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Morning Coffee Ponders The Defensive Tackles

Horns_bullet_mediumHas the 'ship sailed for Peterson? As scholarships become increasingly limited for the 2010 class with 21 players already committed, one of the foremost questions has become whether an offer is still on the table for defensive tackle Torrea Peterson, the lowest priority of the final nine outstanding offers. If an offer is still on the table, how long will it remain there with a commitment from Darius White still likely in the coming weeks?

Ranked 58 on the latest LSR, Peterson is easily the lowest-rated player still with an offer and hasn't heard much from the Texas coaching staff recently ($), a strong sign of waning interest, as Trovon Reed has also heard little in recent weeks as he has fallen off the radar. Citing a lack of a "feel" for the staff, the East Central product mentions some issues with his grades and generally sounds like a recruit not pursued particularly hard by Texas or particularly considering Texas. Peterson maintains that his recruitment is still wide open as he is beginning to receive interest from around the country, with offers from Oklahoma and Auburn and interest from Oregon and Alabama.

In a class with three defensive tackle commits, the worst thing that could probably happen at this point would be for Peterson to commit and tie up a crucial scholarship that could otherwise go to a more talented player at a position of greater need. Texas doesn't need Torrea Peterson and it seems that Torrea Peterson doesn't have much need for Texas. Oh well.

Horns_bullet_mediumMims working to provide versatility. Round Rock Stony Point coach Craig Chessher always believed that defensive end/defensive tackle Tevin Mims would put on a significant amount of weight before the 2009 football season arrived. He probably didn't expect that it would happen so quickly. After playing at 240 pounds last season, Mims is now up to 257 ($) after two months on the workout regimen prescribed by the Texas strength and conditioning coaches in an effort to provide Will Muschamp with the versatility to play him inside or outside this season.

Described as a player with good technique by his coach, most importantly an ability to shoot his hands, a crucial ability on the interior, Mims may be pressed into action on the interior of the defensive line if he can continue to add strength throughout the spring and summer. Chessher believes that's possible, as various factors, including the shoulder surgery that limited Mims as a junior, have kept him from lifting weights with as much consistency and intensity as he has since Signing Day.

Horns_bullet_mediumJohnson watching weight, ready to maximize speed. Attempting to recover ($) from recent minor knee surgery, defensive tackle Derek Johnson has been working on rehabilitation, but also on losing some weight, thanks to a new diet prescribed by the Longhorn staff free of fried foods. Johnson is now down 10 pounds from his 315-pound playing weight as a senior and plans to work on increasing his speed after finishing his knee rehabilitation, hoping to earn playing time as a freshman.

Attempting to make the transition from small-school ball in Arkansas to major college football will not be an easy one, particularly since Johnson's coach often played the incredibly strong Johnson as a defensive end. Making the transition more difficult, and likely nearly impossible as a freshman, is the fact that Johnson struggles with consistently firing off the ball with proper pad level, a problem Kheeston Randall still fights after a year in the program. Johnson may, however, be the most physically developed defensive tackle to arrive at Texas in some time and could see playing time at the dangerously thin position if he can take advantage of that strength and refine his technique. It's just probably not a good idea to hold your breath for that.

Horns_bullet_mediumDefensive tackle major, major concern. Increasing as the euphoria of the 11-win season in 2008 is concern about the defensive tackle position. Finding a starting running back certainly remains an issue, but nowhere near as pressing as finding a fourth or fifth player for the defensive tackle rotation, now featuring an inexperienced Kheeston Randall, a run-plugging, undersized role player in Ben Alexander, and the former defensive end Lamarr Houston, a player likely incapable of taking on double teams as Roy Miller did last season.

This is where Will Muschamp will earn his money next season. Since Jarvis Humphrey probably won't play, Michael Wilcoxon has little upside, and the freshman face a difficult period of adjustment, it will be up to the fiery defensive coordinator to schematically cover up the deficiencies of his defenisve tackles. BC's ChrisApplewhite believes that Muschamp will do this in several ways: 1) by run stunting, 2) playing with an over or under front, 3) pass stunts, and 4) split fronts. Check the post for further explanation of what those terms mean.

Horns_bullet_mediumBrief baseball storylines. Don't look now, but the Texas baseball team is hitting its stride, following up a big series victory in Stillwater with a current six-game winning streak (and 10 of the last 11) as they head into a crucial final stretch against quality opponents, including the monumental series against top-tier Oklahoma this weekend at UFCUDFF. After struggling for most of the season, the Longhorns have raised their team batting average 30 points in the last several weeks, an offensive surge that didn't seem possible as recently as the end of March. Some major storylines:

  • Torres settling in at third - After taking over the starting third base job when Brandon Loy moved to shortstop and David Hernandez headed to the bench, Torres has started to heat up at the plate. In a little more than two weeks, Torres has raised his average nearly twenty points to .284. Still a long way from his .354 average last season, the more important stat for Torres comes defensively, as he has only made two errors after a terrible performance in the field last season that eventually forced him into the DH role. Some players hit better when they don't sit in the dugout during the defensive half-inning thinking about their last plate appearance or obsessing about getting hits -- it could be that Torres falls into that category. He still lacks the size most baseball people like in their third baseman and it could end up costing the Longhorns in a big moment, but his play at third since the move is certainly adequate, while his hitting in the second spot has helped energize the team.
  • Rowe back in center - After a brief stint with Kyle Lusson in center and remaining mostly unproductive at the plate, Connor Rowe has gotten another opportunity, an opportunity of which he has taken advantage, hitting two home runs against Nebraska over the weekend to tie with Kevin Keyes for the team lead with four. On a team desperately needing power, Rowe only needs to keep down his strikeouts to continue to start -- he is still striking out once in every 3.4 at-bats, little different than his previous numbers, but his power outburst may offset his strikeouts. And Lusson wasn't exactly making a strong case for keeping the job.
  • Keyes raising average - Power has never been the question for Kevin Keyes. The issue was always if he could morph from a big, athletic kid with raw power, into a hitter. There are signs that Keyes is moving in that direction, showing better pitch selection at the plate, but more importantly, an ability to take what the pitcher is giving him and get base hits -- his batting average is now up over .300.
  • Better approach at the plate - Early in the season, the most frustrating aspect of the offense was poor at-bats consistently taken for the greater portion of games. Individual hitters were simply not bearing down and making pitchers work, fighting off pitches, and taking easy swings to put the good part of the bat on the ball and give themselves a chance. A big part of that approach has been hitting the ball the other way as pitchers keep the ball low and away -- a location that induces ground outs against pull-heavy hitters. As a result, pitchers are now throwing inside more often, into the hitting zones of players like Cameron Rupp and Kevin Keyes, leading to the recent power surge. 
  • More aggression on the bath paths - Inexplicably, the Longhorns failed to put pressure on opposing batteries by lacking aggression -- through the first 29 games, Texas had only 21 steals. In the last four games, however, as the offense gained momentum, the Longhorns stole 14 bases -- 40% of the team's steals in only 12% of the games, an incredible increase.