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January 29, 2014

Chip's 1st-and-10 (S.O.S. Recruiting; new indoor facility; UT hoops; SB48)

1. Texas fans are hungry for some good news in recruiting.

They want to see Charlie Strong flipping a bunch of top national prospects to Texas and instead are having to digest the de-commitments of LB Otaro Alaka and WR Emanuel Porter. … After digesting the de-commitments of DT Zaycoven Henderson, DT Trey Lealaimatafao and DT Courtney Garnett.

And now the UT faithful are chewing fingernails about visits taken to other schools over the weekend by WR Lorenzo Joe (TCU), S John Bonney (Baylor) and DE Sione Teuhema (Oklahoma State).

But expecting Strong and his staff to work wonders with three recruiting weekends to work with and almost zero official visits left to be used by some key prospects - like Alaka - isn't realistic.

Ketch touched on this in his 10 Thoughts, but it bears repeating that Strong was put at a huge disadvantage when UT officials didn't make sure Mack Brown stepped down right after the loss to Baylor.

By not resolving Brown's fate by the football banquet, one of the biggest recruiting weekends of the year, Texas essentially invited some of the most prized 2014 recruits to Austin to witness a 10-car pileup.

Texas hosted 17 of its then 23 commitments on official visits the weekend Mack Brown was fired.

Think about that for a moment. On the most important trip in a recruit's consideration of a school, 17 prospects were essentially brought in to watch as the coach they had built a two-year relationship with get unceremoniously dumped in a bad breakup.

Imagine the stories going back home after that visit. And then Texas doesn't replace Brown for another three weeks. In that time, coaches from other schools are reminding prospects such as Alaka, Emanuel Porter and Zaycoven Henderson of their 2-year recruiting relationships and why they'd be at home somewhere else.

So Strong, who has made recruiting a 24-7 priority since the dead period ended two weeks ago, hasn't had official visits to work with. He's had to go door-to-door, across the state, and try to build in an hour or two what some other coaches had two years to build.

So when you think of trying to blame Strong or his staff for any de-commitments, first consider the bad breakup involving Brown and UT officials right in the middle of one of the most important recruiting weekends of the year.

It was the equivalent of bringing guests on a cruise and then evacuating everyone to life rafts in the middle of the trip.

It could have been worse … and might still get worse.


2. If Charlie Strong and his staff bring in some out of state talent to fill the voids left by de-commitments, those could end up being some of the biggest recruiting flips of Strong's career.

Suddenly, DT Chris Nelson of Lakeland (Fla) Victory Christian Academy and DT Poona Ford of Hilton Head (S.C.) are two of Strong's biggest recruits of 2014.

And with Schertz Clemens LB Kolin Hill giving OB indications he's sticking with Notre Dame, Strong is still in search of a LB to fill the loss of Otaro Alaka.

Strong and his staff have been on the road recruiting non-stop the past three weeks. Now, we know why Bruce Chambers was told by Strong on their first day of recruiting on the road after the dead period to eliminate any planned lunches and to instead "find me another school to go to."


3. Charlie Strong will truly be judged as a recruiter based on his 2015 class.

And it's likely Strong will take two quarterbacks in that class.


4. Speaking of quarterbacks, David Ash and Tyrone Swoopes have until April 19 to make their case as the man before freshman Jerrod Heard arrives.

I don't feel like I have any better feel for what Swoopes can do right now than I did before last football season.

But I talked to a former Division I offensive coordinator who said if all Swoopes can do is run four plays effectively, then you keep running those plays out of different formations until the defense stops it.

"If he can't throw a 10-yard out, you have him throw to his tight end off of bootlegs or throw the quick slant," the offensive coordinator said. "You run him with the power option and read option."

This is how I'm expecting things to go at the QB position: Ash will be given every opportunity to show he can be the guy. If he's not the same after the head injury or he doesn't fit what Strong wants, then Swoopes will be given the same opportunity.

And then Heard better arrive in Austin ready to work and thinking he could be the starter.


5. We told you last week that strength and conditioning coach Pat Moorer had removed from the weight room all the food and drinks that used to exist, including a smoothie machine, cereal bar, all kinds of protein bars and cases of Gatorade bottles.

I was told Moorer wanted the weight room to be a place to work and not a place to hang out.

