comfortable with.

Defensively, I'm running the base defense with one simple qualification - Aaron Williams never leaves Ryan Broyles' side. Ever. With all due respect to Chykie Brown, he can't be left alone on an island with the only receiver that scares you and the only guy Landry Jones has a ton of confidence in. In fact, I'm bracketing Broyles with a safety. If he scores on Saturday, it won't be because of a match-up mess up.

Q: (hornmember) - Where is the senior leadership on this team? More concerning than the UCLA game, if that's even possible, is the fact that we've seemingly a spark for the first four games of the season. This team just doesn't seem to have "it" right now. This season has the same feel the 2007 team had. It feels like we're going to sit around all year wondering when the switched gets flipped?

A: I've talked about this on the radio this week, but the lack of veteran leadership in the program has been a real problem this year and it's clear that there's a lot of looking around from the players at the moment. If you go back to November of 2007 (the last time Texas got its ass kicked and was embarrassed in a game), only nine players were active that day and can draw from that experience this week. That means that 90% of the current roster has never gone through the emotions of this week as active players and 75% of the players in the program weren't even at Texas when the Longhorns lost to the Aggies that day.

That makes it imperative that what few older players you have are good leaders and I think you've got that on the defensive side of the ball. Sam Acho, Eddie Jones and Curtis Brown were guys that played that day in College Station and you get the sense that this unit will bounce back because of their leadership.

Only three offensive players (Greg Smith, Kyle Hix and Michael Huey) that played that day remain in the program and all three aren't good enough players to be true leaders. It's time that someone steps up on that side of the ball and maybe this is the week we see the transition. If not, Texas is not likely to win.

Q: (Stay Off My Farm) - Do you think that Texas should rethink any of their approach to taking recruits without a defined position? Texas seems to have several players that never fit into their role on the team that were brought in as athletes or for other positions. Where it worked out well for Melton, and possibly for Chiles, there are endless players who never seem to get on track. We have WRs who played QB, H back/TE's who played RB, DBs who played everywhere, a 5 star DE playing DT, and while the argument usually used is: get them in here and we'll figure it out, is it possible that we should figure it out sooner?

At the beginning of the year we had Whaley and Cobbs as RBs. Next year, we have Onyegbule, Diggs, M. Thompson, McFarland all coming in to play a different position (off the top of my head and I realize Diggs and Thompson play both ways, and I know Miles played WR before, but so did John Harris and he is behind the other WRs this year). We also like to take the high road that we give the recruit the chance to give it a try at a certain position, but is that approach flawed too?

I am sure I am forgetting about all the athletes who came in and made a difference as they never get called out, but just curious to know your thoughts.

A: Philosophically, I like the idea of taking athletes with high ceilings and figuring out where they belong once they get on campus. Leonard Davis started out at defensive tackle. Ramonce Taylor was recruited as a cornerback. Marcus Tubbs was once a tight end. Others that have arrived as athletes and eventually settled into good spots include Henry Melton, Quan Cosby, Brian Robison and Lyle Sendlein.

As long as you're confident in the ability of your staff to properly develop the player and determine where he belongs, then it's a philosophy that can have a high upside. I think it's important to note that I'm not sure that there are any trends that would point to any one thing that you could eliminate to solve the problems.

For instance, Alex Okafor spinning down from defensive end to defensive tackle is not the same as recruiting Chris Whaley as the only running back in the 2009 recruiting class. Neither of those situations really has any connection to the development of a guy like John Chiles or how the staff decides to use Diggs for the future.

Each is an individual case and the bottom line is that the Longhorns need to make better evaluations and selections in recruiting, and then they need to do a better job of development with some of the rawer prospects they land, especially on the offensive side of the ball. There are not enough good excuses for what has happened on that side of the ball in regards to all three of those issues in the last half-decade.

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