October 26, 2007

Inside the Locker Room (Part II)

Q: (dallashorn02) - There was an article posted on the board earlier this week discussing J'Marcus Webb and a possible return to the roster next spring. If so, what would his classification be going into 2008 and how would he enter the mix? Would he be a serious contender for the left tackle spot, assuming Ulatoski stays at right tackle? Other question about the o-line for 2008..do you really see Michael Huey having a chance to unseat Chris Hall at left guard given Mack's seniority system...or is the more likely bet is Hall playing right tackle, Adam Ulatoski moving to left tackle, making room for Huey at left guard?

A: I think everyone needs to slow down with the thought that Webb might return in time to be a factor on the field in 2008 because the staff apparently is taking a wait-and-see approach, which is probably the right thing to do. Before Webb can seriously begin to think about playing for the Longhorns, he'll need to buckle down and perform at a very high level in the classroom for the remainder of this semester and then in the spring as well. Even if that happens, he'll likely still need to get a few classes in the summer, which means that he might not know where he stands until the last minute.

At this point the Longhorns have been giving Webb quite a bit of space and they are letting him handle this challenge on his own. There haven't been weekly phone calls or a steady stream of visits to the school. If Webb has any setbacks at all, it would appear that the Longhorns will have no issues with simply moving on. Basically, Webb is going to have to get his work done and prove to the staff that he's a risk worth taking. Right now it appears that they aren't so sure.

If he is able to come back, yes, he would certainly be in the mix for playing time because he'd likely have been the No.3 tackle this fall and the primary back-up at both tackle spots.

As far as the rest of the offensive line questions, it's probably too soon to know if those young players can unseat any of the older, returning starters. The coaches and the players will tell you that Hall is one of this year's team MVP's, but he doesn't have as much upside as a guy like Huey or some of the other freshman from the 2007 recruiting class. We'll know more about where Huey, Tray Allen, Aundre McGaskey and Kyle Hix stand after they go through one full off-season and get a chance to develop a bit. Barring anything unforeseen, this team should be light years ahead in the offensive line next August than they were this year.

Q: (Golfpr3145) - What is your take on the coaching staff for next year? Are you getting wind of any of the assistants moving to different schools or leaving the program?

A: I think everyone hears the rumors and it's impossible to say what will happen at this point in the season. If the Longhorns find a way to win out, win their bowl game and finish the season ranked in the top ten, I think you'll find a staff that thinks they have a chance for great things in 2008 and they'll want to build on the momentum they finished the season with. Despite the constant speculation, there have been very few coaches that have left Texas voluntarily since Brown took over. This has become a destination job and not a springboard job, with the obvious exception of hired guns in Greg Robinson and Gene Chizik. Mack Brown is a loyal guy and these are the coaches that won a national title for him. Frankly, I don't expect many changes.

Q: (Austin Ex) - There's been a lot of debate on the board about the role of Larry MacDuff, especially regarding personnel decisions and special teams play. Can you shed any light in this? Also, in a more general sense, can you talk about his impact on the team this year? It's hard to get a gauge on the guy since he's rarely seen or heard.

A: I'm not sure that we can judge Mac Duff through the first eight games of the season because we're going to have a totally different vantage point if Sergio Kindle, Jared Norton and Roddrick Muckelroy continue to emerge. For all of the endless debate about whom the starters should be, it seems to be lost on many that all three of the young linebackers have improved significantly this season. Obviously, those guys have a lot of talent and are going to get better over time, regardless of who the position coach is. That being said, you can't assign Mac Duff the blame for the bad and not give him any credit for the good. I know that Kindle has gone from being a guy that was often a liability on the field in 2006 to an emerging difference maker in the last couple of weeks.

As far as his role within the special teams unit is concerned, I think Mack Brown made a mistake when he hired Mac Duff when he didn't give his new coach complete control of this phase of the game. It made zero sense to me that Brown would hire one of the game's top special team's coaches and then not completely take advantage of his strengths. It's a little like hiring Norm Chow to coach running backs. However, Brown is very prideful about his special teams play and he didn't feel like his unit needed a complete overhaul. The problem is that when this group struggles like they have this season to make big plays; people look at Mac Duff and wonder why an NFL special team's coordinator can't get more out of them. Well, the truth is that he hasn't been given that kind of freedom.

Q: (Sundance7) - Ketch-With Ben Wells and Christian Scott apparently redshirting, who is going to be the starting safeties next year? If they don't play this year they will be learning on the fly. I would assume Ishie Oduegwu, Wells, Scott and Nolan Brewster.

A: We've got another question without a true answer. All of the players you mentioned will be in the discussion, but none have done anything to cement themselves as sure-fire starters. The smart money would have Oduegwu in one of those spots because he's suddenly emerged as a co-starter at strong safety in the last week and will likely be the only true safety that possesses any experience heading into 2008. The true competition won't take place until the spring and it should be a good one.