As the culture change at Texas continues, here are 5 players I think will benefit from the new approach under Strong if they will challenge themselves. If not, the consequences could be severe:

RB/WR Daje Johnson, 5-10, 180, junior in 2014

When you let your academics slip to the point you are suspended for the bowl game, you are almost going out of your way to slack and let your team down. One thing is certain: if Johnson starts to waver, this coaching staff won't be looking to hold his hand.

OT Kennedy Estelle, 6-7, 290, junior in 2014

Estelle was also suspended for the bowl game because of academics. It's clear to many Estelle enjoys being at Texas. Now, he has to show he enjoys being a student-athlete at Texas.

DT Hassan Ridgeway, 6-4, 305, Soph in 2014

The development of Ridgeway is critical. After Mack Brown missed completely on defensive linemen in recruiting in 2013, Strong's margin for error at DT has dropped dramatically. Ridgeway loves to eat, which can be good and bad. But his upside is enormous.

OG Curtis Riser, 6-4, 310, Soph in 2014

Has just been coasting for most of his time at Texas. Needs to find his fire and passion for the game again, because there's talent to work with.

OT Camrhon Hughes, 6-7, 320, Soph in 2014

Tore up his knee playing basketball in the rec center before his freshman year in 2012 and has never shown a sense of urgency since. Hughes has great size, but he appears to have simply enjoyed being a student with a take-it-or-leave-it approach to football. That kind of approach won't cut it under Strong.


6. I'm hearing Texas is this close to building a new, two-story, indoor football practice facility.

The money has already been raised.

It would go up in the same place where the current practice bubble is located at Frank Denius Fields.

There might be some issues with a state law that prohibits structures from blocking views of the Capitol building.

I'm not kidding.


7. The Texas basketball team showed signs of growing up in a convincing win at Baylor on Saturday. And it looks like Rick Barnes is really starting to trust this group.

When I watch Barnes in huddles, he's not jumping this year's team the way he did when the team had a player like Sheldon McClellan.

Barnes looked like he was fighting with his teams the last five years.

When he gets on Javan Felix or Isaiah Taylor right now, it's a brief, controlled message.

That's a great sign, because it shows to me this team is holding itself accountable and is starting to answer to each other. And when the players are coaching and policing each other is when the magic happens.

Against Baylor, Felix and Taylor showed great patience and consistency in attacking BU's zone defense.

Taylor, who scored 27 points on 10 of 18 shooting, repeatedly penetrated the zone with the dribble and either drove to the basket and scored or found a big man (Jonathan Holmes or Cam Ridley) with a pass for an easy bucket.

Everyone on this team seems to know their role:

Felix is the floor captain who makes good decisions and keeps everyone headed in the right direction.

Taylor has great feel for the game, can break down a defense and doesn't settle for quick, easy, outside shots.

Demarcus Holland is a glove. He face guards the other team's best perimeter player and holds them below their averages.

Holmes, the team's leading scorer (12.9 ppg) while averaging 7.4 rebounds per game, does it all - inside and outside (he's the team's second-best 3-point shooter, converting 38 percent) - and plays with a high IQ.

Cam Ridley (11.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.4 blocks per game) is turning into the force everyone hoped for as a McDonald's All-American in high school.

Ridley has several go-to moves in the post (baby hook, running hook over his left shoulder, etc). He needs to cut back his fouls (he's averaged 3.25 fouls over the last 12 games, including foul outs against Temple, North Carolina and Kansas State).

Officials at the college level are notorious for calling questionable fouls against heavy-set big men because they don't think those guys can move their feet or do anything but reach in or block. So Ridley has to be extra diligent in moving his feet to get into position.

Prince Ibeh gives you the luxury of bringing in someone off the bench when Ridley gets tired or in foul trouble who can also block shots and grab rebounds. Ibeh had a huge block down the stretch of the K-State game against Thomas Gipson that helped UT hang on for that victory.

Connor Lammert is the perfect junkyard dog forward who sets screens and hits the boards but also has enough range to hit a shot if left alone.

The guy I want to see developed more is Damarcus Croaker. That kid has some serious athletic, scoring ability and needs to be encouraged on the defensive end and not simply benched for the rest of a game if he makes a mistake.

The bottom line for Barnes is that he has created a team in his image that values the things he values above all else: defense and rebounding.

Even though UT is ranked (No. 25), the Longhorns tiptoed back into the rankings this week. People still don't know what to make of Texas, because just about everyone figured Barnes was a lame duck before the season.

