What Harris' Injury Means For The Horns

Mack Brown confirmed on Monday that Sherrod Harris sprained his MCL during Sunday night's workouts. Team doctors performed an MRI on Monday, which revealed the strain to Harris' knee.

On the one hand, it's welcome news, in that the the damage isn't to his ACL. And there's not a major tear. Still, it's an injury to the player who was most likely to win the #2 quarterback job. Before we get into the effect on Harris and John Chiles, let's talk about the injury itself.

The official line from Belmont is that the coaches hope Harris will be back in time for the season opener. You can shelve that projection, without question. The quickest Harris could be back from an MCL sprain is three weeks, and that's if this is the most mild strain imaginable. If the strain is a more serious tear, Harris could be out as long as 8-9 weeks. No one at UT's going to talk about that at this point, but fans - even without knowing the full extent of this injury - should count on Harris being out for at least the season opener and most likely longer.

What does that mean for John Chiles? To begin with, he's your backup quarterback in week one. And if the coaches are serious about giving Colt's backup real action this year, then redshirting is off the table. With Harris' injury, it's time to start thinking seriously about John Chiles' usage in 2007. He will play, in some capacity.

I think one practical consequence of this is that Chiles to wide receiver is not going to be considered. With Harris sidelined, the depth at quarterback is now a serious question mark. If you let Chiles run about the field in a multi-position role and he gets hurt, you're left with McCoy and G.J. Kinne, and there's no chance the coaches let that happen. Harris' injury could mean John Chiles will be holding a clipboard unless he's on the field relieving Colt McCoy.

Mack Brown did address the situation with reporters Monday afternoon:

Right now John will get more of the reps than G.J. (Kinne) because he would be the third team guy right now. This gives John a chance to step up and get some playing time in the first ballgame. We will not consider a redshirt for John until we get through two-a-days; we really don't consider it for anybody (until after two-a-days). We've always said if a guy can play in the two-deep or if a guy can play on a kick team, we would not consider redshirting (the player) because it's more important to give this team the best chance to win than it is to redshirt a guy. He's done a good job for about the last three or four days. We really believe that John has decided he wants to play, and he wants to play quarterback, so he's been competing hard at that job. He has not mentioned redshirting to us, and he has not mentioned playing another position since he's been back for two-a-days.

And there you have it. All the talk about John Chiles as a multi-dimension weapon is out the window as of Monday. The more interesting question is whether the coaches would consider using Chiles in a Tebow-esque role, bringing him in as a running threat in situational packages. I noted above that using Chiles in that manner comes with significant risk. If Harris were to be sidelined for a significant amount of time, risking your only real backup quarterback option is tough to pull the trigger on.

With that said, Mack said something during today's presser that caught my attention (in a good way):

With two young quarterbacks following Vince (Young) and the offense that he ran, which was probably one of the best in college football history, it's really difficult to try to figure out who you are again and try to get an identity. We felt like we finally got (an identity) towards the end of the year and then Colt (McCoy) got hurt, and then we struggled again at the end to figure out who we were. For me, the biggest thing we have to do right now is figure out what we should feature, who we are on offense, and what our personality is. We've talked a lot about the running game, but does that mean yards, does that mean being able to run the ball when you have to? So now we're going back and re-evaluating the "after-Vince offense" and what Colt (McCoy) does best and what the guys around him can do best.

I'm not seeing any real discussion of this in the mainstream press or, even, at Orangebloods. Mack Brown just asked a very sophisticated and deeply important question. What do we mean when we say the running game needs to improve? Do we mean that Texas needs to rush more often and with greater success in 2007? Or do we mean that we need to fix the running game in "must have" situations?

In my mind, that he's even asking me this question (coupled with his note about how tempting it is to go All Colt All The Time) leads me to believe Mack's more interested in the second question than the first. I can't emphasize how critical that is (if I'm right). Texas doesn't need to "fix" the running game in the way a lot of fans are talking about it. This is not a Ricky Williams or Cedric Benson offense. And it is not a Vince Young offense. Yet, it has enormous potential to be an incredibly potent offense, provided the attack is centered on a pass-first plan with complementary running.

The only catch is, when Texas is in short to-go situations or inside the red zone, there must be an improvement from last year's performance. I think, by posing this question today, Mack Brown is hinting at his understanding of this priority. Texas doesn't need to chase the Rushing Holy Grail. Texas needs to have an effective short yardage running game. If that falls into place, everything else is already set.

It's in that sense, then, that it becomes worthwhile to think about how you use John Chiles. If the coaches are honed in on the improvement being in short yardage and goal line situations, then they're going to be incredibly tempted to use Chiles as a weapon who can help with those improvements. Is it worth the injury risk? That's certainly not an easy question.

We've still got 18 days left until football, but I can't tell you how nice it is to have this much football to talk about in one post. I was really, really starting to drag at the end of July.

Hook 'Em

--PB--

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