The Texas Longhorns are off to a grinding start in Spring practice with all positions open. What do we now after one-third of practices complete? Well, some things but not a heckuva lot of detail. Coach Brown briefly spoke big picture about the offense and defense in his meet-the-media session the other day:
"We like what we see offensively. We are going to be physical. We are going to run the ball, and we're going to have some great play action off of it and we can still be wide open with our three and four wide [receivers] when we need to. Defensively we're going to be all over the place. We're really aggressive. I've heard the word "fun" more from our players in the first three days than I've heard lately, and that's good. They're having a good time, but they're being competitive and getting back their swagger."
Not surprising that Coach Brown spoke of swagger, chemistry, and toughness. Seriously, what would an opening statement from him be without those parting words. But most Longhorn fans want the details such as, "which players are making the most strides" and, "What do the coaches see so far in their first exposure to the players?"
That's where his primary henchmen come in. Coaches Diaz and Harsin have been dispatched to speak on radio interviews and a single media event.
Manny Diaz met with the media on March 1st, along with Alex Okafor and Black Gideon. We learned that Alex is transitioning back to his natural position at defensive end. A position which we are surprisingly thin after several seasons in which we were deep. Go figure. You will recall that Okafor backed up Kheeston Randall last season as the young defensive tackles were not quite ready for the big time. Okafor is undersized a bit to play defensive tackle so this presents a great opportunity for him on the move back to end.
In his place, Diaz mentioned that Ashton Dorsey has stepped up as Randall's backup and is showing good progress. Fan's are asking about the highly touted Bible and rightly so. Hopefully Wylie has Bible on a training regimen which puts him on track to be in the mix come Fall camp. The Horns absolutely need a reliable DT in the rotation given the weakness in the middle last season with only a true two deep.
He also mentioned that leadership is going to come from players like Kheeston Randall and Emanuel Acho. Jordan Hicks and Aaron Benson were the other two players mentioned by name as standing out in the early going. Hicks more so for standing out in the herd and RS freshman Benson for starting over but quickly picking up the new scheme.
Diaz made a point to discuss Kenny Vacarro. Said he is currently at a safety position but that right now, he's no different than the other players in that he is trying to earn a "spot". Diaz feels good about the secondary and stresses that Kenny gives them good competition which is better than any motivation speech. Also, Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom have so far shown solid work at cornerback.
Blake Gideon, who has started in every game played as a Longhorn, had some revealing observations about Coach Diaz:
I think there's a lot more freedoms with coach Diaz. He told a couple of guys that were asking specifically how we were going to line up, how [he saw] us fitting in and a couple of guys told me that he said, "I don't care if you drop out of a helicopter every play, as long as you make plays that's fine." There's a lot more freedom, and it's a lot more simplified and it allows us to run and hit which is really what defensive football is.
Coach Diaz is more laid back, but at the same time he knows what has to be done and he knows what wins. He pushes all the clutter aside, and he simplifies everything and allows us to play fast and have fun. It's fun. It's been fun so far the first three days, so hopefully we can turn it into something.
Say what you will but if we are to parse Gideon's comments, it appears to me that Coach Muschamp's defenses were a highly disciplined design that quite possibly limited athletic improvisation, and arguably talent. Don't misunderstand what I am saying. Coach Diaz defensive scheme is an attacking, mobile one whereas Muschamp's is "control an area" design. Those are two different types of strategy. Muschamp clearly has proven his to be of championship caliber quality. But at the college level is the Diaz scheme more effective? I, like the rest of you, can't wait to find out.
Diaz is quickly gaining a reputation as a media darling of sorts with his pearly comments to complement his hollywood looks. A selection of which includes:
The best coach in America is competition - it's better than any motivational speech or any chart.
There is no B+ in our profession. We are in a zero-sum business.
They are not out there because they have to be, but they're out there because they want to be.
On the door, it says "Coach", but we do a lot of other stuff other than coach.
He also conveyed that the goal today is to "get better". That requires a lot of teaching skill and player buy-in. So far, it appears the new energy is taking root.
Offensively, information is not as revealing. Mack was quoted in an ESPN.com article that Mike Davis is clearly the early playmaker in camp. Interesting that so many young players are rising to the top given that last season we heard many locker room rumblings from these same actors regarding lack of playing time, "my talent is better", etc. So far, if the early review hold, these rumors may become substantiated. Also interesting that for "Mike Davis to go from good to great, it'll be quarterback play," Brown said. "He'll do his part. We've just got to get him the ball."
Other receivers mentioned as turning heads in camp are White and Jones. Recall that returning senior wide-out Malcolm Williams is missing the early part of Spring practice due to "personal" issues. Hopefully he'll be back soon working to improve and impress Harsin and Wyatt.
Okafor mentioned Paden Kelley as an offensive lineman that has impressed. That's good news given how thin the Horns are upfront offensively.
Not a lot has been mentioned about other skill position players at running back or quarterback outside of Shead's cut and David Ash's ball spin. Gilbert is said to be given a strong push thus far by Wood. Not suprising given Wood's offseason work during the holidays in California. No mention, as in not a peep, of Case McCoy. Will be interesting to see if Case waits it out. Doesn't look promising for him in my opinion.
Coach Brown was quoted in yet another David Ubben article as stating all QB's are a work in progress. "It’s early. All four of them are doing well, but they’re learning a new offense with a new coach, so it’s really too early to judge anybody, I think," Brown said. "It would be unfair for us to start judging guys."
Insider observations have talked about how much Chamber's tight ends have been working in the HarsinWhite scheme in terms of motion and pre-snap movement a la Boise offense. Some have said it is the most pre-snap motion they've seen in a Texas offense, especially under Brown.
Bryan Harsin has not yet met directly with the press, however, today he gave a radio interview on AM 1300 The Zone and answered a few questions:
How much have you learned?
Guys are eager to learn what we've we're doing, practiced hard, studying. We'll get everything detailed up once we get it in. Right now the effort and attitude had been very good.
What about quarterbacks and your position on QB play, what are the key attributes to the HarsinWhite system?
I think there are four things I've found over the years:
1) Toughness - physical and mental aspects of the position
2) Preparation - studying the details
3) Decision Making - applying those decisions on the field which does not necessarily equate to a completion but maybe a throwaway and not making a bad play worse
4) Accuracy - practicing on the fundamentals
In that order. We spend our time focusing on these things, week in - week out, and they are the things that determine wins and losses.
Given your tenure at Boise, when is it a good time to run a trick play?
Best time to run them is when you know they are going to work. Certainly timing is critical. The trick plays run against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl were because we flat ran out of everything else and that was the only thing left in the book we had not tried.
How important with the play-action and screen game be in your offense?
We've worked on 7-step drop, play-action. But we do not want to limit what we are doing. We want to have a variety to compliment what we do on each play and TRY NOT TO BE PREDICTABLE.
With Spring Break coming up, players are surely a bit on edge to impress the "Eye In The Sky". It was announced earlier that the Coaches will take the vacation week to evaluate the practice session film and start to move chess pieces into place for the balance of Spring drills. Given the level of competition to impress, expect practices to become more intense heading toward the break. As a result, we are hopeful more juicy insider morsels become available for sharing.
Since practices are closed we should be thankful we are given at least some information. The good news is the Coaches and player leaders are saying all the right things. However, as fans, we know that you're only as good as what you produced the last game. August can't get hear fast enough for this fan so the Horns can get back to their winning ways...brick by brick.