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Morning Coffee's Thoughts Are With The Dronett Family

In Memoriam: Shane Dronett.  Atlanta investigators on Thursday declared a suicide the death of former Texas standout Shane Dronett. The defensive lineman starred in Austin from 1989-91 before being drafted in the 2nd Round (54th overall) by the Denver Broncos in the 1992 NFL Draft. He would play 10 seasons in the pros, five each with Denver and Atlanta -- starting in 86 of the139 games in which he played. While as a professional Dronett never rose to household name status, he was productive, finishing with 5.5 or more sacks in 6 of his pro seasons, whether as a defensive end (Denver) or tackle (Atlanta).

I don't know Shane Dronett personally. I never met him and don't remember a whole lot about him as a person from his years playing at Texas; I was in middle school at the time. What I do remember -- very vividly -- is how uniquely tenacious he was each and every time he took the field. I remember well his fierce competitiveness, his will to wreak havoc, to punish, to tackle hard. Each and every time Shane Dronett was out on the football field, knocking the piss out of other players looked very much like what he was born to do. Indeed, in the wake of this very sad end to his life, his former teammates have been quoted saying it was perhaps the one thing Shane Dronett truly, wholly loved to do.

Maybe, then, it's best that that's why we'll remember him.

Rest In Peace, #81.

Reviewing 'My Guys.'  Those of you who were around last summer likely remember the "My Guys" post preceding the season. It's a fun one to write, though inevitably less fun to review. Let's take a look:

Lamarr Houston -- 22 tackles, 7 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 5 passes broken up, 11 QB hurries. Though the early season DUI was a disappointment, his response to his mistake was not and, on the field, anyone who suggests his move from end to tackle was anything but a success simply wasn't paying attention. Roy Miller was the All-American-level performer, but Houston was every bit as important to the defense's successes. If this offseason he can add more strength and maintain his unfair quickness, he'll be a 2009 All-American candidate himself.

Deon Beasley -- 40 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 6 passes broken up. The junior corner was not as bad as most Texas fans think, but he wasn't anything remotely like the player that I projected he could be. If Beasley's only '08 sin was his penchant for having his spectacular burns wind up costing the team six points, it might be worth emphasizing that the breakdowns tarnished an otherwise solid season as a cover-guy. But the disappointments went beyond poorly timed mistakes as Beasley stood out as disinterested in physical play and solid tackling. That's no fun in any context, but it stands out as especially ugly and unacceptable on a defense coached by Will Muschamp. He either steps things up this offseason or he sits behind Aaron Williams in 2009.

Sam Acho -- 16 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 passes broken up, 9 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble. On a team with Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle ruining quarterbacks' plans with spectacular regularity, Acho's 2008 season was hardly noticed. He was mostly solid when he was in the game, however, and projects as a productive -- and more heavily relied upon -- defensive end in 2009. My breakout might have been a year early.

Malcolm Williams -- 17 catches, 304 yards, 3 touchdowns. If either of two plays on Tech's final drive had gone the Longhorns' way, Williams would have been celebrated as one of the heroes that got Texas to Miami. Trying to erase a big deficit against a Red Raiders defense that was hyper-aggressively sitting on Texas' underneath passing game, Greg Davis finally countered by turning to Williams on the edge. The results were spectacular and a small taste of the damage he can do in the right situations. Though Williams himself was disappointingly tentative to start the year, he might have wound up playing a more important role had Blaine Irby's injury not magnified the systemic shortcomings of Texas' offense in general, and its ability to take full advantage of Williams' skill set in particular. To his credit, Williams without being used much impressively managed to develop his game as the season progressed. He became a player who looked comfortable and purposeful with the ball in his hands, displayed excellent technique and tenacity as a blocker, and thrived as one of the team's best special teams players. The future is bright.

Michael Huey -- When Charlie Tanner limped off the field early in the season, I speculated that Michael Huey not only would fill in while Tanner was hurt, but that he'd be the starting left guard for Texas the rest of the way. Huey did play while Tanner was hurt, but not well enough to keep the job when Tanner got healthy. Considering Tanner was on his best days merely a solid pass protector and not much more, and on his worst days (like in the Fiesta Bowl) an outright liability, Huey's failure to win the job was in my mind a big disappointment. His reputation coming out of Kilgore led me to believe he'd do more, sooner for Texas. With Dockery graduating and Tanner (a returning senior) only a so-so option, Texas at the very needs Huey -- and ideally a couple others -- to stup up and take charge in 2009.

