March 6, 2011

The Ticket City Locker Room

Q: (proteus_1973) - I have only submitted to you once before so thanks in advance for taking my question! Here is my submittal in multiple parts:

The Longhorn recruiting machine seems to have not missed a beat, even after major coaching upheaval and a 5-7 season. This has spurred a lot of discussion on the board about our current commits and their LSR ranking. Do you think that Texas has reached on some kids early or is this more a case of these kids being low because you have not seen much film on them? In other words, should the board be relaxed because we will end up with our standard allotment of 3 and 4 star players?

Let's have you dawn the hat of the head coach for a minute and look at our current commits; would you have slow played some of them to see if something better cones along or are they all takes? Would you have listened to Vinny Cerrato and not handed out that many early offers?

A: The answers to your first questions are somewhat in the middle. Let's forget about the LSR rankings for a bit and first focus on the bigger picture. From a philosophical standpoint, I'm of the opinion that early offers should be restricted to elite-level prospects and I've never been a fan of trading quality at the expense of some early momentum. Whatever Mack Brown may or may not have been told by consultants like Cerrato in regards to early recruiting, I can't really see many changes from a strategy standpoint. Yes, there are more early offers to OOS recruit, but I think that's a rouse and I have doubts about how much true OOS recruiting will remain on the table by May. When the dust settles, the Longhorns will almost certainly have a class comprised of an over-whelming majority of in-state prospects and if we were going to slot the commitments by tiers, I think there is a small group of guys that they could have "slow-played" through the spring at the very least. Texas comes from such a position of strength that I don't understand why they don't allow themselves more time to explore all channels before filling precious slots in the class.

Those are just my opinions and I'm sure Mack would disagree with my perspective. It's clear his recruiting will not slow down under any circumstances. If it didn't slow down with massive staff overhaul a month before the first junior day, it'll never slow down. That's just Mack's style and there is tangible value in momentum-building. The threat of expiring offers because of numbers crunching does play in Texas' favor and you'll see that in the next month or two as the numbers continue to tighten. I just think the negatives outweigh the positives.

Of course, I think a shout out needs to go out to Mack and his staff because there are several players that I didn't have ranked highly in my last update of the LSR that are much better than my early ranking suggests. The guys that really jump out to me as mis-grades on my part at this point include Copperas Cove athlete Orlando Thomas, Harker Heights offensive lineman Camrhon Hughes, DeSoto cornerback Bryson Echols and Mansfield defensive end Hassan Ridgeway. Those four guys are all four-star prospects upon further evaluation and I think that you'll find that their national rankings will eventually reflect that. In fact, there's not a commitment in the class that doesn't have a chance at a four-star ranking, so we're nitpicking to a large degree, which is fine, but let's call it what it is.

This is a better start to recruiting than it looks on OB paper.

Q: (platshaw7410) - There has been some hand wringing about the lack of elite talent in the state this year and it is true that it appears to be a down year at more than just a position or two (QB, TE, DE, DT, CB, and S all come to mind). My question is how would you rate the overall level of D-1 talent in the state of Texas this year compared to the last three years (2009-2011 classes)?

A: Every class is like a snowflake and you're always going to find a different set of strengths and weaknesses in any given year. If we're looking at the 2012 class, I think it's a very strong year at running back, wide receiver, offensive line and at linebacker, especially if we're just focusing at the top of the class as it relates to Texas' needs (five- and four-star talent). On the other hand, it's a down year at quarterback, tight end (again) and possibly defensive back (although I think it's too early to make that outright claim).

Here's how I would rank the years at each position if we look at the last four years:

QB: 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012
RB: 2011, 2009, 2012 and 2010
WR: 2010, 2012, 2011 and 2009
TE: 2011, 2009, 2010 and 2012
OL: 2010, 2012, 2011 and 2009
DT: 2011, 2012, 2010 and 2009
DE: 2012, 2010, 2009 and 2011
LB: 2010, 2012, 2011 and 2009
DB: 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2012

Q: (principal) - With the players in spring ball plus the freshmen, which position group will be the strength of this team ?

