To believe senior safety Kenny Vaccaro (and you should, seriously), junior linebacker Jordan Hicks was the most athletic linebacker for the 2011 Longhorns. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
Jordan Hicks was most athletic Texas linebacker in 2011? One of the fun games during football media availability is going through the official Texas transcript and comparing it to the any video or reports from the services that include all the quotes from the players:
OBTV: Longhorn spring practice report (via ESPNAustinTaylorTV)
If it's juicy, John Bianco's not letting that into the Big Brother edition, amirite?
Anyway, the best Tuesday nugget probably came from Vaccaro, who had this to say about Jordan Hicks:
Nothing against Keenan (Robinson) or Emmanuel (Acho), but I thought Hicks was the best linebacker we had last year as far as his athleticism. He didn't even get to come in on nickel.
And while KDVII is visibly sincere about not wanting to disparage his former teammates, it was the example that first popped into his head about how the Texas defense might actually improve this season. The hamstring injury that slowed Hicks had an impact on his defensive deployment, but there was some evidence from when he was healthy, particularly in the Holiday Bowl, thattrusts him enough to play on the strongside in that nickel slot against some 11 personnel and take some drops into coverage.
The fat that Hicks is the most experienced member of the group now means more of a leadership role for the junior and in that respect senior defensive end Alex Okafor believes the junior from Ohio matured as a result of being forced to grow into that role.
The expectation is that Demarco Cobbs, now out for the spring with a neck injury he suffered at the beginning of spring practices, is a better fit in that strongside role because he's essentially an oversized safety, moving Hicks over to the weakside. Add in a reportedly svelte Steve Edmond tipping the scales at around 260 pounds reportedly (thank you, Bennie) to complete the new-look corps.
Cobbs and Hicks both mean more speed on the outside (man, wasn't that 4.79 from K-Rob at the Combine pretty disappointing?), while the big guy Edmond will provide a force in the middle that Texas hasn't seen for a long, long time.
Vaccaro echoed the common sentiments about Edmond being a true middle linebacker and talked about how he has a unique perspective playing behind Edmond on just how quickly he fills the holes in the running game, just a read and fill instinct that has always stood out on the big guy from his time in high school.
Another KV classic was his take on Edmond's length -- "his arms hang to the ground." We'll just go ahead and call it an impressive wingspan. Just as importantly, Vaccaro cited Edmond's hands as some of the best on the team to allow him to finish plays with interceptions. Plus, the combination of size and speed for Edmond means "nobody moves him."
Good stuff from the artist formerly known as [REDACTED].
Now, for what everyone has been waiting for -- quarterback talk. has declined to make his quarterbacks available for much of the last year. The result? When Case McCoy was the first out to speak with the media, it was clear that it was a message delivered straight from the Texas head coach.
Well, that would be the case (sorry) no matter what, but what Brown may not totally understand all the time is that creating the vacuum of information only makes people parse what little information there is all the more.
So, message received, coach Brown, the competition is still open, just as you exercised such verbal gymnastics to make clear last week during your press conference. Or even the appearance of McCoy first in the practice photos. Do you see what you've driven us to Mack? Well, I guess we just do it to ourselves, mostly. Texas beat writer Mike Finger was joking on Twitter on Tuesday about how it was driving him crazy. The lack of availability is hard on those guys. YOU'RE DRIVING THEM CRAZY MACK!
And now the services have to deal with Brown specifically directing prospects to lie about their offer status if they want.
It is obvious that last year we knew what we needed to do, but this year we know why we need to do it. This gives us two years of running the same offense and we are all developing, all the quarterbacks are developing. We have everything in the offense now, and it is just working out better
It's a difficult transition for any unit in a new system and Texas had to deal with both sides of the ball attempting to work through it in 2012. According to McCoy, what made Kellen Moore effective at Boise State was his ability to know where everybody was and what they were supposed to be doing.
