June 18, 2013

Texas looking to take back the line of scrimmage

1. Let's talk Longhorns football.

Someone asked me which assistant coaches have Mack Brown's ear the most. And I would say, without a doubt, Major Applewhite and Duane Akina have Mack's ear.

There's a reason Mack Brown asked Will Muschamp not to take Applewhite and Akina with him to Florida.

But I don't think there's any doubt offensive line coach Stacy Searels has Mack Brown's ear as well. And I think you're hearing that over and over again in Mack Brown's comments.

When I asked Mack why there haven't been any offensive linemen from Texas drafted in seven rounds by the NFL since 2008, Mack immediately turned to what he thinks is the solution - rather than focusing on a past problem.

"Stacy Searels is doing an excellent job of recruiting and developing the talent on the offensive line," Brown said. "I think we're going to have several players on the offensive line in the NFL soon."

We've discussed previously that Searels wants big linemen who can maul defensive linemen and wants to outweigh the opposing line by a minimum of a combined 20 pounds.

To have big, hulking linemen and to play up-tempo, no-huddle football with a goal of more than 80 plays on offense, you have to play two-deep on the line.

I'm hearing Searels is pleased enough with the progress of Sed Flowers and Curtis Riser at guard as well as Kennedy Estelle and Camrhon Hughes at tackle that he honestly thinks he can play two-deep on the offensive line this season.

And the name on the lips of all the coaches on the offensive line among the freshmen is Darius James. It sure sounds like the coaches will find a way to play James if at all possible in 2013.

The big question right now is backup center. I'm hearing Searels is happy with the progress of Dominic Espinosa at center. Searels likes Espinosa's toughness and technique and has the strength coaches working overtime to put as much good weight on Espinosa as possible. So don't look for Searels to do anything drastic in terms of trying to replace Espinosa.

Sed Flowers and Curtis Riser will get a look at center in fall camp. If Flowers or Riser emerge as a viable center candidate, they would likely cross train at guard and be the backup center. Trey Hopkins could also get some snaps at center.

Bottom line is Searels is on a mission to find a backup center (Garrett Porter is not it) to give Espinosa a rest if Texas is indeed going to try to play two O-lines this season as Mack Brown keeps threatening.

MY TAKE: Searels invested in the future when he started Espinosa as a redshirt freshman and Josh Cochran as a true freshman two seasons ago. This is the year it should pay off.

Injuries have really messed with the development of his players each of the past two off-seasons. Espinosa came off a shoulder injury before the 2012 season. This year, Hopkins, Cochran and Hughes all missed the spring recovering from injuries.

But Searels helped convince Mack to bring in junior college players, and Donald Hawkins has been a solid addition. Mack even brought up Hawkins getting a 3.0 GPA this past semester. So Mack is now trusting Searels again on OT Desmond Harrison.

This is a big year for Searels, because the OL should take a big step up. And if you believe Mack, the offensive line should be better this year and for years to come.

2. Tight end M.J. McFarland has suffered a minor knee injury that will keep him out of summer workouts for a while.

This is not a major deal, but when you consider McFarland had been having a really good off-season in the weight room and appears to be an emerging part of the offense, it's just a setback, plain and simply.

One of the reasons McFarland figures into the plans this season is his ability to help attack Cover 2 zone coverage.

If you have a receiver fast enough and talented enough (Mike Davis) to run post corner routes against Cover 2, taking the safety and corner away from the middle of the field, there's room to exploit the seam down the middle of the field. And that's where McFarland comes in.

Coaches have seen enough of McFarland's hands to know he can help.

3. Bubba Thornton is retiring as the Texas men's track coach at the end of August, and the coach hired to replace him will coach both the men's and women's track teams going forward.

I was told this move will be made because you actually get more assistant coaches who can recruit by having one coach over both programs.

While this marks the end of the Bubba Thornton Era in men's track at Texas, it will not likely be the last time you hear about Thornton.

He'll likely be a key witness in any litigation that goes forward involving former women's track coach Bev Kearney. According to Kearney's attorney, Derek Howard, Thornton constantly worked to undermine Kearney, possibly in hopes of coaching both the men's and women's track teams.

Kearney's camp also suspects it was Thornton who kept in touch with the female track athlete Kearney had a relationship with 10 years ago, encouraging that athlete to come forward right as Kearney was set to get a raise and five-year contract extension last fall.

Thornton has denied any attempts to undermine Kearney. But it appears there is a lot of bad blood between the two.

