Every year fans and coaches alike are ecstatic to find a diamond-in-the-rough contribution from some senior that has seemingly been overhyped or overlooked his entire college tenure.
Remember last year when Ben Alexander came out of nowhere to not only hold down the third defensive tackle spot, but also start four games, post 37 tackles (14 more than Kheeston Randall), and seven tackles for loss (four more than Randall)?
Forget about a third defensive tackle this season; I'd be fine with having two. And thus we begin to comprehend the luxury of what will be henceforth known as the Super Senior Breakout.
To be eligible, a player must:
A) Be a senior. This is rather obvious and a crucial part of becoming a Super Senior Breakout. In fact, it's one of the three primary words in the term. A sheer necessity.
B) Not have contributed in great quantity throughout his career at the university, to the extent that either the team has not relied heavily on him to contribute or the team has relied on him heavily to contribute and he did not succeed.
C) Have some realistic chance of actually breaking out and becoming an important factor on the team. I.e. not Vondrell McGee at 8th string RB.
Now, on to our candidates. First, let's combine A and C and find the seniors on the team whom expect to see the field: WR James Kirkendoll, WR John Chiles, TE Greg Smith, OT Kyle Hix, OG Michael Huey, OT Britt Mitchell, OG Tray Allen, DE/DT Sam Acho, DE Eddie Jones, LB Dustin Earnest, LB Jared Norton, CB Curtis Brown, and CB Chykie Brown.
Now let's eliminate some of the competitors.
Captain Kirk has been maddeningly inconsistent throughout his tenure at Texas, often crushing poor defenses and becoming Casper the Friendly Ghost against teams with a pulse. I'll never forgive that abysmal drop he had on a perfectly thrown McCoy lob that would have been a walk-in TD against Nebraska in the conference title game. Too often the guy just looks like he doesn't care, and that continued in both open practices I witnessed. I could see an argument being made for him since he fits the prerequisites well, but he brings nothing to the table that younger guys on the team don't have (other than he's bled for the program, along with my bare knuckles after punching the wall in frustration watching him play). He's also our least talented guy at a loaded position. I see him eventually giving way to Mike Davis. I hope.
Barring yet another twisted TE voodoo, witchcraft, Santeria injury (pray to your deity of choice for Barrett Matthews, people), Greg Smith should see much reduced playing time. Yes, the ‘ole EBS has slimmed down and appears to have much improved hands. But if you saw what I did from Matthews in the spring game, he'll be almost impossible to keep off the field. Texas will have a few two-tight end sets, but I primarily expect us to be 11 personnel with all the WR talent on campus and the, well, complete dearth of at TE. Sorry EBS, you're off the list.
Kyle Hix switched from right tackle to left tackle. That means instead of letting Garrett Gilbert see the pass rushers hitting him, they'll now be hitting him from his blindside. Hoo-ray! I kid, to an extent. Hix at LT this season is like that girl from high school who always liked you and wanted to go to prom with you, but you always liked a different, more physically attractive girl and wanted to go to prom with her. The lesser-attractive girl is definitely not bad looking, but she could be a lot more attractive if she did her hair differently, lost five pounds, and stopped stalking you both in person and on Facebook. Now the really hot girl's graduated and you're forced to take the girl who has all your activities, interests, and favorite quotes memorized. That's Kyle Hix at LT. Incidentally, the hottie's Jon Scott. Go figure.
Britt Mitchell is that kinda quiet, creepy girl in high school you never wanted anything to do with, but senior year everybody else was taken so you had to ask her to prom. That's Britt Mitchell starting at OL for the University of Texas. Keeping the spot warm until Paden Kelley or Trey Hopkins is ready to take over. Thanks Britt!
Tray Allen would have been a perfect candidate for Super Senior Breakout, but it looks like his injury is going to limit him more than originally expected. Mason Walters was the guy for the future already, and Allen's nagging injury problems and sporadic play to begin with likely just cemented that. I don't expect him to start a game this season, though he may contribute in a backup role.
Sam Acho is already a bonafide star on the team, so he's off the list.
I'll throw Dustin Earnest and Jared Norton into the same category of being passed up by Dravannti Johnson on the new depth chart. That's not exactly the truth, so I'll clarify a bit. The coaches apparently feel Dr. J's presence on the edge outweighs the merits of keeping Emmanuel Acho outside at the other OLB spot. I agree. Getting the best players on the field has not always been the priority for the coaching staff, especially at linebacker. Anybody remember when Rod Muckelroy, Sergio Kindle, and Norton were backing up Scott Derry, Rashad Bobino, and Robert Killebrew? No? Well you block stuff out of your memories better than I do...Nice to see how much the culture has changed (on defense) since Advent Muschamp.
