I just got home after a wonderful morning and early afternoon tailgating and watching the Longhorn football team complete their final Spring workout of the year. I've got a few thoughts on what I saw today, but let's start with some ground rules:
- Ignore anyone who tries to make sweeping characterizations about players and teams based on this scrimmage. Believe me, this was a practice as much as anything else. There are things to note, but not many (if any at all) firm conclusions to be drawn.
- Don't worry about the depth chart right now. We're a long way off from that even being a consideration.
- Going with (1) and (2), keep things in perspective. Today's workout was far more about practicing than about settling the kinds of issues we fans are eager to discuss.
With that out of the way, we can talk about what happened today...
Let's start with my pre-scrimmage conversation with Newby at the tailgate, when we talked about how disgusting this offense is going to be. Mark my words: to beat Texas this year, you're going to have to force some turnovers and you're going to have to score a lot of points. There are legitimate concerns about the offensive line, simply because it's an unproven bunch, but there's just no way this group won't be putting up points in bunches. The real concern will be on defense.
We'll begin with the conductor, Colt McCoy. First of all, the reports we've been getting that he's bigger and stronger are accurate. He looks thicker and more solid than a year ago - no quesiton about it. With that said, I'm totally skeptical of the reports that his added bulk will lead to him running more. For one thing, it's not really in his nature. He's a passer first and foremost, and he's got a passer's mentality. We'll probably run some token zone read stuff with McCoy, but if you're expecting a quarterback who runs the ball a lot more than last year, you're in for disappointment.
From my perspective, this is more than okay. Colt is an elite passer, and frankly, it's a waste of what he's good at to try to sqaure-peg-round-hole him. The kid can read a defense and can put the ball where it's supposed to be, with zip. What's hard for Texas fans to feel comfortable about is that this is a pass-first team. We've been spoiled rotten with elite running teams, but you have to build your offense around your personnel, and this group is suited to air it out. If you're asking me, I say we embrace it. Our strength is our ability to move the ball through the air. So be it.
With that said, Texas must improve in short-yardage, goal-to-go, and red zone situations. That's going to require better run blocking up front, and improved performance from the tailbacks. If today was any indication, Texas should be in better shape than they were a year ago. For one thing, Chris Ogbonnaya, who is officially "my boy," had a terrific scrimmage, picking up all the yards he was supposed to, finishing runs around the down markers and end zone, and even providing an impressive burst of speed around the corner. I truly think Texas has a Priest Holmes-type runner on their hands, and the sooner the coaches realize it, the better.
We also saw good things from Vondrell McGee, who very seamlessly can amp up into fifth gear when he needs to, shows good patience with regards to running lanes, and can get out into open space much like Jamaal Charles. In fact, if you asked me which player McGee reminds me of most, I'd say Jamaal Charles. I really like what he can do as a Charles-type player, but I think we still need a guy like Ogbonnaya to do the things that Charles-McGee aren't as well suited to do. (If you're wondering, Charles barely played today. No real news here.)
I wasn't enamored of the offensive line today, but I thought we got a great taste of what our backup quarterbacks are capable of. Too often, we're peppered with bullsh-t answers from coaches on questions about individual players, but when they say, "There's really no separation between John Chiles and Sherrod Harris," I think they're right. Both quarterbacks showed that they're very good on their feet and have a ways to go as passers. If you put a gun to my head, I'd take Harris over Chiles as the full-time backup. Still, I think this Longhorn team may need a burst of creative energy in the red zone, and Chiles showed me today that he can be an effective counter-weapon. He's lightning quick, has great vision, and finishes runs far better than I thought. I was expecting a pretty skinny agile type of quarterback, but I was mistaken - Chiles is bigger than he looks in videos, but is every bit the elite runner we thought he'd be. I don't see how the coaches can keep him off the field this year. He'll be used one way or another.
(With that said, if Texas finds itself in a situation where McCoy goes down and we need an every-down quarterback, Harris looks like he's ahead of Chiles. We'll see what happens this summer, but I'd guess Harris will be the "official" backup.)
Not much news on the receivers - all the guys we knew were good are still good. Shipley had a very nice day, Cosby is going to have a monster season, and Limas Sweed is going to create nightmare matchup problems for opposing secondaries. The young receivers had a rather lackluster day, and they'll spend most of this year trying to get to be as good as the veterans they're behind on the depth chart.
