Ahh, the sweet nectar of fall practice. The specter of fall practice was not a mirage, as I feared. As I suspect most Horns fans are doing right now, I've been sucking dry any information about the football team there is to be had on the internets. Onward through the fog!
All Points Bulletin: All resources on hand to protect Big 12 quarterbacks!
So here's a news flash: Sergio Kindle is a beast. How will Muschamp get him on the field?
Spread offenses may force UT to play a lot of nickel, but instead of sending Kindle to watch helplessly on the sidelines, Muschamp has devised a "Buck Package" that utilizes Kindle's power and speed.
In that package, Kindle will put his hand in the dirt — a down linebacker rushing off the edge.
"He's got God-given pass rush ability, so you've got to utilize his talents and put him in a situation where he can be successful," Muschamp said. "He's a good football player. We're looking forward to him playing this fall."
Horns fans have been waiting breathlessly for the last two years as Kindle has struggled with injuries (ankle sprain freshman year, suspension and knee last year) that have kept him off the field. My favorite on-field memory was last year against Baylor. Kindle, coming off the edge to pressure the quarterback, appeared to miss his assignment of defending Brandon Whitaker out of the backfield. Whitaker caught the pass and headed downfield as Kindle pursued. Whitaker made the fateful mistake of stopping to avoid Marcus Griffin. Smash! Kindle absolutely obliterated Whitaker and his internal organs. Whitaker managed to stand on his own before crumpling to the ground. He wasn't seen for the rest of the game. Did Kindle make a mistake? It appears he did. Did he erase the mistake? Yes, and also the running back. That's what playmakers do.
Who is next on his list? Big 12 quarterbacks:
"I could scream, but I won't do that. I'm excited," Kindle said. "I love rushing. The quarterback is going to be my prey. I'm the predator."
Better call in the reserves. Hey, Greg Davis, how hard is it to block Kindle?
Will (Muschamp) has done a great job of mixing packages and getting Sergio on the field, dropping him and rushing him. He's just such a physical presence. In some schemes, if your back has him in pass protection, you've got to pick your spots because you're asking a back to do a lot if he has to do that very often, they're going to have to do it some. We've got to be able to slide protection to him to get somebody else on him. We've got to be able to chip him coming out of the backfield if we've got a tackle or a tight end on him. It creates a situation where you need to know where he is.
The value here is that Kindle can force spread offenses to expend resources (i.e. players) to protect their quarterback. That could mean fewer receivers in the pattern that the inexperienced secondary has to defend against. It could mean disrupted timing for quarterbacks. It could mean running backs with their internal organs turned to soup because they tried to keep the predator from his prey.
Speaking of Greg Davis...
It isn't often that fans get much good information out of these interviews. This one, however, is different.
On John Chiles:
John is a guy that we felt like we had to get involved more on the offense. We dabbled with it last year. We didn't really know what we had, so we dabbled with it. We're doing much more at this time now. We have a whole series of things, both runs and throws, with John and Colt (McCoy) in the ballgame at the same time. You've got to be careful because he's our number two quarterback, and so we've got to be smart at how much we're putting him out there, because we don't want to take away from his development at quarterback. The package is much broader than at any time last year. We did evaluate some different things. We looked at a lot of tape that Oregon was doing with (QB Dennis) Dixon, some of the things that they were doing. We looked at everybody in the Big 12, different ideas that people are running because the Big 12 is a lot of spread offense so we tried to steal some ideas from them. We always study USC in the off-season to see what they're doing out of their two-back and their motion sets, and then we spent some time visiting with Gary (Kubiak) at the (Houston) Texans about some of the things they're doing. (We gathered) a lot of different ideas until we got back this summer and said 'OK, this is what fits us the best.'
I mentioned here that I thought one thing that Greg Davis does well is copy ideas from other people (see the zone read), which makes me excited to see what he came up with for Chiles. I mentioned that I wanted them to look at West Virginia and Pat White, but Dixon was a guy who was known for unrealized potential and the Oregon coaches were able to mold him into a Heisman Trophy contender before allowing him to play with a partially torn ACL (guess what, it didn't work out well). I'm not sure what Davis talked with Kubiak about, but coming from the Broncos system he is well known for running a zone blocking scheme similar to ours.