4. Is Bob Stoops on edge?

I talked to Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman about Bob Stoops' comments after a couple former OU players knocked the Sooners lack of preparation for the Cotton Bowl (former OL Jamal Brown) and overall lack of focus in the program (former RB Spencer Tillman).

Stoops basically said, "Like they have all the answers," and "I don't listen to fools."

I asked Tramel if this was Stoops feeling so good about things he doesn't care what people think or if he might be worried the criticisms aren't far off and might be feeling defensive.

Tramel said it was the latter and that Stoops might be growing weary of criticisms after claiming a share of his eighth Big 12 title last season.

Keep an eye on Stoops' body language and comments heading into the season. He's looking for an answer at quarterback (the most important position on the field), and has to replace nine starters from a defense that wasn't very good in 2012.

And, of course, Stoops made comments about how players should not get paid and should be happy with their scholarships and uttering "SEC" and "propaganda" in the same sentence when he was asked how big the gap is between the SEC and the Big 12.

5. Around the Big 12 …

… I'm fascinated by Mike Gundy's ability to just plug in different offensive coordinators and continue to produce one of the highest-scoring and most balanced offenses in the country the past seven years.

In that span, Gundy has had as OCs: Larry Fedora (now head coach at North Carolina), Gunter Brewer, Dana Holgorsen (now HC at West Virginia) and Todd Monken (now HC at Southern Miss).

Gundy told CBSSports.com he found his latest OC Mike Yurcich at Division II Shippensburg after doing an online analysis of top-performing offenses in all of college football.

There was no pre-established personal relationship. It was the equivalent of dating over the internet as Gundy did most of his homework on ncaasports.com.

Gundy wanted someone who could come in and keep running the offense that had been passed from Holgorsen to Monken. (Monken basically came in and took over Holgorsen's offense. Now, Yurcich is being asked to do the same).

… If you missed it, Oklahoma State QB Wes Lunt Jr. will transfer to Illinois.

… Texas Tech is going to invest in a giant new video screen in AT&T Jones Stadium. So the next time Texas plays in Lubbock, you'll actually be able to SEE a replay of the action.

… TCU has dismissed CB David Jenkins, who sat out last season after transferring from LSU, after he was charged with two counts of burglary of a habitation (after allegedly stealing computers out of dorm rooms).

… Kansas coach Charlie Weis dismissed junior college transfer DE Chris Martin, a likely starter for KU, after Martin was charged with aggravated robbery (he was alleged to be part of a trio that stole cash and marijuana at gunpoint).

Gulp.

6. Johnny Manziel just hocked a loogie in the eye of all A&M fans.

The Tweet now heard round college football - at 1:38 am Sunday morning - from Johnny Football - has me wondering how Aggies are feeling about their so-called Golden Boy.

When Manziel tweeted, "Bullshit like tonight is a reason why I can't wait to leave College Station … whenever it may be," he kicked his own fan base right in the groin.

The love affair between A&M fans and Manziel has been so unconditional, you wonder if this gives any reason for pause from the Aggies that it may not be mutual.

Not only does the tweet give everyone the strong impression Manziel is planning to jump to the NFL after this season (whether it's a good idea or not), but it also shows how quickly and impulsively Manziel was willing to turn on his own campus (for whatever reason, but probably something to do with a bar at that hour of the night).

Fans want to believe every kid wearing their school's jersey bleeds for that school just like they do/did. But the truth is a lot of them don't. And Manziel may be the biggest example.

That tweet sort of re-establishes that Texas A&M was simply Manziel's best offer after growing up draped in Longhorn gear.

A&M officials have to be hoping Manziel will go back to his self-imposed hiatus from Twitter in March … that lasted roughly a month. I hope Manziel keeps living out loud, because it's the best reality story in college football right now.

7. In their song "Rock of Ages," Def Leppard says, "It's better to burn out than fade away."

Those lyrics were clearly written for Phil Mickelson to describe any time he tees it up at the U.S. Open.

After lipping out birdie putts on Nos. 1, 2 and 9 (and barely missing a birdie attempt from 20 feet on No. 8), Mickelson eagled from the fairway on No. 10, giving him the lead on Sunday. At 43 and with four major championships, he seemed back on track to grab the major that had seemed to torture him five times before.

But three holes later, Mickelson knocked a wedge over the green on the shortest par-3 on the course. Everyone was putting it close on that hole.

