December 6, 2008

Ketch's Inside the Locker Room Report

Q: (burkejp) - I have some concerns with a statement from Mike Leach stating that "this year's conference champ should be decided by graduation rate". I have always thought extremely high of Texas as an institution that puts academics ahead of all other, but if Mike Leach's comments are accurate and Texas has the 11th highest grad rate out of 12 Big 12 schools (Oklahoma #12), then they need to re-visit this issue. Yes, I understand the standards are higher and some players transfer, etc. and all the recruits/families, etc. seem to speak extremely high of the curriculum and the way Texas assigns counselors/tutors, etc. to assist young athletes, but I'm not one to make excuses for the lack of throughput. I learned from my 10+ years on the Marine Corps that one "shouldn't excuse efforts for results" - what say you?

A: I think most people agree that the way the NCAA currently measures graduation rates is flawed. This isn't an excuse as much as it's an explanation, but it does not count kids that graduate after the slotted five-year window. The Longhorns might have a lot of guys that take a little longer than five years to graduate, but they are getting the job done. Although the Longhorn athletic department would state that the graduation rates need to be better, I don't think there's a sense that there's a real problem.

Back in 2007, the Longhorns were actually honored by the American Football Coaches Association as one of 32 schools that graduate 70% of their student-athletes. Unlike the NCAA graduation rates, the AFCA does not punish schools that have kids leave the program with good academic standings.

The only schools in the Big 12 other than Texas that had a 70% graduation rate from 2001-05 were Baylor, Nebraska and Texas Tech.

Q: (TYR0NEBIGGUMS) - There is a plethora of wide receivers in the 2010 class in Texas. In your opinion, how many and which receivers will Texas take? Are there any that stand out to you as game breakers at that position?

A: This would be a great year to have a big need at wide receiver, but that will not be the case because the Longhorns have so many receiver prospects from the 2007-08 classes that have littered the depth chart. Look for the Longhorns to take a couple, but there isn't really a need for more than that. Fort Worth Dunbar wide receiver Darius White is going to receive an offer and the smart money has him committing to the Longhorns because he's a big Texas fan. DeSoto wide receiver Darius Terrell is another kid that has reported that the Longhorns have a very serious interest in him and after attending several Longhorn games this season, I think he's probably a serious candidate to receive an offer. Others that have to be in the mix are North Shore's Deandrew White, Tomball's Jordan Leslie, Humble Atascocita's Quentin Parks, Dallas Skyline's Mike Davis, Austin Bowie's DeAndre Perry and Naaman Forest's John Harris.

After the last month of evaluation, I'd rate the top three in the state like this:

1) Darius White
2) Deandrew White
3) Mike Davis
Q: (wabash512) - What staff changes, if any, do you expect after the season and do you think Mack needs to bring in someone who excels at closing on the top shelf, national recruits? There are a number of reasons given, but it seems like we stall out once we rack up the commitments of kids who already knew they wanted to be 'Horns.

A: There really haven't been many rumors flying around in recent weeks, although I think the annual Mike Tolleson retirement rumor comes up occasionally. Overall, I wouldn't be surprised if we see a full carryover from 2008 to 2009 within the coaching ranks. As for your question about national recruiting, I don't think you'll see a major change in that department until there's a change at head coach.

Q: (Astro72650) - How would you compare the high school career and potential of Devon Kennard and Aaron Lewis? Is Kennard in another league?

A: Both players were elite high school players, but Kennard's burst off the edge might be as good as any defensive end prospect I've seen in the last decade. Lewis is probably better at the point of attack at this same stage, but we're talking about two different types of players in regards to speed and suddenness.

Q: (MCB0703) - When I look at the 2009 commitments, my initial take on this class is a very strong class that could have been a class greater than 2002. Obviously, players like Garret Gilbert, Alex Okafor, all 4 OL, & many others are tremendous players that will make a significant impact and I do not want to discount their talent. However, I believe 2009 is a year of elite talent at several positions that just doesn't happen every year...I believe you may have posted players like Craig Loston and Kevin Brent are two of the best Safeties you've seen in the last 10 years, yet neither player really looked seriously at Texas.