Barnes and the Longhorns can send a huge message to the rest of college basketball that Texas could be the comeback story of the year in the Big 12 (if not nationally) with a win on Saturday against Kansas.


8. There are three matchups in the Texas-Kansas game I can't wait to see on Saturday at 3 pm in the Erwin Center.

I. Demarcus Holland vs KU's 6-8 wing Andrew Wiggins, the Jayhawks' leading scorer (15.8 ppg)

This could be Holland's finest work if he can get under Wiggins' skin defensively and still stay focused on the offensive end.

II. Cam Ridley and Prince Ibeh vs KU's 7-foot freshman Joel Embiid (11.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg)

Everyone is talking about Embiid nationally. No one is talking about Ridley, and their numbers are nearly identical.

They both average 11.2 points per game. Ridley has better rebounding totals (7.8) than Embiid (7.4) while Embiid has five more blocks (53) than Ridley (48).

III. Jonathan Holmes vs KU's 6-8 forward Perry Ellis (12.9 ppg)

This could be the matchup that decides the game. Ellis has been held below 10 points in three of his last four games (heading into Wednesday night's showdown with Iowa State). If Holmes can keep him below 10 on Saturday, I give UT a good chance to pull the upset.

The other matchups will be excellent as well:

IV. Isaiah Taylor vs KU's 6-5 freshman guard Wayne Selden Jr. (9.9 ppg)

This is a matchup Taylor can win.

V. Javan Felix vs KU's point guard Naadir Tharpe (who is shooting 44.1 percent from 3-point range)

Felix will have a long day tracking Tharpe beyond the arc.


9. Super Bowl 48 …

There's a part of me that thinks the Seahawks' defense is going to turn Peyton Manning inside out on Sunday, picking him off repeatedly and maybe even scoring a touchdown (pick-six for Earl Thomas anyone?). And there's a part of me that thinks Manning caps the ultimate comeback story with a historic win on Sunday.

Here's my 5-point SB48 breakdown and prediction:

(1) I think Seattle S Kam Chancellor is the X-factor in this game (forget the fact that he's a dead ringer for former Knicks' power forward Anthony Mason … and you will forget that … you might not forget that Chancellor and Richard Sherman were both 5th-round draft choices. You listening to that Jerry?).

Chancellor is a freak physically at the safety position (6-3, 230).

In the NFC Championship game alone, Chancellor ran down Colin Kaepernick from behind and de-cleted TE Vernon Davis on a crossing route - like lifted Davis off his feet, turned him sideways in the air and flat rag-dolled him. Oh, and he's seemingly always in perfect position in coverage - like he was on his INT vs the 49ers two weeks ago.

In my opinion, RB Knowshon Moreno is going to have to be the MVP of the Denver offense, running it and catching it. And Moreno is certainly capable of doing that. Moreno has been the unsung hero of that Broncos offense all season.

I think it will fall on Moreno because I think Chancellor will be knocking WR Wes Welker and TE Julius Thomas flat on crossing routes; and CBs Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell (who has started the last 7 games since Brandon Browner was suspended) and S Earl Thomas will find a way to slow down Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

The Broncos' defense is good enough to make life miserable for Russell Wilson. But Wilson can make something happen with his legs. Manning can't.

(2) The Seahawks' smart, off-season pickups of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril will make Manning feel Seattle's pass rush.

Bennett and Avril both have at least 8 sacks this season. The Patriots didn't touch Manning. But the Patriots' pass rush is nothing compared to Seattle's.

In fact, the Patriots' defense is nothing compared to the Legion of Boom.

Bennett and Avril combined for a strip-sack of Kaepernick last week, while having to worry about Kaepernick breaking contain and making big plays with his legs.

They will be able to get after Manning, who will be right where they think he'll be.

Broncos LT Chris Clark, who has been great in replacing injured starter Ryan Clady, can't let up now. Neither can Texas Tech exes C Manny Ramirez and OG Louis Vasquez.

The way to combat a strong pass rush is to run it with Moreno and throw short passes to Moreno.

(3) Pot Roast vs Beast Mode

This is my favorite matchup of the Super Bowl. And if Broncos DT Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton and the Denver defense can turn the Seahawks' running game and RB Marshawn Lynch, a.k.a. Beast Mode, into Silent Mode, the Broncos will have a good chance to win.

The more the Broncos can force Russell Wilson, who has been mostly surviving these playoffs, to carry a huge load offensively the better for Denver.

