August 22, 2008

Fourth and Inches

Having covered Texas since 1992, I have to say there's a different feel to this year's team. There's a lot of positive energy. I attribute it to Mack Brown bringing in Will Muschamp. Muschamp is infectious. He takes no backward steps. He's in-your-face. But he's also a patient teacher who will give you a bear hug for executing your assignment. Players love him and seem to have adopted his blue-collar attitude.

Muschamp has the ultimate challenge in front of him. Teach and coach a bunch of redshirt freshmen at safety well enough to handle going up against 10 returning starters at quarterback this season. Seven of those QBs have led their team to a bowl game and have beaten a ranked opponent. The odds are against him. But something tells me Muschamp pays no attention to odds.

On to the questions …

Q: Enjoyed your Q&A in The Dallas Morning News. Glad to have you on OB. Who do you project will be the players that will line up on the punt coverage team? Will the blocked kick become a big play for us again now that Duane Akina is back in charge?


BROWN: I think you'll see Chykie Brown, Aaron Williams, Christian Scott, Earl Thomas, Curtis Brown and Deon Beasley either as the gunners on punt coverage or as the designated block specialists on the line (in the role of Michael Griffin) on the punt return team. Whoever emerges as the gunners should be excellent because of the size and speed of these guys. On the punt return team, it will take time for these guys to figure out the art of blocking punts. But with their speed and Akina's expertise, I don't expect Texas to go another season without a blocked kick of any kind like the Longhorns did in 2007.

Q: With all the talk about the "Q Package" and other wrinkles we are hearing about with the offense, should I truly be excited? Or is this package designed for the FAU's and Rice's of the world, never to be seen against OU? I'm having flashbacks of the reverse pass against Missouri the week after we played OU (in 2003).

Beam, Coke, &Horns

BROWN: Something tells me Mack Brown and Greg Davis know they will need to use whatever trickery they've developed in the off-season against all their primo opponents. With nine bowl teams from last year on the schedule, there's no place to conserve. It would be a shame to think they will only be used at home games to excite 98,000 in the new DKR. I could be wrong, but Brown bringing in Muschamp and giving Davis a green light to expand the offense will end up as more than lip service. I think young guys will play and the playbook will be expanded on the field - even against OU.

Q: We all know how important team chemistry is and most of the time the ringleaders are easy to spot. I'm having a hard time doing that with this Longhorn squad. If you had to pick a guy from each side of the ball to be this team's "go to" guy on the field and in the locker room, who would they be?

Don Hornleone

BROWN: On offense, it's Colt McCoy. The guy has had a great camp. He's done exactly what this team needed. He's improved. He's been calm, cool and relaxed. He's been mistake-free. I'll give a secondary nod to Quan Cosby because players respect him so much. But the emerging forces on the offensive line are Michael Huey and Kyle Hix. I look for them to start taking on a role similar to Kasey Studdard and Lyle Sendlein, who were fun-loving goofballs off the field but intense leaders who provided toughness in the huddle on the field. On defense, the conscience is Roy Miller. He helped spearhead the player advisory committee that meets with Mack every week. He will be the one getting on everyone else to step up.

Q: We've heard about all the young players ready to step up at crucial positions in the secondary and wide receiver. There are fast, athletic studs all over the place there. I'm very concerned about the depth at DT. After Lamarr Houston and Roy Miller, who is going to step up? Will [db]Kheeston Randle and Jarvis Humphrey contribute this year? Will they be ready for possible starting roles next year?


BROWN: After Miller and Houston right now it's Ben Alexander and Aaron Lewis at tackle. Randle and Humphrey aren't quite there yet, but it's early. I would expect both to play this season - possibly even the first game as Texas tries to build depth at the position and prepare them for much bigger roles next season.

Q: Do you see Mizzou and Kansas as being legitimate Top 25 teams for the foreseeable future or just a flash in the pan? I just see it hard for those two schools to recruit talent year-to-year. The coaches will probably jump for better jobs if they repeat last season's success. It would seem Nebraska and Colorado would be the two teams that should be consistently in the Top 25 (better program, location, tradition). How do you see the pecking order work itself out for the next few years?


BROWN: Missouri and Kansas have both done an excellent job of cherry picking the talent in Texas that goes unrecruited by Texas, Oklahoma and LSU. Players like Chase Daniel, Sean Weatherspoon and Stryker Sulak at Mizzou and Todd Reesing and Dexton Fields at Kansas. If those programs can continue to find the overlooked talent in Texas, they'll continue to be good because the coaching at both schools has improved a lot over the last five years. You also need great quarterback play, and Missouri has Blaine Gabbert waiting behind Daniel. Gabbert is supposed to be the real deal. I'm not sold on Bo Pelini at Nebraska. I hope I'm wrong because Nebraska being a national power is good for college football. Colorado is coming on strong, although they are young this year. Hawkins will get Colorado back to Top 25 consistency in the next few years.

