October 3, 2009

The Ticket City Locker Room

Q: (dragworm) - I have always thought that the college football rankings that come out before Oct 1 are a little premature. I don't think that any true picture comes into focus until a few games are played. I was wondering what your thoughts are on when the team rankings should begin.

If the rankings did not come out until Oct. 1, how do you think it may impact non-conference scheduling? Would teams try to schedule more traditional powers earlier in the season in hopes of getting more meaningful wins for the first poll, or would they schedule weak teams for sure wins?

Finally, we have not seen your top 5 for while and I was wondering if any classics in their prime like Raquel Welch or Sophia Loren would make your list.

A: Good stuff. I suppose I'm one of those guys that believes that the rankings sort of work their way out as the season continues, which is one of the reasons why I don't get too bent out of shape by the inconsistencies of the early poll results. For instance, LSU might be greatly overrated right now at No.4 and we'll learn the answers soon enough, but when we get 12 games into this season, they'll likely be slotted in the area that they deserve.

Same with teams that still undefeated and unranked. If Auburn is the best team in the nation and they put together a 13-0 or 12-1 season, they'll eventually find their way to the top of the rankings when it matters. Ok, maybe not EVERY year, but certainly in most seasons. The same is true of a Texas A&M.

That being said, let's look at your question and truly examine it with this 2009 Longhorns squad because their first five games is a big ugly ball of mess from a scheduling standpoint. Just to give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here are the early Sagarin ratings for Texas' first five opponents: La Monroe (96), Wyoming (103), Texas Tech (39), UTEP (123) and Colorado (79). That's fugly.

As bad as that looks on paper, you won't be able to convince me that Texas wouldn't still control its destiny with a carved path that an undefeated season in the Big 12 has proven to be. The downside to all of this is that it does create too much hype early on for teams that don't end up deserving the attention, but I think the discussion and added intrigue that the rankings bring to the early season discussion makes their overall value more good than bad. Everyone just needs to remember that marathons aren't won before the half-way point.

As far as my top five oldies, but goodies:

1. Ingrid Bergman (She had me at hello in Casablanca)
2. Donna Reed (The perfect dream girl)
3. Audrey Hepburn (Her face is perfection)
4. Raquel Welch (Maybe the sexiest woman I've ever seen in her prime)
5. Grace Kelly (She had me at hello in To Catch A Thief

Q: (Texas 8891) - The kick return teams have been remarkable this season. Unfortunately their counterparts on the coverage teams, both punting and kick offs, have been mediocre, at best. The problems seen with the punt team such as a blocked punt and "peculiar" attempts to go for it fourth down seem to have improved dramatically, but the kick off coverage is still horrific. The Horns have given up way too many long returns this season giving opponents outstanding field position to start possessions. It seemed that we'd finally resolved the problem against UTEP with kicks that sailed into the end zone. Then, unexplainably, we started some sort of quasi-squib kicks that resulted in UTEP starting their drives on the30-40 yard line. I was shocked to hear Coach Brown praise the kick offs in his post-game comments. So I am left wondering, what the heck are we doing? Shouldn't we be able to consistently put kick offs into the end zone? Shouldn't a top five team expect to limit returns to the 20-25 yard line? What is our strategy? What are our expectations in this facet of the game? While it's made little difference in the early, lopsided contests, I fear that will come back to bite us when games get closer this season.

A: There are a couple of layers to the kick coverage conversation. First of all, the kickoff coverage hasn't been terrible - you had it right the first time when you said it's been mediocre. Currently, the Longhorns rank 66th in the nation on kickoff coverage (21.58) and that mark needs to improve, which is exactly why Mack Brown mentioned this week that he specifically had his kickers spread the kickoffs around the field on Saturday against UTEP after Justin Tucker had sent the first two out of the end zone for touchbacks.

Overall, here's the damage in yards (in chronological sequence) that UTEP did to Texas on 10 kickoffs that were returned (seven were handled by Tucker): 30, 11, 16, 18, 13, 4, 27, 32, 26 and 22.

