With the dearth of information during the off season, any press conference from Mack Brown gets me about as excited as a little kid in a candy store. Not exactly a svelte little kid, either, if you get my drift. Anyway, on to the bullets from Mack's Monday presser ($) (here is the MB-TF transcript):
- Ben Alexander would start over Kheeston Randall if the season started today, in part because Alexander improved his conditioning and quickness over the off season, but also because he plays the run better than Randall, who struggles occasionally with his consistency. However, Alexander's lack of overall speed will keep him off the field on passing downs. The only issue with that rotation is that team's going to a no-huddle offense could keep Alexander on the field for as long as they don't substitute. Something to keep on eye on.
- Former blue chip tackle Tray Allen has worked inside at guard this spring, as the coaches seek to establish the needed depth at the position. Allen has worked at that position in part because Charlie Tanner has missed several practices this spring with the flu. The move inside by Allen has allowed Britt Mitchell to get reps at right tackle with Kyle Hix out of the lineup. No word on Aundrew McGaskey, as he appears to have lost his position in the rotation to Mitchell, now apparently entrenched at tackle after dabbling in the tight end position.
- Speaking of the tight end position, Greg Smith (of f*** no!) and Ahmard Howard are battling to top the depth chart, as Ian Harris continues to suffer from stingers. With his continued problems, any expectations for contributions from Harris during his Longhorn career should be severely tempered. It may not be time to write him off totally, but it's certainly starting to look like that.
- Brown is not considering redshirting any players who can contribute, as he has come to believe that they work harder in practice and in the classroom when they have a chance to contribute in games. It's probably time to permanently put to rest any speculation lingering about Garrett Gilbert redshirting.
- Even though Gilbert can't practice with the team this spring, he does attend every quarterback position meeting that he can make.
- The Texas Relays this weekend will feature Longhorn commits Marquise Goodwin, Chris Whaley, and Adrian White.
- Jordan Shipley will handle punt returns, backed up by Curtis Brown, with Shipley and Christian Scott back on kick offs. Malcolm Wililams and Aaron Williams are the back ups. For the first time since Nathan Vasher and Aaron Ross, the Longhorn kick and punt units were explosive with Shipley receiving punts and kicks, but the coaches must manage Shipley's hits throughout the season to keep him healthy. Expect to see the back ups there early and often throughout the non-conference season, as the Longhorns should roll in their first four games, including the game in Austin against Texas Tech.
- The running back position has been banged up, with Vondrell McGee the only player healthy throughout the spring and current starter, as Fozzy Whittaker hurt his ankle and Jeremy Hills and Tre' Newton have also dealt with minor dings.
- The offensive line is working to be more aggressive, aided by the rare health of Antwan Cobb, the current starter at fullback. Since Brown is talking about the need for physicality in the running game, his comments suggest use of man blocking in an effort to drive defenders off the ball and move the line of scrimmage, notably missing for most of the last two seasons. This offensive line needs a little more nasty in it. Where is the next Kasey Studdard?
- Emmanuel Acho will play a big role this season as a situational linebacker and pass rusher, as well as contributing in all phases of the kicking game. The knee injury last season surely kept him from demonstrating his significant talent.
- Brown compares the current secondary to the 2005 squad that featured six future and current NFL defensive backs. Right now, Brown says that eight could play with little drop off, guaranteeing fresh legs at the end of pass-heavy Big 12 contests, as well as insurance in case of injuries.
- The new FieldTurf will be installed beginning on Monday, so if you have a chance to make it out to the stadium, enjoy the sight of real grass before it's gone.
- Conventional scoring returns again for the Spring Game on Sunday (televised by ESPNU). Additionally, the field will be shortened by 10 yards because of construction work making the south end zone bleachers permanent.
In summary, the depth at defensive back and the impressive performances in the spring, particularly by new nickel starter Christian Scott bodes well for a significant improvement in the pass defense. Mack Brown didn't mention it in his presser, but creating turnovers remains a big priority, with the defensive backs needing to display much better ball skills this season.
Running back, tight end, and defensive tackle remain big question marks as the spring winds down. The lack of consistency by Kheeston Randall is disturbing, particularly in ilght of the lack of depth behind Houston, Randall, and Alexander. Unfortunately, neither defensive tackle in the 2009 class is on campus (not including Kyle Kriegel, seem as a long-term project) and probably won't have the size (Howell) or technique (Derek Johnson) to contribute in the fall.
Running back also remains a concern with the injury issues and lack of separation. The first order of business in fall practice will be to determine the starter and the roles played behind the starter.
Tight end also remains a serious problem with DJ Grant's injury limiting his crucial reps. I can only hope and pray that Greg Smith doesn't see the field as much as he did last season -- Grant needs to get healthy and Barrett Matthews needs to come in ready to play.