January 30, 2011

The Ticket City Locker Room

Q: (TYR0NEBIGGUMS) - How many offensive linemen does Texas take and who are the offers?

Does the lack of development at the linebacker position, combined with Tariq Allen's departure and Tevin Jackson's inability to get cleared make linebacker a bigger need in 2012 than previously thought? How many do they take and who are the offers? Can we expect the heat to be turned up on Brian Nance?

A: Good questions. With the return of Tray Allen for a senior season after an injury-filled redshirt year and the arrival of five prospects from the Class of 2011, the Longhorns are currently scheduled to have 16 players on scholarship in the fall designated for the offensive line, although attrition could certainly impact the overall numbers before we get to the start of the season.

Two things to keep in consideration when talking about the offensive line offers of 2012:

1. Only two out of 16 players on campus are seniors (David Snow and Allen).
2. With 14 linemen already scheduled to be on the books for 2012, the program is already close to the desired designated scholarship number for the position.

So, what does that mean in a year when the offensive line position might be one of the top two or three strengths in the talent pool available in-state for 2012?

Well, it means that the Longhorns need to be very selective in 2012, probably more so than they were in 2011 when they were nearly full at the position before they had ever decided to offer a guy like Garrett Greenlea. The smart money has the Longhorns taking several linemen in this class because the talent pool is simply too good to ignore, but the numbers are going to be very tricky to navigate through and if I'm being honest, some attrition within the program might be the best way to answer some of the questions.

A three-man line class without attrition would leave Texas with 17 linemen on the books for 2012 and that's a number that Mack Brown and his coaches have flinched at over the years. In fact, they have previously preferred to keep the line numbers in the 13-15 range and admittedly overextended themselves from their normal comfort level at the position in 2011 recruiting. Of course, if Texas takes 3-4 players along the offensive line in 2012 and end up having a player or three leave for any reason at all, the numbers could take care of themselves.

With Stacy Searles just now digging his teeth into the pool of players available in the upcoming class, the Texas coaches are playing catch-up in the evaluation circuit and decisions on some offers could arrive at a slower pace than in previous years, which doesn't have to be a negative at all. That being said, Pearland Dawson's Kennedy Estelle and DeSoto's Curtis Riser are first-day invites and will likely be first-day offers. Hypothetically, the Longhorns could find themselves with tight fists on offers if they find good news with Estelle/Riser.

As for the linebacker position, yes, it's a continued critical area of need and this happens to be an incredibly deep year at the position in recruiting within the Lone Star State and that could certainly include Nance, who really took off this season as a junior. I cannot wait to see who emerges as the prospects of choice for Manny Diaz. Texas simply cannot settle at this position like they often have in the past.

Q: (randoke) - 1. Do you think Mack is prepared to let Bryan Harsin choose the starting QB?

2. If you have to answer today, who takes the first snap against Rice?

3. How much, if any, have the new coaches been able to watch film of game and practice last year? Have you heard anything, if so?

A: First, the quarterback decision is probably one that Mack Brown is going to let his co-coordinators make and if the current situation is going to work without conflict, allowing Harsin and Major Applewhite to make the decision together is critical. Obviously, Mack is going to have input on the decision, but there's a new offensive scheme and identity in town. That means that Mack needs to trust their instincts.

Second, if you're making me answer your second question today, I'm going to go with returning starter Garrett Gilbert and I'll give you several reasons for the selection.

a. Experience. Whatever you want to say about Gilbert's abysmal sophomore campaign, he has played in a national title game, started 12 games, played against Oklahoma and beaten a school like Nebraska on the road. Last year included a lot of growing pains, but he's certainly seen just about everything that can be seen from an opposing defense and that cannot be said for the other candidates, who have either no experience or virtually no experience.

b. Timing. The truth of the matter is that both Case McCoy and Connor Wood have had very limited reps thus far in their career, while Gilbert will be entering his third season with this group of players. As freshmen last season, McCoy and Wood were extremely limited in the amount of practice reps they received and the lack of bowl workouts really curbed the ability for them to close some ground on Gilbert. Those 15 workouts would have been huge, but in a lot of ways they'll be fresh out of the carton when they start to compete for the starting job, and the smart money suggests that there's still a bigger learning curve for both players than with Gilbert. The fact that the Longhorns refused to play McCoy at any point this season, even when Gilbert was dangerously close to spiraling into football's version of quarterback hell, gives me a lot of reason to think they didn't have much confidence in McCoy's current status as of two months ago.

