August 24, 2007

Breaking down the offense

T-minus three days. No we're not talking about the countdown to the start of the regular season for the fourth-ranked Texas Longhorns, but rather we're counting down to the official announcement of two-deep depth chart that will be released on Monday. It's been eight months since the Longhorns last suited up for a football game and the team hasn't had a depth chart since that time.

Therefore, after closed practices in the spring and fall, the entire Longhorn Nation will finally learn who starts, who's backing up and who's likely not going to be on the radar for much of the 2007 season.

Here's a breakdown of what you can expect on the offensive side of the ball. Our defensive preview will be released on Saturday.

Quarterback

Who starts? - Colt McCoy

This one is so obvious that it hardly needs explaining. McCoy is the single most indispensable player in the program at the moment and he's become the heart and soul of the team after last season's breakout year. The good news for Texas fans is that he's even better right now than any of you remember seeing him last season.

Who's the back-up? - John Chiles

It wasn't supposed to happen this way, but the Longhorns will head into the season-opener with Chiles in the primary back-up role and if he plays well when he gets his opportunities, it might not change. Chiles isn't much of a passing threat at this point, but his legs give him a dimension that the Longhorns need at the position. For at least the next few weeks, it's his show

What does it all mean?

The only real question deals with whether or not Chiles can use this opportunity to slam the door shut on redshirt freshman Sherrod Harris. Even though Harris was the easy choice as back-up when camp started, he's not a player that could afford to miss almost the entire training camp and he'll be behind when he comes back from his knee injury. If Chiles struggles, it'll be easy to work Harris back into the equation, but if Chiles thrives in limited playing time, I'm not sure that you can justify turning the role back over to a player that's never played in a game and doesn't have a real rack record at this point.

Running back

Who starts - Jamaal Charles

It might be now or never for Charles, who enters his second straight season with huge expectations. The former Port Arthur Memorial star has been outstanding in workouts all year, but now it's time to prove it on the field. Durability and not talent is his biggest issue.

Who's the back-up? - Chris Ogbonnaya

Knowing the Texas staff, this might end up being one of those co-back-up deals that they like to do, but I'm going to give the upper-classman the edge over redshirt freshman Vondrell McGee because… well… he's an upper-classmen and we all know that Mack Brown loves his veteran players.

What does it all mean?

All three players have been outstanding throughout camp and the Longhorns might have their best trio of backs that Brown has ever had at Texas. That being said, there are still come question marks. Can Charles be the primary back and handle 200 carries? If the answer is yes, then look for the two back-ups to evenly split the rest of the carries until one of them clearly separates from the other in live game action. If the answer is no, then it's going to be tough for this team to accomplish its goals unless either Ogbonnaya or McGee emerge as the kind of player that needs to be on the field more than he's off of it.

Wide receiver

Who starts - Limas Sweed, Quan Cosby and Nate Jones

If we can forget about the injuries for a moment, these are the three best receivers on the team at the moment. At the very least, they've been the top three receivers in training camp since the very get-go. Even before Billy Pittman's injury, these were the three players that have been out on front of the pack.

Who's the back-up? - Brandon Collins, James Kirkendoll and Malcolm Williams

I know, I know. It's crazy to think that this team could be in a spot where they return their top five receivers from last season and three true freshman litter the two-deep for the first game. However, with Pittman likely out for a month with a shoulder injury and Jordan Shipley not fully recovered from a hamstring injury, this is likely the way the real depth chart will look until those guys return.

What does it all mean?

Obviously, the position on this tam with the most depth is being tested in a serious way. Sweed is likely going to give it a go against Arkansas State, but if he doesn't, look for Collins to get the start. Regardless, all three freshmen are going to play a lot this season in September.

Tight end

Who starts - Jermichael Finley

Another slam-dunk decision. Finley has a chance to catch 50+ passes this season.

Who's the back-up? - Peter Ullman

The former Round Rock Dragon is a solid role player and will help out in the running game when the team goes into two-tight sets, but he's limited in what he can do in the passing game. Look for redshirt freshman Josh Marshall and true freshman Blaine Irby to see action as well.

What does it all mean?

The Longhorns would love to have another veteran tight end that can help put in the passing game, but Ullman is a solid player and the staff loves the promise of their two young players. Regardless, Finley is one a handful of players that this team cannot afford to lose for any extended time. Without him, the look of the offense changes significantly.

Tackles

Who starts - Tony Hills and Adam Ulatoski

There was never really any question at all about who the bookends on the line were going to be. Both players have improved since last season and it was needed. Now it's time to find out exactly how much progress they've made. Hills is very high on the NFL's radar and Ulatoski has the look of an emerging star.

Who's the back-up? - Tray Allen and Kyle Hix

Allen seems like a lock as the back-up left tackle and it would appear that it will come down to Hix and redshirt freshman Britt Mitchell on the other side. The talk from close to the program is that Hix has been as impressive as any true freshman in the program, which is why I gave him the nod.

What does it all mean?

The depth at tackle is paper thin when it comes to experienced depth. The two starters might be as god as any duo in the Big 12, but the talent behind them is as green as spring grass. Add Hills and Ulatoski to the list of players Texas cannot afford to lose to injury

Guards

Who starts - Cedric Dockery and Chris Hall

The team desperately needed Dockery to return to the field and it would appear that he's close to where he was before last season's October knee injury. Hall is the one veteran lineman that has seemingly turned the corner as a player and the staff seems to have a lot of confidence in his ability. This turned out to be a fairly easy decision.

Who's the back-up? - Charlie Tanner and Michael Huey

I have a hard time believing that the Longhorns will put three true freshmen offensive linemen on their opening day two-deep, but Huey has just as much experience as Steve Moore, who would be the other player under consideration. The bottom line is that Huey has probably had the better camp and he has more upside. Freshman or not, it's about getting the most talented guys on the field, right?

What does it all mean?

Tanner has yet to evolve in the manner than Hall has and it means that the team has zero quality veteran depth on the offensive line at this point. It might sound like a broken record, but if the Longhorns suffer from the injury bug up front, Mac McWhorter might have to get things done with smoke and mirrors until the young guys get their feet underneath them.

Center

Who starts - Dallas Griffin

As one of only two seniors on the line, Griffin might not be as strong at the point of attack as redshirt freshman Buck Burnette, but he's healthy and he doesn't make mental mistakes. His ability to make the line calls and get everyone on the right page is vital.

Who's the back-up? - Hall

Burnette has been limited throughout camp because of post-concussion issues from the spring and it remains to be seen how much he can and will play when the season starts next Saturday. For the very immediate future, your starting left guard is also your primary back-up at center.

What does it all mean?

Do I have to spell it out? S-t-a-y h-e-a-l-t-y.


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