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August 21, 2011We are getting down to crunch time. The boys will have practices Monday and Tuesday and then get the day off Wednesday before having the final scrimmage of fall camp on Thursday.
That scrimmage now becomes the final argument for the positions that are still seeing guys battle for the top two spots on the depth chart, such as quarterback and defensive tackle.
Here are some more thoughts from the coordinators on the progress of the team ...
--Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite talked about the quarterback situation but would not give any details about who is separating. Both said all four guys have done good things.
--I asked Harsin if Jaxon Shipley has had the best camp of all the receivers, and he said:
"Jaxon has done well," Harsin said. "Each guy in that position has had their days, and their moments. Jaxon has been consistent. For a young guy, the way he practices and prepares has been impressive.
"He's great to be around. He provides an energy, not just for that particular group, but he provides an energy for our entire offense with his practice habits. It's been fun to watch him compete and play."
--Major Applewhite added to that by praising both Jaxon Shipley and Miles Onyegbule at the receiver position.
"Maybe because Miles is a former quarterback but he has a feel for the dead space against a zone and against man they both have a good feel for body position," Major said.
"They have a feel for the timing of a play, when the ball needs to be out, when I need to be out of my break, how long that quarterback has to hold the ball.
"And it's eerie watching tape of Jaxon. It's scary. It's almost the same guy (as his brother) in the way they come out of their breaks, the way they catch the ball and tuck it and get up field. It's just very, very similar."
--One of the biggest surprises in camp has been the emergence of redshirt freshman Dominic Espinosa at center.
"He's done a good job," said Bryan Harsin. "He's played well. He's a smart guy who makes the right decisions out there. I've been pleased with his performance.
"He's got the feel to play that position. (David) Snow and (Garrett) Porter have a done a good job at center. All those guys have done a good job making the right calls because we put a lot on those guys. But Dom has done a nice job."
--Harsin said he thinks Garrett Gilbert has done a good job in camp handling learning a new offense.
--Harsin was asked if David Ash took a step back in the last scrimmage?
"No. I think all those guys - what are we asking them to do?" Harsin said. "That's what I look at. Here are the two or three things you needed to improve on. And I think David continues to do a good job. He's a young guy. Very competitive, and he's going to continue to get better. Those are some of the things we talked about with him."
--You can tell Harsin has high hopes for his young backs - Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. He said he thinks two freshmen backs can play in his his offense.
"I think so," Harsin said. "The reality of it is we got together in the spring, the new guys coming in are 15 practices behind, but they did a good job in the summer. And when they came into fall camp, they knew the terminology. They knew the plays for the most part.
--Harsin thinks all of his freshmen have a strong work ethic.
"I think our young guys, just as an overall group, are very good at preparing," Harsin said. "They come out and make mistakes. But they make new mistakes the next practice. That's what you want. You try to eliminate the mistakes you made before and not make new ones, and they seem to do that.
"They'll continue to make mistakes. But let's just make new ones. But I think those guys (Brown and Bergeron) are talented. They've done a good job, and we've got to play the best players.
--Harsin said Brown and Bergeron are good receivers who have caught the ball well in checkdowns.
"Those guys are pretty electric and can pick up 15 yards in a hurry," Harsin said.
--Brown and Bergeron have both shown a lot of "toughness."
"Both big and powerful," Harsin said. "Both very quick. Both have great balance. Both have done a good job of taking shots and keeping their feet. And they are taking some hits now. Our defense is flying around and making plays, and those guys have stayed on their feet and hung onto the ball. So it shows some toughness."
--Harsin said Foswhitt Whittaker deserves a lot of credit for helping Brown and Bergeron get caught up over the summer.
"Fozzy has had an excellent camp and has really set the tone for those guys and really helped them in meetings with all his experience," Harsin said. "They're big, they're powerful and have a lot of really good qualities."
--Applewhite said he still thinks three RBs could handle the every-down situations and then fill in around them with specialty guys. (It's becoming apparent that the three guys are likely to be Fozzy Whittaker, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron with the other guys filling around them. We'll see.)
--Major Applewhite said receivers coach Darrell Wyatt has done a great job of taking guys like Jaxon Shipley and Miles Onyegbule "straight out of high school and gotten them to play with a chip on their shoulder."
--The first thing the coaches have tried to do in restoring Garrett Gilbert's confidence is make him understand "there are 10 other guys on the field."
"That was always the comforting factor me - just understanding not everything is on you," Applewhite said. "There are other guys who need to do their job. Some of the mistakes he made last season were compounded by the situations we found ourselves in. We were having to throw the ball more because we were behind. So he gets thrust into situations where they are dropping eight and dropping nine.