c. No separation yet between the youngsters. I shouldn't discount a McCoy ever again, but I do feel like Wood has the edge in upside among the two young players we're discussing, but he's probably slightly behind McCoy as a player at the moment. It feels like the real competition at quarterback is probably going to be between these two players for the back-up job or a chance to unseat Gilbert in the fall, if he hasn't taken the job by the horns. The reality is that there are only so many reps to go around and McCoy/Wood will probably be splitting a lot of those opportunities until one of them truly emerges. That might happen on the first day of workouts in February, but it hasn't happened yet.

Finally, much of the evaluation of the current team from last season has yet to take place in earnest because the coaches are extremely focused on recruiting and absolutely need to be for the first few weeks on the job because of the timing of their arrival and the looming arrival of Junior Days.

Q: (bman25) - Do you think if Mack had hired Stacy Searles three weeks or so earlier it would have locked up Christian Westerman? Was this a case of giving him too much time to think and Auburn filled the vacuum or had Auburn always been the solid #2?

With regards to Jaxon Shipley its sort or a head scratcher that he didn't enroll in the spring especially considering he has already graduated from high school. In your opinion do you think he was trying to wait it out to see who the longhorns hired as OC? If Mack had hired Paul Chryst do you think Shipley would have been a goner?

A: Let's start with your last question first. No, I don't think there was ever danger of Shipley ever peeling off of his Texas commitment. It sounds like Shipley simply wanted to slow things down and enjoy the rest of his senior year in high school.

As for your first question… possibly. You can certainly make a case that having Bozo the Clown in place as the new guy three weeks earlier might have been enough to salvage his recruitment, but eventually time just ran out on the Longhorns. I think the idea of Westerman having to rush through a shotgun marriage with a coach he didn't know scared the entire family to a degree. I'm still stunned that his recruitment ended the way that it did because he had seemed so committed to Texas and his family was prepared to make a life change by moving to Austin, but I do think the appearance of a sloppy and overextended offensive line coaching search didn't help.

But, that's life. There was a program transforming process that has taken place in the last two months and it was natural to expect some collateral damage. The offensive line coaching position took more time to fill than anyone, including Mack Brown would have hoped, but there's a feeling that they got the guy they wanted. If it cost them a recruit in the process, so be it. Getting the right guy is more important than any single prospect.

As it turns out, Mack lost one recruit out of 23 over the entire process and that's simply incredible to comprehend given the amount of change. If you'd told him in advance that the only guy he'd lose was an out of state kid during all of this, he'd have signed eagerly.

Q: (Gus McCrea) - I have heard it mentioned that Greg Davis did not control the personnel that was on the field and sometimes did not know who was actually on the field. Is that true? It would explain strange play calls like the fourth down goal line sweep with Cody carrying the ball to start the season. Thanks.

A: Yes, I have often heard Davis discuss the fact that he was not often aware of exact personnel groupings on the field because of the rotation decisions made by the position coaches. According to his description of things, the names of the players on the field didn't often matter because he considered everyone interchangeable and capable of executing all aspects of the scheme, otherwise they wouldn't be out on the field. Overall, I don't think it was a huge issue and I don't know that it happened on a majority of the plays in any given game, but he would explain that it sometimes happened. Certainly on key plays and moments in a game, he was likely aware of who he was giving the ball to and how.

Q: (LonghornBrit) - What's the deal with Kwon Alexander and Trae Elston? Some early 2012 rankings have Alexander as a top 10 player, I sure hope our chances with these two didn't dissipate with Muschamp leaving.

There's also been a few other OOS 2012 blue chips mentioned on the board - Jelani Hamilton, Nick James, the DT from DC, DGB, Brewer etc. I know it's early but who do you think the coaches focus on OOS in 2012?