(4) Remember when Rob Lowe tweeted that Peyton Manning would never play football again based on inside information?

Hey, a lot of people thought Manning was toast. The guy went through four neck surgeries to get all the feeling back into his throwing shoulder.

Now, at 37, Manning's rebuilt neck and throwing shoulder just broke Drew Brees' single-season passing yards record and Tom Brady's single-season TD passes record.

Boomer Esiason, who played his last NFL season at age 36, said what Manning is doing is near miraculous. Esiason talked about how hard it was to walk at age 36 on Monday after a game.

Manning was in the zone against New England, and if he stays there in a victory on Sunday, in a cold-weather game, against the NFL's No. 1 defense, it will be one of the greatest stories in NFL history.

And I would hope, at that point, Manning would drop the microphone and walk off a la John Elway.

(5) I just think the Seattle defense proves to be too much and even scores a touchdown.

I hope I'm wrong. Manning winning this Super Bowl would be bigger-than-life.

Everyone who doubts Manning thinks back to the Colts' meh Super Bowl victory over Chicago in which Manning threw an interception on Indy's first possession and relied on the ground game of Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes (191 yards rushing combined).

Those who doubt Manning will remember the INT he threw against New Orleans in Super Bowl XLIV that Tracy Porter returned 74 yards for a TD with 3:12 left, ending the Colts' comeback hopes in a 31-17 loss.

But maybe Manning knows he's playing on bonus time and he's so comfortable in his own skin and so firmly in the zone that he just relaxes and has fun.

Maybe he's able to block out all the talk of legacy or matching brother Eli's Super Bowl ring total (2) and everything slows down enough in frigid temps Sunday for Manning to navigate the landmines throughout the Seahawks' defense.

I hope that happens. But I don't think it happens.

Seattle 24, Denver 22


10. The TMZ in me and other musings …

A)
I'm fascinated by former Longhorns' QB Bobby Layne.

As most of you know, I grew up in Michigan before coming to Texas to go to college (SMU).

So I grew up going to the Big House on fall Saturdays with my dad (my parents had season tickets - my mom went to UM), and we watched the Lions on Sundays.

So I grew up idolizing guys like Doug English and Bobby Layne as well as, of course, Billy Sims and Barry Sanders (who both wore No. 20. What other team's two best players wore the same number? Seriously. Classic Lions unintentional humor.)

Anyway, when I started covering Texas (in 1992) I asked everyone about Bobby Layne, the last QB to win an NFL championship with the Lions in 1952 and 1953.

Quick aside: Layne was on his way to leading the Lions to another championship in 1957 when he broke his leg in three places and was lost for the season. His QB replacement, Tobin Rote, went on to lead the Lions to the 1957 NFL Championship.

In 1958, the Lions traded Layne to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Layne responded to the trade by supposedly saying that the Lions would "not win for 50 years." (The quote/curse is disputed, but it has its own Wikipedia page, so that's good enough for me).


Anyway, in asking everyone at UT about Layne, I ultimately came across the story about how he actually drank beer during a game while pitching for the Longhorns.

But I didn't have the details until I was contacted by former Longhorn K Billy Schott, a close friend of UT legend Rooster Andrews, who was Layne's roommate at Texas.

Here's what Schott told me this week:

The story about Bobby Layne and pitching "under the influence" occurred one time. This was told to me by Rooster Andrews himself:

Bobby and his roommate Rooster were horsing around and Layne cut his foot on some broken glass, which required stitches.

He was scheduled to pitch in College Station the next day, and after showing up lame for a start a few weeks earlier after rolling a car, he did not want to let Coach Bibb Falk know he was hurt.

He instructed Rooster, who was the student manager for football and baseball, to ice down a bucket of beer for him to drink during the game to hold the pain down while he pitched.

The Aggie fans could tell he was hurt, and beat a drum at every limping step Layne took.

Layne pitched a no-hitter that day, and at the end of the game gave the Aggies a "gig 'em" salute....with his middle finger.


Thank you Billy Schott for giving us that story about Bobby Layne, someone I've had a lifelong fascination with.

B) After catching bits and pieces of the award show circuit (the Grammy's were mostly meh except for Beyonce!), can we have Tina Fey and Amy Poehler host every one of them?

C) Earl Thomas redshirted at Texas.

D) Kevin Durant. That is all.
 












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