Here's the damage in terms of field position (starting yard-line) after each kickoff: UTEP 31, UTEP 30, UTEP 26, UTEP 24, UTEP 13, UTEP 11, UTEP 42, UTEP 32, UTEP 40 and UTEP 26.

You can see two things:

1. Texas actually did a much better job in coverage than you're giving them credit for.
2. When the Longhorns had their starters in on special teams, the coverage units were outstanding. The Miners didn't cross their own 31-yard line to start a drive after a kickoff through the first eight Texas kickoffs.

Also, it's important to note that Tucker is a weapon in the kicking game and his nine touchbacks through four games ranks fifth nationally. Let that sink in a little.

Ok, now that the good news is out of the way, you're exactly right about the punt coverage, which currently ranks 91st nationally with a 12.75 yards per return average. However, it should be noted that only four of the 15 punts attempted by the Longhorns have been returned, which means we're talking about a very small sample size. The Longhorns have more than twice as many punts downed inside the 20-yard line (10) than they've had punts returned.

Just a little more to chew on.

Q: (BurtHorn) - For run defense reasons, is there anyone that can step in place of Christian Scott? Do you see Marcus Davis getting more playing time now?

Give us a yes or no, regarding our remaining targets, on if Texas gets them, and why or why not! Maybe even who you think is the just have to have if nothing else!

Fried chicken or porkchop?

A: No, there's not another player on the roster at safety that can quite replace the skill set at safety that Scott brings to the table and that's why his loss stings quite a bit. That being said, sophomore Nolan Brewster has really improved his play in recent weeks and if he keeps improving, he'll help fill some of that void. Hell, he already has. He has very quietly had a very strong first four games.

It'll be interesting to see what Will Muschamp does with Davis as the season continues because the return of Deon Beasley to the line-up puts another guy in front of Davis on the playing time totem pole. The smart money has him having a limited role from here on out, barring injuries. Still, his talent has jumped off the field when he's been in the game and you can see that he's eventually going to be an important player on the defense in the coming years.

Jackson Jeffcoat: (Yes) - It's just a hunch at this point.

Darius White: (No) - I think Oklahoma closes that deal eventually.

Jordan Hicks: (No) - Ohio State and Florida will be a tough combo to outlast.

Jeffcoat is the most important player in this group because defensive linemen are always the most valuable commodities in recruiting on the defensive side of the ball and he's as good as any the state has seen in the last decade.

Finally, give me a pork chop from Kreuz Market in Lockhart.

Q: (LJhornSI) - The last few weeks before I fall asleep at night I end up thinking about how great the Longhorn's defensive front seven for this recruiting class would be with the commitment of Jackson Jeffcoat and Jordan Hicks. My question is how great would the 2010 defensive front seven rank among previous Longhorn recruiting classes if we land those two players? How would it rank against other schools in the past decade? Just think about the rotation among DE's, DT's, and LB's between the 2009 and 2010 classes if we add those two players. One word... Scary!

A: You're making me put on my thinking camp. If the Longhorns can put together a defensive end duo of Reggie Wilson/Jeffcoat and combine it with a class of linemen that includes Taylor Bible, Ashton Dorsey, DeAires Cotton and Greg Daniels, it would have to rank as one of the best in the last 25-35 years. If you assume that Wilson eventually gets his fifth star, that would give the Longhorns two national Top 25 players and four players along the defensive line that rank in the national top 140.

The only defensive line class that rivals this group is the 2002 class, which featured five-stars Rod Wright, Brian Pickryl and former five-star Marco Martin. Along with those three, the class featured Larry Dibbles, Tully Janszen and Chase Pittman, while Michael Williams and Brian Robison eventually spun down to ends after starting their careers at linebacker. Overall, neither of the two five-star prospects in the 2002 ranked as national top 10 prospects and Pickryl was actually closer to 50 (No.38) than he was to the top 10. None of the other players in the class finished as national top 100 selections, although Dibbles and Martin were in the national top 150 ballpark.

The problem with the 2002 class is that Pickryl and Martin never had a chance at a real college career because of injuries and a combination of transfers, grades and players that never quite lived up to their high expectations littered the list.