Who has the most productive year - Malcolm Brown or Jaxon Shipley?

A: I'll go with the wide receiver position because it's absolutely loaded with tremendous young talent, while I'd lean linebacker on defense because Manny Diaz's defense really turns those players loose to roam and make plays, which should really benefit the likes of Emmanuel Acho, Jordan Hicks and Keenan Robinson.

As for the two freshman, I'll go with Brown because he is so desperately needed.

Q: (lsampson) - How much seniority, if any, do you think there will be when it gets down to making the decisions as to what the depth chart will be and who will start?

Who has the final say on offense? Defense? Special teams?

A: This is such a young team and everything is so new on both sides of the ball that I don't know how much seniority is going to come into play whenever we find close competitions on both sides of the ball. More times than not, I think we're going to see a lot of young players competing for time against other young players. Let's quickly take a snap shot of each position.

Quarterbacks: Someone is going to have to take the job from returning starter Garrett Gilbert, but if it happens, I don't see the staff flinching. That being said, it's just waaaaaaay too early to draw conclusions.

Running backs: Major Applewhite didn't wait three years go get a national prospect at his position, only to bury him behind guys that can't hold the position when it's given to them.

Wide receivers: Young guys are everywhere.

Tight ends: Coaches are just looking for someone capable. He can be 12 years old if he fits the bill.

Offensive line: Not sure there are enough bodies right now for this to be an issue.

Defensive tackle: After Kheeston Randall, there's not anyone that would qualify as a seniority candidate?

Defensive end: Young guys are everywhere.

Linebacker: Two senior starters and a bunch of babies.

Cornerback: Young guys are everywhere.

Safety: This would be the one position where people will probably point and suggest that seniority is in play with the presence of two starting safeties that struggled last year, but Kenny Vaccaro is going to replace one of them at some point in my mind.

Overall, there's not much to worry about in 2011 with this topic. As for the ultimate decision makers, I'll lean towards the coordinators and Mack Brown to make the toughest decisions.

Q: (Pockey) - Do you think Mack Brown and the rest of his staff has reached the breaking point with street agents and the cooperation they may be getting from the other D1 schools in and around Texas? If so, would it surprise you if they were sharing information they have with media outlets like ESPN and SI?

A: I think there's a movement from a group in college football, with Brown sitting shotgun in the front seat, that want to see the industry cleaned and seem to be more aggressive in its pursuit of banging some pots on the matter. We've seen Urban Myer come out loudly about street agents in the last month. I have no doubts that if a national reporter who has a good relationship with Mack asked for some off-the-record leads on the behavior of known street agents/runners/slime, he'd help in a heartbeat. Why wouldn't he? If nothing else comes out of the news of the last few days, you have to think that all future business in this state will be very hard to find for Lyles. The word is out. That's just one finger in a dam full of leaks, but it's a start.

Q: (Golfpr3145) - Do you see some of the leaders on the team taking charge this summer and getting some off season work done similar to what VY and those guys did in 2005? Having asked that, who do you see stepping into the leader role?

A: This team better find that leadership of they'll be in trouble. I think the ring-leaders of the 2010 recruiting class with Jackson Jeffcoat, Mike Davis, Jordan Hicks and others is going to be the group that leads tis program out of the fog. The question is whether they have the confidence to grab the steering wheel while they are still underclassmen. That's the part of the task that I really believe Garrett Gilbert struggled with and it's a move that's much easier said than done because so many guys don't want to undercut the natural passage of control from one group of upperclassmen to the next. Even a guy like Vince Young struggled with this aspect of his game until his third season… yeah, you forget about that, huh? Everyone does.

Q: (HornAbility) - The Longhorns have three kickers on the roster (Justin Tucker PK/P- Senior, Will Russ P/PK- RS Freshman and Grant Sirgo K - RS Freshman). Mac likes to split up the kicking duties. It seems like with Justin Tucker leaving, they will probably want to bring in some kickers this year. Have they already contacted potential walk-ons? Are they behind in the process because of all the extraordinary matters they have had to attend to this year? Will we know who they are before fall practice begins?

