March 18, 2012

Insider nuggets as spring practice resumes

Talked to an insider today who had some interesting things to say about some of the positions that need to step up over the second half of spring football, which resumes this week.

A third receiver - After Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis, it's anybody's guess right now. It should be Marquise Goodwin, but Goodwin is in and out of spring football because of track. And DeSean Hales has probably outperformed Goodwin at this point.

But the coaches want to see Hales be more consistent, because they have seen Hales have big springs in the past only to fall back to the pack in fall camp.

The return of John Harris from a foot injury (the return could happen before April 1) will be significant. Harris had a "setback" in his return from the injury, Mack Brown said, delaying Harris' return to action.

The arrival of Cayleb Jones, Kendall Sanders, Marcus Johnson and Daje Johnson in June could also greatly impact the race. But right now, there's no clear consensus about the third receiver.

Blocking tight end - D.J. Grant, Darius Terrell and, most recently, M.J. McFarland have all shown the ability to be pass-catching tight ends.

But all of them need work on setting the edge or blocking at the point of attack. The guy who has proven to be the best blocker at tight end is Barrett Matthews, but he has struggled to catch the ball consistently.

So the options for a blocking tight end right now appear to be Matthews or an offensive tackle like Luke Poehlmann.

Depth on the offensive line - The sense is the starting line of LT Donald Hawkins, LG Trey Hopkins, C Dominic Espinosa, RG Mason Walters and RT Josh Cochran is looking pretty good and should be much better than last year's line.

But there is real concern about the backups, especially at tackle. While Sedrick Flowers has shown a lot of upside, our insider said Garrett Porter and Thomas Ashcraft have been just OK and without the ceiling of Flowers.

The backup tackles have also been OK, but there would be a notable drop-off at tackle if Paden Kelley (left) or Poehlmann (right) were on the field, the source said.

"If Porter or another player can't step up as the backup at center, if something happened to Dom Espinosa, the offense would be limited in what it could run," the source said. "The same could be said for the tackle positions.

"There's an opportunity for a guy like Camrhon Hughes to get into the two-deep if he can really come on. Hughes appears to have a high ceiling, but he just needs a little time to get there."

Backup quarterback - There's a sense, according to the source, that David Ash has gotten much better since the end of the 2011 season in terms of comfort with the offense and his confidence executing it.

But the same can't be said for Case McCoy at this point, the source said. It appears McCoy's mechanical flaws are keeping him from making the kind of improvement that Ash is making. McCoy just isn't as accurate and assertive as Ash right now, the source said.

For McCoy, his advantage has to be knowledge of the offense and anticipation, so he can get the ball out ahead of the defense and in spite of his mechanical flaws. But that hasn't happened on a consistent basis.

McCoy is definitely ahead of Ash in terms of comfort as a vocal leader, but Ash's performance has been better, so right now the Texas coaches are hoping Ash's confidence will keep growing and allow him to be a little more assertive vocally.

Connor Brewer is showing flashes and tools, but he is very young in the offense and has moments in which he's completely lost, which is to be expected.

Backup defensive backs - This is a bit of a nitpick, considering Kenny Vaccaro and Adrian Phillips figure to be the starters with the potential to be all-conference candidates.

But while the progress of Mykkele Thompson, Josh Turner and Leroy Scott has been good, it would be a considerable dropoff at safety if something happened to Vaccaro or Phillips.

The second half of spring ball will be really big for these three. The same can be said for the backup cornerbacks, who have been led recently by Adrian White, who goes by A.J., and Orlando Thomas, who goes by Duke.

In other words, the gap between starter and backup at safety and corner is bigger than where the coaches would like it.

Backup linebacker - After Steve Edmond, the options at middle linebacker are pretty thin and probably result in Jordan Hicks shifting over to the middle, if necessary.

With Demarco Cobbs out, it's been a great learning experience for Tevin Jackson, who will give Cobbs all he wants in competition at outside linebacker when Cobbs returns from his neck injury, which could be soon.

Kendall Thompson and Aaron Benson have a lot of work to do to close the gap between starter and backup at linebacker.

Alex De La Torre is currently backing up Steve Edmond and is still very, very young in the defense.

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