From a national perspective, here's one of the only few classes since 2002 that can stand up to the depth of the current 2010 class, if you include Jeffcoat into the equation.

LSU (2004) - Five stars: (1) DT Claude Wroten, Four stars: (4) DT Glenn Dorsey, DE Charles Alexander, DT Marlon Favorite and DE Tremaine Johnson, Three stars: (2) DE Tyson Jackson and Tim Washington

It should be noted that since 2002, there have only been two schools that have been able to land two five-star defensive end commitments in the same season:

Tennessee in 2002: Mondre Dickerson (JUCO) and Jonathan Mapu. Neither were national top 25 prospects.

Also, in the history of Rivals.com, no team has ever signed three five-star defensive end prospects in a two-year cycle and the Longhorns could accomplish that this season if they can finish up with Jeffcoat.

Q: (Malibuhorn) - Will both true freshman QB's redshirt next year? On the one hand, Case McCoy would seem to need the redshirt year to gain weight/strength and while Conner Wood appears more physically ready, I'm concerned about the transition from private school to big time college athletics; no doubt a redshirt year would benefit both of them. Is that the tentative plan and then just let them battle it out in 2012 or 2013 for the starting job?

A: The smart money is on both of them redshirting in 2010, barring injury or the unexpected departure of Sherrod Harris. If Harris is back in 2010 as expected, the Longhorns will likely make a run at things with a Garrett Gilbert/Harris combo, which will allow both of the incoming freshmen to enjoy a much-needed redshirt.

If there is an injury or expected development, the player that makes the fastest adjustment to the speed of the game will likely play first as a true freshman.

Q: (Lnghrnfn06) - 1) How would you grade out the performances of Ben Alexander - Dustin Earnest - Kheeston Randall and Nolan Brewster so far this year?

2) There was a discussion in a thread the other day about our OL depth in the years to come and how we could be very thin across the board. After looking at the depth chart I would say it is a legitimate concern for the 2011 season as of now (Could be next year as well if we have a bunch of injuries or attrition). How do the younger linemen look right now? Are most of the freshmen considered impact players or are most of these guys long-term projects? How about our current commits in the 2010 class? I guess what I'm saying is are most of the guys good enough to contribute right away like Mason Walters or are most of them viewed as more of a 2-3 year project like Paden Kelly?

A: Let's start out by giving out some grades.

Alexander - Grade: B+

Comment: There have been times in the second half of games this season when he's been unblockable and his nine tackles and three tackles for loss rank 2nd among all defensive tackles. He's been a very valuable reserve through three games.

Earnest - Grade: B

Comment: Earnest has taken serious steps forward as a player and has emerged as a rotation player with the injury to Jared Norton. He's been an active player when healthy and he's showed some playmaking upside.

Randall - Grade: B+

Comment: His impact is minimized by a stat sheet that's not full of tackles for loss or sacks, but he's played a very good brand of football through four games and he's given the staff almost everything they've wanted. He'll continue to improve.

Brewster - Grade: A-

Stronger competition awaits Brewster, but a strong case can be made that he's been the team's second best safety this season and he's emerged as a co-starter with Blake Gideon. His ability to play the run well, while thriving in pass coverage as well, will be a key storyline for the defense as we move forward.

As for your second set of questions, there's no question that the Longhorns will be in a bit of major transition along the offensive line following the 2010 season because the Longhorns will lose the following linemen in the next two years: starting left tackle Adam Ulatoski (2009), starting guard Charlie Tanner (2009) starting center Chris Hall (2009), starting right tackle Kyle Hix (2010), starting right guard Michael Huey (2010), back-up guard Tray Allen (2010) and back-up tackle Britt Mitchell (2010) among others.

Beginning in 2011, here's a look at the projected offensive line based on current positions:

Offensive tackle: Luke Poehlmann (2012), Thomas Ashcraft (2013), Paden Kelley (2013)
Offensive guard: Mason Walters (2012), Mark Buchanan (2012), Garrett Porter (2013)
Center: David Snow (2011), Trey Hopkins (2013-14), Dominic Espinosa (2013-14).