The offensive line was shaky, to be honest. They did a good enough job protecting Colt in passing situations, but the run blocking was only average. Part of it, I'm starting to really believe, is just a matter of scheme. Texas is going to keep running the offense out of a shotgun formation, and we're not likely to see the kind of "power" running game that Texas fans are used to. Again, I'm more than okay with this, and though there are some downsides to it, the alternative (sticking Colt under center) makes absolutely no sense. I, for one, am looking forward to watching Texas dare teams to try to stop our passing game, and I'm sure we'll have some impressive rushing totals just because of the potency of our passing attack.
One final note on formations - Texas used a two tight end set extensively today, and quite effectively, I thought. We were able to get productive rushing plays out of it, but still able to run Colt pass plays out of it, as well. I don't have any idea whether this is something that will stick through the fall, but it's worth noting.
[A few words on the line. Chris Hall was pretty lousy today, seemingly false starting two dozen times. Hills and Ulatoski were decent, but neither look like elite tackles at this point. Dallas Griffin worked with the first team at center, with Buck Burnette working with the second group. To be perfectly honest, none of the linemen were inspiring today, but I'll say this: I expect the starters come fall to be Ulatoski, Dockery, Griffin, Tanner, and Hills, but I wouldn't put anyone's name in pen. It's all pencil at this point. I expect this to be a meritocracy: whomever steps up and plays good football has a chance to start.]
For the offense, consider me: "Not at all worried. This is an elite unit."
It was pretty difficult to evaluate the defense today. There were a confusing number of substitutions, players were on and off the field every ten seconds, and the scheming was totally limited by the rules of the scrimmage. No blitzing, no hitting hard, and so on.
With that said, a few players had noteworthy afternoons. Let's start with the linebackers and Sergio Kindle, who flashed that ridiculous athleticism, but looked to be too amped up throughout the scrimmage. He overran at least four plays - maybe more - and tried to do a little too much, I thought. On the flipside, Scott Derry was as steady as ever, playing perfect positional football throughout the afternoon. The two players are actually an interesting illustration in contrast. Derry is a very limited athlete, but a smart, disciplined football player. Kindle is an off-the-charts athlete who's still learning what it means to play his position. To be perfectly honest, I thought Kindle's speed and energy made an interesting case for moving him to middle linebacker, where those attributes would be more valuable. This seems especially appropriate because Rashaad Bobino still looks like the same limited linebacker who can't shed a block.
Of course, there needs to be room for Roddrick Muckelroy in there, too, but he showed a lot more poise and discipline out on the field today than Kindle did. I'm no linebacker coach, but from my perpsective, a Derry-Kindle-Muckelroy combination would be awfully interesting. It won't happen, I'm sure, but it's something to consider. Overall, the linebackers were decent today, but there's a lot of room for improvement.
In the secondary, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum were your starters on the corners, and both looked pretty bad. Ryan Palmer, in particular, looked like a practice squad player. I'll be shocked if either player wins a starting job. . . Okay, maybe not shocked, because the players behind them are so young, but assuming talent wins the day, we're likely to see Deion Beasley at one corner spot and the best of the rest at the other. Curtis Brown looked like a spring enrollee today, getting hosed on the corner by Billy Pittman on a 30 yard gain, but you could certainly see the kind of potential he has. I have no idea who will step up to win the second corner spot, but I'll be pulling for someone other than Palmer or Foster.
As for the safeties, they weren't a big factor in today's scrimmage. My boy Robert Joseph didn't do too much, though I fully expect him to be a big part of the team's plans this year. Erick Jackson was active today, and did a nice job, but it's just too early to tell who among Joseph, Jackson, Marcus Griffin, Drew Kelson, and Ishie Oduegwu will emerge as the key contributors. Expect a lot of mixing and matching this fall as the staff tries to sort it out.
The defensive line was pretty solid today. Brian Ellis, in particular, made it known that he's ready to contribute. The interior of the line is going to be just fine, and if this unit is as good as I think it is, we should have a strong run-defending group once again this year. Ben Alexander had a couple of noteworthy plays, and the line as a whole was solid. This isn't an area of concern.
All told, the questions on defense are the big ones. They won't need to be elite to be effective, but sorting out the linebacker play will be among the most important jobs of the coaching staff this fall.
Just remember one thing, boys and girls. None of what I wrote today will mean a whole lot come this fall. Today was an interesting glimpse of next year's team, but all the big questions we're itching to get answers about won't be settled until August. The long, dreary off season is officially underway...