Fozzy Whittaker: My Guy MVP
Around BON, you know that the season is really getting close when it's time for the annual selection of My Guys for the year. If you're new or need a refresher on how it works, the "My Guys" column is a concept I borrowed from the outstanding baseball writer Joe Sheehan, who used to pen the column annually for Baseball Prospectus. The idea is to name the four players (in previous years five players) who you think are poised to have breakout seasons and exceed expectations with big years on the field. Note the distinction between this mission and trying to name the five best players -- or most productive players, or most important players -- on the team. Here we're simply naming the four players that we might love more than most.
Last year was the first time I didn't hog My Guys all to myself, allowing Wescott to join me in a draft-style format, and we had so much fun with it that we decided to do it that way again. I'll always keep the first pick to myself, but it was once again a lot more fun to draft our breakout picks in turn.
Before we get to this year's selections, it's always interesting to take a quick review of the previous year's selections and how our favorites wound up performing. The highlight of my selections from My Guys 2011 was my nomination of Fozzy Whittaker for the third straight season, who in his final year finally wound up delivering the greatness I stubbornly kept insisting was there. Three of my other selections (Okafor, Hicks, and Bergeron) were solid but not the breakout stars that Whittaker was, while my fifth choice, DJ Grant, started strong (3 TDs against UCLA) but faded down the stretch. For his part, Wescott was spot on with respect to Kenny Vaccaro, while both Jaxon Shipley and Jackson Jeffcoat certainly flashed greatness that suggested they would have had big seasons if they had been able to stay healthy all year. And while Wescott's other two picks -- Trey Hopkins and Mason Walters -- didn't have the breakthrough seasons in 2011, count me among those who think 2012 is that year.
And on that note, let's dive in to My Guys for 2012. You can read our picks after the jump, but most importantly, get on the record with Your Guys for 2012 in the comments. Just 11 days to kick off...
PB Pick No. 1: Joe Bergeron
Over the years I've had a tendency to be a season early with My Guys, but I'm not shy about doubling down on a guy that I love, and I'm going to start this year's party with one of My Guys from last year who very well could have blown the roof off the place if things had gone a little bit differently last season: Joe Bergeron. With what fans saw from Bergeron last year, I don't think anyone doubts his ability, but with Malcolm Brown expected to start and the natural excitement about the new arrival (Jonathan Gray), the expectations for Bergeron seem somewhat muted -- at least compared to what I'm expecting.
Put it this way: if he stays healthy all year, I like Bergeron to effectively be the starting back, and to have so impressive a season that he's pre-season First Team All-Big 12 heading into next year... with some buzz about his potential to be Texas' next Heisman winner. I think he's that dynamic, and while I'm plenty high on the other tailbacks on the roster -- and am glad that Texas has another Cerberus backfield -- my expectations for Bergeron this fall are extraordinarily high. Perhaps unrealistically high, but that's the name of the My Guys game, isn't it?
Wescott Pick No. 1: David Ash
That is certainly the name of the game, and I can't say that I disagree with you about Bergeron. I really loved what I saw before he got hurt last year, especially his ability to slide cut that I didn't know he had. Before I get to my pick, though, I just have to say that I can only imagine how distraught you are not to be able to pick your boy Fozzy Whittaker for the 17th year in the row -- I wish you the best in this trying time.
I struggled a bit with my first pick because I'm afraid that you're going to steal my second. But I'm going to go with David Ash. People who follow me on Twitter and read my work in this space know that I've been Team Ash pretty much since Garrett Gilbert got pulled in the BYU game, so this shouldn't come as a shocker.
To me, the value of getting so many reps since the debacle against Kansas State will tell on the field, and I expect him to become a more than competent starter this season, eventually making himself an outright asset by the end of the season. I really liked his candid comments about having to tone down his gunslinger mentality and recognize that his windows are smaller in college, so the maturity in decision-making is going to make a big difference in his play on the field this year. I'm predicting a big-time leap. Your turn, PB, you going to steal my second pick?
PB Pick No. 2: Adrian Phillips
Wait, did you really just dig on me for my undying love of Fozzy Whittaker? Now? After the season that finally and fully vindicated my stubborn insistence that Fozzy had greatness waiting to be unleashed? I'll stand by picking Fozzy Whittaker as one of My Guys for three consecutive years, and damnit I'll put him on my roster again this year, if need be. I will rename the damn blog FozzyWhittakerNation.com if that's what it takes, but disrespect and underappreciation will not be tolerated.
Okay good, we're clear then. Let's move on and talk about your pick, which.... let's see here, who did you grab... [squints]... David Ash? Who you think is prepared to make a "big-time leap" this year? Really? To be honest with you...