If you look at those numbers, it's clear that the Longhorns have very little room for error in regards to evaluations, injuries, grades or bad luck. Of the group listed, it seems clear that Snow and Walters are going to be plus-players in 2011, but it's too early to project what the rest of this group will look like, but from a numbers standpoint, the potential exists for a bit of a crisis. As it stands, the Longhorns won't have enough scholarship players to fill out a two-deep along the offensive line without the use of true freshmen players in 2011. Mac McWhorter has a group of nine players that he'll be counting on significantly in two seasons and seven haven't started to really define who they'll be as college players.

Q: (6369700509) - 1. Can you compare Scotty Young to the high school Graham Harrell?

2. How would you handicap the potential candidates for the Thayer Evans article this year? Clearly Lache Seastrunk was the early leader, but Ahmad Dixon and Darius White have certainly gained some ground.

A: Young is definitely a better "prospect" than Harrell because he has better physical skill when comparing the two players at the same stages. I always felt like Harrell was a perfect system quarterback and the perfect fit for the Red Raiders program, but Young will be the most physically skilled all-around prospect that Mike Leach has ever worked with.

Second, I haven't heard anything on the Thayer Evans front, but I haven't been looking, either.

Q: (sgdfly) - If you could build you're own personal Frankenstein super-player, using the physical and mental traits of Texas HS recruits dating back as far as you want to go, how would you make them for each position on the field

A: Great question. It's probably going to take me several hours to think this through, but here goes:

Quarterback: Size (Ryan Mallett), Arm (Matt Stafford), Athleticism (Vince Young), Accuracy (Garrett Gilbert), pre-college development (Gilbert), leadership/intangibles (Drew Brees) and best overall (Young/Brees/Gilbert)

Running back: Speed (Ben Gay), Agility (Lache Seastrunk), Power (Adrian Peterson), Body (Peterson), workhorse ability (Cedric Benson), intangibles (Benson) and best overall (Peterson)

Wide receiver: Size (Roy Williams), Speed (Montrell Flowers), Athlete (Roy Williams), Hands, Ball skills (Dez Bryant), Route running (Jordan Shipley), after-the-catch ability (Robert Timmons), Heart/Toughness (Quan Cosby) and best overall (Williams)

Tight end: Size (Martellus Bennett), Ball skills (Jermichael Finley), Blocking (Tony Hills), Route running (David Thomas) and best overall (Bennett)

Offensive line: Size/Strength (Leonard Davis), Mobility (Reggie Youngblood), Technique/Intelligence (Justin Blalock), Pass blocking (Youngblood), Run blocking (Blalock), Toughness (Eric Winston) and best overall (Blalock).

Defensive tackles: Size (Ty Warren), Strength (Derek Lokey), Speed/Quickness (Tommie Harris), Athleticism (Tommie Harris), Run defense (Shaun Rodgers), pass rush (Harris) and best overall (Harris)

Defensive ends: Size (Alex Okafor), Speed/Quickness (Darrell Catlin), Athleticism (Catlin), Run defense (Alex Okafor), pass rush (Jarvis Moss), Toughness/Heart (Eddie Jones), Intangibles (Jackson Jeffcoat) and best overall (David Warren).

Linebackers: Size (Sergio Kindle), Strength (Kindle), Speed (Michael Morgan), Sideline-to-sideline ability (Derrick Johnson), Athleticism (Kindle), Run defense (Marvin Byrdsong), pass rush (Chris Brown) and best overall (Johnson).

Cornerbacks: Size/Frame (Cedric Griffin), Speed (Edorian McCulloch), Athleticism (Aaron Williams), Run defense (Lawrence Richardson), Cover skills (Aaron Williams), Ball skills (Nathan Vasher), Toughness (Quentin Jammer), Heart/Intangibles (Derrick Straight) and best overall (A. Williams).

Safety: Size (Craig Loston), Athleticism (Michael Griffin), Run defense (Loston), Cover skills, Toughness (Griffin), Heart/Intangibles (Drew Kelson) and best overall (Loston).

Q: (Leonidas05)- What have you heard about the 09 OL recruits? We lose 3 players on the offensive line next year and I was wondering which guys are going to be ready to play. Where do Buchanan and Luke Poehlmann fit in next year?