Reviewing the newbies.  The general consensus about Mack Brown's 2008 recruiting class was that the group was strong (at or near the Top 10 nationally), but nowhere near one of his best hauls. It's far too soon to pass any long-term judgments on the class, but both necessity and a general shift in philosophy in Brown led to several true freshmen seeing significant action on the football field. The top five true freshmen in 2008:

1. Blake Gideon, Safety -- 64 tackles (third-most on team), 2 sacks, 7 passes broken up, and 1 forced fumble. The number that pains Texas fans, of course, is 0. Zero interceptions. That one mistake has hung like a dark cloud over an otherwise outstanding effort beyond the capabilities of kids his age. He'll have to improve to stay atop the depth chart, but he was a critical asset in a situation few could handle.

2. Aaron Williams, Corner -- 16 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 interception (returned 81 yards for a TD), 3 passes broken up, 1 forced fumble, 4 blocked punts. The kid is 6-1, 180 pounds, with a nose for the football and an appetite for big hits and physical play. Frankly, I tingle a little bit thinking about Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams starting as Texas' two primary cornerbacks. Deon Beasley and Curtis Brown should be on notice: Williams is coming, coming hard, and will beat out both if neither steps it up.

3. Justin Tucker, P/K -- 14 punts, 45.2 yard average, 8 inside the 20-yard line, only 2 touchbacks.  94 kickoffs, 64.5 yard average, 23 touchbacks, only 2 out-of-bounds. The kid's just a great athlete and if it's a little odd seeing three scholarship kickers on the roster right now, Tucker certainly justified his. The running rugby punts were at times brilliantly effective and gave Texas a nifty strategic card to play in special teams. Consider this fun stat for the year: Texas' opponents returned only 11 punts for a grand total of 74 yards on the season. Big kudos to Tucker and John Gold for underrated contributions to the season.

4. David Snow, Center -- Buck Burnette's unfortunate stupidity probably only accelerated what was becoming obvious to observers closes to the team: true freshman David Snow was ready to leapfrog Burnette on the two-deep as the top prospect at center. In emergency duty against Kansas, Snow held his own just fine, and though Mr. Everything Chris Hall had another fine season playing mostly solid football at center, Snow's at the least ready to succeed him as the starter in 2010, if not outright assume the job next year. If it were up to me, I'd do just that, starting Snow under Center and deploying the jack-of-all-trades Hall as an on-call sixth man ready to plug in where/when needed.

5. Dan Buckner, WR -- 5 catches, 84 yards, 2 TD. Though only lightly introduced in the '08 season, he made some eye-opening plays on a few occasions, displaying notable athleticism to go with his very big, physical body. As he learns more about being a top-end receiver at the collegiate level and develops some rapport with McCoy, he looks capable of being an excellent red zone weapon. If he uses that big body properly, all but the most skilled and physically strong cornerbacks will have trouble with Buckner in the end zone.

You're doing it wrong.  Look on page 36 of Coaching Cliches: Tips, Tactics, and Tantrums and you'll find one of the book's most popular go-to moves for coaches:

Playing The 'No Respect' Game: Tips For Your Trump Card

Motivating athletes at the highest level in sports is a challenge precisely because they are, and have been as long as they can remember, so much better than almost all of their peers. However, the savvy coach can use this to his advantage by challenging those same players' highly-valued superiority. Carefully crafting among the players a feeling that they are being undervalued by fans and pundits can help build team chemistry, relieving pressure of excess expectations while motivating them behind a unified cause to "prove wrong" those who question their greatness.1

If his recent tirade to the media is any indication, Oklahoma basketball coach Jeff Capel clearly read that entry and decided to make a play with this year's Sooner basketball team.

[Capel] wasn't amused when the media and some fans brought up what appeared to be some OU shortcomings — suspect guard play, a lack of quality depth, questionable perimeter shooting, a lack of defensive purpose and a dependence on superstar sophomore Blake Griffin.

"Everyone talks about everyone else," said Capel, complaining about the lack of national attention his team has received. "We don't (even) get any respect in our own state."

Oh Jeffrey, you Sooner -- you're doing it wrong. Didn't you notice the footnote at the end of the entry?

1Coaches must be careful to play properly the No Respect Card. Remember: the idea is to embrace the lack of respect, happily letting the fans and press do the hard work of motivating your team. Tip for avoiding the rookie mistake: Don't play the card as a complaint card!

Whoops. By lashing out at the media Capel has misplayed the hand and in the process created pressure for himself and his team. Responding to Capel's call for respect, the Tulsa World's Dave Sittler writes:

And here's how: Win the Big 12 Conference championship or the league tournament (or both), get a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and go deep in the Big Dance instead of losing by 30 points in the second round like last season.

Nice work, Jeff -- though perhaps not quite Turgeon-level media mismanagement, I find the petulant demand for more love unquestionably to be the wrong approach... No pressure, or anything.  Rookie.