A: What a nice, nerdy little football question. Bravo. If I'm being completely honest, I'll need to dig around a little to find out the true status of all your questions. The easy answer is to say, yes, the Longhorns will certainly have a fresh group of kicking candidates that will arrive in the fall as either preferred walk-ons or potential preferred walk-ons because Mack Brown always seems to do a good job in that area. I doubt that will have changed simply because of the staff turnover because they'll have had the 2010 summer camps as a base foundation at the very least.

Ben Pruitt of The Woodlands is a guy that could be a candidate in that preferred walk-on role, but he hasn't yet made a decision as of today.

The development of Russ is crucial to answering the division of the duties in the kicking game this fall and we probably need to see how things go this spring before really have a true idea of where things will go post-spring and into the fall.

Q: (Insp_Clouseau) - Not since the old SWC have we heard so much about alleged recruiting violations. Things seem to be coming to a head and it is up for debate whether the NCAA will do anything about the problems or not. Obviously, since Mack does not seem to tolerate the street agents and the shady activities, we have not recruited some great talent that has gone on to help other teams do very well. It would seem that this puts us at an unfair disadvantage.

Which brings me to a couple questions. Do some schools cheat and others don't, or does everyone bend the rules in recruiting, some worse than others and it is all just shades of gray? If the latter is the case, then obviously one can't complain too much.

Secondly, will there come a time when Mack and other ethical coaches finally say enough is enough and push the NCAA to do something about the problems and unfair advantage some schools have. It would seem that with the Cam Newton deal and the fact that two schools like Auburn and Oregon met for the BCS Championship, that this thing has to come to a head at some point. I just can't see those playing by the rules putting up with it in the long run.

Lastly, do you think ESPN finally gets involved in the investigations since they have invested so much money in the UT network, especially given Mack's hard line stance on this type of behavior? One would think that they would want to protect their investment.

A: I don't think anyone is na´ve to think that if you sent an army of investigators to any school in the country, you wouldn't find something that falls into the category of NCAA violations - whether we're talking about a free BBQ dinner around town or briefcases of money. The issue is to what degree the rules are being bent in each location. The Longhorns are as militant about following the rules as anyone and even the hint of a connection of impropriety will send Mack the other way as it relates to individual recruits. I'm not trying to paint Mack's program as the white knight in all of this discussion, but that's just the way it is and has been during his term as head coach.

Even as it relates to scouting services, the Longhorns have traditionally not subscribed to even the largest in-state scouting services and that goes against the grain of most of the schools in-state. For instance, former Longhorn assistant coach Randy Rogers has one of the most respected services in the country and almost every major D1 school that recruits this state is a subscriber and for a majority of Mack's tenure, the Longhorns haven't subscribed (although that may have changed in the last few seasons). I'd wager a nickel or three that you can do an open records search of the Longhorn program and you're not going to find invoices from the likes of anyone in the same galaxy of a Will Lyles.

It's not like that everywhere. See Oregon. See Auburn. See a lot of places. I think the majority of schools fall into the middle area. Some schools have no choice but to engage in the rift-raft if they want to compete. In some ways it becomes their only way to get an edge.

Finally, I will be fascinated to watch ESPN press through muddy waters around schools that they've heavily aligned their pocketbooks with, but at this point it seems like ESPN has been pretty aggressive on this front at the start. All of us are waiting to see what happens when one of the hands that truly feed them has to be slapped.

Q: (TeXaSalsa) - 1.) If Kennedy Estelle commits soon as expected, does the staff wait on Michael Starts? He seems too athletic to pass on, and probably could play G or T.. However in the past UT has gotten impatient.

2.) Is the staff going to recruit and/or bring in Justin Thomas? In what seems to be a down year for DBs, he seems like a take, even though he's on the short side. In addition to having a great pedigree (related to Earl Thomas, WOS DB), the kid has great ball skills on film, and seems very quick.

