On Monday, Texas Longhorns co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin spoke with the media about a variety of topics. While his comments on the quarterbacks received the most attention, he also spent some time talking about the Wildcat formation.
A major boon for the offense last season when run by departed back Fozzy Whittaker, the formation fell into disuse by the Holiday Bowl because there weren't any strong, healthy candidates to run it after now-senior back Jeremy Hills failed to impress in the role.
In the first scrimmage, the results were not strong, according to head coach Mack Brown:
I think we had it two plays last night, one with Johnathan Gray and it got screwed up. And then one with Malcolm Brown that he had the ball off and it was a loss. So neither one of them were good plays. But we'll start looking at who that might be, and [co-offensive coordinator] Bryan [Harsin] is not far enough along yet with Jalen and Connor [Brewer]. Connor has been nursing a sore ankle, too. But they are not far enough along to decide what we want to do with the wild.
It's not clear exactly what Brewer would have to do with the formation, but Overstreet was considered a strong candidate to get some looks in a package similar to that run by David Ash last season, but the buzz around that possibility has died down significantly, even though Harsin didn't rule out playing three quarterbacks.
The reason buzz has died down? Overstreet has been focusing on just playing quarterback, according to Harsin:
We're excited about the progress Jalen has made. But the focus has been on playing quarterback and learning the offense. He's got a lot of ability. He throws the ball well, he can run, he's physical. He's been learning and playing well.
It's unfortunate, as learning a package of plays that highlight his strengths would only help him as a quarterback. Not sure the reasoning is crystal clear there, but the result remains the same -- Overstreet has moved from a guy who could have been a key contributor in the redzone to a near lock to redshirt unless things change.
For his part, Brown said that the coaching staff won't force the issue with the formation:
And I have also told them, when you have got good backs, you're not going to take a good back out to put somebody in that's not as good as the guy you're taking out. So our personnel has to be based on the best players being on the field, and the wild formation will not be any different. We won't run it unless we feel like it gives us a great advantage at something. Fozzy [Whittaker] gave us a great advantage because we didn't know it when we started it but he just was a natural. So we have to find out which one of them, if any of them, are a natural with it. And if they aren't, we won't run it.
Brown hasn't met with the media yet to talk about the Wildcat, but will have a chance to address it Wednesday afternoon, and Harsin didn't get into specifics, so it's not clear how big of a role the package played in Sunday evening's scrimmage.
However, the co-offensive coordinator did shed some light on the personnel decisions that are being made right now:
Joe Bergeron has taken reps back there at Wild, and I feel like he's done a nice job. Johnathan Gray, the more he does it, the more comfortable he gets at it. He's a guy who is an explosive back. Malcolm's taken reps at it. Jeremy Hills has taken some reps.
I feel good about where we are. With Joe, Johnathan and Jeremy Hills, they can go operate. They have the most reps at it.
In other words, all the backs have worked there with the exception of freshman Daje Johnson, who has been working as the jet sweep artist from the slot position.
Handicapping the odds, Hills is mostly ruled out since he had a chance and didn't show an aptitude, along with the fact he's the least talented of the three serious candidates. No offense to Jeremy or his family, but -- fact. Brown hasn't been working back there much, so he's essentially out, leaving Bergeron and Gray as the two seriously in the mix.
Actually, two is the number that Harsin would prefer:
You're going to have your guy who is going to roll out there. But you're going to have those backs who are in the flow of the game, so you need to have a couple.
You might call that play and another back might have just run four in a row. So now he's gassed. If it's Joe (Bergeron) in there, now Johnathan Gray needs to go in. So you still have to have - in that particular play, especially using running backs - is to have a couple of them you can rotate in.
Sounds like Gray and Bergeron are the guys. Watch to see if Brown mentions the success of the formation on Wednesday, then pencil it in as a package that will be used this season. After all, it gets the best players on the field. And know that Gray has the perfect tools to replicate Fozzy's production. Yeah, buddy.