"We've explained to him that, 'Hey, you were put in some very tough spots last year. Having to come back against Kansas State and other teams. You were throwing the ball more than we wanted you to.' You try to explain that to him and then say, 'We're not going to put as much on your plate and put you behind the eight ball. It's going to be a little more team oriented and not as much quarterback driven as it was with Colt (McCoy) and Vince (Young)."
--Major said Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown are more similar than they are different. He said both have picked up the run game and are now digesting the pass protections.
"Both guys are big into studying and spent a lot of time with Fozzy Whittaker and Tre Newton in the off-season making sure they understand their pass protections. They've done well. Both can run with power. Both have good feet in the hole. Both have good vision. Both are strong students of the game and try to understand the reason behind everything and why things are the way they are."
--Bergeron and Brown "didn't flinch at the physical part, when the pads came on," Applewhite said. "Both are healthy. Now you're starting to grease your boxer back up. He's getting ready for his first bought. They'll all be ready to roll."
--The receivers are "very assignment detailed" and are a "bigger group."
"There's a physical edge to those guys. John Harris, Darius White, Mike Davis, Miles Onyegbule - those guys are bigger guys. You've got your smaller guys - DeSean Hales and Jaxon Shipley. But for the most part, it's a big group, a physical group. And you can sense from them a competitive pride in that group. We may be young, but they've got a competitive chip on their shoulder. So it will be fun to watch them go out and compete."
--The running backs took care of the ball in the second scrimmage. There weren't totally blown assignments. The backs ran tough. Those were the three goals we had coming into the scrimmage - take care of the ball, be assignment sound and play physical."
--Guys are being moved around on offense as a way to send messages.
"It's every position. We are trying to create competition. I think that's something that's every important when you're rebuilding a team. As Coach Brown has done with the Brick By Brick motto, we're trying to get everyone to understand no one is going to feel easy.
"We're trying to not let anyone rest in the shade. So we're moving them around at tight end, at O-line, at wideout. We're not going to divulge all the moves. Some would probably shock you. But we are trying to send messages like, 'Today wasn't good enough, so that's why you're here this afternoon. If you do better this afternoon, you might be back in the morning.
--I asked Major if he's seen the alpha male gene more in one quarterback than another?
"I've seen all of them display it at times. It's hard to do when you're not playing well or you're not playing a whole bunch. But I've seen all of them have great drives, great series, great red-zone opportunities and make great decisions. When you see four of them and each one has done that, you think, 'We'll be OK if he gets thrust into that situation.'"
--Major said Garrett Gilbert had a clean scrimmage on Friday night.
"He took care of the ball real well. He made some really good decisions in the red zone. He made some tight throws in the red zone. Not risky throws. But every throw is tight in the red zone, and he had accurate, tight throws in the red zone. Took care of the ball, and had some formations here and there that he had to straighten out. I thought he had a clean scrimmage."
--No depth chart until it's "completely full," Major said. Probably announced next Monday.
--QB position is what everyone is talking about.
"No one cares who the starting left guard is," Major said. "All I can say about the quarterback situation is that the first guy, the second guy and the third guy better be ready to play ? whether it's because of bad play or because of injury. You better be ready to play."
--Applewhite said he expects all four quarterbacks to be on the team when the season starts.
--Harsin said TE Blaine Irby has done much more than excel at his own position.
"He's done well," Harsin said. "Blaine has done everything we've asked him to do. He's a very smart guy. He's been very helpful with a lot of positions. Not just his own. We'll continue this week to put him in scenarios where he can be successful. He really understands the game and has helped us out with his leadership qualities."
--Harsin said the coaches are "getting there" when it comes to settling on set positions for the starting five on the offensive line. Harsin said Stacy Searels has done a good job of "mixing and matching" so that there's depth and the ability to move guys to different positions if there are injuries.
"One year at Boise we had 11 different lineups on the offensive line in 13 games," Harsin said. "So you have to be prepared for things like that, and I think Stacy has done a great job."
--Manny Diaz was quick to point out that the success the first-team offense had in Scrimmage No. 2 on Friday was against his second-team defense.
"Our ones have been hard to run on, and they've not given up big plays, and in turn, they've been hard to score on," Diaz said. "Our twos in 11-on-11, by nature that they are our younger guys, they are struggling with that. They are struggling with Point A. They are still not getting their run fits just right. So they get run on and they give up more points as a result."
--Safety Kenny Vaccaro is back from his hamstring injury that held him out of the first scrimmage.
"Kenny is an explosive player who can help us out in a lot of ways," Diaz said. "We have no complaints with Kenny."
--This group of corners is not the youngest Diaz has had to coach, but he's not worried about this group because of how competitive they are.
"Saying they are competitive is almost cliche, but that's what that position is all about. That's a fighter's position. You almost have to be half crazy to play out there because there's just no margin for error.
