September 12, 2008

Second guessing comes natural in recruiting

Q: (Marka1) - Can you give your thoughts on the reasons freshman are getting playing time this year when they haven't in year's past and also the progress the freshmen have made in the first two games. The reasoning I heard going into the season that freshman would play was that Jermichael Finley left early to go pro and the Horns essentially lost his redshirt year. Is this the primary reason that true freshman are playing in '08 or are there other factors? Does the fact that this year's freshmen will add a lot of depth to the '09 team when Texas could be a contender for the MNC when Colt McCoy is a senior, the O-line will be strong, and the defense will be in their second year under Muschamp enter into it?

A: I think you answered your question in a lot of ways. There's no question that the departures of Finley and Jamaal Charles this off-season was everything Mack Brown needed to see to know the days of every kid coming back for his senior season are over. With that in mind, I think you'll see fewer players that the staff projects as future NFL talents to actually redshirt because in some cases it'll be impossible to have them on campus for five years. I think you're going to see capable young players on the field in whatever capacity they can get them on the field, as the staff has made the decision not to leave bullets in the chamber as it relates to a player's eligibility. When you look at Finley in particular, you'll see a guy that everyone knew would never stay at Texas for four years if he didn't have to and that was known from the very beginning of his recruitment. Therefore, redshirting him in 2005 made him a two-year player for the Longhorns. Basically, if the Longhorns are going to recruit great talent, they are going to make sure that they get as much out of them as they can. Not every recruit's situation is the same.

Also, there's no question that the Longhorns are set up to make an even bigger run at things in 2009 than they are this year, especially if Muschamp returns for a second season and some of the young players continue to develop. This group clear has a chance to achieve some special things because you'll have an offense that returns everyone in the starting line-up with the exception of Quan Cosby and Cedric Dockery, while the defense returns virtually the entire back seven and will only need some development in the interior line to ensure that potentially the best defense in the Mack Brown era would take the field. Anything Texas can do to ensure that 2009 is locked and loaded will be considered and Mack Brown might not talk about it on a daily basis, it's clear he does already have an eye on next season because he has made mention to on several occasions.

Q: (dsm2022) - This is a philosophical question about football statistics. So, I'm curious about the value you place on the "quarterback pressure." I posted a little while back that Muschamp's D is actually on pace to have 50+ more pressures than last season, but it seems everyone is so much more conscious about the number of sacks (or lack thereof). I know the value of the sack (it's a drive-killer, emotional boost for fans and players alike, a very emblematic example of defensive prowess, etc), but what about the "pressure" or the "hurry?" It seems that this is the little appreciated, red-headed step-child of defensive football statistics, even though it may play a bigger role than sacks in our ability to control passing games (particularly, the spread offenses). Of course, in a perfect world, you want both to work in concert. But why don't more people really appreciate that we're scaring the hell out of the quarterbacks we are playing (even though we may not be putting them on their backs as much as we like)? Thoughts?

A: I agree with you to a certain extent, but I think the reason the Longhorn fan base doesn't put much stock in pressures is that it's a stat that doesn't show up in a lot of box scores and there are some good reasons for that.

First, pressures are like tackles; everyone has a different definition for them. Does the quarterback have to be hit on the play? Do you simply have to be near him? Do you need to make the quarterback alter his throw? Personally, I'm a contact guy. Unless you've put the quarterback to the ground, I wouldn't put a lot of value on a credited pressure and depending on the coach or statistician, "pressures" can be awarded pretty liberally. Ever buy $50 in candy for Halloween and then not have any kids show up. When that doorbell rings for the first time at 9PM, you're not putting one little mini-Snickers Bar into the bag. Nope, you're grabbing an entire handful. Same concept.

Second, let's keep in mind that a pressure doesn't necessarily mean that anything even happened as a result of the play. If the quarterback throws an 80-yard touchdown pass and wasn't even hit on the play, how much was that pressure worth? While pressures do often lead to interceptions, that majority, and in some case the overwhelming majority, do not lead to them.

Overall, I think quarterback pressures have some value and can most definitely indicate that a team's pass rush has improved, but the stat is so arbitrary and subjective that it has never really been emphasized as a mainstream statistic. I know this - the Longhorn pass rush is improved, but I wouldn't say that it has arrived yet as a major weapon for the defense.

Q: (CBHookem) - Sorry for beating a dead horse, but I wanted to get your opinion, once again, on the Chris Whaley situation. I understand if the staff feels like Chris is the best back in the state this year. However, it is clear the staff is taking the offense in the direction of the spread offense. If this is the case, I'm confused as to why our only target for running back is a guy who is 250 pounds and might even grow out of the position. How do you think Whaley will fair in the spread offense, if he does remain a RB? Would Christine Michael have been much better? Regardless of talent, which 2009 back do you think fits the spread offense that Texas wants to run best?

