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Talkin' Texas With Geoff Ketchum

I know a lot of you have been glued to Orangebloods today as the news from the Junior Day weekend trickles in. Frankly, if you're a serious Texas football fan and enjoy all the big recruiting news, ponying up for an premium account at Orangebloods is the best money you can spend each year, especially for weeks like this one.

Folks who are already subscribed know that one of the biggest benefits to premium members is the outstanding insights available from lead editor Geoff Ketchum. Geoff and I have gotten to know each other over the past year, and we spent a couple hours this past Friday talking Texas football over a long lunch at Pluckers the Driskill. I've got some great notes from our conversation.

Offensive Line Perhaps the biggest question heading into spring and fall workouts is at guard, where Texas loses both Justin Blalock and Kasey Studdard to graduation. On the one hand, both Charlie Tanner and Chris Hall are entering the point in their Texas' career where they should start taking off, but there are some coaches who are wondering whether true freshman Michael Huey may just win himself a starting spot at guard sooner, rather than later. Ketch notes that Huey is extremely pedigreed - well coached from the Kilgore football factory, with tremendous size, strength, and technique. Seeing him starting this season is not out of the question, especially given his spring enrollment.

The other guard spot should go to Cedric Dockery, who was playing outstanding football before his season-ending knee injury. With big guys like that, though, there's just no telling whether they'll make it all the way back. Fingers crossed.

Elsewhere, Geoff and I spent a lot of time bemoaning the lackluster play from Hills and Ulatoski at tackle last year, but both agreed that Ulatoski had been thrust into a difficult position. Ketch expects improvement from both tackles this year, especially in run blocking.

The Safeties I asked Geoff if he agreed with me that Marcus Griffin needed to be on the sidelines. Geoff didn't say that he thought Griffin should be benched outright, but he did say that there needed to be opportunities for others to get on the field for significant action, and that Marcus needed to take a step forward from his performance in '06. When I brought up Robert Joseph as a guy I really wanted to see emerge this season, Ketchum lit up like a Christmas tree. "I'm not kidding you when I say this, Peter. That guy might be the best player on defense next season. If he's healthy and gets his fair shot, he's going to be special - and I mean right away."

That still leaves unresolved whether the coaching staff will stick with Marcus Griffin to start games, or if a move back to safety is in the cards for Drew Kelson. If Drew does get the chance to play safety, Ketch noted that it will be his fourth position switch since arriving in Austin. Talk about wasting talent...

D-Line I pointed out to Geoff that the Texas defensive line took a big hit in production, particularly in terms of pressuring the quarterback, once Derek Lokey got injured, and loved what Ketch said in response: "Peter, if I'd told you at the beginning of the season that injuries to Cedric Dockery and Derek Lokey were going to cost Texas the Big 12 title this season, you'd have told me I was smoking too much crack. I wouldn't have believed it myself. But you know what? You could easily make that case based on the way things played out."

True enough, and one more reason why we'll be watching closely to see how Lokey and C-Dock recover.  It should be noted, too, that if Lokey does make it all the way back, as he's expected to, the 'Horns are going to have three very strong players on the interior, with Lokey, Frank Okam, and Roy Miller all returning. Throw in Andre Jones, who's already on campus working out, and it should be a real team strength for Texas.

Linebackers Another big, big question mark for Texas, though there's some hope that Chizik's departure will actually clear up some of the problems from last year. For one thing, Geoff and I agreed that Chizik threw everything off with his psychotic obsession with stopping the run. With Chizik gone, the hope is that MacDuff and Akina can bring back some of that Dick Tomey magic and get the pieces of the puzzle to fit together this year.

It's honestly anyone's guess how this will play out, though we should get some indication this Spring. If Muckelroy's hand gets to 100%, he's the guy the coaches feel has the most talent. Sergio Kindle had his year of development and will be looked on to assume a big role. That leaves playing time to be split among Bobino (inconsistent), Derry (very solid but limited physically), and Killebrew ("one of Mack's guys").

Overall This ought to be the class of the Big 12 on offense, and Geoff is convinced that we're in line for a significant improvement on defense, despite losing a lot of experience. I asked Ketch if he thought Texas would enjoy an "addition by subtraction," with the departure of Chizik to Iowa State, and he didn't hesitate to say, "Without question." In Geoff's view, Chizik's stuck in some seriously out-dated defensive philosophies that he's been able to hide in the past by having elite talent.

That's all we had time to discuss during Friday's luncheon, but agreed to get together regularly throughout the offseason to talk Texas football. I'll pass along notes each time, of course, but you shouldn't sit around and wait for me to chat with Geoff. Premium subscribers to Orangebloods get Geoff's weekly "Inside the Locker Room Report" and the staff "War Room" each week, too. All well, well worth your time and money.