Today's spring game was a welcome dose of football during a long spring and summer. Evaluations are troublesome in spring games. Whenever a player succeeds another fails, which provides every viewer a different perspective on each play. It's challenging to assess a player in a game in which both players know their opponent and his schemes and there is often an imbalance between the quality of players facing each other. It is also necessary to keep in mind that this game is the conclusion of only a few weeks of practice.
With this in mind, some thoughts on who stood out after the jump...
Jordan Shipley's replacements have big shoes to fill not only in the passing game but in special teams as well. Aaron Williams, Kirkendoll, and Hales all took turns receiving punts during the pregame practice. William's return skills are still a work in development. His drops were the result of him attacking the ball with outstretched arms and him failing to square his hips. After a couple of tries, Williams did catch a punt behind his back, so we know his coordination is there. Kirkendoll appeared hesitant, fielding punts off the bounce instead of take the risk to arrive under them. Hales looked like the most consistent of the three: reading, catching, and protecting the ball well despite his drop in the game. After a summer of practice, one or two of three should be prepared enough for the position.
Barrett Matthews made an impression today in a number of areas. Matthews handles his size much better than EBS, especially when motioning to full back. I was impressed with Barrett's blocking technique: he does a great job of lowering his hips and using force to strike upwards. He used this to successfully drive Okafor off the end on a number of running plays. I don't think Matthews is a step down from Smith as a blocker. As you all saw, Matthews is also an asset in the passing game, especially through play action. On a side note, according to last years football yearbook, Matthews "enjoys planting fruits and vegetables." I don't think I've ever seen that before...
Ahmard Howard, who is just under Smith's size, is athletic enough to contribute given the opportunity. Dominique Jones looked raw, which is understandable as he is a redshirt freshman.
The lack of Goodwin and Chiles gave Fitzhenry and Hales some limelight. Hales is fast and has football smarts. On one of his catches he saw the safeties dropping into a Cover-Two and separated himself by cutting underneath. Gilbert's connection with him is probably the result of them working together often in the second team throughtout last season. It's hard to judge where he fits in without having the whole receiver corp present but he has earned playing time.
Brock Fitzhenry could surprise people this year or the next. I know he's small, 5'9'' 171 lbs, but he is a great athlete. He was a three time All-State Quarterback and holds records for rushing touchdowns. His cuts are crisp every time, his hands are consistent, and he has speed for a smaller guy. Is he going to get a lot of catches this year? Probably not, but he should be given opportunities down the road because he's consistent and plays bigger than his size.
Didn't see too much from Monroe today and haven't heard the coaches say too much about him recently. Not sure if this is the result of him being hurt or if he has been passed by other receivers. Malcolm Williams didn't show much either, I did see him wiff while blocking. His size should allow blocking to come naturally. He was often covered by Aaron Williams, which helps to explain his lack of catches.
As an experienced senior, Kyle Hix should be the leader of the offensive line and has stepped up to the position. I liked what I saw from him: his footwork, body position, and hands are all where they should be for a veteran senior. Britt Mitchell has the athleticism of a tight end, which he was, which is a valuable asset against pass rushers in the Big 12. Thomas Ashcraft, who took his reps with the second team, has great size but needs to work on his footwork, which he has plenty of time to develop. Mark Buchanan handled his blocks nicely. Not sure if the offensive line as a unit was dominate for any period during the scrimmage.
I spent some time watching Kenny Vaccaro. Vaccaro is athletically gifted and has desire but IMO is still a work in progress. I'm not exactly sure how Muschamp intended on using him today. He played in front of two second-string safeties as deep as the linebackers but far outside of the tackle box. I'm uncertain if he had moved up repeatedly to blitz or was playing as a Nickel Back in a 4-2-5 look. The good: on his knockout of Newton, he took an excellent lateral read step, dropped back into position between the receiver behind him and the shallow route in front of him, and delivered a perfect tackle with great form. The bad: on a couple occasions he read the run but broke down too slowly and too deep into the backfield, which allowed Fozzy to accelerate past him. This problem was a direct result of his aggressiveness, which he can be taught to channel productively. The ugly: The kid is a tough SOB, which is great unless your playing yourself, which we were today. On kickoff coverage, Vaccaro practically tackled one of the non-scholarship players from behind absolutely needlessly. His hit on Newton was also excessive.
Blake Gideon gets a bad rap because of a handful of plays. Blake is fundamentally sound and his hands are much improved. In his first two seasons he earned honorable-mention in the Big 12. He deserves recognition for that. On a side note, has anyone seen him smile?
Justin Tucker has swagger. You don't see many kickers rock the Oakley eyeshield and strut around with the full line of Nike socks and wristbands. Swagger is an asset to a kicker who needs to be able to brush off bad kicks, which are rare for Tucker anyway.
The kickoff team is a motely crew of walk-ons and third string players. I'm not sure if this team is finalized or are just role playing for practice. We are deep enough in the defensive backfield to lend a couple DBs as gunners. Cody Hill, who walked on as a DB and is about the same size as Fitzhenry, fought through blocks and got downfield fast enough to earn a spot on coverage.
After the National Championship, Gilbert is a household name. He's even on a first name basis with the scoreboard: "GARRETT pass to HALES for a touchdown"
The teams today were named "Texas" and "Fight". Can we go back to teams "Orange" and "White". Team Fight sounds like an a bad fifth grade soccer team...
The addition of '09 to the list of conference championships was a beautiful sight. Is it naturally to feel like I was part of that and earned it in some way? Probably not...