Texas needs Jordan Hicks to put it all together as a linebacker for Texas (Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE)
The Longhorns officially started fall camp on Sunday when the players reported and Mack Brown and selected team leaders spoke with the media. Now it's time for a reset of where things stand after the preview last week.
The walking and the walking wounded. The first press conference for Mack Brown every fall always features an early discussion of which players injured during the spring are available, and which will be limited. The news was mostly positive on Sunday:
Good news there, as Texas needs the depth that Daniels will provide at tight end (and he needs the reps after switching positions following last season), while there was some speculation that Jeffcoat was a bit behind in his recovery schedule, or at least not ahead of it, during the summer. Having him full speed ahead for the season is obviously huge for a team counting on the starting defensive ends to be as good or better than any other tandem in the country.
[CB] Quandre Diggs, [WR] Bryant Jackson, [TE] Caleb Bluiett and [DE] Reggie Wilson will be limited. But Quandre could practice. He could play if we played today, but we'll be careful with him early in practice. And then we'll work Bryant, [WR] Miles [Onyegbule] and Reggie Wilson back into practice slowly.
The surprises here are Bluiett and Wilson -- it wasn't made public that either of them were injured. Since there weren't any announcements, neither unspecified injury should be significant, though Wilson was lumped in with Bryant and Oneygbule, both players whose timetables were always going to limit them when practice started, rather than with the guys who are nearly healthy like Diggs.
New practice uniforms debut. One of the most-discussed announcements in the spring was the revelation that Texas would debut new practice uniforms in the fall. Since Monday was the first day of practice (which was telecast in parts on the Longhorn Network), some pictures emerged of Texas players in the new uniforms:
In regards to the orange jerseys, the real issue is that the shade of burnt orange is wrong. Kind of a big deal.
But, the players apparently like them and have been asking Mack Brown about whether the Longhorns will ever change up their gameday uniforms. The school has always maintained in the past that tradition will win out with respect to the look that is arguably college football's best, especially the away white stormtrooper look Vince Young sported in the national championship game. Here's what Brown had to say about the subject:
There's been a lot of discussion in the spring about our uniforms. There's been so many crazy uniform changes across the country right now with some teams, I think I heard one team had 18 different combinations, and that's kind of confusing when you have 12 games. I don't know how they use them all. But our players are constantly asking, "Are we ever going to change our uniform or are we ever going to do anything different?" And what we tell them is, we are not. We'll have burnt orange and white. May move a number around. A couple of years ago we had the number above the Longhorn. But we are who we are, and that uniform has been like it is for many, many years. And as long as I'm the coach, we will not have any drastic changes, and it will be burnt orange and it will be white.
What we have done for the players is we have allowed them to design practice uniforms, and we will rotate those on a daily basis. But they will get to wear some orange and black and some different colors and that's what they get to play [in]. That's what they want to do and they are excited about it, and we think it will help recruiting, and we think it will also keep them from asking me to ever change their game uniforms as well.
Look for some pictures to emerge from the first Junior Day in February with recruits wearing the practice uniforms.
Continuity. A lot gets made of how much more quickly the defense can play now with some experience under Manny Diaz and how much the quarterbacks should improve with greater knowledge of the offense. But the same is also true for the entire coaching staff and how well they can all work together entering their second season in Austin:
Coaching continuity. We are glad that our coaching staff and our group stayed from last year. This time last year we were talking about a Boise offense and Michigan State defense and what flavor will Georgia have with their offense and what about [co-recruiting coordinator/wide receivers coach] Darrell Wyatt and his travels and how much will that change what we do offensively. And now we have a Texas offense that we are working toward and the players believe in, and the same thing defensively. So very little talk about anything other than Texas and us moving forward.
