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August 15, 2010

Top 10 camp storylines from the first week of camp

And away we go ...


1. Cody Johnson has drawn even with Tre' Newton and Foswhitt Whittaker as the team's every-down tailback.

MACK'S TAKE:
"The one that has made the biggest jump is Cody Johnson. He's come back and lost four or five percent body fat this summer. He's still the same weight. He's 251 pounds.

"But he's in great shape, and he hasn't been in that type of shape before. So we feel like those three guys right now are the guys that will continue to work towards game time."

MY TAKE: Cody has had the same issues as Tre' and Fozzy: He hasn't been able to stay healthy. He pulled a hamstring midway through the spring last year after looking good. Then, he came back to fall camp out of shape. He served as the team's short-yardage back and finished with 12 TD runs.

Well, this year, Cody means business. Every-down business. He's lost the body fat. He loves the game, loves contact, and his teammates love the energy he brings to the field. It's contagious. He's the short-yardage back right now, but he could be a whole lot more.

If you're a running back for Mack Brown you have to (in this order): 1) protect the ball. 2) pick up the blitz and protect the QB. 3) be a productive back, i.e. run the ball well and catch it well.

Cody didn't do himself any favors with the dropped pass (that was intercepted) and the fumble in Thursday night's open practice. But he has been really good the rest of camp. The coaches are buying what he's selling.


2. The offense is running 60 percent under center. It might be too early to project that for the season. But that's where we are right now.

MACK'S TAKE:
"I think when you're going forward you look (slimmer), but I think we're in good shape, I really do. We lost Chris Hall, (Adam) Ulatoski and Charlie Tanner and none of them were heavy, so I think we're in good shape.

"A couple of the young linemen on defense came in a little heavy, so they're working themselves down. They're running every day after practice.

"But I really think the offensive linemen like lining up and double teaming and coming off and we've run the ball 60 percent of the time probably in practice so far, a lot of it up under the center.

"And the backs and the linemen are getting used to coming off. When you back up all the time, it's harder to go forward, when you're going forward all the time, we'll have to work hard on pass protection, but we're giving these guys a better chance to run the ball than we have the past couple of years."

MY TAKE: That the offense is 60 percent under center a week into practice tells you Mack Brown is really committed to getting this downhill running attack going. He's also talking about more man blocking and double teams that come with going under center.

To me, changing the blocking schemes to best feature what your linemen can do is the news. Texas getting back to the blocking that comes with things like an isolation play and more double-teaming and trap blocks, etc., as opposed to so much reach blocking on a play like the zone read.

I know there's a lot of skepticism about how effective the running game will be. Lot of folks saying Texas will be a pass-first offense by the Tech game on Sept. 18. That may be so, but it doesn't appear Mack is willing to bail from this change in personality and go back to featuring the zone read.

So no matter what, this pro-style offense with the bulk of reps coming under center will be a real referendum on the UT coaches being able to feature what the offensive linemen can do best in the running game.

Mack believes to be a power running team you need to have a tight end or H-back to create more holes to run through and more blockers to help fend off blitzes.

This could end up being one of the biggest statements this program will make over the next five to seven years, because there are no running QBs in the pipeline. So this philosophy and its success will help set the tone for the program on offense for the next several years at a time when UT football appears poised to dominate (with all the talent now on campus).

In other words, if the offense can't generate any kind of consistency in the running game this season, it could dampen some of the enthusiasm for where the program can grow over the next five to seven years, when a serious run at one or even more national titles seems likely.


3. Mack Brown thinks this could be the best defense he's had at Texas.

MACK'S TAKE:
"I do think this could be our best defense. We need to stay healthy at defensive tackle.

"We've got to grow up and mature at defensive tackle, and then we've got to stay healthy even though you got enough big ends that most of the time we can move somebody in there.

"You're talking about Sam Acho being 260-something, Alex Okafor is 260-something, so you've got some big guys in there that are tall and quick and can play if we do not get the development out of the young defensive tackles that we need. So we're okay regardless.

"What we do feel is that our secondary can all run. They can all cover. We can disguise. We're really two-deep in the secondary. Our young linebackers are really talented.

"You start looking at Dravannti Johnson's come on so fast and then Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho can run, so they're all very talented and our ends can rush the passer.

"We should be really, really good on defense. One of the great things right now about our practices, when you're going the best ones against the best ones, they're seeing as good a defense on offense as they'll see all year."


MY TAKE: This defense should be able to help carry an offense led by a first-time starting QB - certainly for the first two games against Rice and Wyoming.

The season really gets interesting in Game 3 - at Texas Tech on Sept. 18 and for the following three games (vs. UCLA; in Dallas for OU; and at Nebraska).

With four of the first six games on the road, Gilbert and the offense will need all the help they can get from a dominating defense.



4. Calvin Howell is ahead of everyone else right now to line up next to Kheeston Randall at defensive tackle.

MACK'S TAKE:
"Ashton Dorsey has made some progress and we feel like he has a chance. The other two guys are taking steps and they're in the mix.

