January 8, 2009

Inside the Locker Room (Part I)

Q: (Abelatl) - How come the coaching staff used Malcolm Williams in such a low capacity during the season? Did the coaches not see his big play abilities after the 90-yard TD versus TT? The one throw his way was a bad pass by Colt in which he had beaten the Thorpe winner from Ohio State. I can't understand why not have him in more plays.

What do you see our 3 and 4 receiver formation for next year? Do you think Williams can be next year's Quan? What about Dan Buckner?

A: I think it's always going to come down to consistency for a young player like Williams and the staff's demand for detail in all aspects of the position comes first and foremost. Blocking is a big deal. So is running exact pass patterns. Williams was probably behind a few guys in those areas this year and let's not forget that this was a team that had two senior All-America candidates at the position and although he's listed as a co-starter at the Sub-B position on the depth chart, the truth of the matter is that he's better suited to play on the outside, which is where Cosby patrolled the scene this season. Therefore, it's not a huge shock that his role was somewhat limited, although I think we'd have all liked to have seen the staff force the issue a little more with respect to getting him a couple of touches per game.

I think you're going to see a lot of Shipley, Williams, Brandon Collins and James Kirkendoll next season, with guys like Buckner and DeSean Hales fighting for possibly one spot in a five-receiver rotation. There's a lot of young talent at the position, but three of those four are true veterans that have some skins on the wall. Buckner really needs to hit the weight room and start the process of dedicating himself into maximizing his physical ability.

Q: (Hornslaw■) - I have a question about practice. (Practice! We're talking about practice!) Does the team focus on working in new plays during the standard mid-week practices, or do they repeat those plays that are the staples of the offense? Do the coaches focus on teaching technique or expanding the offensive/defensive arsenal?

A: Once you get into the season, the coaches have a very small amount of time to try and get a lot done, which means most of the practice time is dedicated towards game-plan installation and getting ready for that week's game. Most of the offensive and defensive stuff that's going to be used during the season is usually installed in August and once they get to the season, it's time to perfect what you know and not try to give them more things to think about than they can handle.

Q: (Eric_mattson2000) - After seeing the Longhorns exceed expectations this year, where do you see the team next year as far as a Bowl game and record?

How do you think recruiting for 2010 will go? Do we pick up some big names/ game changers?

A: I think the bar for next season is set pretty high. It's a Big 12 title or bust year and everyone will have their eyes focused on a national championship run. The fact that Will Muschamp returns, along with almost the entire back seven, makes me think that the defense will take major steps forward next season, even with the loss of most of the defensive line. Texas will reload there and the schedule should allow for some of the younger players to grow up on the run rather comfortably.

As far as recruiting is concerned, the biggest problem seems to be a lack of scholarships. This looks like the kind of year when the Longhorns could use 40 scholarships, instead of 20.

Q: (Horngrad03) - What position will Desean Hales play at UT? Are Calvin Howell and Derek Johnson capable of contributing as fish?

How do you see the coaches dividing up the carries between the backs next year?

I predict: 50% Fozzy, 30% Vondrell, 20% Cody / J.Hills

A: Look for Hales to work the inside positions within the offense and wouldn't be surprised if the first time you see his name on a UT depth chart, it's listed at the Sub-B position, which is the role that Brandon Collins and James Kirkendoll have both played a lot in.

I think the staff hopes that one of those two incoming freshmen defensive tackles can contribute in some shape or fashion next season, but I'm not sure that they are going to count on either being ready to go from day one. The last time Mack Brown openly discussed about counting on a true freshman defensive tackle contributing before he even arrived, it was in regards to Ben Alexander, and that didn't exactly work out the way he thought it would. Since that time, he hasn't put many eggs into that basket.

As far as the running back workload for next season, I think that's the storyline heading into the off-season. Can any of those guys take their level of play to a different place than it's currently at? It really is impossible at this point to project a percentage of carries for each player because I don't think there's any way to know.

Q: (bman25) - You stated earlier this week that you think Garrett Gilbert will bring a national championship to Texas and it got me thinking about the future. Please forecast the competitive landscape of the Big 12 over the next 2-5 years. Who is going to be THE dominant team? Is it us? Could you assess the recruiting classes so far this year and what each relevant team has waiting in the wings and tell me what you think will play out in the years to come?

A: I suppose this would probably be a good to clarify my remarks about Gilbert, lest I get stuck with a Beano Cook/Ron Pawlus moment. I look at Gilbert as a version of Colt McCoy 2.0. He's just like my Blackberry Bold in that he's the updated version. Gilbert is tailor-made to play in this current Longhorn offense that's being directed by McCoy, except that Gilbert has better physical tools coming in and I think he's probably equal or ahead of him in some of the intangible areas at this same stage of their careers.

