Talkin' special teams: Kick returners undecided. Last week, the special teams were a major topic of conversation, as Brown spent much of his press conference discussing the various units. Since there wasn't a game last weekend, there wasn't as much to talk about this week, but Brown did mention that the coaches still haven't decided on who will be back with Monroe on kickoffs:
We are not sure. We are looking at that right now. We obviously made a mistake on the short kick before, and we are going to have to have guys that make really good decisions back there.
We’re having discussions every day about things that we feel like give us a chance to score every time we touch the ball, and that’s what we’re trying to do. You’ve got Malcolm [Williams], you’ve got John Chiles, you’ve got Marquise [Goodwin] and you’ve got D.J. right now working every day. Malcolm can also work at the wings because if they’re going to start kicking it really short, Eddie Jones can catch and run, you’ve got Antwan Cobb, you could put Malcolm up there and get a faster guy at the wing and you’ve got Cody Johnson. We want the wings to be really fast now and strong too, so if they catch it at the 30-[yard line], you still want to get to the 45-[yard line] and not have a pop-up take you out of your ability to get good field position.
While having two extremely fast players on the unit in Goodwin and Monroe is certainly intriguing, my personal preference is to have the better blocker back there in Williams. Goodwin was on the return unit that sprung Monroe the distance against UTEP, but he didn't have to throw any important blocks, though it was impressive to see that he was the only player on the field capable of running with Monroe.
Teams kicking away from Monroe with Williams back returning kicks is a strategy many teams would employ, but LSU has a solution for that with Trindon Holliday -- Holliday stacks with the other player back with him in the middle of the field before pursuing the kick in whichever direction it heads, a possible wrinkle the Longhorns could use.
The other major revelation with the "House Party" unit was that the coaches are removing the defensive backs from consideration in returning kicks because the rotation is a little bit thin there and those players are on the field for a ton of snaps every game. However, the depth chart does still list Earl Thomas and Curtis Brown as the back-up punt returners, so I guess that simply means that Shipley will remain as the punt returner until the game is no longer close, at which point Brown or Thomas will go in and fair catch everything.
[Update]: After thinking about it some more, as long as the coaching staff trusts Goodwin to make good decisions back with Monroe, using Williams on the wing, probably the all-purpose MVP of the special teams so far this season, helps combat the things that teams are going to do to keep the ball away from Monroe.
Brown has been talking at length recently about the problems teams are having covering kicks since the rule change (moving the kick back five yards) and I think that gives him perspective now on how much of a difference guys like Monroe can make in changing games and making it much easier for the offense. The daily discussions allude to that and it's another example of Brown looking hard on what the team can do to improve and working hard to maximize those findings.
Yes, we actually had Cody here at our camp. He came down and spent time with us. I think Major was coaching him at that time when he was a graduate assistant. Cody is a lot like Colt. He is tough, he's smart, he makes good decisions, and you're not going to rattle him. Every time he gets knocked down, he jumps up before they get off the field and he is a very good football player. They are throwing the ball more this year than they did last year, and he's throwing it at a very high rate. (emphasis mine)
Yes, Hawkins is a lot like McCoy -- he's a quarterback, he's white, and, um, well, that's about it. I guess he is tough, or otherwise he probably would have given up football by this point in the season after taking such a beating and is commendable that he can still get up after taking vicious hits all the time. Before the rest of his teammates leave the field even! The last comment is pretty golden as well -- he is throwing the ball at a high rate. He's just not completing many of them. In summary, the rag-armed opponent punching bag that lines up behind center for Colorado is really nothing like the Heisman contender Texas puts behind center. Nice try though, Mack.
Mythical Fozzy creature 100%, for now. Even though they have been fortunate to avoid major injuries, the Texas running backs have had their share of bumps and bruises this fall -- the Mythical Fozzy creature hurt his knee in fall practice, again, Vondrell McGee tweaked his ankle, and Tre' Newton left the UTEP game with sore neck muscles. However, Brown said this week that they are all healthy:
Vondrell [McGee] is finally 100 percent, Tre' [Newton] is 100 percent, Fozzy [Whittaker] is 100 percent, and Cody [Johnson] has lost his weight, so we are back to really where we think that any of those guys could step up and play at any time. We still have to figure out how we use them in a ballgame. We haven't had Fozzy healthy over time for a while, so this is good for us. We hit him last week, and he looks quick. In fact, when you put Fozzy out there with D.J., they are both so fast, if you pull their jerseys up a bit that, wearing numbers 26 and 28, it is hard to tell which one is in the game. We are also excited about Cody. I think that he is fighting his way back into the mix, so Major [Applewhite], Greg [Davis], and I really have to try and balance who plays and when during the ball game.
Besides the unusual nature of having a healthy Fozzy creature, the most surprising news is that the coaches are once again looking at Johnson as a viable option in the middle of the field, after he was seemingly eliminated from consideration earlier in the season. The big back from Waller has now lost nearly 20 pounds ($) since reporting for fall camp and has his body fat down to 13%, which has apparently been enough to put him back in the mix -- he certainly looked faster on his 18-yard touchdown run against UTEP. Despite the developments there, Johnson is still probably best utilized as a bludgeon in the fourth quarter and in short-yardage situations.
What happened to the Monroe package? The speedster's star turn at running back earned him the inaugural (and now highly coveted) Flavor of the Week award (before it was officially named), but has since faded into the background of the base offense, though he is the running back in the WildHorn formation. Brown said this week that the coaches are still looking at ways to get him involved in the offense, without being apparent what they are doing before the snap:
That is another problem. We are so proud of him on kickoff returns, and he has done a great job, but you cannot just put him in and do things with him because it is a huge tendency. We looked at our tendencies over the first four weeks, and when he is in, you are trying to get it to him, so we are really trying to see where he fits other than just on kickoff returns.
Obviously pass protection is an issue, leading to Monroe being split out as a wide receiver much more recently than lining up in the backfield, but it would be nice to see him targeted in the passing game, whether it be on a go route down the sideline against a Cover Two zone, which would be open, or throwing him a screen pass to get him the ball in space.
Finding a third receiver that McCoy trusts and further developing the running game are higher priorities, but hey, there wasn't a game last weekend and Monroe is one of the two fastest players on the team, so I'm going to indulge myself here a little bit.