3.) Regarding the current group of commits, it seems that Cayleb Jones and Connor Brewer have emerged as "leaders" of the class on offense. Does anyone on the defensive side appear to be a "leader" so far?

4.) What's the story behind Dominique Wheeler's recruitment? I'm stunned the UT staff is done recruiting him. He's hell on wheels. It's only February. Numbers aren't a problem as the staff is recruiting DBG. This kid seems too good to pass on, and I'm floored the staff decided to move on so soon. Did his comments of TCU being the leader right after Junior Day ruin his chances? Not to be a Debbie Downer, but heaven forbid that the UT staff actually has to RECRUIT a kid into this senior year. I'm a little floored that 5-7 has not made the staff a little more cautious of filling up so fast. It seems borderline arrogant that the staff stopped recruiting this kid in February of his JUNIOR year when he's a true difference maker.

5.) Any word on LaDarrell McNeil? Did he simply not have a good time on his visit? Just strange how UT went from being in the driver's seat to almost an afterthought. The kid looks like a clear #1 DB in the state (albeit it is a down year) and with no other safety prospects, seems like a no-brainer take.

A: If the Longhorns land a commitment from Estelle, they'll suddenly have a message for every remaining lineman that has been offered, including Starts - there's one sure spot left, but if someone jumps in and takes the final slot in the class, then that's the way life goes. Of course, the Longhorns can always take a fifth lineman if they want, but their official position right now will almost certainly remain at four and a sense of urgency will eventually be felt.

Second, look for the Longhorns to start taking a long look at Thomas. A little birdie tells me that he's a guy they are eying for that last defensive back spot.

Third, I'm not sure a true defensive leader on that side of the ball has emerged. We'll all be keeping an eye on that as this group starts to interact more together at future Longhorn functions.

Fourth, all I can tell you is that there's something about his recruitment that they didn't like, whether it was their positioning on his leaderboard or something else. It helps that they had two other elite prospects at the position waiting to join the class, which means they probably don't feel like they need to sweat anyone. Cayleb Jones and Thomas Johnson make for a hell of a 1-2 punch at receiver in this class and if they take a third, it'll be for a big national dog. Wheeler is that kind of talent, but they made a pretty decisive move to cut the strings here, so I would trust that there's just something that didn't fit. It happens.

Finally, I think Duane Akina had a group of defensive backs that he prefers over McNeil and when push came to shove, they decided not to slow-play him on his unofficial visit. Bottom line - an Akina-led DB search doesn't prioritize McNeil.

Q: (ThomasM4451) - This new offense and energy sounds really fantastic. Also, the upcoming arrival of Jaxon Shipley, Malcolm Brown and everybody else in the freshman class is bound to be exciting.

But how well are we addressing the holes that we had last year? There is no doubt in my mind that we can only go up from 5-7 and next year will be a better year than last year. But do we have what it takes to compete for a Big 12 championship with the offensive and defensive tackles, middle linebackers, and finally quarterbacks expected to play next year?

It was very painful to watch our offensive edges get owned every game, and our middle on defense be so soft last year. Can simply changing scheme and attitude fix that in one year? Do we have new guys stepping up?

Will Garret Gilbert or one of the young ones step up this year and be the guy we need him to be?

I know it's a long question, but just how optimistic should we be for this upcoming season? I really would like to know.

A: There's no sure-thing answer to a single question you asked. Those are the million dollar questions and only time is going to tell. I think there's a ton of reason for optimism, but this might be a program that's a season away from being a true contender.

Q: (texas8891) - It seems that Texas A&M is being considered more frequently by more top recruits. Is that a reflection of their perceived return to relevance or did Sherman simply put a lot of effort into this particular class? Thanks!

A: A combination of both. The Aggies were slaughtered in-state in 2011 and they have worked very hard and started much earlier than they normally have on the current 2012 class. They also have some momentum from a very good season on the field. What they haven't yet done is close the door with many of the truly elite prospects and everyone is waiting to see if they can close the deal with more than a mere handful.

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