We are so far ahead of where we were at the Holiday Bowl when we finished because we know more about each other. [Strength and Conditioning Head Coach for Football] Bennie Wylie had two summers with [Assistant Athletics Director for Strength & Conditioning] Jeff Madden to get the guys ready, and we are much stronger. I can just tell by the guys reporting and listening to what I heard this summer that the guys had a great summer and were in great shape. We added a nutritionist, and she's done a tremendous job and we've dropped in body fat and the guys were more ready to go than ever before. And even at our coaches' retreat a couple of weeks ago, the guys were all on the same page and it went so much smoother. Last year they were talking about what are you doing in pregame warmups. They were talking about where we stay the night before the game, and now all of those things they know. We are so much further along than we were, and that leads to more excitement as we start the season as well.
A Texas offense, rather than a mish-mash of parts thrown together as quickly as possible. Has a nice ring to it. And that's not a knock on Bryan Harsin, either, that's just the nature of the first year in a new system, especially if the assistants have backgrounds in different offenses.
Some love for Marquise. Before Brown announced the injuries, he spoke a bit about Marquise Goodwin, his accomplishments, and when the wide receiver will be back in burnt orange and out at practice:
Wide Receiver Marquise Goodwin is obviously very disappointed, because you try to win a gold medal and how many opportunities do you ever get to get to the Olympics? And how many times do you get a chance to win, and you get to the finals? And disappointed as he was, I reminded him that he was our most valuable player in the Holiday Bowl and he was on the [Athletics Director's] honor roll, a two-time NCAA Champion and 10th best long jump in the world and arguably the best two-sport athlete in America.
So he had so many things that were good. And I told him also not to handle the Alabama loss like I did. He needs to be more mature than I was and pick himself back up and be proud, because we are all proud of him and get back and get back to work. He said he was already moving forward and felt like he was in a good spot.
What he's trying to do is all of the flights are such that if you win a gold medal or if you medal, you can stay, and after it didn't work out for him he is talking to the Olympic Committee right now - he and Bubba Thornton - to see if they can get him on the next flight home which will be probably back the 9th, 10th - somewhere like that. So we will get him back for practice hopefully the end of this week or next week for sure, and then he will have to go through the orientation period of a couple of days in shorts and shells and be on time.
We run guys for being late when they are. We just closed the door, and that's what we do normally. He will have the orientation period back when he gets back, because he's in the 105 [team members], and he'll have to have a couple of days in shoulder pads and shorts before he can be back in full gear and none that have should be a problem.
Jokes! Mack has jokes! Also some bold proclamations, including saying that Goodwin is the best two-sport athlete in the country. Tough to argue with him though, as no competitors come to mind immediately.
Good to hear as well Goodwin say the right things about moving on after his very public heartbreak on Saturday in London, when he was down on his hands and knees for some time following his final jump. The ability to ultimately define his legacy as a Longhorn football player should help him any lingering private after-effects from his disappointment.
The kicking game could now be a strength. It's no secret the Longhorns are throwing some serious numbers at the kicking game this year in an effort to replace Justin Tucker, so Brown set the expectations and talked about some of the additions:
What we do is, number one, would be to try to have the best kicking game in America. We have not done that. We have been good in areas but you start looking at, we had William Russ and Ben Bruitt and then we added Nick Rose, a young man who has had a strong leg and from Highland Park, kicker that walked on. Nick Jordan who is a young man who can kick off and kick field goals from Coppell, who will be a freshman. Michael Davidson, we actually called the soccer club in the spring and said, "Got anybody that can kick and has a great leg?" And Michael Davidson's dad, the golf pro at River Oaks Country Club, came out and he [Michael] had never kicked field goals before. Sat there last day of spring practice and watched him kick a few, and I said, "Where did he learn to kick?" And he said (indiscernible) (laughter). Looked at a couple of kickers, and he's a guy that's got a great leg and we'll watch him. And Alex King, the punter from Duke graduated from Duke and he has a fifth year left, so he will come in.
I'm not sure what you call a large group of kickers (a passel? a gaggle? a pack?), but Texas has it. Brown said later in the presser that he wants the kicking game to be the best in the country. If it isn't, it won't be for a lack of options.
