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Morning Coffee Thinks The Offense Failed To Impress In Spring Game

Horns_bullet_mediumThe useless EBS. Any member of Mack Brown's coaching staff will couch their comments about the team in the most sanitary and unoffensive manner possible. Considering that information, Greg Davis' comment about Greg Smith last week was particularly revealing: Davis called the former center and current first-team tight end an "extra blocking surface," noting his inability to stretch the field. An extra blocking surface. In other words, he's out there to take up space -- nothing more. Anyone else want more from their tight end?

Smith failed to cause any reason to re-evaluate Davis' comments, dropping two passes and generally proving himself incapable of doing anything other than running five yards down field and turning around, providing absoutely nothing to the offense. Greg Smith should not see the field this year, even if he turns out to be the only viable tight end option until Blaine Irby returns from injury around the Oklahoma game. Any sight of him on the field simply makes me nauseous.

To be fair to Smith, Davis also put converted defensive end Ahmard Howard into the same category as the much-maligned "tight end" -- an extra blocking surface who fails to stretch the field and contributed to Sherrod Harris' interception by failing to secure his first throw. Take him from my sight, as well.

Horns_bullet_mediumHarris fails to impress. Retroactively silencing the calls last season for Sherrod Harris to back up Cold McCoy, the redshirt junior quarterback looked completely unprepared to lead the Longhorns in 2009 or any other year. The Texas defensive backfield deserves credit for blanketing their offensive counterparts all day, but Harris made their job easier by locking onto his first option and failing to check down to his second and third options. When Harris did throw the football he struggled with his accuracy on a windy day -- Colt McCoy must stay healthy this year.

Horns_bullet_mediumNot the real McCoy. Sherrod Harris wasn't the only Texas quarterback to struggle on a sun-drenched and wind-blown spring day at DKR. Looking like a shell of the record-setting quarterback he was during his junior season, Colt McCoy also struggled  being on the same page with his receivers and with his accuracy, particularly on his deep passes on a day during which he he played much more than expected. Though McCoy surely wasn't aided by Greg Smith doing little more than take up space on many of the drives, he also threw his first interception of the spring, a pick-six gift to Earl Thomas after seemingly failing to notice the sophomore safety.

The losses of Quan Cosby to graduation and Jordan Shipley to shoulder surgery this spring look more important than previously thought. James Kirkendoll and Brandon Collins generally failed to gain separation throughout the day and Malcolm Williams, counted on to provide the first deep threat at split end since Limas Sweed, couldn't hook up with McCoy on deep passes, as the presumptive Heisman candidate failed to put the ball in a position for Williams to make a play.

Truly, it's possible that McCoy could fail to match the other-worldly completion percentage from his junior year -- he could regress in an offense lacking Cosby as his security blanket. McCoy only completed 11-24 passes for 94 yards on the days, number incomprehensible during a game last season.

To his credit, McCoy made an outstanding throw to Brandon Collins on the outside near the end of the first quarter -- truly an NFL throw, the defense knows the offense inside and out, and the wind had a major impact on the game. It is far from time to panic, but the expectation was for McCoy to look much more crisp.

Horns_bullet_mediumBuckner flexing. The entrenchment of redshirt sophomore Malcolm Williams at split end will keep heralded sophomore Dan Buckner off the field for the majority of the snaps in 2009. Unless, of course, Buckner can fill the flex tight end role DJ Grant played for much of the spring. Arguably, the most interesting offensive wrinkle displayed Sunday showed a look with Buckner in the flex position made famous by Jordan Shipley. Like Grant, Buckner doesn't have the size and strength to block defensive ends, but matched up against linebackers and safeties in the slot, Buckner may find a way onto the field and the dynamic passing threat that Greg Smith so obviously fails to provide.

Horns_bullet_mediumMythical Fozzy creature update. Whittaker looked explosive on the second drive by the first team, taking the first play outside for a long gain before taking the second into the end zone on an I formation play with the fake reverse prevalent throughout the day in that formation. On the debit side for the Fozzy creature, he did fail to get the ball into the end zone in a goal line situation late in the game, looking like he simply failed to get the proper leg drive to drag his defenders into the end zone.

Horns_bullet_mediumThe invisible man. Working at the flanker position, which receives the majority of screen passes in the Longhorn offense, it was expected that John Chiles would have some passes thrown in his direction early and often in his public debut at recevier. In fact, the exact opposite was the case, as the Texas quarterbacks failed to look in Chiles' direction at any point in the afternoon and Greg Davis failed to call any screen plays for the former quarterback and five-star recruit. Chiles remains an unknown commodity.

Horns_bullet_mediumWrinkle for the running game. As expected, the Longhorns worked often out of I formation, utilizing Antwan Cobb as a fullbck for Vondrell McGee and Fozzy Whittaker. Nothing newsworthy there, but the most significant offensive wrinkle of the day came as a Longhorn receiver nearly always came in motion on the I formation play, providing the most significant misdirection seen in the Longhorn offense in years.