A: I think you ask some good questions and I'm not sure you'll love all of the answers. First, I think a couple of things need to be reestablished. Everyone needs to remember when we're having this discussion that the Longhorn staff made their decision on Whaley last year. Several sources have indicated that they UT coaches felt like he took a backseat to no one when talking about the state's top prospect. Not Garrett Gilbert. Not Russell Shepard. Nobody.

Also, the staff feels good about their numbers at the position right now. Although Chris Ogbonnaya is a senior, the rest of the stable of backs will have at least two years of eligibility remaining, including two members from the recent 2008 class. Assuming that Whaley stays at running back and nobody transfers or is hurt, that's five running backs on the roster through 2010 and that does not include ]db]Cody Johnson[/db]. That's not an overwhelming number, but the staff obviously feels comfortable with what they've got in the cupboard. If you want to argue that the group lacks star power or a truly great player, hey, I'm with you. That being said, the staff is content with their current numbers and I'm not going to haggle that particular decision, especially if they feel like they have bigger needs in the 2009 class that still need to be addressed. The bigger issue will have been the evaluation that has gone into compiling the current group of backs and whether they need to be tweaking their recruiting at the position with the arrival of Major Applewhite.

Once those points are clear, none of the rest of the stuff really matters. Michael's emergence in the off-season doesn't really come into play because they appear to have decided two things very early - they loved Whaley and they didn't think they needed anyone else to go with him. Barring an injury or transfer before February, I'm not sure what's going to make them change their minds. Therefore, I don't think the staff promised Whaley that he'd be the only guy they were taking at running back, as much as they simply made him aware of their plans. You bet your last dollar that's a nice selling point to approach him with, but mostly because it was incredibly convenient.

I'm really not sure how well Whaley will shake out as a running back in the spread offense. That remains to be seen, but I don't regard him as a true running back prospect. Just as I evaluated Henry Melton as an athlete that was leaning to the defensive line, I think Whaley is a similar-type deal. I might end up being dead wrong, but that's my opinion and I'm comfortable with it.

Michael is an absolute take for anyone. I wasn't sold by the first batch of film I saw of him, but when I saw more this spring, I fell in love and when I finally saw him in person this summer, I simply had no questions about him being a potentially special college football player. He's the best running back prospect in the state from what I have seen and he has a chance to be tremendous in any offense. Other backs that would have been good gets for Texas include Garland Naaman Forest's Jonathan Miller and Mansfield Timberview's Eric Stephens.

Q: (sgdfly) - If I remember correctly, Coach Ken Rucker has moved into the role of recruiting coordinator. This move made sense to me then, not just because of his health concerns, but because he has such a great personality and because he connects with the athletes on such a close level. However, none of your reports with any of the recruits have mentioned him as part of the recruitment process. So, to put it bluntly, what does coach Rucker do for the football team?

A: Rucker is basically an acting parent for ever single current player in the program. He checks on them at curfew, he talks with the players about the problems in their life and he makes sure that they are walking a straight line on a daily basis. Trust me when I tell you that Rucker was likely the first person Lamarr Houston talked with after he spoke with Mack Brown after his DWI arrest. He's as important to the players in the program as anyone in the program. His role in recruiting is restricted due to NCAA mandates (he can't go off campus), but almost as soon as a prospect steps foot on campus, Rucker is there to great them. He is this program's Bundini Brown.

Q: (topgrpguy) - With the painful struggle of Rich Rodriguez implementing his offense following Lloyd Carr at Michigan, can you handicap the success/failure of some who might follow Mack Brown when he tosses the keys to the next head coach? I was most curious about: Will Muschamp, Major Applewhite, Todd Dodge, but would like to see who you envision on the horizon and how they might do.

A: I don't think Applewhite and Dodge are close yet to being in play when it comes to replacing Brown it that move takes place in the next couple of years. On the other hand, Muschamp is someone that I think Brown would love to groom for that role. You can see the twinkle in Mack's eye when he talks about Muschamp and if he sticks around and leads the Longhorn defense to great things, I could see that happening., especially if Brown slides over to the AD job when DeLoss Dodds retires. That would certainly afford Brown the freedom to still have a very large presence in the program, even if he's not coaching on the sidelines.

That being said, the Texas job is as coveted as any in the country. I think the Longhorns could make a short list of the best coaches in the country and they'd be able to make an offer that would land them any number of elite coaching candidates. If it's simply about getting the best possible candidate, the Longhorns can probably get just about anyone they want. I think there would be some schools that might be surprised by what could happen if Texas ever came calling on their coach.

Q: (lsampson) - There has been a lot of chatter on the message boards of the demeanor of John Chiles toward the end of the game when he came in and handed the ball off to a running back for a few plays. Can you shed some light on whether or not Chiles is starting to get frustrated with the system and the lack of PT that he is receiving? Also, can you shed a little light on why there have been so few plays from the Q-Package after both Colt and Davis said that there would be a great deal of plays during the UTEP game in which Chiles would be involved in. Maybe I missed some of the plays, but it seemed to me that when JC was in, he was only a decoy and was an after thought once the ball was snapped. Should we expect this for the rest of the year or at some point will they actually implement a few (hopefully more) plays that will involve Chiles to a greater degree than what we have seen?