"This group you have to watch how you coach them, because they are going to do it exactly as you coach them. With Coach Akina out there coaching them, we are happy with our corner situation right now."
--Diaz said he's got a solid rotation at DT and is now just trying to figure out a way to divy up minutes like "a basketball team."
"If a player were to come up to me and say, 'Am I going to play?', I'd say, 'State your case to us and show me how much you're going to play.' That fight might go until the day before the Rice game, just in terms of how guys are handling their assignments. And then it will be fluid.
"It's the blessing and the curse of having depth. If one guy doesn't want it, boom, he's out, and the next guy is in. So I think they understand that."
--Diaz probably couldn't give LB Jordan Hicks any higher praise.
"I think he's the guy that when he walks into our locker room, our players are happy he's on our team. When we bus to the Rice game, and he gets on, our guys will be happy he's on the bus," Diaz said.
--Diaz said of the defense giving up some big run plays to the offense on Friday night, "What's happened the first two scrimmages is there's been an imbalance between our first- and second-team defenses in terms of giving up run yards."
--Diaz said the defense wasn't "as clean" in the second scrimmage as it was in the first scrimmage.
"What I mean by clean is I thought we were a count off," Diaz said. "I thought our reaction times were a half count off. What we found when that's the case is interceptions turn into pass breakups. We had a lot of pass breakups that might have been interceptions. Pass breakups turn into completed passes. Tackle for losses turn into 3-yard gains.
"No one thinks the offense gaining three yards is a big play - except when you could have had them 4 yards in the backfield. Then, it's a 7-yard swing. We think it should have been second-and-14 and instead, it's second-and-7. That totally changes the dynamic of the series.
"As a coach, you want everything to come out roses. We are aggressive, we want to be dominant. We have to play clean. We have the ability to make big plays, not because it's fun and we want to walk around campus and have people talk to us. We want to do it because it helps us win football games. So I think our players saw we did not put the offense in enough negative situations and were not quite clean."
--Diaz says he has a ton of "positional flexibility" at linebacker because Keenan Robinson can play all three positions. Emmanuel Acho can play both middle and weakside linebacker. Jordan Hicks is smart enough to play all three "but can feature at the Sam (strongside) or Will (weakside)."
"Our defense is designed a little bit to allow for that positional flexibility, and that helps us in case of injuries and what happens in real life," Diaz said. "I showed the linebackers our opener last year at Mississippi State against Memphis.
"Our first-string corner got hurt. On the first drive of the game. Our first-string Will linebacker got hurt on the third drive of the game. Our second-team linebacker was already out for the game. So we went to our third-team Will linebacker. And nobody today wants to talk about our third-team Will linebacker, and that guy played 50 snaps that day.
"So we're trying to get our guys to forget about the batting order because once the game starts, it's chaos. You have got to get ready to play, because the games are hard to predict."
--Chris Whaley is "in the mix" at defensive end and defensive tackle.
"He's a good athlete. That's a grown man's position in there, and he doesn't flinch. He comes off the ball. There's a lot of big people getting thrown around in there, and he's right in the middle of it, absorbing it all," Diaz said.
"He's done a nice job for us. He's on the bench like the rest of them, and when the coach goes looking down the bench, they are all looking to tear their warmups off and get in the game. That's what we're working on."
--Manny is still looking for 22 on defense. He would like to play 22 in the first quarter against Rice. But he said he's "about halfway there."
"We are not at 22," Diaz said. "We are probably half way there. That's what obsesses right now. We are really looking for people we can put across that line and put in a game. Because when we roll guys in practice, there's a first team and second team. But there's no first-team and second-team when we go play, everyone who steps on the field now is a Texas Longhorn.
"I tell the guys, 'You've got to prove to your teammates that if I tell you go in, the rest of the team doesn't look at me like a crazy man.' Like, 'Why in the world are they putting this guy in?' They've got to gain my trust and the coaches' trust, and they've got to gain the locker room's trust."
--Diaz said he'll explain things like defending the wheel route out of the backfield and guys will say, 'Got it coach.' Now, he wants to see if they've really got it in a game.
"Right now, it's almost like a horse race," Diaz said. "The experienced ones have moved past the what to do? They know what. They've moved on to the how and whys now. The younger ones are still grasping the whats. The hows and whys are still beyond them at this point.
"As a coach, you run out of practice lessons. You kind of have to go out and play now. Sometimes there's that game accountability, where they realize, 'Oh they can score a touchdown on that play,' in front of 101,000 people. Our guys are close. We need to lock in and get ready for an opponent.
"We have to minimize our game lessons. We like to spare our blushes for when no one's watching.
"But this will be a football team that is going to get better every week, and it's going to have to improve week in and week out."