As Bobby Kennedy searches for six receivers to fill his rotation, the tough part for DeSean Hales isn't necessarily landing in the top six -- it's a possibility -- the tough part is getting onto the field, even if he cracks the top six over a player like Dan Buckner.
But that's the thing -- Hales doesn't have to get the number of snaps that, say, James Kirkendoll and Brandon Collins get, as the Klein Oak product has little chance of unseating the more established, older players. No, for Hales it's less about snaps than it is about touches. That's the way it is with home-run threats like Hales. Get the guy five touches a game, even if the guy only plays 15 snaps. Of course, defenses can more easily key on a player who gets a high percentage of touches on the snaps that he is on the game, but the keying of the defense on that player makes them an effective decoy at the very least.
Size doesn't matter
Watching high school film on DeSean Hales, several things become immediately apparent. Kid is fast, has ridiculous lateral movement and quickness -- those are understood about Hales. Just see The Run.
DeSean Hales 71 yard TD run vs Klein Forest 2007 (via sessamoid)
However, Hales also possesses another attribute that is often overlooked, even though he demonstrates it in spades on that play -- his balance.
While he isn't as strongly built as a kid like Jacquizz Rodgers, Hales does show a remarkable slipperiness in high school. He certainly won't evade as many players in college, so the question for Hales is how well that skill does translate. In fact, it could be as big of a key to his success at Texas as his other-worldly speed.
Notice also during the run that Hales does stays behind his pads well to maximize his leverage, important to every running back, but even more important to a player who won't physically overpower anyone with his size.
Everyone wants a Percy Harvin
Just like the shovel option, one of the latest rages in college football is the Percy Harvin-type running back/receiver. Every school wants a player on their roster that can provide the same versatility running and catching the ball as Harvin -- the ability to be multiple.
Urban Meyer used that versatility as a running back to motion Harvin into the backfield to run a counter play that perhaps only Percy Harvin can truly break, but certainly but stir the dreams of coordinators across college football. It's certainly stirred the imagination of Matt Hinton, as the good Doc can't resist gushing over the play:
Percy Harvin Counter Play (via Year2Wordpress)
The Doc gushes with good reason. Several aspects of the Florida counter make it more effective than the counter that Texas runs. The biggest difference is the use of the leading h-back on the play -- the perfect role for Barrett Matthews. With the speed that Harvin possesses, Aaron Hernandez, the Florida h-back on the play, doesn't even need to throw a strong block, as getting in the way was all the crease Harvin needed (and making it more of a counter trey). Second, Florida actually has a counter step on the play, which greatly helps the timing. And there's also Percy Harvin running the ball -- that makes it a little more effective, too.
During the recruiting process, the question about Hales surrounded the issue of where he would play in college. His small stature clearly eliminated any chance at being an every-down running back. The move to receiver mostly killed that talk, but the Longhorn don't actually have to resolve that lingering question -- they can let him do both. Be creative to get Hales the ball in space -- such packages aren't unheard of at Texas...
How about an RT Redux, at least?
The fact of the matter is, there's only one Percy Harvin. Texas would settle for Hales being the next Ramonce Taylor. One of the keys to the comeback against Oklahoma State in 2004 was Taylor's reverse for a touchdown that tied the game at 35:
Ramonce Taylor reverse touchdown vs. Oklahoma State (via TexFight)
Putting together a similar package for Hales would help provide the Longhorns the home-run threat they are missing in the running game -- it doesn't have to be a full-time running back to provide game-changing running plays. Maybe it's Jordan Shipley taking an end-around to simply provide a constraint play. Maybe it's Hales in a full-fledged package.
Even amidst the vanilla offensive game plan in the spring game, Greg Davis showed the end-around action extensively out of the I-formation. Often it was Hales motioning through the backfield, which may be an indication that he would see time as one of the two receivers in the I-formation look. Much of the time it was simply window dressing of the variety that Dan Hawkins likes to employ. I'm not convinced of the utility of the I-formation with the number of talented receivers Texas has, but using Hales as a running threat does appeal to me greatly, even if he's just a decoy.
Yet, it's that type of misdirection that was often missing from running game last season and it may be that getting that one player one step out of position just a couple more times a game will provide the crease that runners like Fozzy Whittaker, Vondrell McGee and Cody Johnson need to break off big plays. There's no doubt that the threat of Hales' speed can provide that step out of position.
In the spring game, Malcolm Williams was the other receiver on the field with Hales -- if Hales can get a safety to bite on the run, Williams might get more one-on-one match-ups when headed deep. I think Colt McCoy and the Longhorns would take those odds any time they can get them.
The fact of the matter is that Rivals ranked him as 2008's top all-purpose back in the country and the Longhorns should deploy him as such.
The major worry about Jordan Shipley this season is his ability not only to stay healthy after minor off-season shoulder surgery, but also to stay fresh during games with the heavy expectations of 100 or more catches this season. To that end, there is discussion about limiting the number of kick-off and punt returns for the Longhorn senior. Malcolm Williams looks like a capable fill-in on kick-offs, but Hales may well be the answer returning punts after an extremely productive high school career in that capacity:
DeSean Hales punt return (via mrperfect1978)
As a senior, Hales returned 11 punts for 225 yards and a touchdown as a senior, an average of more than 20 yards per punt return. All that a year after returning three punts for touchdowns, while averaging more than 25 yards per return. There's no question that his high school resume proves his ability in the return game.
Oh yeah, he's listed at receiver now
The most likely position for Hales this year is at slot receiver, a position where he will probably be asked to run some tunnel screens and crossing routes in a similar role to the one that Brandon Collins played last year. Getting Hales the ball in tunnel screen situations gives him the opportunity to find some space, especially against linebackers in the middle of the field where his elusiveness could lead to big gains. As a hot receiver, the question becomes whether Hales has enough toughness to catch balls across the middle.
Obligatory Devil's advocation
Greg Davis. 'Nuff said.
Moving along. As much as Beergut may say that he doesn't see the Longhorns replacing the production of Quan Cosby, it was James Kirkendoll who made the critical fourth-down play to keep the final drive alive, and Brandon Collins, whose penultimate catch and subsequent toughness gave Cosby the opportunity to be the hero, making plays signalling their potential to emerge as major contributors in 2009. Both of those players will receive the majority of the snaps in the slot, while Jordan Shipley may play some at that position as well.
With blowouts anticipated throughout the start of the season, Hales should see the field with the second-team unit and could benefit from any changes that Mack Brown makes in his philosophy of attempting not to move the ball with big leads. Much like Garrett Gilbert or Sherrod Harris need quality reps during the season to prepare for 2010, Hales needs reps this year to develop as a replacement to Kirkendoll and Collins in 2011.
Even though Hales may only see extremely limited action in 2009, hey, fall practice just started and it's a time to dream and scheme, play a little armchair coordinator. Nothing wrong with that, right?