On Colt McCoy:
We've worked really hard on a couple things. One, stepping forward in the pocket, there were a couple times last year that he left the pocket where we felt like he could step forward in the pocket and still be a threat as a runner but keep the pass alive a little bit longer. The second thing is just an overall better understanding of everything that we're doing. (He is) an extremely bright young man, so we're giving him a lot on his plate to do. The things we talked about other than being in the pocket are ball protection, and there were too many interceptions last year. Part of it is understanding that sometimes the defense wins the play, and when they do, you have to throw it away or take it and go. If that creates a punt, then it creates a punt, but you're still playing field position football.
Last year, Colt spent much of the season running for his life, perhaps making him reluctant to step up in the pocket. The offensive line should be much improved this year, so Colt must avoid the instinct of bailing out and running when his clock starts ticking down. The second part of Davis's comment is important as well. Colt has not been known for throwing the ball away when under pressure, instead throwing the ball up for grabs into coverage. The loss of playmakers on offense means the likelihood of more sustained drives that necessitate valuing the football more highly.
On Cody Johnson:
Cody Johnson is having a really good camp. We're working him at fullback in our two-back sets, and we're working him some at tailback in our one back set just to create more depth. He brings something that the other ones don't, especially into the game when you've got the defense tired. He's a big body and he rolls up in there and you don't think he makes anything, and all of a sudden the pile has been moved. We're working him at both spots.
Mack Brown noted that Johnson is in good shape coming into the fall. With an offense that may orient itself towards ball control (depending on the stoutness of the defense), having a physical running back like Johnson could really wear down the defense. In I-formation sets, the threat of a running fullback could open up holes for Vondrell McGee or Fozzy Whittaker. Hopefully, Johnson can become the bruising runner that Henry Melton was supposed to be.
Will the real Texas running back please stand up?
Cedric Golden of the American-Statesman is skeptical about the prospects in the running game with three running backs:
There's power in numbers but in this case, two heads are better than three. Running back by committee isn't a recipe for disaster, but it could be a recipe for dilution. Splitting the workload into three equal slices could slow the running game and keep one of these backs from developing into the unquestioned starter.
While there is logic to what he says, the problem is that I don't think it's necessary for to establish and unquestioned starter this season. Remember 2005? Golden does, because he refutes his earlier point several paragraphs later. He also notes that it would be preferable to only play two backs.
I think this is possible because I don't expect Obgonnaya to get many carries this season. Sure, he has lost the weight he put on to masquerade as a fullback, but he just hasn't shown anything as a runner at Texas. Sure, he's been in the program forever, yada, yada, yada. I'm sure he has even bleed for it. The problem is he's just not that good. He will be adequate, though, as a third-down back, something many NFL teams still have despite splitting the workload between a power back and a speed back.
Speaking of which, that's exactly what the Longhorns have with McGee and Whittaker. McGee supplies the power, reportedly dragging Earl Thomas (madman) several yards before being brought down. Sounds like a Bulldozer to me. Whittaker is not only quick, but has strength and power that belie his size. Just listen to ChrisApplewhite of Barking Carnival:
Fozzy Whittaker has two things working for him. One, he has the power to remove women's clothing simply by saying his name three times, and the ability to always fall forward when he's tackled. When you think of guys like that, it's usually power backs that spring to mind, but in college ball you don't need to be a leviathan to do it. The fact that Fozzy can do it with the body of a wood nymph speaks to a two important qualities: quickness and instinct (vision and body lean, etc.).
The running back quandary facing the coaching staff is similar to that of John Chiles: how to best put the players in a position to succeed. For McGee that probably means some I-formation looks because I don't know how well he will handle the zone read, particularly with Colt McCoy (who did uncork a 70-yard run in the scrimmage today). The I-formation takes advantage of his downhill running style. For Whittaker, that means zone read plays, some option, and quick passes to the flat out of the backfield, something Whittaker did well in high school (check out the highlight package linked in the BC comments).
Step away from the food. Step away from the food.
Mack Brown reports weight loss across the football team. The most notable are Henry Melton, down 15 pounds from his weight at tailback, and Chris Ogbonnaya, down 17 pounds from his fullback weight. Particularly on the defensive side, this is good news because of the need to defend so many spread offenses. One way to combat them is to put more speed on the field, and an element of putting more speed on the field is keeping your defensive linemen from getting fat. A criticism of Jeff Madden is that he often allows his players to gain weight by getting fatter, a practice that does not currently have a place in college football. Mike Leach particularly loves to see big defensive lineman lumbering around the field. He probably won't be as happy seeing Brian Orakpo, Sam Acho, and Sergio Kindle clogging passing lanes.
We're out of that vast and horrible desert called the off-season, people. Tip one back in celebration.