Reading the Tea Leaves

With unbridled enthusiasm for football like the foam in a boiling pot, Horns fans are salivating for the season. The murmur of "Texas Fight" in our subconscious begins to leak into our unguarded moments. The faith that comes with a new year is deep, as all the "athletes-in-waiting" that were supposedly suppressed by the past favoritism for experienced but presumably less talented players are now taking the field. As fans, WE BELIEVE this year will be different. Or will it? Should we believe, or are we all falling victim to the same unbridled coachspeak, especially the Mack Brown kind, that always focuses on the positive, however meager. We have awesome and dedicated reporting eyewitnesses from practice (Rollo Tomasi, HornBrain, texasfan05) that raise our hopes. What can we really get from watching a public practice?

I think that, as with everything in life, success as a pre-season fan comes from two strategies. One is the approach I take while searching for my wife's anniversary gift each year - I don't have a clue, but wonderful things will present themselves. For a Horns fan, this emerges as the following thoughts: I know nothing. More than half the players are new, and I don't know what they are going to do. We have two new major coaches that will govern what plays, formations, and players we will see. Who knows what they will come up with. I am blissfully unaware and non-analyzing. I'll just cheer on the team when they run out on the field.

While there may be fans like this who read this site, I'm guessing they've gone back to work, are watching soaps, mowing the lawn, or whatever else they were doing before they got this deep into this post.

Now for the rest of you, who like me, can't stop analyzing and anticipating the coming season regardless of the absence of any hard data, we have strategy number 2 (read out loud in a bad Chinese accent while sitting on the floor in the lotus position): Reading the Tea Leaves.

So what exactly do the leaves say... Well one way to read them is to compare statements that were made this time last year to those just posted on MB-TF and filter out anything related to "working hard," "fast," "having fun," "learning," "talented," and other such meaningless prattle.

Witness: August 6, 2007, Greg Davis: "Offensive lineman-wise we're trying to fill a couple spots obviously. Cedric Dockery coming back from the knee injury is getting back into the flow of things. We're a little light in that area, but the first group is doing a great job. Both tackles are really talented, Adam Ulatoski and Tony Hills.

Read: the offensive line will suck in 2007, especially at guard and center.

Fast forward to Aug 5, 2008, Greg Davis, "I do think we have as deep a line as I've ever been around. Obviously there's some separation because several guys have more experience. We have some young guys that have tremendous talent, and they're in that 13 or 14 people I was talking about....we're really pleased with our recruiting and with the guys we've brought in. But we don't feel like Chris Hall will have to play five positions in one ball game like he did last year. What we've tried to do is find two centers, three guards and three tackles. I think we'll be able to do that. And if we can play two full teams, that's always our goal is to be able to play two full groups."

Read: The Horns will have a very good offensive line and shouldn't see as much of a drop-off when players get injured, such as last year when Adam Ulatoski had a dislocated elbow in the TCU game and the Horns proceeded to struggle against Central Florida, look lost against KState and lose to Oklahoma in the next three games (not that there weren't other reasons).

So to my further reading of the tea leaves...Let's see, tap out some tea into my palm, blow gently, and..ah yes...

WR - we have good talent at competing for the ball in Williams and Buckner, and good timing between McCoy and Cosby and Shipley. Shipley is healthy for the first time at the beginning of the season. We don't have transcendant speed at the position. Look for receivers to strugge to get open, because McCoy just talks about knowing where Cosby will be. That doesn't help when the defender is right with him.

RB - lots of options and talent, with perhaps transcendant talent in Whittaker.

QB - Chiles can play QB without embarassing himself, but the mystery remains about why Sherrod Harris is not ahead of him at QB.

Offensive creativity. Every single observer and coach mentions new wrinkles and packages, including putting a WR in motion in the backfield as an extra run option. Confidence abounds in putting these in. Last year, there was only schizophrenia about whether to be a running or a passing team. Not one practice observer complained about the WR bubble screeen.

DL - speed, speed, and more speed. Great pursuit and pass rush. However....The offensive line keeps opening nice holes for the running game. Our DL will be vulnerable against a power running team, but the Horns don't play anyone who can make them pay for smallish DL over 4 quarters EXCEPT OU.

LB- A potentially transcendant group, especially at OLB, where Orakpo might drop back as a fourth LB and Kindle could be the team's second-best pass rusher. Seems 1000 years since last year when Mack was saying that, "We've got a couple of players who were instrumental in our championship and have given a lot to the program..."

DB - Earl Thomas, a RS freshman is not only a starter but a potentially transcendant player. observers describe receivers as "blamketed," "smothered," The Horns seem to be shaping up to be a good pass defense.

Defensive creativity. The best players will play. Witness: Keenan Robinson "started" at LB over Kindle because he, unlike Kindle, was at spring practice. By day 2, Kindle had moved past Robinson. Ishie Oduegwu has the most experience and is getting the least reps. Colt McCoy remarks about the confusion and uncertain deployments of the defense. Boom!

Overall coaching creativity. The whole structure of fall pratice was changed so that coaches could teach the freshmen in a separate session and slow things down for them. In GD's vernacular, reducing the size of their "swollen" brains. This, my friends, is what PB is talking about when he says "player development."

Intangibles, oops, just had a gust of wind. The tea leaves are gone...Guess I'll have to play dumb and wait to see about that one. I was starting to get cross-eyed anyway.


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