A: You might as well forget the names of Alexander and Elston. The days of them listing Texas anywhere close to the forefront of their recruitments was a long time ago and they are clearly entrenched as vital recruits for in-state schools Alabama and Auburn. With Will Muschamp at Florida and a very deep in-state linebacker class to choose from, I'd venture to say that Alexander and Elston are a crack pipe dreams.

The rest of the out of state prospects you mentioned any others that are on the radar are probably in a wait-and-see department. We talk about this every year with regards to out of state recruiting, but it is almost always going to take a special set of circumstances for the Longhorns to make a huge time commitment in an out of state recruitment, especially if it means passing up on an equally talented in-state prospect in the process. This is the time each year when a million out of state names pop up on the landscape and the Longhorns usually show interest in approximately 2% of them.

I'd suggest that you wait and see with extreme caution as it relates to ideas of out of state recruiting excitement..

Q: (Jettrink) - You're probably going to get Bennie Wiley questions in droves, but here it is anyway.

How are various groups responding to Wiley's workouts? Specifically the OL and the DL. Have any individuals started to transform and take a step forward?

A: So far, so good, but it's too early to draw any conclusions after less than two weeks of workouts. This is going to take time.

Q: (Saturday) - This has probably been asked a lot but, how many offers do you suspect will go out this February after such a mass overhaul in the coaching staff? And, do you think that the kids will bite as in the past?

On a completely different topic. Garrett Gilbert? Admittedly, he didn't have the kind of protection last year that makes for a good completion percentage. Still, there were other times when he was just plain high with passes (high to left, high to the right, just plain high...) even when time in the pocket was aplenty. How teachable is accurate passing? Does the new staff have a reputation for molding this type of passer? How steady are Gilbert's mechanics? How do NFL scouts view Gilbert's potential?

I appreciate your work and enjoy the drama that is offseason Longhorns football...

A: I would expect a little slower start to 2012 recruiting than we've seen in the past because the new staff is still trying to get a feel for this year's talent and after years of being ahead of the game, the Longhorns find themselves in a trailing position with some top prospects after the last six months. On top of the realities of the rush the new staff is in to familiarize themselves with the in-state talent, there was reportedly some tough love on the subject of early recruiting when Mack discussed the program with consultants. It's a guessing game at this point because I'm not sure the coaches truly know how this thing will unfold, but I would not expect the class to be half-full in a week.

As for Gilbert, I don't think anyone really knows. I think the kid regressed over the season, as opposed to getting better and that's something I absolutely put on the coaches. It was a program-wide trend last season, but never was it more apparent than with Gilbert. I think a fresh start and the ability to work with a staff this season that understands exactly what it wants to be as an offense and how they plan on getting there will do wonders. As a prep player, his accuracy was one of the things I loved the most about him, especially his ability to accurately throw on the move. That he was so inconsistent in that area this season was perhaps the most stunning thing about his play. In my mind, he has a lot of room for growth and he showed some positives last year that have long been forgotten. There were days when he was the best thing going for the Longhorn offense, which is admittedly akin to laying claim to being the world's skinniest 500-pound person. If I'm being honest, I just don't know what to think right now and I'm sure everyone feels that way, including Gilbert, the coaches and the rest of the players. He has a lot of work to do in 2011.

Q: (Good.Shepherd) - Special teams? Please make some guesses about what we'll see next season. Coaches? Personnel? Step forward or (gulp) step back? Thanks

A: You just asked me one of the questions that I'm dying to ask Mack because there has been zero discussion about that area since the last time Mack took questions from the media at Thanksgiving. If there's a defined plan for special teams, it hasn't been expressed at this point. From a coaching standpoint, it's hard to ignore the recent scuttlebutt that there could be one last coaching change on the horizon and perhaps the special teams answers will come then.

I don't have an answer for you at this point.

The personnel should be strong with Justin Tucker returning to handle a lot of the kicking duties and with a bevy of return candidates coming back, including D.J. Monroe - who is still the only guy in Longhorn history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in a career, even if last year was a lost one from a special teams standpoint. The biggest unfilled need might be punt returns because it was such a disaster last season, but again, the list of possible candidates who could take the job and run with it is deep.

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