"Kyle Kriegel has done some good things, but I would say right now that Kheeston (Randall) and Calvin are ahead of everybody else and everybody else is trying to get in that mix of two deep."

MY TAKE: Howell moving ahead of the pack for the spot next to Kheeston Randall at tackle is good news, considering he has the most experience in game action. The question was how he'd bounce back from the concussion symptoms he suffered last season, and he's been OK.

Howell plays mean, and if the coaches are happy with his technique and attention to detail, then it just emboldens the line and allows for Randall and Howell to continue working on the chemistry they'll need in a four-man front.

I've not been worried about the defense at all this season, even with talk of not knowing who would step in at tackle. There is talent (even if inexperienced), versatility, and then you have the Xs and Os of Muschamp. In other words, offenses will be on their heels.



5. Tray Allen suffers left foot injury, and Mack Brown hopes Allen will be back for the first or second game. Mason Walters takes over at right guard.

MACK'S TAKE:
"Number one, we wanted to make sure his (Mason Walters') foot was okay, I mean he's had absolutely no problems and we check the weights of our players every day after practice and he's at 297.

"When he got hurt, he was probably 315, so losing weight has probably taken some pressure off that foot. We've got to remember he's missed a complete year.

"He played in two or three games last year, but he's been away, not even at practice. So every day he gets better. As bad as it was that Tray got hurt, it's forcing Mason to play a lot more and get himself prepared to play in the fall and hopefully we'll have Tray back for the first game or the second game."

MORE FROM MACK: "We've got to continue to work on depth (on the offensive line) because we lose three or four of these guys for next year and losing Tray Allen for the moment has forced us into looking at a lot of other young guys.

"The two freshmen are playing right in the middle of the mix, Dominic Espinosa and Trey Hopkins are doing really well and we're proud of both of them and they'll have a chance to play this year."

MY TAKE: There's a good chance Mason Walters, with his surgically repaired foot, would have beaten out Tray Allen anyway. So Walters replacing Allen on the depth chart is not a huge deal.

But it does force the issue a bit with younger players like Thomas Ashcraft and Mark Buchanan, who could be starters at guard next season.

Getting some experience for young tackles like Paden Kelley, Luke Poehlmann, Trey Hopkins and even preparing center backups Garrett Porter and Dominic Espinosa will be key this season with four seniors (Kyle Hix, Michael Huey, Tray Allen and Britt Mitchell) on the line getting ready to move on.


6. Chris Whaley has moved to H-back.

GREG DAVIS' TAKE:
"We have also made a move with Chris Whaley to the H-back position, and he has taken to it well at this point."

MY TAKE: Aside from the questions this move brings about the recruiting of the RB position over the last five years, Whaley didn't figure to be an impact guy at RB this season. Not with Tre' Newton, Fozzy Whittaker and now Cody Johnson ahead of him.

So this isn't a move that has much impact on this season, unless, of course, Whaley turns into some Chris Cooley clone and becomes a guy you can't get off the field.

When I talked to Whaley at the BCS national title game last season, he seemed open to moving positions as long as he'd been given a fair shot at RB and it just didn't work out.

Well, his body has made it to where RB is likely not possible. He's 260, and his legs and trunk are not built like a RB - more like a lineman. We'll see if Whaley's mind can go where his body is taking him in terms of position.


7. Sam Acho will probably play 40 percent at DT this season, just like last season.

MUSCHAMP'S TAKE:
"We're moving him (Sam Acho) around and giving him some different looks. But Sam played inside about 40 percent of the snaps last year and that will probably be about the same based on where we are right now.

"He's as good a rusher inside because of his initial quickness, his get off and his matchup on the guards, so again, you always look for mismatches and that's a mismatch in favor of Texas."

MY TAKE: Yet another reason not to sweat too much about the development of young DTs. Muschamp can either move Sam Acho inside or shift to a 3-4. At this point, with his defense No. 1 against the run last season and having led the nation in sacks the year before (2008), you just don't seem to sweat much at all on defense these days.

When UCLA comes to town on Sept. 25 and you're sick of reading all the stories recalling "Rout 66" from 1997, just think about how far Texas' defense has come since UCLA's 66-3 beatdown of the Longhorns.

UT's defense in 1997 was the worst in school history in points allowed per game (33.3) and total yards allowed per game (399.2) and was second-worst in school history in rushing yards allowed per game (241.5) to the 302.1 ypg allowed in 1956.

Bobby Jack Wright as D-coordinator vs. Will Muschamp as DC? Texas has come a long way in 13 seasons.


8. Backup QB Sherrod Harris is done with football … and UT is suddenly without a holder on field goals.

MACK'S TAKE:
"Neither quarterback (Case McCoy or Connor Wood) held in high school. We're trying to get both of them involved but neither one of them has ever done it.

"And you go down to a kick like Nebraska last year, you want to make sure a guy has done it. John Gold's done it a lot, Cade McCrary did it at Lake Travis and he's doing it some and Brock Fitzhenry was a quarterback and he's doing it some.

"James Kirkendoll is doing it a little bit, so we're really looking hard at finding a holder but we do not have one today."