I actually agree with your assessment. Ash struggled a good amount last year, but he also showed a lot of promising football ability; and moreover, the staff didn't prep him for the role he eventually wound up assuming last year, which provides a good amount of reason to expect at least modest improvement just from being more experienced and better prepared. Solid and turnover-free will get it done, and although some fans may be underwhelmed, I'd actually characterize that as precisely the big-time leap this offense needs.
As for my next selection, I'm going to go defense, but not to draft Jordan Hicks again -- who I was a season early on last year, and for whom expectations are sky high from most UT fans this year. They certainly are for me too, but that makes Hicks unavailable for My Guys... As high as expectations are for this defense as a whole, it's a little difficult to tab any defensive player for this series, but one player I like more than most to have a high-impact, breakout campaign this fall is junior defensive back Adrian Phillips.
Phillips has had some trouble staying healthy (which has never stopped me from picking a player in this post before), which seems to me part of the reason that he doesn't generate as much excited interest among UT fans as he otherwise might. I'm a fan of Phillips' game because he's versatile and physical, with the keen football instincts that just about every quality defensive backs must possess. The versatility and physicality intersect in Phillips play in support of rush defense, where he takes good angles to ball carriers and delivers hard, disruptive blows that finish plays and have a chance to pop the ball loose. Phillips has greater room to grow as a defensive back in coverage, but it's here that I think that moving up the learning curve is a matter of experience, not ability, and expect that if healthy for all of 2012, Phillips will prove to be at least a solid asset in coverage, and I think he has potential to be a great deal better than that. I've already seen the talent, instincts, and tools; now I expect to see it all come together in a breakout season that will surprise many fans.
Wescott Pick No. 2: Steve Edmond
Hey, much love for Fozzy, always. The kid finally had the year that you were expecting for so long. Too bad the last part of it got destroyed by that Bush League turf at Missouri. What a joke. I just thought that it wouldn't be a proper My Guys column without at least a mention of our boy Foswhitt, seeing as how he was such a part of it for so long. I would actually like to propose that we have a Fozzy Whittaker Memorial Award in My Guys every year to either select a guy again, or just generally honor Fozzy's season and extensive presence on these lists.
I like the Adrian Phillips pick, as he's not only the one guy in the secondary who's truly eligible for this draft, as you mention, but he may also be the most versatile player in a group that should be elite this season. He's spent some time at cornerback, he can play nickel, he can play either safety position. And how's this for filling up the stat sheet last year -- 43 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack, two interceptions, five pass breakups, three pressures, three caused fumbles, and one fumble recovery. Play. Maker. Texas also needs someone to fill that deep centerfield role with Blake Gideon departed and I have absolute confidence that Phillips can get it done there. The only problem? It seems a waste of his talent to make him play there exclusively.
As much as I like Phillips, what I like the best about the pick is that it allows me to pick up my boy Steve Edmond, that 6-3, 260-or-whatever-pound wrecking ball who will enter his sophomore season ready to cause some havoc. And how can you not love a guy that Manny Diaz vividly described like the quiet action-movie hero who talks softly but carries a big stick in a quote that wasn't just the best this year, but was probably the best that I've ever heard from a coach:
"He comes off as quiet, but he's listening to everything you say," Diaz said. "I always say, when you walk into the bar, the guy who is running his mouth usually doesn't want a fight.
"But the guy in the back who doesn't say a word, that's the guy you have to be careful of - that's Steve. He's the guy who if he gets up, everyone's going to get quiet because they something terrible is about to happen to them."
Coach Diaz is the best. Something terrible. In my estimation, there are going to be plenty of terrible things happening to ballcarriers and quarterbacks when Edmond gets a hold of them. The kid is the size of the guys that Texas Tech was playing at defensive tackle last year, but still moves like someone much smaller, to the extent that Diaz believes he will be fine in coverage. Add in the fact that he has incredible hands, having briefly but successfully played some tight end in high school, and things start to get flat-out unfair.
Back some time in 2009, Edmond wasn't really a guy that was on my radar coming off his sophomore season. Until I saw some film on him. I can't find it at the moment, but it looked a lot like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fa77bSqvflM. It took me about a minute before I was completely sold on the kid and had vaulted him basically to the top of my most-wanted list for the 2011 class.
It's a love affair that will continue into this season, when I expect him to wrack up close to 100 tackles, 10 or more for loss, three sacks, and three forced fumbles. I don't think those expectations are unrealistic -- that's how much I like Edmond as a player. In fact, I'm feeling lucky that he was still around with the fourth pick.