On only one play did the receiver take the ball -- a nice run by James Kirkendoll -- but the play should became an I formation staple in 2009. Despite widespread acclaim from Texas coaches throughout the spring, Cobb often failed to put his hat on defenders in the hole, often struggling to find someone to block as the Longhorn running back opted for another hole. Unused to designated holes developing, the running backs may not understand that I formation plays designate a hole -- unlike their accustomed zone blocking plays, during which a hole may develop at any point in the line.

Horns_bullet_mediumLittle advancement on offensive line. The zone blocking game looked just like last year -- a complete failure at consistently picking up yardage. The I formation running didn't look much better, as the line failed to move the line of scrimmage and the fullback often failed to make blocks (see above). After a disappointing performance in 2008, the offensive line was expected to make significant improvements going in to 2009. In the running game, the line failed, though the various defensive fronts deployed by Will Muschamp were generally kept out of the offensive backfield during the contest.

Horns_bullet_mediumMuschamp fails to get his wish. Even after giving up only 188 yards and keeping the offense from converting 15 of 18 third-down opportunities, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp no doubt left the field upset. That's because the perfectionist Coach Boom wanted a shut out by his defense. All in all, the defense out-performed the generally stagnant offense, a surprise paritcularly on the inside of the defnesive line, where the Longhorns have their bigest question marks.

Horns_bullet_mediumSpring game minutae.

  • Sergio Kindle did not play in the game. Geoff Ketchum reports that he might have been in the doghouse this week, though Kindle may have sat out to provide Alex Okafor with more reps and Muschamp may also have wanted to keep Kindle's abilities as a defensive end under wraps until the fall -- telling the world that he has no inclination to give any insights into how he will use Kindle. Brock Fitzhenry, hobbled by a hamstring injury, Ian Harris, out with a customery stinger in his neck, and DJ Grant, sidelined with an ankle injury, did not participate in the game.
  • Earl Thomas, James Kirkendoll, and DeSean Hales did a poor job of fielding punts today, making it apparent why Mack Brown opted for the trustworthy Quan Cosby over more explosive playmakers. Turnovers in the kicking game will be absolutely unacceptable and the effort on Sunday was the epitome of unacceptable.
  • In passing situations, Muschamp often played with two defensive tackles at the three technique, not worried about the Longhorn offense exploiting the middle of the defensive line, what will likely be a common tactic during the Big 12 season.
  • Alex Okafor wasn't dominating, but he got a ton of reps during the game and more than held his own. He will be a superstar before leaving Texas.
  • James Kirkendoll looked explosive on his end around on an I-formation play late in teh first half and was absoutely obliterated by Christan Scott. Kid can lay the wood.
  • Vondrell McGee looked quick and powerful today. No matter how well Cody Johnson is playing, McGee's consistency this spring and burst on Sunday are encouraging in a Texas running back world generally bereft of hope.
  • Kicking into the wind was a serious problem for Longhorn kickers all day, as Hunter Lawrence missed a 43-yard field goal, John Gold struggled punting into the wind, and the early returns on Justin Tucker kicking rugby punts left-footed waere mixed -- one punt went no more than 15 yards in the air before bouncing down the field, though he managed to down another inside the five. Once again, the wind likely made a difference, but the kicking game was sub-par on Sunday.
  • Malcolm Williams and Aaron Williams both had good returns that made serious statements for playing time on kick-off returns alongside Jordan Shipley. Malcolm looked exceptionally fast on his return, with great vision to bounce the play outside early, only stopped by the speed and angle of Earl Thomas. No one seems to blow up an angle on Earl Thomas...
  • Will Muschamp appeared to go often with a defensive front using only Lamarr Houston at tackle, with Sam Acho lined up as a three technique and Russell Carter on the outside as a defensive end, usually employing Dravannti Johnson as a pass-rushing defensive end/linebacker hybrid. On the day, the line failed to pressure the quarterback.
  • Nolan Brewster worked often with the first team, leaving Blake Gideon as the leader in the second-team secondary.
  • Oddly, Will Muschamp wasn't wearing his customary black shirt, instead opting for a burnt orange polo covered with a white windbreaker.
  • Linebacker Ryan Roberson saw some action at fullback.
  • A lot of the struggles by the wide receivers had to do with the outstanding play of Aaron Williams and Chykie Brown, who are the two most physical cornerbacks to line up defensively for Texas in a long, long time. Williams is so impressive physically that the imposing Malcolm Williams looks like nothing special in comparison. The only question is who among the group of Williams, Brown, and Earl Thomas will win the Thorpe award first.
  • James Kirkendoll brought permanent embarassment upon himself trying to take the outside on a kick-off return, finding himself brought down while trying to take the corner on kicker Hunter Lawrence, bringing back memories of the physical Greg Johnson.
  • More thoughts on the game here and here.