Morning Coffee Has Connor Wood Answers

Horns_bullet_mediumWhat's been wrong with Wood? As I've tracked the performances of the 2010 Texas commits in the Friday Night Lights Wrap, one of the themes of the season has been a less than stellar completion percentage from quarterback commit Connor Wood, along with a relatively poor team record and a few more interceptions than anyone would like -- he's completing only 54% of his passes and has thrown six interceptions. The question, then, is why Wood's numbers are down? Has he regressed as a passer or are his relative struggles simply due to the loss of most of his offensive line and some offensive playmakers from last season.

Given those questions, one of the most important of Jeff Howe's evaluations this season over at IT is that of Connor Wood. The wait is over, then, for some answers. And judging by those answers, Texas fans have little to worry about with the Second Baptist star. As I mentioned back before Wood committed to Texas, I thought he was the best athlete that the Longhorns have recruited at quarterback since Vince Young and Howe seems to agree:

First of all he is one of the most gifted athlete's that I have seen at the quarterback in the state this decade. You are talking about a QB who is legitimately 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, runs a 4.6 and has enough hop and explosion to reverse dunk a basketball taking off from the dotted circle in the lane. He also has tremendous raw strength for a quarterback and his body has filled out very well over the past 14 months.

I have often compared him to Chance Mock, but after seeing him up close in person in pads he is right there with one-time Texas quarterback Jevan Sneed as far as his ability to run and throw and Wood has more raw talent than Sneed.

His release has gotten drastically better since his junior season and since I saw him at the Nike Camp at Rice in late May. In the past his delivery was long and he had a windup motion. Now he has a quick trigger and he can really snap throws off, especially on one and three step drops.

Besides making good decisions with the football and making accurate throws in the short passing game, Howe also really likes Wood's arm:

He has a big league arm which he showed on his 70-yard touchdown pass but the most impressive thing about that throw was the touch he put on the ball. For some quarterbacks it is easy to let the ball fly and in some cases overthrow the receiver or put too much air under it and an easy touchdown becomes an interception. But Wood dropped the ball behind the safety beautifully and the Second Baptist receiver was able to catch the ball in stride and go in for the score.

Of course, Wood also had to lead his team to a late comeback in that game, with that 70-yard pass providing the first score and a 60-yard touchdown run helping account for the final margin and Second Baptist victory, indicating just how much poise Wood has to lead his team from down two scores late in the game to a win.

Howe cites the speed of the game and the drastic rise in competition level that Wood will face at Texas the major impediment to his success, but that shouldn't be a problem as Wood will almost certainly redshirt and attempt to gain two years of separation between he and Gilbert and then have a chance to start for at least two seasons, three if Gilbert decides to go pro early -- by the time that Wood has a chance to start at Texas, he should be well acclimated to the speed of the game.

Howe's praise continues:

If Greg Davis went into a laboratory and constructed the ideal quarterback to run a zone read scheme, it would be Wood.  He can throw it very well on the move and Davis and the offense staff will not have to worry about Wood taking shots, like they do with Colt McCoy, because physically he is big enough and strong enough to run the off tackle keep and the draw from the quarterback spot.

...

The bottom line is that I was extremely impressed with Wood. If anything the struggles that he has had this season should be chalked to Second Baptist being young and playing a tough schedule. If anything the struggles and lack of numbers makes Wood's stock rise because it really shows his natural athletic ability.

In other words, we can all stop worrying about Connor Wood -- he's gonna be more than fine.

Horns_bullet_mediumHorns in excellent shape for star 2011 corner. It's been no secret throughout the early part of the 2011 recruiting process that Leroy Scott is the best cornerback in the state. It's also been no secret that he loves the Longhorns. In fact, watching an interview with Scott ($) from Scout, it's almost amazing to see how much is face lights up when asked about Texas. I mean, really beaming. This week, he further discussed his feelings for the Longhorns ($):

Texas has my heart. It's the state school, everybody wants to go there. It's not too far from home and not too far from my mom.

