On Wednesday, Mack Brown, Major Applewhite, Bryan Harsin, and Manny Diaz all appeared at the Austin Convention Center along with the Austin American-Statesmen's preseason All-Centex high school football team, including 2012 Texas commit Cayleb Jones, to, well, kickoff the football season. With reporting day and Mack Brown's state of the program press conference on Thursday and the start of fall practice on Friday, the luncheon marked one of the final steps before players put on their pads.
Hosted by broadcaster Ron Franklin, the event hardly broke any news, but it did provide a peek into what the coaches are thinking as the season quickly approaches. Some nuggets after the jump...
What, me worry? Asked about the starting quarterback, Brown predictably failed to give any type of definitive answer -- mostly because he himself doesn't know, as the job will certainly be settled during fall practice. None of that is news, of course.
What was surprising was that Brown had this to say about the unresolved quarterback situation ($): "I'm not worried about it. I'm excited about it."
Um, okay? The vast majority of the Texas fanbase doesn't feel the same way and it's because the likely starter was mostly terrible last year and didn't show any signs of improvement during the spring game and finished the summer amidst reports that his leadership abilities were still not on par with the expectations for the position.
Brown surely doesn't have fond memories of the Chris Simms/Major Applewhite controversy. Behind the scenes in candid conversations, Brown has less confidence in all likelihood and while it wouldn't do the team any good to express those type of doubts in public. With a quarterback controversy looming at the first sign of the eventual starter struggling, it's just hard to believe that Brown is truly "excited" about the lack of separation at quarterback.
Still "a work in progress". With a nearly entirely new staff in place that has spent only the 15 spring practices working with the players -- besides the conditioning work Bennie Wylie undertook during the summer with his pledges -- Brown acknowledged that both sides of the ball remain works in progress.
The statement echoed one made by the Texas head coach during the spring and while it's certainly no surprise that Brown would consider the team to be in the same place considering he hasn't had a change to work with them over the summer, it does reinforce just how far this team has to go during the fall and lends credence to the thought that the team should focus on the process early in the season.
It also ties back into the "Brick By Brick" motto chosen because the team is "rebuilding its foundation, starting over, tearing it all down and building it back." As a result, Brown confirmed that the expectations he will lay out for the team as fall practice begins will be vastly different from those of most seasons:
We won't talk about the end of the season expectations because we lost the right to do that after last season.
Talking Diaz. The story of how Brown called a handful of SEC coaches and heard the name of Manny Diaz on the lips of each isn't a new story, but one worth repeating. All of the coaches told Brown that they weren't thrilled about the prospect of having to coach against the former Mississippi State defensive coordinator, even though Diaz only spent one year in the SEC.
The desire of the conference's coaches not to go against Diaz defenses again speaks to just how well the new Texas DC performed during his only season in the country's best league. Concerned about his lack of experience at the highest level? Don't worry about it -- the guy is a rising star. Don't just take it from me, take it from those SEC coaches who sung his praises to Mack Brown.
Keep it simple, stupid. Bryan Harsin was known was using an array of personnel groupings and formation during his time at Boise State and there's no question that will continue at Texas. However, the playbook doesn't end up being overly complex for each individual player. Instead of asking every player to know every player, Harsin simply asks the players to learn the handful of plays featured in their personnel grouping, allowing for a steeper learning curve.
Practice hard, see the field. A common refrain from Greg Davis in 2010 during the week was that he wanted to get the young players some game reps, especially in the wide receiver corps. After games, the refrain from Davis was always that he didn't have the chance to do so given the flow of the game. Excuses, excuses, excuses.
This year, both Diaz and Harsin are talking the talk. At this point, Texas fans can only assume that they will follow through when the season finally begins. Diaz talked about wanting 22 players to see action during the first quarter of the game against Rice and wants four defensive ends capable of playing and the same number of defensive tackles. Rounding out the defensive end rotation will be much easier than defensive tackle, where only Kheeston Randall can boast of any real contributions on fall Saturdays.
One of the things that Diaz took from his time under Mickey Andrews at Florida State was a desire to play the back ups in preparation for coming seasons. It was a tactic noticeably absent in 2010 at the cornerback position, even late in the season when there was little left to salvage. Not until Chykie Brown was lost for the season with an injury did one the young players start to see action.
Here's what Harsin had to say on the subject:
We're going to find an opportunity if you work hard and deserve to be on the field. That's fun for us and keeps morale high on the team.
X-factors. Asked about possible X-factors on defense, the first name out of the mouth of Manny Diaz was junior safety Kenny Vaccaro. There's been some buzz that Vaccaro was one of the best players on the team during the spring and in the summer workouts. His physical skills are obvious and the Brownwood native should be primed for a breakout season as long as he can avoid the mental breakdowns and personal foul penalties that plagued him at times during his first two seasons.
The best coverage safety on the team, Vaccaro also has the physicality to excel in the fire zones Manny Diaz loves to employ. The scheme versatility he provides could allow Blake Gideon to play the role of centerfielder, something the senior does well. Oh yeah, and Vaccaro can straight knock opponents out of the game. How's that for an X-factor?