Especially at this time of year, it's nice when the content comes to you. Admittedly, I wasn't thinking about that when I jumped in this Phil Steele thread with a quick, unsubstantiated assertion that "Lamarr Houston is the best player on the team." But I'm glad I threw it in there, as it quickly led to a great topic for tonight's post.
Reader 'texasfan05' replied:
Lamarr Houston is a great player, and is a solid D lineman, but “best player on the team”??? I don’t think so. He’s not even the best player on the Defense. Kindle takes that slot. This should be Kindles year, I’ve watched him for 2 years now, and when he’s not hurt, everytime he’s on the field he makes a play. When we kick the ball off, me and my friends just watch Kindle because he always takes someone’s head off, whether it be the ball carrier or a blocker.
Soon thereafter, reader 'BMG' took the topic to its logical conclusion, proposing a discussion of the team's Top 10 players. A grand idea, which we'll run with for a couple of reasons. First, it'll be fun: there aren't any right answers (though maybe some wrong ones). And second, I think you'll find that if you sit down to put together a top 10, it's not so hard to see why this year is such a critical development season for the Longhorns.
TEXAS' TOP 10
In the mix: Apologies now to Jared Norton, Eddie Jones, Jordan Shipley, Ryan Palmer, and the dozen or so young kids oozing with talent who may well take this list by storm before the season's over. And to the offensive line, who I'm just not considering for this particular list. Feel free to do so in your own Top 10, but I'll save my line commentary for another post; it needs to be an integrated set of thoughts.
10. Sergio Kindle and John Chiles - I'll include these two at the back end of the list for their difference-making potential. We've seen flashes of sexy from both, but my own list weights production at least as much as raw talent, which is why I'm not in agreement with texaslonghornfan05's position. For Chiles, it was a fine true freshman debut, but (a) his action was very limited and (b) he wasn't allowed to pass (and when he was he missed).
And Kindle? I absolutely see the beast of a player texaslonghornfan05 so enjoys, but there's an enormous gulf between what we think he could become and what he's been. Even setting aside the DUI and the injuries, his production in 8 games last season wasn't anything special: 32 tackles, 4 tackles-for-loss, 0.5 sacks.
I will say this about these two, though: It might well be that no two players could do more to making 2008 a special season. A healthy, breakout season for Kindle would give Muschamp a truly great trio of linebackers to work with. And Chiles may represent Texas' best bet to give the offense an explosive dimension it's desperately going to need.
9. Vondrell McGee - I'm not as high on McGee as some, but only insofar as I don't see much home run potential. I do think he has more pop than his 4.0 ypc last season, which was as much a reflection of his usage as any inabilities of his own, but my own take after watching him a full season is that he's not a guy who's going to get into open space as well as the best of the best.
Why include him in the Top 10, then? Well, there's no such thing as value without context, and McGee possesses some situational strengths that are truly outstanding. He rarely loses yards and runs deftly between the tackles - so well, in fact, that even if his yards per attempt aren't anything special, his ability to pick up 3, 4, 5 yards on command significantly boosts his value. And especially this year, when Texas is going to have to sustain drives to score points. His ability to pick up first downs and score from inside the five make him a vastly more valuable asset this fall than he would be on, say, the '05 team.
8. Colt McCoy - On the one hand, he accounted for 23 of the team's 26 turnovers, via 18 picks, and 5 lost fumbles (fortunate, considering the dozen he put on the ground, including 6 in the final 2 games). Though his completion percentage was solid, most fans would agree that his accuracy was an issue - especially on deep balls - for most of the season.
On the other hand, even the most Colt-skeptical Longhorn fan had to admire the way he competed last year. The best play in Texas' offensive arsenal last year wasn't even in the playbook: 'Colt Run For His Life And Make A Play, 33-Blue. On three. Break." In what was a very trying year for the Texas offense, Colt certainly battled his heart out. That counts for a lot.
It's anyone's guess what's in store for Colt this year, but I'm an optimist at heart: I'm rather hopeful that Colt's going to put together a solid season as Texas continues to transition away from the spread option and towards a passing spread attack.1 I'm not so clear on whether Texas will have the receiving options to make things click right away this fall, but as we develop, I think we'll see Colt perform well enough in that kind of system.