Q: (srtnc) - A publication (College Football Talk's Football Rumor Mill) suggested that Tommy Tuberville would be wise to take the Texas A&M Head Coaching job because it will be easier to compete for recruits against Texas "a program on the wane" vs Alabama "a program on the rise". What do you think about the statement that Texas is "a program on the wane"? Do you believe that is a national perception?

A: I think upon first glance that the publication in question has very little knowledge of what they are talking about in this instance. It's probably not even fair to describe one job as more difficult than the other because there are drastically different hurdles that have to be cleared. While it's easier to win in the Big 12 than it is in the SEC, the challenges in recruiting are just as tough and perhaps tougher at a school like A&M than at Auburn.

First, the Aggies don't really have a strong recruiting base to select players from. East Texas has turned into a safe haven for Texas, Oklahoma and LSU. The Aggies are mostly an afterthought at every area in the state, with the exception of Lufkin High and any of the schools in the Aldine school district. The Aggies haven't been strong in Dallas for more than a decade and they've lost their footing in Houston in recent years because of the programs surrounding them.

The Aggies are essentially surrounded by three of the dominant programs of this decade when you talk about the national landscape and it's not something that will likely change in the coming years. In order for A&M to emerge as a national power they'll need a dynamic personality to lead the way because Dennis Franchione is so out of his league as a personality when compared to Mack Brown, Bob Stoops and Les Miles that he has zero chance of making a real dent in the college football landscape in this region.

As far as Texas being "on the wane", that's a pretty funny comment when you consider that the Longhorns have as much young talent in the program as they've ever had and they won a national title two years. Most people across the country look at Texas as one of the permanent giants in the game and that's not going to change any time soon, even if the last two years have proven to be a transitional period.

Q: (Deronjohn) - A lot of people point out the changes in philosophy of Mack Brown's recruiting strategies but what is not often talked about is what they look for talent wise. There has been a change in evaluation with the number of guys we are putting in the league nowadays. Are we now seeing the possibility of the staff understanding the talent evaluation here in Texas. I remember guys like Montrell Flowers and Larry Dibbles being decorated guys but never really making much of an impact on the 40. Would guys like Blake Gideon have been offered in 2002 whereas a Darryl Stonum would have. Whatever change has been made, IMO it is producing more NFL talent than it did earlier in Mack's career and I think this will serve us well for years to come.

A: I tend to disagree with your points on a couple of different levels. First, the majority of the NFL guys that the Longhorns have produced in recent years have come from the 1999-2003 recruiting classes. Those were the classes that built the foundation for a top five program and an eventual national championship. If you look at the current state of the program, it was the dip in recruiting from 2003-2005 that really created the current problems in the program because of the lack of top-flight offensive lineman, quality defensive backs and difference makers on both sides of the ball.

The recruiting trend took an upswing in 2006 and 2007, and those two sensational classes have the program stocked strongly heading into the rest of this decade. You pointed out Flowers and Dibbles, but those guys were two pretty good players during their careers. They certainly weren't true busts that didn't contribute at all. When you look at the Longhorn success over the first half of this decade, it was build on the philosophy of taking as many great recruits as possible and then letting them sort it out on the field.

If you look at the 2002 recruiting class, you'll see that this was the group that changed Mack Brown's way of thinking when it comes to recruiting. Brown was burned by taking chances on guys like Edorian McCulloch, Robert Timmons and Marquis Johnson, but the volume of difference makers that the Longhorns brought in that year allowed them to survive a number of busts. With Vince Young, Justin Blalock, Rod Wright, Selvin Young, Kasey Studdard and a host of others, you can afford to miss on a few guys.

In tightening up the recruiting guidelines, the Longhorns have eliminated some of the talent pool available for them that has provided some All-Americans for them over the years. It also means that your margin for error is much smaller than it used to be. There are always going to be recruiting busts, but when you're brining in fewer difference makers, you better hit home runs on the ones you do get. It's what made the loss of Dre Jones in the off-season such a big blow. When he signed last year I made the remark that he was a guy that the Longhorns could not afford to not pan out as a big-time player because of the lack of elite prospects that they've signed at the position. With his loss, the Longhorns are going to need some players to step up that might not be as qualified to be frontline players at a program like Texas.

It really remains to be seen what the real impact on these decisions in recruiting will make, but I can assure you that it hasn't led to an increase in NFL prospects on the roster.

Q: (Riveroak) - Anyway - do you think some of the perceived recruiting issues is related to the talk about Mack not being here longer than another year or two? I think Bobby Bowden is being impacted by this and it seemed like Joe Pa did for a while. Not sure there is much that can be done about it, but I am suspecting it is beginning to play a role. Not sure you even want to include this is the questions because I am not sure I want to contribute to it, but I wanted your opinion.

A: Honestly, I haven't had a single recruit ever mention it. I don't think it's a factor at all or at least it hasn't been.

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