The midseason review continues with a look at Texas' wide receivers.
Minimum 5 receptions
Prior to the season, the working theory on this offense was that it could be a successful, pass-first attack, directed by McCoy. We talked at length about the two elements required for the plan to succeed:
- Offensive line competency
- Limas Sweed stretching the field and commanding double teams
Given the ultimate outcome (Sweed has opted for season-ending surgery), I'll never forget sitting on the stage at BookPeople in Austin, doing an Eyes of Texas 2007 book event with Geoff Ketchum and Chip Brown. Almost simultaneously, right before we were to begin the event, Geoff and Chip's Blackberry's began buzzing. They each looked at their phones and announced to the audience, "Limas Sweed just injured his wrist at practice."
That was back in late August, and though Sweed would soldier through the first six games of the season, there were signs throughout that the injury was more significant than he was letting the rest of us see. It's important to remember just how good a receiver Limas had become by the close of 2006. He was using his body the way a guy his size should, pushing interference rules to the proper limits to better his position, running good routes, and hauling in tough catches. Phil Steele ranked Sweed as the top receiver in the country heading into 2007, and even if you care to quibble with that, a healthy Sweed is easily one of the top ten pass catchers in the country.
His injury was not only a setback for him personally; it drilled a leak in the bigger Texas offensive boat. Without elite play from Sweed, defending the Longhorn aerial attack became significantly less of a challenge. While it would be a mistake to pin all the struggles on this factor alone, Sweed's relative ineffectiveness has been a substantial problem.
Moreover, with Sweed now out for the year, things just went from bad to worse. Though Nate Jones has done a damn fine job working the intermediate routes, and Quan Cosby remains an excellent possession receiver, there's no one on the roster who's ready to fulfill Limas' role. Jordan Shipley is a better playmaker than he looks, but he's a far cry from Sweed. Billy Pittman was a big play threat in 2005, but that's looking more and more like an anomalous VY-driven season.
As for Jermichael Finley, everyone knows what a freak of a weapon he is, but we haven't seen him used as such until this past Saturday when he torched Oklahoma - notably in the first half. With Sweed in street clothes, Texas will undoubtedly try to continue to use Finley more, but there will need to be a credible deep threat to prevent teams from cheating more safety help than normal to containing him.
If Sweed were healthy, this would all be very different. As things stand right now, though, Texas needs to consider some big adjustments.
First and foremost, the Texas coaches now have no excuse not to play Brandon Collins and James Kirkendoll. Their redshirts have already been burned (though neither has registered a reception). Now that Texas is an extreme long shot to win the Big 12, and now that Limas Sweed is out for the season, the coaches must justify the burning of these 'shirts by playing these kids and playing them often. Both earned rave reviews throughout the summer and fall, both have lost their redshirts, and both will be around for three more years.
As wonderful as it's been to see Nate having a strong senior season, he's gone after this year. Ditto Billy Pittman. And if you think Texas' 2007 offense looks eminently containable, wait 'til you see the 2008 unit if the coaches don't work on developing someone to play the role of Limas Sweed.
The ugly truth to the matter is that there's not going to be any quick fix to that particular problem, and as discussed above, there's cause for concern that this offense can even be an effective one without that critical deep threat element.
So what's the bottom line? This is another data point for the case to see what we've got in John Chiles. And soon.