At Merion, where there was a 274-yard par-3 (No. 3 on Sunday), this was the equivalent of somehow going to Peter Pan Mini-Golf and putting your ball over the bricks surrounding the artificial turf at your favorite hole. Or repeatedly smacking the ball into the windmill blades.

Game. Set. Match.

Or was it?

Then, Mickelson misses a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 16 that would have tied him for the lead.
Game, set, match.

Afterward, Mickelson called this year's U.S. Open maybe his last, best chance to win it at the age of 43.

But nothing Mickelson did at Merion on Sunday will compare to the pain he probably still feels about the 1-shot lead he had going into 18 at Winged Foot in 2006.

That's when he took out driver and sliced his ball off a hospitality tent left of the fairway (when he could have hit 6-iron, 6-iron and played old-man golf to ensure a par).

Then, trying to cut a 3-iron around a tree, he hit the trunk of the tree before smacking his third shot into a buried lie in a greenside bunker.

Mickelson then needed to get up and down to save bogey and force a playoff, but his bunker shot rolled off the green, and his ensuing chip wasn't close.

In 2004, Mickelson was leading the U.S. Open when he three-putted from five feet to double bogey the 71st hole.

In 1999, he missed short putts down the stretch that allowed Payne Stewart to come from behind and win the U.S. Open.

The crashes for Mickelson at the U.S. Open have been spectacular because Mickelson has always seemed to believe it's better to burn out than fade away.

If he was going to lose this one, Justin Rose couldn't have been a more deserving or well-spoken champion. I'm a new fan of Rose.

8. The NBA Finals - Game 7 …

For a guy known as the kiss of death, I have successfully predicted every single game in the NBA Finals.

I said before the NBA Finals the Spurs would win in 7, so I'll go with the Heat tonight. But the re-emergence of Manu Ginobili and the beyond-belief three-point shooting of Danny Green have me thinking the Spurs could end it tonight.

And the MVP is …

If the Spurs indeed win the Finals tonight, and Danny Green is the leading scorer for the Spurs, do you give him the MVP or Tony Parker?

Parker had the heroics in Game 1, but Green delivered huge in Games 3 and 5.

In Game 3, Green had 27 points and carried the team along with Gary Neal's 24 points as the Big Three for the Spurs mostly sat and watched the fourth quarter.

In Game 5, Green had a key block of LeBron James with 6 minutes left in the third quarter that seemed to deflate James, and also hit a 3 with just more than three minutes left in the third quarter (after Miami had cut the Spurs' lead to 1), igniting a 19-1 run.

My gut says the MVP right now has to go to Green. He has been the most consistently good player in the series for the Spurs. Not bad for a guy released by the Cavaliers and twice by the Spurs.

He'd probably go down in history on par with Super Bowl MVPs Larry Brown of the Cowboys or Timmy Smith of the Redskins. But the guy has been coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs with the 3 ball - 25 of 38 (65.8 percent). Are you kidding me?

And if the Spurs win tonight or even in 7, it will be time to start talking about how Gregg Popovich is one of the best coaches in the history of sports.

I love those cut-ins on the bench because you actually get to hear what he's thinking.

However, I've also come to love those between-quarter, sideline interviews with Pop just to see HOW he's going to shoot down Doris Burke's questions.

9. I know everyone counts on me for MLB and NHL talk …

Cough. Cough.

But how about some love for the Tigers' Max Scherzer?

Since last June 17, Scherzer has gone 21-3 with a 2.78 ERA and 259 strikeouts.

Scherzer struck out 10 while improving to 10-0 in a 5-1 win over Baltimore on Monday. He became the first pitcher to open a season 10-0 - with all those decisions coming in starts - since Roger Clemens went 11-0 for Toronto in 1997, according to STATS Inc.

Scherzer is also the first to have at least six Ks in his first 14 starts in a season since Pedro Martinez did it in 2001 with Boston, according to STATS Inc.

Yeah, some Tigers' baseball love just happened - 8 Mile style.

… It's been hard for me to talk about the Stanley Cup playoffs since my Red Wings coughed up a 3-1 series lead against the Blackhawks. But give me Boston in the Finals.

The Bruins, led by 6-foot-9 wrecking machine Zdeno Chara, are too physical for the Blackhawks. Chara is nearly 7-feet tall on skates and moves like a smaller player but punches like an even bigger player.

The guy is all of the Avengers rolled into one. (You like that movie reference, Ketch?)

10. The TMZ in me …

Miss Utah may have had no idea what the hell she was talking about when asked about men still earning more than women.

But there are bunch of dudes who'd like to help her try and make sense.






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