That being said, McCoy is going to leave Texas as one of the best five players in the history of the school when it's all said and done. We're talking VY, Earl, Ricky and Nobis-type recognition.

Still, I think Gilbert has everything needed to put him into a position to hit the ground running in 2010. I think one season of watching and adjusting to the jump in competition level will allow him to play at a very high level as a second-year player. I have that much confidence in him and I think he's headed to the perfect scheme for his talents.

The Longhorns have been in the national championship/BCS Bowl discussion in every year since 2004 and I think the young talent in the cupboard is going to ensure that this program remains in that discussion for the foreseeable future. Gilbert's a winner at the highest level. In fact, it's the thing I love about him the most. More than a stats guy, he's a winner that puts up incredible stats. That's why I think if he's given three or four years to start at quarterback, the Longhorns will fight their way through during one of those years and they'll play in the big game with someone that ranks up with Vince Young and Drew Brees as the two best leaders/winners/safest bets on the next level that I feel like I've seen during my career.

As far as the Big 12 is concerned, it's going to be a lot of what we've seen in the past. Texas and Oklahoma are still the kings on the block, and I think a case can be made that Texas is better positioned to lead the way in the conference for the next three of four seasons, if for no other reason than the Longhorns are better positioned at quarterback for the foreseeable future, especially if Sam Bradford leaves after this season.

Texas Tech will have an occasional big year, but they'll remain behind the elite in most years. Oklahoma State has some tantalizing talent in their program, but that outfit is missing something and I wouldn't bet a wooden nickel on them ever getting over that huge hurdle. It's like they could field an All-Pro team from the NFL and still lose four games every year. Baylor will be better and A&M will be the No.6 team in the conference, fighting for No.5.

Over in the North, Kansas will remain a solid 8 or 9-wins per year program, as will Missouri. If anyone is going to take that division by storm, it might be Nebraska, but we'll have to see. Nothing significant has really happened that has drastically altered the outlook of that division now that Chase Daniel has graduated.

As far as recruiting is concerned, Texas and Oklahoma are working towards top 10 classes, with the Longhorns having top five quality with their players, but the 20ish scholarship number might drop them into the second five. The current 3.89 star rating average for the Texas prospects ranks only behind USC.

Texas A&M has a solid class that will probably finish inside the top 25 nationally, but they have only five players that are rated four star or higher. It's a good class, but the kind that will need several years before it might make a really big impact in that program. The same numbers and same prognosis is true of Nebraska, except they might not finish inside the top 25. They are pretty borderline at this point. Missouri (30th), Kansas (34tth) and Texas Tech (35th) could possibly sneak into the top 25 range, but there's nothing inside of their classes that would seem to represent the possibility of a super shift in the talent levels in that division.

Q: (UTDrew6) - 1. Who do you see from a personnel standpoint in our short yardage and goal-line situation with Miller and Chris O moving on? Who do you feel will be our starting secondary in 09? Personally, the only 2 guys I see with a secure starting job are Earl Thomas and Chykie Brown, while Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown and Deon Beasley can fight it out for the LCB position and nickel back. Also, do you see anyone pushing Blake Gideon? 3. What's up with Tray Allen? 4. Any transfers?

A: There's been some talk that Lamarr Houston will get a shot at replacing Miller in those short-yardage situations and with Cody Johnson still in the program the Longhorns have their shot-yardage back. It would be pretty hard to predict the secondary at this point because those positions are completely wide-open in my mind, although Chykie Brown and Thomas are probably safe bets in my opinion. I think there are a lot of guys at corner that can potentially play at a very high level and I think Christian Scott is going to challenge Gideon.

Allen made some progress this season, but he's still a work in progress and right now he's not really making a push for a starting position, so he'll remain back-up in all likelihood, unless the light switch really starts to come on. What he really needs is a redshirt year, so that he can create some separation with Adam Ulatoski, but I'm not sure that's going to be a real possibility. Finally, I expect there to be some departures via transfer, possibly in the next couple of weeks.

Q: (McGuapo) - You said something interesting a week or so ago that I wanted to follow up on out of curiosity. You basically said you didn't know if Mack Brown even liked you. You may have been joking, but it got me interested. After all these years covering the Texas program, what is your relationship with Mack? How well does he know you? How do you think he views you and what you have created? I really find this interesting because lately, with the recent "newspaper" recruiting fiasco, you found yourself in a position to do something in a way that Mack couldn't.... defend the program. Maybe Mack doesn't think it needed defending, but part of me has to believe he was loving him some Orangebloods during that week. I think I've heard Mack joke around about getting rid of all the recruiting sites if he could and that he knows it just comes with the territory, but something tells me he doesn't really think it's all bad. I mean, Mack is still certainly a business man, too. Give me your take here. What do you really believe?

