As we've been noting, spring practices are now officially closed from the media, which means we're more or less stuck with updates from the coaches themselves (non-existent) or from sources who will talk to people in the know.
Fortunately, one of those in the know is friend of BON Geoff Ketchum of Orangebloods.com. Geoff and his staff have been busy talking to the folks that they know in the program, and are getting lots of interesting info on the spring workouts.
Geoff, let's start with the secondary, which lost three starters to graduation and figures to be a fierce competition this spring and fall. How is that competition being sorted out this spring, and can you give us any insights on how the young guys are stepping up so far?
Geoff Ketchum, Orangebloods.com This is kind of a common theme right now at a lot of positions, but it's too early to tell who might come out as potential starters. I think one guy that seems to be a lock to end up as one of the starting cornerbacks is Deon Beasley, at least if the first six workouts is any indication. He's been outstanding and is making plays on the ball, which has helped separate him from the pack a little. A couple of other corners that have improved their stock are Brandon Foster and Chykie Brown. Foster has lost about ten pounds since the end of last season and looks like the player that many thought he would be whenhe was recruited and Brown continues to emerge. Privately, Duane Akina will tell you that Brown has a chance to be the best DB he's ever coached and that includes all three of his Thorpe Award winners. The safety positions are even a little more murkier, although I think it's safe to say that Marcus Griffin will be one starter because he's the only player with legit starting experience. Combine that with the fact that the coaches feel like his health was his biggest issue last season and I have a hard time thinking someone will take his job, even if they have more upside. Drew Kelson's move to safety is a work in progress at this point.
The other big question on defense is with our linebackers, where all three starters from last season return. How strong a push can we expect to see from guys like Sergio Kindle and Roddrick Muckelroy? Is there any way last year's starters can hold them off the field?
Geoff Ketchum, Orangebloods.com If Kindle and Muckelroy aren't starting on opening day, it's because they are injured. Both players have been outstanding through the first week of camp and I've had some people tell me that Kindle might be having the best camp of anyone on the defensive side of the ball. He's really starting to let his talent take over now that he's a little more comfortable. Muckelroy would have been a starter last year had he been healthy and most of the staff feels like he's the best linebacker on the team coming into the spring. In my opinion, the only returning starter that will keep his job is middle linebacker Rashad Bobino.
Offensively, all the skill positions are set, but there's a real battle in the trenches for starting line positions. Are guys like Charlie Tanner and Chris Hall ready to step into starting roles? How close is Michael Huey to being a Division I starter? What will the coaches look for this spring from this group?
Geoff Ketchum, Orangebloods.com Way too early to know how things are going to turn out here, although a few guys have made some big strides. Tanner is probably having the best camp of the guys looking to push for a starting position at guard, although Hall is right there with him. Those two will likely compete with each other for the start opposite Cedric Dockery on opening day. Expect Dallas Griffin to be the starting center, although Buck Burnette is having a good camp. Of all the guys you mentioned, Huey is my darkhorse, but he's still a puppy and trying to find his comfort zone. However, I'm not so sure that he doesn't have the most upside of the players in competition, even if we're just talking about this season.
The only question about Jamaal Charles is whether he can sustain a full season as the team's primary back. I know he's not running track this spring, but what are you hearing about how he's looking heading into workouts? And what's the battle for #2 looking like? Is Vondrell McGee ready to be the complementary tailback for Texas?
Geoff Ketchum, Orangebloods.com Charles has been outstanding this spring, but the coaches are still leery about turning the entire running game over to him. Expect them to try and increase his carries throughout the season if they see that he's able to handle the workload. The guy that I think will be sharing a lot of those carries is McGee and he is having a breakout camp right now. A quick and explosive runner, McGee gives the team a big-play threat with a different running style than Charles. True freshman Fozzy Whitaker has also shown some flashes and the team is still trying to figure out what to do with Chris Ogbonnaya. All three of those guys are having good camps, but Charles has been the best guy by a mile thus far.
I'll leave this last question open-ended for you. Give us a few names of guys you're hearing great things about in the early going. Who's opening the coaches eyes so far?
Geoff Ketchum, Orangebloods.com A lot of the names have already been mentioned, but some others on the offensive side of the ball would include back-up quarterbacks Sherrod Harris and John Chiles, wide receivers Quan Cosby and Limas Sweed and tight end Jermichael Finley. Other than the quarterbacks, none of those names should surprise anyone. On the defensive side of the ball, the coaches love their two-man combo of Derek Lokey and Roy Miller at defensive tackle. Even though he's limited this spring as he rehabs from his injury, Lokey has been money.