A: I wouldn't read too much into perceived body language on the field at the end of the game. I'm sure Chiles is frustrated that he isn't playing more, but that's part of the deal. He's a young player who is very clearly not as good as the player ahead of him on the depth chart. That's the real world. Still, there's no question that the Longhorns are showing their hand with the "Q-package" yet. There's no reason to show all the whistles and bells in the first two games. Look for this package to get more creative as the season develops and his on-field impact will increase when that finally occurs.

Q: (JSKENNEY) - Last year, I believe during two-a-days, you made a statement that proved to be prophetic as the season unfolded. You said something to the effect given the open depth chart going into the 2007 season, lack of depth at some positions and the number of inexperienced players, the 2007 season could be a bumpy ride. In your opinion, given the fact that several key players now have a year of experience under their belts and that several talented freshmen are positioned to contribute early, plus the benefit of having seen two games, are we closer to being an elite-level team or are we basically one year more experienced?

A: No, this is a better football team than last year's version. It's a faster, more athletic team and better-coached team. You can see the steps taking place for this group of players, but it remains to be seen just how fast this group's learning curb can be accelerated. I think these next two games will really help determine the direction of this team for the rest of the season. If they can come out and continue to make progress and build a fierce identity as a team, they will be primed for the Big 12 season in my opinion. Does that mean that they will win the conference? Not automatically, but it does mean that this team won't go into games this season with their gloves down at the ring of the bell. This is going to be a team that gets better throughout the season and as they build confidence, they are going to emerge as a force in the Big 12.

Q: (Licheb) - Some "informed" posters have stated that Emory Blake's grey shirt offer will eventually become a regular offer to join the 2009 recruiting class. Care to weigh in on that? Or perhaps confirm that his coaches or others "in the know" expect such a development?

A: I wouldn't be shocked if that happened because Blake is a Mack Brown kind of kid and he is off to a monstrous start so far this season for Austin High. We've seen Mack get the itch to offer in January before and if they evaluate Blake this fall and feel like he's a potential difference maker, they could indeed offer. Also, keep an eye on some of these receivers on the depth chart that can't get on the field. Statistically, something is bound to happen at a position like that with some overcrowded issues. If the staff knows that there's going to be some attrition, it could alter their needs.

Q: (Bygdoy) - After first two games, I think you could rate as pleasant surprises our TE situation and kicking game. Most other areas (ex. young secondary and receivers) seem about what most expected. I know you tried tempering people's enthusiasm all spring and summer.

Question is basically this--Do you see the possibility of our team actually being slightly ahead of where we thought but actually having huge chance at 3 losses and even a slight chance at four? After watching Colorado, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. - it seems like we match-up horribly against some great offenses?

A: I've said it all year, but the Big 12 is an overrated league right now. The quarterback play throughout the league has convinced some to overlook the talent issues on a number of teams. Outside of Oklahoma and Missouri, I don't think there's anyone on the schedule that Texas doesn't outclass in talent in a major way right now. Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind if I'm convinced otherwise, but that's how I see it right now. Texas is going to get better defensively and I don't know if you're looking at this situation correctly. Those teams need to be worried about matching Texas' talent on the field as much as Texas needs to worry about their offensive schemes. Will Muschamp will have his defense ready on most Saturdays.

Q: (brianut) - We don't seem to have a running back that is "sudden." I realize Fozzy Whitaker has some speed and quicks but he has yet to play against a top defense. Could D.J. Monroe be that type of running back? Any chance he gets a look there? If you were coaching, would you give him a look?

A: Let's not anoint Whittaker just yet, but I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss him either. Let's wait a few weeks. As for Monroe, I'd probably be trying to get his speed on the field by any means needed if I were the coach. I doubt Texas has him focus on anything other than receiver right now, but I'd have him on the field in some capacity.

Q: (98horn) - There was some discussion on the board early this week about Colt McCoy abandoning the pocket too soon. I believe he can get away with that against sub-par teams, but OU will eat him alive. I also think this hurts the offense's development as most of our passing plays are either first read or ad-libs. First, do you agree with this assessment? Second, are the coaches coaching this exit strategy? I know Mack encourages him to make yards if he can, but this would seem like a departure in their coaching styles as all of our other qbs stepped up in the pocket before they bolted and kept their eyes downfield.

A: I think you are underestimating McCoy.

Q: (bman25) - It's about time for another woulda/shoulda/coulda question. With the buzz that Jevan Snead is getting due to his great performance last week, I would like to know who you think will end up having a better career... John Brantley, Jevan Snead, or Garrett Gilbert? If you had to bet a pinky on it today, who do you take?

A: Gilbert by a mile and I really like Snead.

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