Later, David Ash took it a step further and talked about how the ability to move past knowing where the offense needs to be allows him to approach the line of scrimmage with his attention shifted to the defense. There was also a mention at Hookem.com of a throw slightly off target in practice Tuesday that a receiver caught Ash believes would have gone for an incompletion last year. Repetitions ---> Trust ---> Comfort ---> Plays. Not exactly advanced football science.
The presumptive leader at the position was also candid about his work on throwing touch passes, admittedly a deficiency during his freshman season. Under pressure, Ash also allowed his mechanics to break down early in the Cal game and at other times during his freshman season, where he would fail to transfer his weigh to his front foot, which would cause him to drop his hip through his release point and led to some balls sailing on him.
There's a difference there between a mechanical flaw that leads to a loss of accuracy and what was happening with Ash at times like the end of the Missouri game, when the timing would break down so much for him that he would have no idea what spot to throw to on the field.
During a summer 7on7 SQT in 2010, I saw Ash for the first time live and his struggles in that regard were striking when Belton got behind and he lost his favorite receiver and did exactly the same thing he did against Missouri. Essentially throwing the ball and hoping that it went to a good spot instead of being able to lead his receiver. Touch is a rather nebulous thin and to a large extent an understanding built over a number of repetitions or just the natural skill of someone who simply has a better innate feel for it, as Connor Brewer seems to have.
One thing that comes to mind is that Ash didn't seem to go out too much on the combine circuit where players get a lot of reps throwing to receivers they have no experience with. For Brewer, a lot of it is probably natural, but his extensive experience there, those valuable repetitions in which he likely holds a sizable advantage over Ash could be a measure of that separation that is apparent.
On a national level, a lot of jokes still exist regarding the Texas quarterback situation (looking at you, Solid Verbal guys), especially in regards to any expectations that the 'Horns may have moving forward and adding the 2013 class to the mix leading to championship aspirations that year. To a certain extent, this is easy to look at as making excuses, but the point really is context -- the limitations imposed on the offense for no other reason than it was simply so new and the repetitions so few between quarterbacks and receivers.
Throw in the lack of game experience and all the other factors that resulted in two quarterbacks leaving during a small window and it provides the context for understanding what happened and why there's reason to believe that there will be incremental advancements at the very least. This doesn't seem like new ground in this space, but apparently there are still a lot of disbelievers out there still that there is any hope for improvement. Amongst the trolls, that is. Who will troll.
Encapsulating it a bit, it seems that the search for Ash's touch will be one of the defining narratives not only of the spring, but also of the 2012 season. Those disbelievers are right about one thing, though -- Ash's success or failure there determines just how height of the ceiling for this Longhorn team.
Connor is a player. You see it here and there. I think we have all been at that stage when you are here for the first time, those first throws and trying to get use to it all. Just having him on the field and talking to him in the film room, you can tell he is definitely a player, and he knows the game. He is going to be good one day.
Clearly, there's a bit of a transition period going on for Brewer (expected), but the sense from McCoy is that the tools are there (expected). Nothing exactly ground-breaking here, but that's probably why it made it into the official transcript. But hey, at least there are real quotes from players to parse, right? It could certainly be worse. Like the real offseason. *shudders*
New leaders spring eternal. Part of the process every college football team has to go through every spring is replacing the lost leadership from the previous years. Defensively, those guys not only formed the middle of the defense, but also formed the core of the locker room -- Kheeston Randall, Emmanuel Acho, and Keenan Robinson, as well as Blake Gideon.
As if it wasn't evidence enough from the fact that fellow seniors in defensive end Alex Okafor and the expansive Vaccaro were made available to the media, Okafor went ahead and made it simple by acknowledging that he and KV have taken over that role on defense in their final season on the 40.
As a guy who tends to lead more by example than through his words, Okafor did say it has been an adjustment for him. Fortunately, though, the increased accountability measures put in place by the coaching staff reduce the pressure on the players to enforce things like attendance. By the time that the season rolls around, Vaccaro and Okafor, as well as the under Jordan Hicks, should be well adjusted to the role of defensive leaders.