What do you think happens in the spring and summer when a healthy D.J. Grant, Dan Buckner, and Daruis Terrell are all on campus. Who has the best chance to succeed on the outside and who is fit for the inside?

How is our staff going to get our 09 and 2010 safety prospects playing time when our depth chart is full until the 2012 season?

A: It's still too early to make a call on most of the Class of 2009 offensive linemen, Obviously, Mason Walters is expected to emerge as an elite-level lineman, but the rest of the guys look like freshmen linemen and most of their work right now is relegated to scout team work. I wish I could give you more, but none of the redshirting players have performed at a level where people are already talking about their expected impact in 2010. Let's revisit this a little later in the year.

Speaking of too early, it's also too early to project how guys like Buckner and Grant will develop over the next two years. Both are still wide receivers in body and mind (at least Buckner is), but it remains to seen if they'll continue to morph into true H-back/Tight end prospects. I do think Terrell has some of the same gifts that Jermichael Finley possessed and he'll be a force in a season or two on campus. The other two are still big wide receivers that just happen to be running inside routes where the tight end would usually line up.

Finally, the Longhorns currently have three healthy safeties that they feel good about, but that's not exactly a lot of depth. When you play in the Big 12 you're going to need a lot of defensive backs and the Longhorns might have returning starters, but if there's even one injury, the depth isn't going to look nearly as good as you're suggesting. When guys like Kenny Vaccaro or Bryant Jackson are ready to get on the field, you better believe Will Muschamp is going to get them on the field.

Repeat after me: You cannot have too many defensive backs.

Q: (iluvdahorns) - I know it's early in the process, perhaps far too early to accurately project, but I was curious to get your Texas "Big Board" for 2011. It would be interesting to see a breakdown of how many players we target to fill our needs for the future by position, which guys you think Texas will offer and where we stand with each of those guys. Thanks.

A: Ok, let's just attack this answer with a position-by-position early look at things.

Quarterback: The Longhorns will likely take one and two guys that are definitely on the watch list are Belton's David Ash and Denton Guyer's J.W. Walsh, as both performed well at the Texas summer camp in June and the staff has been recruiting both for a while. If I had to give an advantage to someone, I'd learn towards Ash based on post-camp buzz.

Running back: After adding only two running back prospects in the program in a two-year cycle, the Longhorns could look to sign several in 2010. The line for offers starts with Aaron Green, Malcolm Brown and Herschel Sims as far as I'm concerned. Unless the coaches feel like they don't have a chance at a guy, I'd expect all three to have offers by mid-February. You'd take all three if they wanted to come and any combination of the two will do just fine.

Wide receiver: The Longhorns will take at least two and Jaxon Shipley and Miles Onyegbule look like certain first-day offers and I would be shocked if both committed. That would probably leave the Longhorns in a position to take one more.

Tight end: Chris Barnett looks like a safe bet at tight end. At some point the Longhorns are going to need to look out of state at this position because it's not a great in-state class.

Offensive line: I have to believe that Sedrick Flowers is a day one offer and if he's not, someone needs to have their head examined. Also, look for Arizona prep star Christian Westerman to be in the mix for a very early offer. Also, Cedar Park offensive lineman Spencer Drango could be another prospect that the Longhorns target early.

Defensive tackle: Desmond Jackson certainly looks like a first-day offer kind of guy. Same with Marquise Anderson.

Defensive end: The Longhorns already have their eye on several offers in Cedric Reed, Nathan Hughes and Jermauria Rasco. Frankly, this position is loaded in-state and this is a position that could go in a lot of directions. Personally, I think Kendall Thompson needs to be in the conversation as well.

Linebackers: I'm not sure that I've got my finger on the pulse on Texas' preference at this position, but I'm starting to believe that Chet Moss will be a player that gets an early offer. There's about a half-dozen players that are under consideration at the very least.

Defensive backs: This is another position with a lot of candidates, but Leroy Scott, Sheroid Evans, Lyndell Johnson and Quandre Diggs are safe bets to receive offers, and I think you've got to find a place for LaDarius Brown.

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