As I toss it back to you, PB, I can at least do so this time not worried that you're going to take my boy with the next pick.
PB Pick No. 3: Malcom Brown
Don't kid yourself: after your offensive Fozzy behavior, I thought long and hard about picking Edmond just to send you into full poutrage. In the end, though, I decided to let you have him... but not because I'm a nice guy (I was totally prepared to catalyze a meltdown). No, I just didn't pick him because I'm a stubborn fool and My Guy purist who sometimes winds up reaching for duds rather than taking a (justifiably) popular choice.
But that's my issue, not yours. Truth be told, you tabbed a player that I'm as excited about as anyone on the team -- Edmond looks like he was born and bred to be a linebacker for my Steelers, and I suspect that you're going to have a tough time convincing UT fans that Edmond is your boy, not theirs. All of which is to say, I loved reading what you wrote about him, and agreed with every word of it.
As exhilarating as it feels when a player that no one else much believes in winds up vindicating your irrational love for him (See Whittaker, Fozzy, 2009, 2010, 2011), the downside of trying to project breakout seasons from players of which little is expected is that oftentimes you just wind up projecting optimism where there really shouldn't be any. Or worse, make a pick that at root is just contrarian (See Beasley, Deon: 2008).
For my third selection this year, I'm going to wade into the morass that is the interior of the defensive line, where no fewer than five Longhorns (Chris Whaley, Brandon Moore, Desmond Jackson, Ashton Dorsey, and Malcolm Brown) are viable My Guys candidates -- each with enticing breakout potential, but little consensus as to how things will shake out. I can't say that I know for sure either, but if I'm going to miss on one of My Guys, as a rule I want it to be because I'm too early and this may be the only season in which Malcom Brown even qualifies for this draft, so sign me up for the true freshman.
Like Edmond, fans are already buzzing about Malcolm Brown, and the single biggest obstacle that he faces seems to be his status as a true freshman. Playing at a position with such remarkable roster depth, that may make it easier for the coaches to try to hold him back a little bit this year, but there's a threshold of impact play beyond which the staff won't have any choice but to let him loose, and I won't be surprised if that's exactly what happens. Texas has had some great defensive tackles in recent years, but none that thrived because they possessed a build that was the Platonic Ideal for the position (e.g. Roy Miller, Lamarr Houston). Malcolm Brown is the most physically impressive freshman tackle that I can recall, and he appears to have the constitution and drive to get the most out of it.
If ever there was a true freshman to grab for your My Guys list, it's Malcolm Brown.
Wescott Pick No. 3: Daje Johnson
Malcom Brown. MB2. Funny thing about that kid? He just kind of let everybody misspell his name for a while, early in his recruitment. Speaking of which, he's another kid, like Edmond, that I really fell in love with. It wasn't just the sick quickness off the ball that let him assault backfields with ease. No, it was the end of his sophomore highlights -- a couple plays where he hauled it downfield in an attempt to catch a ballcarrier. He didn't on either, but it didn't matter. That's a motor that runs hot.
I'm just going to go off on a little more Malcom Brown here, because even though he's your guy, PB, I still get to talk about him some, if I want to. It's a kinda cool thing about this here deal.
Anyway, I'll get back to my point with some recent film of Brown, when he played some tight end as a senior. Yeah, and scored at least one long touchdown. A defensive tackle. That's not even a Fat Guy touchdown. That's just a sick 300-pound dude who can flat-out move. I didn't think he took on double teams well at the International Bowl, but Manny Diaz won't really be asking him to do that. The latest buzz is that he's going to crack the rotation because Diaz likes to get fresh bodies in there and I think it happens.
My other point about Malcom Brown -- there was a point about a year and a half ago, when he couldn't make the Texas Junior Day because, and check this reason out, it's legit and one that he relayed to me at the International Bowl. His uncles rims got stolen the night before, so he didn't have a ride. I think Tim Cole just have already been in town. But around that time, I pretty much convinced myself, out of necessity, I thought, that he was going to be an Aggie. It was sad, and difficult. But he's wearing burnt orange now and that puts a big ol' you-know-what-eating grin on my face. MB2, baby. In Austin. About to be in effect.
But I still have to pick a guy here at some point, although I imagine I could keep on down this detour for a minute if I needed to do so. Which I don't. Aight, check this. I'm kind of working through this since I don't have a draft board or anything. MJ McFarland? Eh, tempting, but I'm not sold that he's quite there. I think it's going to be another year with him.
I'm actually going with a freshman here, too, just in order to completely ruin my impact freshman post (or make it really easy) -- Daje Johnson. I'm becoming more and more convinced that the kid is going to be what I always wanted DJ Monroe to be, but DJ could never become, for reasons I don't completely understand, but am increasingly starting to assign as his own fault.
