Now that the results practice has slipped out of public eyes, into the ears of selected sportswriters and onto the mouths of coaches and selected, usually senior, players, the dedicated fan longs to know how things are proceeding. Entering this season, major questions existed about the maturation of the younger receivers and the offensive line, about who would play defensive tackle, and who would rise among the many young players in the secondary and at other positions.
The entirety of Burnt Orange Nation is fed on the trickle of bleached and sanitized comments from coaches and players and fuzzy video clips of apparently random plays from practices and scrimmages posted on MB-TF as evidence of the dawning brilliance of the Texas Longhorns, version 2008.0 . Interpreting comments to the press and these videos is tricky, especially in Mack Brown Nation, where usually there is some uselessly positive babble about working hard, learning, being physical, etc. trolled out when any player is discussed. However, human nature is what it is, and the excitement of coaches and players can sometimes not be contained, while silence about other players is probably deafening.
I offer the following cryptic, admittedly mal-informed "State of the Horns" as interpreted from three forms of reliable data: (1) repeated mentions of players and their performance from multiple players and coaches on different days, (2) changes in the tone and adjectives used to describe players as the first game approaches, unusually detailed descriptions of players and/or situations, and (3) the general absence of specific comments about certain players for which we might expect considerable comments. Below I offer my nickels' worth on the major emergent themes from the first two weeks of fall practice.
Who will be the #3 and #4 receivers, and does that leave Texas with some much-needed speed at the WR position?
The answer part A: Malcolm Williams is the #3 receiver and is being mixed and matched with Quan Cosby on the outside of 3 wide receiver formations because he is tough to jam at the line of scrimmage and has deep speed.
Colt McCoy Aug 6:
I like throwing the ball deep to Malcolm (Williams). He does a good job of not letting the defense put their hands on him. He's big and strong and gets off the line.
Jordan Shipley Aug 6:
Malcolm, he's a big guy obviously that can run. He's really got unique speed for his size and that's going to help him a lot.
Bobby Kennedy, receivers coach Aug 9:
Malcolm Williams has probably been the most consistent guy right now.
Greg Davis Aug 12:
I'm really pleased with Malcolm Williams; he's having a heck of a camp. It goes without saying that Quan (Cosby) and Jordan (Shipley) are doing well, but Malcolm is really doing well…. We're working both… at that split end position, That guy, typically for us, has been a bigger body guy, a Roy Williams, a Limas Sweed, and that's where Malcolm kind of fits into the picture.
The answer, part B: James Kirkendoll is #4 because he can play any of the WR positions and is a heady player who is likely to be successful in the slot receiver position.
Greg Davis Aug 5:
James Kirkendoll is a guy that is going to be exactly where he's supposed to be every play.
Greg Davis, Aug 12:
James Kirkendoll has been really consistent…. a guy that can play all three spots, an extremely bright guy.
Overall, Williams and Kirkendoll form the basis for 4 wide receiver sets that may become more important if the TEs dod not develop as hoped. Colt is prepared to play with both - see his above quaote about Williams and the fact that he threw a touchdown pass to Kirkendoll in the scrimmage.
Colt McCoy Aug13:
…..there's something about coming into the stadium, you can kind of tell who wants it and who doesn't. I thought Malcolm (Williams) played well today, I thought James (Kirkendoll) played well.
Has Sergio Kindle become a superstar?
The answer: He looks to be THE ANSWER
The evidence: Note the change in tone used by the coaches over time and the final comment by Rashad Bobino
Mack Brown Aug 8:
We're hoping it is (his time). He's in great shape, he's done everything right, he's worked really, really hard, .... He got hurt early in the bowl game and missed all of spring practice, so hasn't hit anybody in a long time. It'll be interesting to see if he continues to grow on the practice field like he looked in shorts.
Will Muschamp Aug 11:
He's got initial quickness, he's got a good get-off, he's a very strong upper body guy so he can power the tackles, and he's got pass rush ability. 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 and that's one thing he does very well. He's a good football player and we're looking forward to him playing this fall.
Greg Davis, Aug 12: (in the middle of a conversation about the offense)
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.... 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 (italics added).
Rashad Bobino, Aug 13: (after the first scrimmage)
Sergio looked great coming off the edge, playing (strongside) linebacker. He looks really good…..There were a lot of sacks out there.
The Horns haven't had a linebacker the offense had to account for on every play since Derrick Johnson.
Which largely unheralded player has come out of nowhere to potential stardom?
The answer: Cody Johnson looks to be a lean, mean fireplug who can play fullback or a single back, and can catch the ball as well. One can almost see the saliva dripping from Greg Davis' mouth...
Mack Brown, Aug 8:
He's about 256 (pounds) and looks really good. I thought he might be 235. He's really worked and gotten his body fat down and is in great shape, and he's just really big. He's very physical and a good runner.
Greg Davis, Aug 12:
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.
Is the offensive line mature and good enough for success this season?
The answer: YES. Did I say YES? YES! I can't recall, in 3 years of reading Greg Davis' comments, that he has ever been so definitively positive about anything except VY. That's good company. Note also the difference in tone between Greg Davis' comments on August 1 and August 12.
Greg Davis Aug 1:
We're going to have a good line. We'll start some young guys, but most of the young guys have played, and that's always encouraging…. There aren't a tremendous number of snaps other than (Cedric Dockery) and (Adam Ulatoski), but there are some talented young guys.
Mac McWhorter, offensive line coach Aug 9:
We probably have the most depth we've had since I've been here. The experience level is a whole other factor. I've got one senior, and that's Cedric Dockery and three juniors. They haven't played as much as a lot of lines have, but I've got really good depth.
Michael Huey’s got a really good tenacity level. Chris Hall is amazing to me. You talk to Chris Hall and he's a choirboy. He's a great Christian young man. You put him on that field, and all he does is block people and get after them. It doesn't feel outwardly as nasty, but he's got a great tenacity level.
Greg Davis Aug 12:
This line is going to be really good (italics added). Cedric (Dockery) is the only senior in the bunch and so there's still a lot of youth and they're learning each other's chemistry but it's going to be really good.
And now to the notable absences of comments -
Curtis and Chykie Brown, two young cornerbacks, have not been mentioned by name very much by anyone. Look for Ryan Palmer to keep his job and Deon Beasley to be the star.
Not one word has been uttered about kickers. Ryan Bailey, we know. The punter? Who? Look for punting to be a continued area of weakness in 2008.