...

One of the reasons I love Texas is because playing in the Big 12 they throw you into the fire and see what you are made of. When I see those guys play as hard as they do, it makes me realize that if I keep working hard that could be me out there.

There are other talented defensive backs, like Sugarland Dulles safety/track star Sheroid Evans and St. Pius X cornerback Kolby Griffin, who can also safely be considered a strong Texas lean, but Scott is the must-have defensive back in this class, as he has excellent size for a cornerback at 5-11, 190 pounds and has elite top-end speed and hips. If there is one concern about Scott, it's that he doesn't always display the best ball skills -- when someone throws in his direction, ain't nobody gonna catch it.

Horns_bullet_mediumWho is the edge rusher at defensive end in the 2011 class? Shreveport Evangel Christian's Jermauria Rasco may be the top player in the country in 2011 and drove up with his family to the Cotton Bowl last Saturday to take in the Longhorns, who are virtually tied atop his early list with home-state LSU. There's no question about his ability to rush the edge, but several of the other defensive ends on the Texas radar at this point -- Cleveland's Cedric Reed and Klein Oak's Nathan Hughes -- are both more suited to play power end or defensive end in a 3-4, as Hughes does in high school.

My evaluation of Hughes early in the season was probably a little bit rough on a kid who is still growing into his lanky, 6-5 frame at 240 pounds, suggesting that he could end up spinning down to defensive tackle or at least playing there on passing downs. The kid loves Texas and is a candidate for an early offer, but both he and Reed run in the 4.8 to 4.9 range in the forty -- not exactly world-beating times for an edge rusher.

The likelihood, then, is that the Longhorns offer Rasco and wait as long as they need to for him -- along with a top running back and several tackles, he's one of the top priorities in the class and one or both of Hughes and Reed, most likely taking the first one who commits, likely Hughes. It is possible though that if the Longhorns see one or both as eventual defensive tackles, then they could decide to only take one or two defensive tackles from the group of Desmond Jackson, Marquise Anderson, Isaiah Nor, Quincy Russell, and Jordan Wade, among others.

However, Will Muschamp will undoubtedly want a fast edge rusher in the class and that's where things are currently less in focus. One possibility is Houston Memorial's James Rushing, who is having success in his first season playing varsity and has a nice combination of size at 6-5 and speed, reporting a 4.7 40. Playing inside this season at defensive tackle, his first varsity highlights look impressive ($), especially his quickness, but there's not really anything on film to suggest that he can be that elite edge rusher. Rushing may perhaps be a fall-back option then.

A much more intriguing player is Skyline's Anthony Wallace, a hybrid defensive end/linebacker best described as in the mold of Von Miller, A&M's outstanding pass rusher. At 6-2, 220 pounds with 4.55 speed, Wallace is a perfect candidate for the Buck position at Texas and teams around the country have certainly taken notice, as he already reports offers from Oklahoma, LSU, Miami, and Tennessee, among many others -- he will be a top target of many programs. About a month ago Wallace said that he doesn't have any favorites ($) at this point, choosing instead to focus on his junior season, but the concern for Texas is that they've had trouble recruiting Skyline, with Christian Scott being the notable exception and Corey Nelson a notable example. The rumor is that the coaching staff doesn't care for Texas particularly, but that is just a rumor and one that the Longhorns may well test come February when Junior Day invites go out -- it would be a surprise for Wallace not to receive an invitation to the first Junior Day.

