Spring game preview -
Playing on a field short 10 yards and with a rolling clock limiting the number of plays, the Spring Game is a welcome return to football on the 40 Acres, but won't show any new wrinkles offensively or defensively tipping off 2009 opponents. Straight vanilla -- base offense and the base defense.
The two most interesting and informative aspects of the game are the players opening with the first team, giving insight into depth chart changes over the spring, and a look at team depth, as players see the field who only received playing time in blowouts last season.
Last chance for grass -
Longhorn officials aren't wasting any time removing the grass turf at DKR -- in fact, fans looking to buy some grass after the game won't be disappointed. Ever the entrepreneur, DeLoss Dodds and the athletic department made the decision to sell pieces of the natural turf to Longhorn fans for 20 bucks. Any natural grass loving fans should enjoy the spectacle during the game, as the stadium will move to FieldTurf indefinitely.
Recruiting tidbits -
- Mack Brown says that 100-200 sophomores will attend on Sunday.
- Corey Nelson will likely not make it, as his father is a minister, with the attending responsibilities in the Dallas area on Sunday, though he will attend Oklahoma's game on Saturday. No word on why his mother won't drive him, but this is a strange Aggie article ($) repeatedly noting that he didn't commit on a recent visit. No kidding? Corey Nelson didn't commit to Aggie, even though the coaches told him that they need him badly? Wow, breaking news from Aggieland. Hmm. Surprising. Real jokester wrote that thing. Let me gather myself and try to move on. It's possible that Nelson could catch a ride down to Austin, but recruitniks are aware of a similar situation with DeMarcus Cobbs (two, actually). Lucky for Nelson that he's talented enough that I guess Texas is still, sorta, recruiting him and stuff.
- Darius White should be in attendance with his family. A potential commitment may not happen Sunday, but there haven't been many (any?) players seriously favoring Texas who have come down with their family and not made a commitment -- word came out about Reggie Wilson's within days after his visit with the family.
- Jake Matthews will not attend the spring game ($), as we will be at an Aggie practice instead, while stating his intention to attend another Texas spring practice, but it doesn't seem likely that he's going to be able to do that. Strange comments, though it's understandable that he would rather see a practice than the spring game -- so would I. Matthews adds that USC is a "maybe" and that he's still "looking at" OU, but A&M and Texas lead.
- Many of the 2009 and 2010 recruits will have a chance to meet and bond during the game, as a great majority from both classes are expected to make the trip.
The coordinators speak -
Don't have to time to have your back on this one, thankfully other people in this blogging business do:
Players to watch -
- Sergio Kindle - Spring games are known for being vanilla, but even lining up at defensive end every play will give perspective on Kindle's technical development at end. Does he show any of the new pass-rushing techniques he has been working on since last season?
- Ben Alexander - Always known as a run-stuffer, Alexander has lost weight to improve his quickness, while maintaining his ability to take up double teams. The question with Alexander is how much he can play on passing downs. Does he stay on the field in third-down situations?
- Kheeston Randall - The talk from the coaches this week has been about Alexander, leaving Randall generally out of the discussion except to say that he needs to be more consistent. How much does he play in the game? Can he stuff the run with the same effectiveness as Alexander?
- Britt Mitchell - The starter at right tackle for the spring game and a converted tight end, Mitchell is one of the biggest surprises of the spring, emerging as a strong candidate to enter the offensive line rotation this season. Mitchell will face off against Sergio Kindle, Alex Okafor, and Sam Acho on Sunday, making it an interesting position to watch, as Adam Ulatoski should generally hold his own on the left side of the line.
Lamarr Houston - There has been talk about Lammar Houston playing some zero technique, Roy Miller's position last season, but Alexander in the lineup would allow Houston to play what seems for him like a more natural three technique. However, the Houston-Randall combination will likely feature Houston taking up the double team at the zero technique over the center and Randall at the three technique, lined up over the opposite guard's outside shoulder.
John Chiles - Now moving past the adjustment process from the first half of spring practice, Chiles perhaps has more to prove in his attempt to crack the rotation than any other receiver on the roster. In addition, Greg Davis praises his demonstrated ability to break tackles in the short passing game, but Chiles has not consistently that on the field. With so much to prove as a receiver, Chiles needs a strong public start on Sunday, paricularly on any screen catches he makes, as the flanker position Chiles is playing has a crucial role in catching screens for Greg Davis. Down eight pounds since the start of practice, Chiles needs to show signifcantly more elusiveness before I buy into him as a big YAC guy.
- Sherrod Harris - Colt McCoy isn't expected to see a large number of snaps on Sunday, leaving Sherrod Harris with the majority of playing time (though Davis expects to play the two walk-ons - Trevor Walker and John Paul Floyd). A large contingent of Longhorn fans called for Harris to back up Colt McCoy last season ahead of John Chiles, with Sunday providing the first extended look at the growth of Harris over the last year.
Top three areas seeking resolution
Running back - Lacking separation, the top three running backs have competed fiercely from day-to-day to earn the starting job. With Cody Johnson, there are no absolute answers to be had on Sunday, but the game will not be completely meaningless. Considering the emphasis during spring practice on using the I formation, Vondrell McGee should have a chance to return to his high school roots and run downhill, a style seemingly better suited to his skills. Does it increase his production? Can the mythical Fozzy creature continue the slow transition from legend to reality? Reports on Tre' Newton focus mostly on his ability to pick up the blitz and catch passes, but can he run the football effectively? Is there a place on the team for Jeremy Hills, or is he better served by transferring? Unfortunately, the spring game won't definitively any of the previous questions, but it will provide some insights.
Defensive tackle - On Wednesday, Coach Booom sounded concerned about his defensive tackles, citing a lack of consistency and depth, giving Texas fans another opportunity to silently (or loudly, as the case may be) curse Robert Joseph. Can Kheeston Randall wrest the starting job alongside Lamarr Houston from Ben Alexander? How does Houston handle double teams for the first time when he plays zero technique with Kheeston Randall alongside? Any insight into Houston's ability to demand double teams at zero tech is a first-time and valuable look. Even Ben Alexander's play will be notable after his name has spent so much time recently on the lips of the coaches.
- Tight end - At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Greg Smith should not see the field in 2009, as his presence is extremely limiting in the passing game. At the last update, word was that Smith was down about 30 pounds from his 295-pound playing weight last season, no doubt increasing his limited mobility, but Greg Davis acknowledged on Wednesday that Smith won't stretch the field. Neither will Ahmard Howard, apparently. Davis plays off the need to stretch the field with the tight end, but he's either exaggerating or lying through his teeth. Some Texas fans may argue that he just doesn't know what's going on, but he deserves more credit than that - he has to know the lack of ability to stretch the field is a problem in his offense. Since DJ Grant is out with his injury, the position won't resolve itself this spring, but Smith and Howard do need to show an ability to catch the football, even if it is only in the flat for several yards. Almost anything would be an improvement over Smith and Peter Ullman attempting to catch the ball last season. Also of interest is any pass-blocking by the tight ends, as the position gave up five sacks in 2008.
Sunshine Pumping Time -
The fifteen practices leading up to the game weren't complete incapable of resolving areas of concern, but time constraints will leave those discussions for a later day. Be happy, it's Texas football.