We’ve Got Issues: Longhorns Preseason

We're all checking the countdown clock every day (or every hour in some cases) for the kickoff to the Rice game. (As of this writing, it's exactly 5 days, 1 hour, 28 minutes and 17, no ... 16 seconds away!) The Garrett Gilbert era is here. It's exciting and scary at the same time. And about the only thing certain is there are a lot of uncertainties.

The fact is, we have a lot of big issues to work out over the next few months, and I'm not talking health care, immigration or the economy. At the front of our minds are pressing, head-scratching, wake-you-up-at-3:00 a.m. issues.

Admit it. You're excited. But you're also nervous. Maybe even a little worried.

The healthy thing to do is to work through all these issues together, weak by weak. So, I've identified four key issues weighing on all our minds. Each week we'll review how these issues are working out (or not working out). We might even grade each one. And, of course, we'll discuss them all.

So, here are the four issues we'll be covering weekly:

Garrett Gilbert's Progress 

The last time we saw Garrett Gilbert he had brought Texas back to within three points of tying Alabama, only to get sacked, fumble and watch the National Championship Game slip away. It's his offense now.

Expectations are high, but no one expects Gilbert to be terrific.

And he doesn't have to be.

We just want to see consistent and obvious progress as the season unfolds. We know he's a pocket passer, but he's a good athlete. Can he scramble to keep a play alive? Has he gotten rid of that dip at the end of his drop-back? What passes will he struggle with? How will he handle pressure? Can he stay health? We'll find out.

The journey this year might be painful at times. We might be watching some plays while peering between our fingers. Gilbert does not have an established No. 1 receiver to throw to. The running game will be working through its own struggles, which could put more pressure on Gilbert.

But I hope suspect we'll be very much impressed and much more comfortable with young Garrett by December. He opens against Rice, so expect a lot of high-percentage throws to build his confidence.

Retooling the Running Game

I don't know of anyone who does not at least like the direction this running game is going, or to be more accurate, is supposed to go. Personally, I've been uneasy with the running game since 2005. While it's been explosive at times, overall it's been unfamiliar. It's just not Texas. The Tyler Rose must be a little embarrassed.

I'll admit that the shotgun/zone read has been a good fit for an offense with Vince Young and Colt McCoy, but it sure will be nice if we can get a more traditional style attack rolling. You remember... linebacker isolation plays, fullbacks, I-formations. Those kinds of things.

But do we have the personnel? Forget the running backs for a moment. Can the O-line adjust to the aggressive, push'em-off-the-line blocking? As someone who spent nine years playing on the line, I can say with confidence that pass blocking and run blocking are two completely different things-physically, mentally and strategically.

The game is played from the line of scrimmage out, and if the line isn't effective at run blocking, it really won't matter if it's Tre Newton, Fozzy Whittaker, Cody Johnson or Ricky Williams back there. (OK, maybe not Ricky. (I love you, Ricky.))

I think all backs will get an honest shot this year, unless one emerges early as a clear favorite. Johnson gets the start against Rice, but the others will still get touches. I think the leading rusher gets at least 800 yards. However, that will be much less impressive if the average per carry is about 3 yards.

There are a lot of dynamics to this thing. The addition of an H-back could mean so many things, but the biggest effect likely will be in the passing game. It could really keep defenses guessing and force another linebacker or defensive back to cover one of the lower zones.

No matter how this retooled running game turns out, expect some frustration early as the offense tries to force this thing to work in the first few games. We could see a lot of 1- and 2-yard runs on first and second down.

Give it some time. It should smooth out.

BROC (Big Receiver on Campus)

Jordan Shipley is gone. Not good.

Texas has perhaps the most talented (albeit unproven) group of young receivers that has ever put on a burnt orange jersey. Good.

But we are caught in between productivity and potential. What will we get this year? Who will be the go-to guy?

Several receivers could emerge as Gilbert's top target. While it will be great if he spreads the ball around, young QBs often need a favorite receiver. With this year's group, it's all about what could be... what should be... what's supposed to be.

James Kirkendoll is the most experienced, but will he be there in the big moments? Malcolm Williams has been fantastic at times. He'll make an insane end zone catch and then drop a ball delivered smack between his pecs. This is the year to show that he can be a reliable starter. Marques Goodwin has potential pouring out of his eyeballs. He will be on the field on three-receiver sets. John Chiles has supposedly embraced his role completely, and he's a great all-around athlete. How much will we get from DeSean Hales? Will Mike Davis or any of the other freshmen make an impact?

The dynamic of the H-back could add a great wrinkle to the offense, allowing for several different formations to confuse the defense. A sure-handed outlet could be a terrific thing for Gilbert. But do we have a guy who will be a good fit for the position? That's the key. An H-back is not a running back, and it's not completely a tight end. He has to be big, nimble, he's gotta block, and he's gotta catch the ball.

There's a lot to be sorted out here, and the nature of the receiver position should tell you that it could take a long time for this issue to be resolved.

The D-Line Shuffle

The talk is that this may be the best defense of the Mack Brown era. But we are thin at defensive tackle (in depth, not size). Again, the game is played... say it with me boys and girls... "from the line of scrimmage out."

So, yes, I'm a little worried about the big'ns in the middle. But the ends are as solid as they've ever been. Having said that, Sam Acho is likely going to play at tackle more than at end. And that's OK.

Acho played DT about 40 percent of the time last season and still led the team in sacks. He will add speed in the middle and give young players like Alex Okafor, Jackson Jeffcoat and Reggie Wilson an opportunity to get some valuable playing time. But when a pass rush is needed, expect Acho to slide back outside.  

So, from that standpoint, this all seems like it could work out just dandy. It also is probably the weakest spot on the defense. Will Muschamp will tinker with this to put the best combination to counter the formations and plays the offense is showing.

So there you have it-the four most pressing issues for the 2010 season. We'll work through these together. Hopefully over the coming weeks these issues will get better and better. We'll examine their progress after ever game, and we might even give them a grade, or perhaps a gold sticker. Of course, each issue will be wide-open for comments.

Tune in next week for the Week 1 review. I hope everyone's head is right football. If not, get yourself in gear. Hook 'em!

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