Longhorns now looking for eight receivers. Ever since the spring, I've been talking about the Longhorns wanting to trim their receiving rotation down to six players. However, Mack Brown mentioned during his Thursday press conference that Texas actually wants to have eight reliable players at that position to go two deep at every position in the four-wide sets. It may be that Texas was searching for that many players all along, but I suspect that the loss of all the tight ends increases the need for the receivers to step up. Most of the receivers will probably now find themselves in the rotation, though don't expect eight to play on any given Saturday. Here's a possible list:
- Jordan Shipley
- Brandon Collins
- James Kirkendoll
- Malcolm Williams
- John Chiles
- Dan Buckner
- Greg Timmons
- DeSean Hales or DJ Monroe
Even with all the receivers on the Texas roster, that's still a substantial number of them, with only Brock Fitzhenry, Marquise Goodwin, and Phillip Payne not making the cut, along with the loser of the Hales/Monroe battle. Though Goodwin impressed during the first day of open practice, didn't mention him as a freshman likely to play on offense after the scrimmage on Saturday, making it an uphill battle for Goodwin to make the team this season. The fact that he will not count against the scholarship limit until he steps onto the field in a game compounds the situation.
Speaking of Monroe...Mack Brown sounded determined on Thursday to find a way to get Monroe onto the field as a redshirt freshman. Since Monroe didn't practice in the spring, he lost those valuable reps at wide receiver, with Brown mentioning his route-running as a significant cause of concern. According to Brown, Monroe does already excel in the screen game, but the coaches want to get the ball in his hands, trying to make use of his playmaking ability and they will try to give him some looks at the already-crowded running back position, as Monroe played there in high school and doesn't need as much practice time to acclimate to that position as he does wide receiver.
Last week, PB spun the move as the coaches showing a commitment to "getting the most out of the roster." The unspoken accusation there is that the coaches haven't always done that and it's probably a fair critique, but it's certainly heartening that they are finally working hard in that direction. Whether it's Monroe, DeSean Hales, or Marquise Goodwin, the coaches have some small, extremely quick players they need to get on the field this season in large part to start determining how they can best contribute to the program down the road, especially in 2011 after Kirkendoll and Collins depart, and possibly Malcolm Williams as well, dependent on how he develops. Besides simply looking to the future, one or two of those three need to have the ball in their hands simply because they have the ability to score from anywhere on the field.
Looking for five inside. Will Muschamp wants five defensive tackles this season upon whom he can rely, the necessary number to keep the playres fresh throughout the game. The top three spots are not of great concern, locked down by Lamarr Houston, Ben Alexander, and Kheeston Randall, with Randall drawing praise for having a strong camp. Even though the top three have gained separation, Alexander and Randall are still a long way from demonstrating that they can make plays on a consistent basis against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and even Colorado, a team that should run the ball exceptionally well this season.
The next two spots are still up in the air, even more than two weeks into fall camp. Right now, Calvin Howell, Tyrell Higgins, and possibly Tevin Mims or Tray Allen are the most likely candidates, with Derek Johnson still lagging behind in conditioning and technique and now a likely to use his redshirt year to improve in those areas. Muschamp also mentioned that Sam Acho will see some time inside in obvious pass-rushing situations. It's not exactly a revelation at this point, but expect Muschamp to tinker with the defensive line from down to down and throw a lot of different looks at opposing offenses.
Expect some frustration with Malcolm Williams. With the possible exception of the games following the loss at Tech, Malcolm Williams did not face much in terms of expectations from Texas fans last season. Any production was basically a bonus for the receiving corps. This season, however, much of Longhorn Nation, myself included, expects a break-out season from the immensely-gifted receiver. According to Greg Davis ($), Texas fans may get a little bit of everything from Williams this season -- spectacular big plays, dropped passes, and some blown routes:
He's a guy I know the defense hates, which means you have to look at him hard. Any time Will (Muschamp) comes over and says, ‘I hate when that guy's out there,' that's a good thing.
He just needs to be more consistent. Malcolm will be a really good player for us because he works so hard. The kids love him. And he is a tremendous worker. He makes two or three plays a scrimmage that you think no one else can make but Jordan (Shipley). Then he'll go through a spurt where he's not as consistent as he needs to be.
The statement from Davis jives with other reports from this fall essentially saying the same thing. The good news is that Williams does work hard, as Davis mentions, from asking McCoy to stay late after practice last season to work on catching jump balls, to staying late working on improving his hands. Now entering his third season in the program, Williams should make a major leap from last season, but he still may be feast or famine at times. Let's just hope those drops don't happen at a turning point of the season.
Thomas opens door. Earl Thomas may contend for that Thorpe Award sooner rather than later. A major candidate to emerge as the leader of the defense this season as only a redshirt sophomore, count Will Muschamp as one of the leaders in singing the praises of the soon-to-be star safety:
He's a grinder in the weight room. He pays attention. He watches film, and he constantly asks questions of Duane (Akina) and myself about other positions in the defense, so he can better understand what other people do and why we're asking those players do other things within our scheme. He's trying to learn the big picture. He's seeing through the whole door and not the keyhole.
The last statement says a lot about the growth of Thomas. Instead of being directed by Blake Gideon, as he was throughout most of last season, Thomas is now beginning to understand how the defense works as a whole, allowing him to operate as the quarterback not only of the secondary, but of the whole defense as well. While he probably won't have to remind Roddrick Muckelroy where he needs to line up, younger players and more inexperienced players like Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho, and Christian Scott could benefit greatly from the direction of Thomas. Though his number of interceptions will probably make a huge leap this season, the box score likely isn't going to be the only place where Thomas makes contributions.
- Chris Whaley carried the ball during the scrimmage on Wednesday after returning from his hamstring injury. No word on how he looked, unfortunately, but there is increasingly speculation that he might redshirt because he's buried on the running back depth chart right now behind McGee, Whittaker, Johnson, and possibly even Tre' Newton.
- Tre' Newton may be the new third-down back, as he provides very similar versatility to the departed Chris Ogbonnaya. On the first day of open practice, Newton also showed some power in the running game by picking up freshman Eryon Barnett and throwing him back down into the turf a la Earl Campbell.
- The guys Texas is looking at as kick returners: Jordan Shipley, Aaron Williams, Malcolm Williams, Christian Scott, DJ Monroe, and Marquise Goodwin, with John Chiles and Chykie Brown possibly getting a look as well.
- Dominique Jones and Dravannti Johnson are both cross-training at defensive end and tight end.
- Lamarr Houston will replace Roy Miller as the jumbo package fullback, with Barrett Matthews or Antwan Cobb at the h-back "mover" position that Chris Ogbonnaya played last season. Tackle Britt MItchell will play one of the tight end spots in the package, while Greg Smith and Ahmard Howard battle for the other. Don't underestimate the importance of the jumbo package, a successful unit since 2007 -- the lack of success in goalline situations led to McCoy's injury against Kansas State in 2006, competely derailing that season. If the Longhorns can continue to efficiently score touchdowns when facing goal-and-short, it will go a long way toward helping the 'Horns return to Pasadena.
- Brown said that Barrett Matthews is "really stepping up and making some plays," both as a tight end on the line of scrimmage and flexed out as well. After the Saturday scrimmage, Greg Davis essentially echoed those sentiments -- the Barrett Matthews era may begin as soon as this season.
- Mason Walters will almost certainly play this season as the second or third interior lineman off the bench, depending on whether Tray Allen ends up playing more at defensive tackle.