Committee of one. One player's injury is another player's opportunity. Fozzy Whittaker's knee tweak allowed Vondrell McGee, the Bulldozer, to take over the starting position at running back, another in a line of injuries for the mythical Fozzy creature. Not to pile onto the kid, but maybe his new nickname should be "Fragile Fozzy." The latest injury magnifies the importance of Vondrell McGee to the offense as a strong, durable running back capable of handling the great majority of carries and, most importantly, hanging on to the football. McGee still has plenty to prove, but it's beginning to look more and more like it's his job to lose, even though Mack Brown said he won't be afraid to pull an unsuccessful running back.
Offensive offensive line depth? The only unit Brown sounded concerned about during his Thursday press conference was the second-team offensive line. Featuring only one tackle, David Snow at all three interior line positions, and a true freshman lurking at the other, Brown singled out the second unit as the major disappointment in camp. Hurt by the defections of Aundre McGaskey and J'Marcus Webb, the offensive line depth owes at least as much to poor recruiting choices like Steve Moore, a junior who doesn't ever look likely to play and was chosen by the coaches instead of starting LSU tackle Ciron Black. The lack of depth at defensive tackle forced Tray Allen to move across the line of scrimmage, raising question marks about how much he will play on offense this year.
Not only can the starting Texas line not afford to face injury casualties, the poor performance of the second-team line has begun to limit the package for Garret Gilbert, limiting not only his ability to learn the offense this year in meaningful repetitions, but also the ability of Gilbert to actually be successful if the coaches let him loose during blowouts. Bad news for Gilbert's potential development this season.
"X" marks Shipley, redux. Playing Jordan Shipley as the split end in the Texas offense makes a tremendous amount of sense for Greg Davis and company. Sure, Shipley isn't the prototypical 6-3 split end, but neither was Quan Cobsy. And that's the overriding point -- Shipley has the ability to replicate the routes Cosby ran, while still possessing the ability to make the first defender miss. He's a Cosby-clone in that sense, with the same ability to change direction, the same short, choppy steps. Likewise, Shipley will reliably demand double coverage at the split end position to help out the cornerback, leaving an advantage for the wide receivers on the strong side of the field.
Like Malcolm Williams in the slot, for instance. Lined up next to Dan Buckner in the flex tight end position, the two physical receivers can do some major damage across the middle of the field. Williams also makes an excellent blocker on any screen passes run to the flanker and should help the running game to the strong side of the field as well.
All that isn't to say that Shipley won't move around the field, because he will, just like Cosby did last season and to great effect in the Fiesta Bowl. Malcolm Williams will see time at split end and John Chiles might as well. James Kirkendoll can play each position. Ultimately, there is so much versatility at the wide receiver position that Greg Davis can mix and match throughout the season to give the offense the best chance to succeed.
Could Colt be better? While maintaining or surpassing his completion percentage from last season is unlikely, especially considering the likelihood that the Longhorns will throw the ball downfield more often, it's still possible that McCoy will be a better quarterback and team leader than last season. Brown mentioned three specific areas where he believes McCoy improved during the offseason:
There are really probably three areas, and number one would be that he's so much stronger than before. Every day after practice I see him go in there and lift weights, as tired as he is in camp, it's just been amazing to watch him. His leadership, as good as it was last year, it's flowing now through the entire team. He goes in and talks to the defense and the special teams, and he wants to affect everybody. He's down there high-fiving a defensive back that will get a tipped ball or something, so he's really into the team now and not in to just the offense. Thirdly, just doing a better job of taking care of the ball, not forcing the ball and making sure you take what's there and you drop the ball off, because quarterbacks like big numbers, and they like to hit the deep one and it's hard to make sure you're patient enough to drop the ball off, and he's doing a good job of that as well.
Increased strength should help keep McCoy healthy during a long season and may help him improve as a runner. With the departure of Roy Miller and Brian Orakpo, McCoy is the unquestioned leader of the entire team this year and alleviate some concerns about not having a vocal leader on the defensive side of the ball. As a quarterback, McCoy could improve just through his increased comfort level with players like Brandon Collins, James Kirkendoll, and Malcolm Williams. McCoy always knew last season where Cosby and Shipley would be, but sometimes didn't have the confidence to check his third and fourth options. This season he should be more successful in that area and it could lead to more big plays, especially to Kirkendoll, whose consistency will help him develop a strong rapport with his quarterback.
Programming note. I will be covering the Stony Point football team this season for the Austin Examiner as the Tigers attempt to replicate their deep tournament run from last year, when they were led by players like current Texas player Tevin Mims and Baylor's Glasco Martin. This season, the stars will be potential Longhorn targets like PL Lindley, Stephen Williams, and Jordan Wade. Please head over to the Examiner and support my work there -- the more hits I get, the more money I can make from it. Bookmark it, tell your friends about, and check in throughout the season for analysis of the football team often focusing on the players most relevant to Longhorn fans. The first post is up and provides a brief preview of the season.