Brown also filled in the gaps on how Anthony Fera will go about earning his degree from Penn State while at Texas:
And I don't think he will be at practice tomorrow because he's got to get all of his paperwork done for graduate school and then Anthony Fera, from Penn State, has been very publicized over the last six months, eight months probably, but the young guys can transfer. Anthony's folks reached out to us and there is sickness in the family, and a lot of things had to work before this would work for him and for us. He promised Coach [Joe] Paterno when he got to Penn State he would graduate from Penn State. So it's all been worked out that he will come here and he will be on scholarship. He doesn't count in the numbers and he doesn't count in the 105. That's the rule that the NCAA gave Penn State. He will be a junior. He has two years left of eligibility, and he has worked it out where he can graduate from Penn State by having some hours transferred back, which is what he wanted and he will take graduate work for us after he graduates from Penn State. So I do have compassion for the Penn State program and even my friendship with Coach and Sue Paterno, and at the same time this young man reached out to us and had some circumstances that were beyond football, and we felt like that we could also help him and we also need to do what was best for Texas because he needed to get closer to home. So he drove from State College back to Houston. I think he got in yesterday. I think he was about an hour from getting over here today. But again, he'll have to have some paperwork done and he'll have to get in school and he'll have to pass physicals. It will probably be a couple of days before he joins us at practice, as well.
It's a nice story that Fera can honor his promise to Paterno, while still being closer to his family. Win-win.
Hicks looked on to lead linebackers. A subject of conversation for some time, Mack Brown confirmed that he and Manny Diaz will count on the junior linebacker to be more than simply a vocal leader, but also to replace Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho as the primary conduit or actual architect for and of Diaz in the last moments before the snap.
Like most Texas fans, Brown expects Hicks to fulfill the five-star potential he has only flashed at times during his first two seasons at Texas:
I think it's Jordan's turn. He looks good and I thought he was good at Big 12 Media Day, so much stronger, more confident, and we forget he played very little as a freshman. Now it's time to have a great year.
Essentially the only unknown on a defense that will be among the elite of the elite this season, Hicks will basically need to double his production from last season (55 tackles, four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks). Some game-changing plays would be nice, too -- interceptions, fumble recoveries, forced fumbles. As a sophomore, Hicks didn't manage any.
BREAKING: The passing game is still a work in progress. Outside of the quarterback position, there are still some significant questions surrounding the passing game and how the Longhorns will achieve success through the air
We have got to figure out the passing game. I mean, we've got to throw it better, and we know that, and how much of that is play action, how much of that is drop back? How much is fourwides? Who are we in the passing game? I thought we got a clear picture of who we were in the running game last year, and we never reached the point where I thought we knew exactly what we wanted to be in the passing game,
The lack of depth at receiver and loss of Fozzy Whittaker neutered any of the 10 or 11 personnel sets that Texas wanted to run late last season, which seriously reduced the flexibility of the offense to get into spread looks and take full advantage of terrible secondaries like the jokers run out there by Baylor. Some significant extent of offensive upside will reside in the ability of HarsinWhite to unlock those missing elements to better allow the Longhorns to exploit the specific weaknesses possessed by each defense they will face this season.
In another shocker, Brown is tired of the offense flat-out stinking so much of the time:
I'm ready for the offense to step backup, too. I'm a little tired of us not being as good on offense as we need to be and we ought to go back and score more points and they know that. I have asked the offense to take up their end and our kicking game, I think to come from where we were starting spring and where we are today, has really exciting possibilities.
Seconded, coach! The offense needs to stop making the football bad, ASAP. Yes, stop making the football bad.
This thing is headed back in the right direction. We took a little dip, everything is positive and everything is moving forward and I've never been more excited about the challenge. We are not that much better than everybody else like we were at one time, so got to coach. But it's a fun time for us.
Yes. How long is it again until kickoff against Wyoming? /watches the ticker on MB-TF obsessively for fifteen minutes