Curtis Brown is already the third best corner in the league and Chykie Brown showed the same devotion to consistency and effort that Kirkendoll did in the open practices (minimal), still getting beat deep frequently (seemingly the only way anybody is going to score on this defense). I still think he's the guy everybody throws at, so while his numbers might be inflated, he's also going to be giving up the most yards.
If you've been keeping count, three guys remain: John Chiles, Michael Huey, and Eddie Jones. As you have probably already surmised, those are the 2010 Super Senior Breakouts (applause)!
Four years ago, John was the under-the-radar prospect everybody was talking about towards the end of the recruiting season. He was so impressive that he moved up to five stars on Rivals, despite being committed to UT and, by necessity, not anybody in the SEC. I was never particularly impressed with Sweet Chiles O' Mine's highlight tapes, but others were so he came in with a bunch of pub.
The emergence of Colt McCoy as one of the great quarterbacks in Texas history cemented Chiles' status as a career backup at QB, with some snaps from the Q-Package/Wild Horn two-headed abomination. He also got fat and lost much of his vaunted "speed" and supposed "juking ability."
With the arrival of Garrett Gilbert last year, Chiles officially moved to wide receiver, hauling in 34 receptions for 319 yards and three TDs. He wasn't a gamebreaker, wasn't reliable catching the ball, couldn't get off press coverage, and really didn't look like he cared too much about how he performed or the team in general.
Flash forward (or less backward, if you're still operating from a "present" standpoint) to spring camp, and John Chiles was the revelation of the team. At least according to the coaches. But that was the same thing we heard in the offseason leading up to 2009, and nothing came out of it. Needless to say, people were still skeptical.
Rave reviews continued throughout the summer, and finally fans were allowed to see the new Chiles with their own eyes in the open practices. And man was it a shock. Fans were treated to a svelte JC that appeared to have lost about 15 pounds of bad weight, replacing it with sinewy muscle. Chiles also exuded focus and intensity, which went along well with an improved pair of hands (and only one volleyball-set reception) and a newfound crisp route-running ability. He caught by far the most passes from Gilbert in the opens and could be the receiver the sophomore QB leans on as the WR depth chart plays itself out over the course of the season.
I foresee a security blanket role for Chiles this year, primarily out of the slot. The slot receiver spot allows him to utilize his strength to fight off smaller nickel backs, requires the most precise routes from the WR, good hands and courage going over the middle, and lets UT keep their faster players outside, where they can create mismatches with their speed. 65 receptions for 750 yards and 7 TDs sounds about right to me.
Huey's a guy who's been playing since he was a true freshman-he appeared in all 13 games. Like the rest of our offensive line over the last four years, he's been somewhat of a huge disappointment.
As I'm sure you can recall, Huey was one of the prime offenders in the embarrassment against Nebraska's defensive line in the conference championship game. Seen the movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford? The Massacre of the Texas Offensive Line by the House of Spears Ndamukong Suh. Repeatedly seeing Huey get tossed aside like a rag doll or just flat-out missing cut blocks and winding up with his face in the turf and Colt McCoy on his back writhing in pain got a little old after about, oh, five minutes.
So why the optimism in Huey, you ask? An excellent question. I think Huey is the most affected of all the linemen by our switch to a more physical, downhill running game. He struggles with "complicated" offensive line concepts like reach blocking, pulling, and double-teaming. Simplifying the running game allows him to do what he does best, yet has hardly been allowed to do since he got on campus: blast forward and pancake defenders down after down. "Mauling" is the word you'll hear bandied around as the optimal direction for our running game, and Huey's a guy who fits the bill well with that philosophy.
Finally, and thankfully, he has fewer responsibilities in pass coverage than the senior tackles. Less huge mistakes equals better season. Make it happen, Mike!
The surest bet of any of the Super Senior Breakouts to, errr, break out has to be Jones. Eddie finally came out of his shell and avoided injury long enough to register 23 tackles and a whopping five sacks (not bad for a backup to Sam Acho and Sergio Kindle). He also had a sick interception return for a TD against Baylor.
A former five-star recruit, Jones has been playing in the shadows of star DEs since he arrived at UT: think Brian Orakpo, Henry Melton, and Sergio Kindle. He's finally nailed down the starting job opposite Sam Acho. Also, it looks like both Acho and Alex Okafor will be spending a lot of time inside at defensive tackle, making Eddie Jones the only pure defensive end in the depth chart with any game experience. He should get plenty of opportunities on the edge with all the talent on the defensive line, as it will be almost impossible for an opposing offense to double team any single member of the defense.
While it's true that star freshmen Jackson Jeffcoat and Reggie Wilson's emergence throughout the season will likely eat into Jones' stat totals, I'll still be mildly surprised if EJ doesn't approach double-digit sacks and 20 TFL.
If you somehow made it this far, I appreciate your patience and huge amount of leisure time. Who you got bustin' out his senior year?