7. Roy Miller - If you liked Derek Lokey, you should like Roy Miller, too; they're pretty much the same player. Nose tackles rarely enjoy college glory, but their importance can't be overstated. Job #1 for Miller is to engage two blockers. Job #1A is to raise hell if the opposing offense tries to block him solo. He can do both.
6. Quan Cosby - I remember wondering last summer whether Quan had a shot at 100 receptions in '07. That proved foolish (he finished 10 behind the 70 from surprise team leader Nate Jones), but it had nothing to do with Quan himself, who was his usual rock-solid self as one of the conference's best possession receivers. Though he didn't take too well to punt returning, his kickoff returning was again above average. All told, his position on this list might say more about the question marks on Texas' offense than it does Cosby himself, but he's a player you want on your team 10 times out of 10. He's an easy Longhorn to root for.
5. Roddrick Muckelroy - At times I've asked myself whether my Muckelroy enthusiasm was a bit overzealous - perhaps a product of his peers the past two seasons. A thousand square feet means two very different things in Manhattan and Marfa, right?
We'll find out this year, as Muckelroy should be a full-season starter for the first time. His nose for the ball is already proven; this year we need to see him up his shaky pass coverage to a similar level.
4. Ryan Bailey - Don't forget about this kid. If I had an MVP Ballot for the Longhorns last year, I'd have put him in my top three. He hit on 18 of his 22 field goal attempts last year, including an outstanding 8 of 10 from beyond 40 yards. What a fortunate diamond in the rough we stumbled upon in 2006.
3. Deon Beasley - He's getting close. Real close. A shining example of what proper player development looks lke, Beasley was baptized by fire as a true freshman and has steadily improved as the reps have increased. Talent, experience, and time to develop - it's all there. I expect to see his name on pre-season award lists at this time next year.
2. Brian Orakpo - I won't argue with anyone who decides to rank him even higher; he showed Rudy Carpenter precisely what a menace he can be when healthy. Despite missing three games in September, Orakpo's 2007 numbers were excellent - especially on a per-game basis - and Texas fans got a taste of that enormously high ceiling we all thought that he had when he arrived in Austin.
Health-willing, he's going to have an even better senior season. And by health-willing, I mean his and his compadres in the starting front seven. If Miller and Houston are blowing up the interior and Muckelroy-Norton-Kindle are the patrolling linebackers, more than a few left tackles are going to want to disappear after facing Orakpo for a full game.
Starting right there, in fact: "defensive tackle." Raise your hand if you blinked when Muschamp decided he would address the DT depth crisis by moving Houston inside. Yeah, me neither - the kid played last year at 6-2, 280 pounds, after all. But it also demonstrates what a freak Houston was at defensive end last season, when he ran players down from behind, regularly beat blockers with agility and quickness, or - my favorite - pursued the ball like a crazed linebacker. Whether the play was headed right to his gap assignment or 30 yards downfield, rare was the play in which Houston wasn't making the tackle or madly racing to get in on the action.
The numbers confirm the brilliance of his sophomore season: 13 games, 66 tackles, 12 tackles-for-loss, 4.5 sacks, 24 QB Hurries, and 1 forced fumble. To put those in perspective, compare Houston’s with the senior year numbers of Virginia DE Chris Long, the #2 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft: 13 games, 79 tackles, 19 tackles-for-loss, 14 sacks, 23 QB Hurries, and 2 forced fumbles. More perspective: as a junior, Long had 57 tackles, 12 for a loss, 4 sacks, and 21 QB Hurries.
So.. the guy who's big and strong enough to move inside had better sophomore numbers at DE than the #2 NFL Draft pick did when he was a junior? Basically, yeah. Even setting aside the gaudy stats, Lamarr Houston is an absolute joy to watch on the gridiron. He's that rarest breed of player who combines physical freakdom with elite instincts and an insatiable desire to pursue the ball and make plays. I have no doubt at all that my now year-long obsession with Houston will be validated when it's his turn to be Chris Long.
Or will the proper comparison be to a tackle like Glenn Dorsey? If all goes as well as I hope and expect it to, the right comparison will be Casey Hampton.
To answer your question, texasfan05: I'm not kidding at all.
1Both the hiring of Major Applewhite and selection of Garrett Gilbert over Russell Shepard all but guarantee Texas is headed towards a pass spread attack like what Missouri is running with Chase Daniel.