Horns_bullet_mediumArlington Heights receiver has early top four. Marquis Jackson forcibly put himself onto the Texas radar back in September with a sensational three touchdown, 168-yard performance against Fort Worth Dunbar in front of four Longhorn assistant coaches. As the trigger-man in the Wildcat for Arlington Heights, he also gained 52 yards on the ground and had another touchdown called back because of an illegal formation penalty. Said head coach Steve Hale of his star receiver ($):

Last year, we put him at wide receiver and he had about 700 yards and 7 or 8 touchdowns on the year. He had 2 interceptions last year. He's one of those kids, he's going to be a premier wide receiver. He's physical, he's 6-1 and about 200 pounds. He can fly and he's strong. He can play just about anywhere we need him to play. He has a T.O. (Terrell Owens) looking body. He's just big and strong.

He's as talented as any kid I've been around. He's just unreal.

We have a legit 4.4 kid on our team and he outran him like he was tied to a tree. A big deal is the exposure. He's getting that now because of the game against Dunbar.

Indeed, Jackson moonlights as a defensive back for Arlington Heights and helped increase his exposure by shutting down Darius White on the evening, holding him to three catches for 43 yards. As Hale noted, however, Jackson's talents are probably best served on the offensive side of the ball, where his elite combination of size and strength can make the most impact.

So, coach Hale, Texas has to be interested after all those coaches witnessed his performance against Dunbar, right? Right:

I talked to one of the (Texas) coaches (on Wednesday, September 30). They're very interested in him. We're just slow playing it right now. He's a very good kid, a talented kid.

As for Jackson, he just released his list of top four schools ($) the other day -- Texas, Florida, Alabama, and USC, so his recruitment could quickly become a national battle if those programs show interest in the rising star. The good news is that he did make the trip down to Austin for the Colorado game and came away impressed:

I loved the game. I loved the atmosphere and how the players interact with each other and how I felt when I walked on the field. It's exciting. It really gets your adrenaline pumping.

If it looked like in late September that the Longhorns would mostly target Trey Metoyer, Jaxon Shipley, and Miles Onyegbule, and possibly Ladarius Brown as an athlete, Jackson has now thrown himself into that mix as well and would be a nice compliment on the outside as a flanker to the likely eventual split end in Onyegbule and slot receiver in Shipley.

Horns_bullet_mediumFrom the Land of Miscellany. Add yet another name to the second tier of 2011 running backs -- McKinney's Damian Willis, a 6-0, 190-pound productive back with good feet ($) who, like many high school backs, wants to cut almost everything outside. He does have good speed, though far from elite acceleration. In other words, he's no Aaron Green or Herschel Sims, but he is a solid back who could receiver some attention if Texas isn't able to land two of the top three backs, as expected. Through five games, he had gained 887 yards ($) this season...Another running back to keep an eye on is Pflugerville Hendrickson's Kenny Williams, who is more in the mold of Malcolm Brown at 5-10, 206 pounds, though he probably doesn't quite have the speed of Brown, listing a 4.65 40. At the same point in the season as Willis, Williams already had nearly 1,000 yards rushing at an average of well more than 10 yards per carry and gained 240 yards with five touchdowns against Elgin...Bryant Jackson reports that his commitment is still solid despite continued pursuit from Teas A&M and LSU, while also saying that he has added some speed and some weight this season after losing weight late last season due to illness...DeSoto coach Claude Mathis said that Adrian White is on pace to graduate early ($) and enroll at Texas next spring, as well as commenting that he is a much more natural cornerback than safety, while alluding to his inconsistencies by saying that White sometimes loses focus because the game comes so naturally to him. That inconsistency will be the major impediment to early playing time for White at Texas and continues to be the only real concern with him as a player...Sugurland Dulles safety Sheroid Evans is hearing more than Texas ($) than Oklahoma and would like to run track in college -- he won the 400m hurdles at the Junior Olympics last spring and may be the top target at safety for Texas...Good news from the Jordan Hicks recuirtment, as Hicks is still staying in contact with the host from his visit, Keenan Robinson, as Robinson has tried to be as helpful as possible in answering questions for Hicks. The standout linebacker is also thinking about visiting Alabama this weekend and USC on Nov. 28, but it sounds like neither of those plans are currently firm.

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