A: Honestly, I think we have a cordial relationship in that we both are friendly with each other when we're on the clock, enough so that we don't have a problem joking with each other on occasion. But, outside of that there's not much of a relationship. I think he's always been apprehensive about the Internet and I think he always will be (which is understandable), with there probably being more hesitation towards accepting the electronic media trends than I would have hoped. Whereas it's pretty mainstream to make the leap from one medium to another these days, a lot of people considered my jump from television news to this industry to be career suicide, especially since I turned down an offer to work in a top 40 media market as a sports reporter in my first year at Orangebloods. I think it's taken some time for Mack to move past the point where he considered this site to be his program's version of the Boogie Man.

I will say this, my access to the program in the early days was only increased because he went to bat for me and helped make it happen. There was an issue with the Dallas lunch bunch many years ago when he was given information about some things that I did and didn't say. When he called me out on it, he asked why I never asked him about these things at media events. I told him that I wasn't being granted access as a real media member, despite the fact that I had been credentialed by the school since 1995 as a real media member. After that conversation, the site was granted increased access that was closer to the terms that most media members worked with and I've always appreciated that. The growth of the Supernova that is the Internet wasn't going to be held back by anyone forever, and I believe that our eventual acceptance into the mainstream was eventually going to come, but he could have held the door shut on the site for a long time if he had wanted to.

As both of careers have added some longevity to them, I think he's come to understand that we're not the Boogie Man, which means he's now treating us like the real media, which means he's only going to trust us to a certain extent and I would think that's all I would ever ask for. In the end, I'm not sure he really knows anything about me, but that's the norm and not the exception with most relationships of this sort. Personally, I like Mack from what I know of him. I think there's a little more to a cutting edge to his personality that most might believe and I actually like/appreciate that a lot. You don't get to the top with Gomer Pyle niceness alone. Believe me, there's an unplugged session of the real Mack that I would love to see because he can have a really sarcastic sense of humor when he wants to.

Q: (tylerrose20) - This question doesn't have to do with the Horns, so you don't have to include it in the Locker Room if you don't want. But feel free to do so if you'd like. Regardless, I was hoping you'd answer my question either by responding to my email, or including it in the report. While you're reading this, I'd also like to congratulate you and Longhorn Babe on your engagement! Awesome news. Here's my question…

You've talked about your evaluation of Drew Brees before out of Westlake, and I was curious how many "stars" you'd have given him. Drew is a friend of mine I grew up with, and I've been meaning to ask you this for a while. Thanks for all of the hard work.

p.s. If you have any recollection of others on that team (McKinney, Ryan Read, Jamie Tyler) that would be awesome. If not, no worries.

A: In my heart and hearts, I thought Brees was the best player/prospect in the state of Texas and I rate him with Vince Young and Garrett Gilbert as the three most impressive quarterbacks I've ever seen in the time I've covered recruiting in Texas. That being said, I ended up rating him as the No.10 prospect in the state because I didn't have the guts to put a kid with two offers in the top spot. Still, I felt compelled to put him in the top 10, no matter what anyone thought and I did catch my share of grief for about a year and then that stuff ended pretty quick.

I also thought McKinney was one of the best linemen in the state that year and had him rated as a top 30 player. I also was quite high on Read and had him ranked in the top 42. I thought he was a great system receiver and had he come around ten years later, he'd be a guy that would catch 100 balls a year at Texas Tech. He was just ahead of his time, which translated into being a pretty good college possession receiver and not much more at that time..

Q: (Cinco Ranch Horn) - What is your take on Nolan Brewster? He seemed to only get time on Special Teams this year and it appears that he/they may have wasted a year with him. Do you see him pushing our Safeties (primarily Gideon) at all or can he be targeted as a LB'er? Also do you see him finishing his career here at Texas or do you see (possibly hear - if you can comment) him transferring to Minnesota?

A: I think we need to wait more than a year before drawing any conclusions on Brewster. He probably should have redshirted, but he was a solid back-up for a team that didn't have much depth and he was a good special teams player. Is he going to be more than that? I think time will tell, but he might be a year or two away from being ready to challenge for serious playing time. I can tell you that I haven't heard any talk about him leaving for Minnesota and I would think that'd give it another year before doing something like that because he'll always have that redshirt year to use as a buffer during a transfer. Everyone just needs to take a deep breath and give the youngster some time.

Q: (Krentist) - How hard is the staff currently pursuing Tevin Mims? Will he receive an offer soon? Also, give us a percentage on how likely it is that we sign Devon Kennard. Thanks.

A: Expect the staff to offer in the very near future and I project him as the last Longhorn commitment at this point, barring something surprising taking place. I'd put Kennard at 80-20 in favor of USC at this point and that number might be too low. I really believe that if Mims was going to be a Longhorn in the end, he'd have been at the Fiesta Bowl in person and not meeting with Pete Carroll. I don't mean anything negative at all by that, it just is what it is. I think it was the perfect indicator for what's going to happen there.

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