Some of it is media members asking the questions, but there's been an awful lot of talk about Johnson from the coaching staff, and an awful lot of buzz about him from practice reports. He seems like a guy the staff is going to have to find ways to get on the field. He's sick explosive.
And it was funny, because Johnson surfaced on my radar because of his sick SQARQ results at The Opening in 2011 (sadly I hadn't known about him, even though he's from the Austin area), and the night that I decided to go see him play was essentially at the same time that Texas got into contact with him. Fortuitous, serendipitous for this pick, whatever. Both?
The first impression wasn't great -- for reasons of which I'm still not aware, Johnson didn't play in the first quarter. Some type of minor disciplinary reason, I guess, which doesn't really matter because otherwise he seems like a good kid. When he did get on the field, he was a little bottled up, didn't have much room, and it was really 2014 running back Samaje Perine who was flashing to me. I knew that Johnson was crazy explosive, but I didn't know if he had running back skills.
Then this happened:
Boom! Sold and sold. Did I mention that Johnson is going to be what I thought my boy DJ Monroe was going to be? /sigh
Alright, my dissertation is finished. Are you going to take Johnathan Gray and completely ruin my Impact Freshman post?
PB Pick No. 4: Donald Hawkins
Now that's a classic My Guys selection: that potential that you just can't resist, even if it's not at all clear that it's even going to have the chance to all come together this year.
(Parenthetically, I like how I spend half of each entry belaboring the nuances of My Guys draft psychology, and you spend half of yours relaying all manner of minutia about these guys' childhoods. Which makes us both pretty weird dudes. Or "bloggers," if you want to be direct about it.)
Alright, it's time for our final round of selections, and for the record, I could care less about your Freshman Impact post. You lost my sympathy when you penned a post on "Underrated Longhorns," a post whose theme is dangerously close to this one. Which I mention every August is only my favorite post to write of the year. Even so, I'm not taking Jonathan Gray, and not because I'm not high on his potential to be an impact player this year.
I just have to use my final pick on left tackle Donald Hawkins, who may not exactly be a diamond in the rough, but let's face it: he's an offensive lineman; most fans don't spend much time, if any, evaluating expectations for individual linemen. I suspect that fans will talk a lot more about Donald Hawkins once this season gets underway, however. Particularly as you start to think about the potential upgrade as compared with last year, if Hawkins plays as well as I think he can, it's plausible to imagine that there may not be a higher impact player on the offense. And a case can also be made that he's the player this team can least afford to lose to injury.
Hawkins has the right disposition to be a great tackle, he's consistently proven himself very coachable and a fast learner, and he possesses the requisite physical tools to get it all done. If he performs at or near his top-end ability all year for Texas, his impact will literally show up in the final record. Which is why he's one of My Guys for 2012.
Alright comrade, take us home. Confess your final crush...
Wescott Pick No. 4: Josh Cochran
Ima follow you here and head to the other side of the line. I had a nice freak-out session the other day about Josh Cochran (I need to chill on thinking the worst with every backdoor injury report, but, hey, I guess it's sorta my job), so given his value, the fact that he balled out as a frosh and helped save our sorry, poor-recruiting, non-developing, can't-get-an-OL-drafted butts (we're changing, faith in coach Searels) by being a pretty bad dude last year given the circumstances. After so many failed tackles who have had to move inside and then, eh, to have a kid whom everyone thought needed a redshirt come in and handle left tackle better than our five-star bust, Tray Allen? Yeah, baller status. Much love Josh Cochran.
On a related note, we actually recruited an athletic lineman! Like, a seriously athletic dude who put on weight quickly, has the feet to stone some edge rushers as he ages well in terms of technique and overall strength, and can get out in space and make plays in the running and screen game. I see future NFL starter potential. I just wrote those words and they should not seem so crazy to right (sic, I really wrote that first, shame on me), but that's the reality of things for Texas fans right now. At least they're getting better. Things are better. and getting better.
Just one last thing -- can we bubble wrap D-Hawk and my boy Josh Cochran until, like, West Virginia, pretty much? I'm only sorta joking.
Man, My Guys. Another year. Pumped about some Texas football and pumped about having done these long enough for us to sound like an old married couple bickering. Here's to many, many, many, many more, buddy. /raises glass of Jameson in toast
PB: I'll drink to that. But get that glass of Jameson out of here and bring us some Bushmills. Have I taught you nothing? We'll try this again next year.
And now the conversation turns to you, BON. Who are Your Guys for the 2012 season?