Q: My questions is, what are the chances that our new defensive coordinator leaves after this year? Do you see him being groomed to be our next head coach?


BROWN: If Muschamp can turn this pass defense around with all the Similac being ingested in the secondary and with this year's schedule, he will be one of the hottest commodities on the coaching market. Hard to say what jobs could open up. A lot of good ones opened up last year (Nebraska, Michigan, UCLA, Texas A&M, Arkansas, etc.) so it may be a quiet year. Clemson could open up if Tommy Bowden underachieves again, and Muschamp would be a natural candidate at Clemson because of his ties to the south. But because I think Mack Brown will become the athletic director at Texas in probably 2011 or 2012, I think there is a chance Muschamp could stick around. If Brown is the one choosing his successor, and he will be if he's athletic director, he might eschew Texas' informal policy of hiring an experienced head coach and hire Muschamp, whom I think is the next Bob Stoops.

Q: How do you see the DE rotation working out this season? With Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton figured to be the starters, how much time do you see Eddie Jones and Sam Acho logging? What players will you be looking for in certain situations (passing downs, etc.)? How will Sergio Kindle affect the whole deal?


BROWN: Muschamp feels like he's got four solid pass rushers at end. The walk-out starters will be Orakpo at quick end and Melton at power end. But if Jones can stay healthy and starts making more plays than Melton at power end, look for Jones to get more snaps. Let's say Melton gets 40 and Jones gets 20 in the opener with that changing to 30-30 if Jones comes on like I think he will. Acho should get a healthy number of snaps at quick end (10 to 15) to give Orakpo a breather. If Acho gets to the QB and Orakpo doesn't, that number will increase dramatically. Kindle's role in the Buck Package is probably six to eight plays at defensive end, if that. The timing and effectiveness of Kindle's pass rush will tell you a lot about Muschamp's feel as a play caller.

Q: Here's my question: a year ago, Adam Ulatoski was "the next big thing" on the OL. He was being compared to Dan Neil. I know he was injured but it just seems that all buzz surrounding his progression into a world-class lineman is completely gone. I attribute that to either (1) the injury was worse than thought and he'll never fully recover, (2) the new, young guys are the new next best thing and it's more fun to talk about them, (3) he just didn't progress as planned.


BROWN: Ulatoski definitely played hurt last season. He had an elbow injury that bothered him most of the year. Mac McWhorter jokingly called him the "Bionic Man" because of all the braces he wore last season. Ulatoski says he feels great, and that should be reflected in his play. He is clearly the best player at left tackle, and Kyle Hix is far and away the choice at right tackle. There is no one behind them right now who rivals their performance. In fact, depth at tackle is a concern if Ulatoski or Hix goes down. But Ulatoski should be fine.

Q: What role do you think The Major currently plays shaping the offense and assisting Greg Davis, if any? How influential will he be during pre-game planning and on the sidelines? Davis and Brown told anyone who would listen they think Major is a huge asset. But how is he different from any other RB coach?


BROWN: The Major brings an edge that - again - Mack Brown deserves credit for bringing in. He's demanding on the players and has really helped the backs understand the importance of the passing game. I think that will be a big, new wrinkle this season. With the receivers unproven beyond the top two, I think you'll see a lot more passes to the backs, especially Fozzy Whittaker. But Major is not going to be offering up play suggestions during a game. Maybe at halftime. His input will be on the front end, helping to develop the game plan going into the week. Play-calling will be all Greg Davis with the approval of Mack Brown.

Q: Chip, why do you believe the coaching staff is so adamant about using Cosby and Shipley on kickoff and punt returns? Receiver is such a thin, inexperienced position for the team this year, and it would appear that we have a number of candidates that could fill these duties. I know the coaches like experienced, reliable kick returners, but c'mon is it really worth risking our acknowledged top two receivers, especially with the young talent and speed we have waiting on the sidelines?

Texas Ex 77

BROWN: It's all about fear of turning the ball over. And I hate coming from a place of fear. Cosby and Shipley catch every kickoff and punt. I think Cosby will return punts all year. The place where youth could move up is on kick returns, where Malcolm Williams and Christian Scott have been working a little bit. The problem is those guys won't get to play until there is a comfortable lead. And on this schedule, who knows when that will be? Game 1? Game 4 against Rice? But I agree. This is a perfect example of how the coaches need to play the young players if there's a really talented young one. They did it with Nathan Vasher and Ramonce Taylor. But they've been reluctant to throw young ones out there since, especially on punts. Thanks for the questions and keep them coming for next Friday's Fourth-and-Inches.

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