MY TAKE: When you first heard Sherrod Harris was done with football, you probably thought what a setback it will be not to have a fifth-year senior around who observed the Colt McCoy Era to provide some sage wisdom in QB meetings to three other first-time starters. (That's what I thought.)

But then Mack reminded all of us on Friday that Harris was the backup holder on FGs behind Jordan Shipley and that a search was on to find a new holder. Shipley raised the bar for the holder at Texas after the stories of how he repeatedly calmed Hunter Lawrence's nerves over the past couple seasons.

So my early favorite to be the holder would be Brock Fitzhenry, a scrappy receiver with great hands and shifty speed who could serve as a gadget guy on some fourth-and-inches fakes (the way Shipley did).

Let's be honest, Texas is going to be in trouble if Garrett Gilbert gets hurt, no matter if Harris, Wood or McCoy is the backup. The backup QB position has been through as much upheaval as the RB recruiting here recently. (G.J. Kinne and John Brantley not ending up at Texas cost UT some viable experience on the staff.)

That's why I keep saying the two players Texas can least afford to have hurt this season are Gilbert and Kheeston Randall. Very few can do what they do on this team.


9. There is no separation between Connor Wood and Case McCoy to serve as Garrett Gilbert's backup.

GREG DAVIS' TAKE:
"At this point, I have told them both that we cannot plan on that (one of them redshirting) because of injuries. If something were to happen to Garrett, they both might have to play. If everything went fine, then one would play and one would redshirt.

MORE FROM GREG DAVIS: "I think that they are both very bright guys. That is evident in their school work and in their football play. Obviously, Connor is a little bit bigger right now, but I am pleased with Case. Case has some of the same qualities of leadership and the ball getting out of his hand quickly as his brother did. It is going to be quite the battle."

MACK BROWN'S TAKE: "There will be a day where we'll hold Garrett (Gilbert) out of an entire practice probably to save his arm a little bit and get him some rest one day and let them compete with the ones.

"They're handling the snaps much better than they did in the spring because they were both shotgun guys that are up under the center more, but we do feel like they both are talented, they're both really good.

"The one that we will need to play this year is the one that manages the game the best. Will he keep from turning the ball over? Can he handle the huddle? Can he handle the dynamics of leadership, maybe even more than the most talented one?"

MORE FROM MACK: "I think they were totally overwhelmed in the spring, but I see a totally different attitude. They know where to throw it now and when they don't, they know what they did wrong.

"They're handling the pressure better. I think when Sherrod [Harris] made his decision not to come back and play this fall, that snapped them into reality really quickly that one of us will be playing against Rice so we better go to work, so I like their attitude right now."

MY TAKE: I think Mack's assessment that the backup QB merely needs to "manage" the game is telling. You don't need a gunslinger in college football unless you lack talent around the QB.

But Texas has a great defense (and maybe even a running game) that
should help take some of the pressure off Gilbert.


10. CB Curtis Brown, TE Barrett Matthews and WR Marquise Goodwin are limited by slight muscle pulls, and WR/RB D.J. Monroe seems to be fine academically.

Brown, Matthews and Goodwin are a bit limited by some minor muscle pulls. Coaches know what Brown can do, but they'd love to see Matthews and Goodwin going full speed with Gilbert to make sure the chemistry and cohesion of the offense is there.

Monroe didn't take part in much of the two open practices during team situations, but he is more of a specialist in a "slash" offensive player role. I was told he is coming off one of his best semesters academically. So there doesn't appear to be anything holding Monroe back.

We saw his firepower as a runner (3 carries for 33 yards) in the BCS national title game. He has the same kind of game-changing ability as a Ramonce Taylor. Hopefully Monroe's package of plays will result in him touching the ball about five times a game in addition to his electric kick return talents.



HONORABLE MENTION: Freshman Mike Davis is playing an inside receiver spot along with Marquise Goodwin and John Chiles.

GREG DAVIS' TAKE:
"Right now, we are playing John Chiles, Marquise [Goodwin], and Mike Davis in the slot.

"DeSean Hales could play in the slot, but we are really letting those three guys do most of the slot work. Obviously, as you know, that is a critical position for us because that is an area where there is quite a bit of flexibility in what that guy does to get himself open."

MORE FROM GREG DAVIS: "As for the young guys, Mike Davis jumps out at you. He is a very natural ball catcher. He likes to play the game.

"We had a 5:40 a.m. walk bus the other morning, and he was here about 4:45 a.m., excited and studying his playbook. Darius White is a big guy who can run. He is physical and a hard guy to press. I think we will end up with a good group before it is all said and done."

MY TAKE: Not to put pressure on Davis, but I've said I think he will be Texas' version of Michael Crabtree and the next first-round draft pick receiver from UT.

Davis loves having his most elusive guys on the inside because there's so many more options for them to beat the defense. But if UT is not in a bunch of four-wide sets, it gets hard to find enough snaps for Goodwin, Chiles and Davis from that inside position.

No doubt Davis' time is next year, but he could be special enough to help now, if he gets a chance.



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