Also, the OB board has discussed the GG & RS debate ad nauseam and how each recruitment played out. I guess in the end, I just feel as though Mack & Co. could have stock piled talent for the next several years...they should've found a way to bring in RS to his "dream school" along w/ GG, tried to push harder for Loston or Brent, or even make a stronger push for Dexter Pratt. Again, I am very proud of those that will be in Austin next year, but (in your opinion) could Texas have done anything different to increase the elite talent from this year? Also, when you look at 2009 LSR, would you agree the talent in Texas is greater than the last 5-10 years or has there been another year similar or greater to this overall LSR talent?

A: The Longhorns absolutely control the recruiting landscape in Texas. It's not recruiting right now as much as it's selecting. That's what the Garrett Gilbert/Russell Shepard debate was all about. For those of you that think Shepard is just a receiver in waiting, I think you greatly underestimate his upside and current progress as a quarterback. Both of these guys are elite prospects and I think it probably would have invited some potential problems because there's something that you need to understand about Gilbert. I believe this is the guy that Greg Davis has been waiting his entire career to coach. He's been itching to get this guy into Texas for a couple of years and I think they view this kid as a stronger version of Colt McCoy. In the years I've been covering Texas high school football, Gilbert ranks with Drew Brees and Vince Young as the three best quarterback players/prospects I've seen. I don't think there's any way that those two guys coming in together would have been good for the program because it would have created a pressure cooker for both players that rarely turns into a positive thing.

As for the safeties, there's no question that Craig Loston and Kevin Brent are elite prospects. In fact, they are the elite of the elite within their position group. That being said, the Longhorns just didn't have a lot of momentum going with either player. Loston pretty much had a pre-developed anti-Texas disposition before he ever met a Longhorn coach and Brent was an early OU lead. What are you going to do? You cannot win them all. With Pratt, he wanted to be offered as a running back and they were committed to taking just one.

I don't think the Longhorns have maximized their upside in this class, but I think did dominate the landscape in-state and got everyone they wanted, except for the two safeties and possibly JaMarkus McFarland. Even with the loss of the two safeties, the defensive backfield is probably the deepest position in terms of young outstanding talent in the program. With the addition of the three recruits they are bringing in, talent is not an issue in my mind. The only place where you could probably nitpick is at linebacker, but the two players that Texas selected were Will Muschamp's choices, so who am to question his evaluations at this point? I'll give him the benefit of the doubt until he gives me a reason to do otherwise.

Overall, I think this is a strong class of players, but a lot of the depth is at quarterback and running back, two positions the Longhorns were able to get their No.1 overall prospects at.

Q: (Born Again Horn) - With more and more college teams running spread offenses (or some variations), is this the best year in Texas for QB prospects at the High School level? Could it be argued you could be the 5th ranked QB prospect in Texas and still be in the Top 10 on a national level?

A: Yes and yes. You give me Garrett Gilbert, Russell Shepard, Tyrik Rollison, Cody Green and Shevodrick Beaver and I'll let you have any five quarterbacks across the country that you want.

Q: (youknow) - Do you feel there is a bias towards Texas? That is, that some felt mighty fine to vote Texas down a bit. This would be included in the coaches and Harris Poll. Or, did the chips just happen to fall that way? Also, will you and Jason be watching the Dallas/Pittsburg game together?

A: I really don't know how to answer your question. Do I think some funny business occurred in the polls? Yeah. Was it enough to tip the scales against the Longhorns? I don't know. I think the Longhorns just unlucky. As for Suchomel and I, no, we won't be watching the game together. We're pretty respectful to each other with our NFL fandom and I don't think we'd put ourselves in a position where we might kill each other.

Q: (Hornrush) - One simple question. Once you answer it, save it and bring it back next October. What do you think the atmosphere will be like going into the game against OU next year with the team and the coaching staff? Can't wait for this one!

A: Do you remember how Rocky Balboa responded in Rocky IV when Apollo Creed died? I would imagine that the Longhorns would travel to Russia right now if it meant they get back on the field with the Sooners.

Q: (crg5698) - Please give me your solution to a playoff system in division I college football.

A: Eight-team playoff with the top eight from the BCS making up the field. A conference championship does not automatically quality you for a spot in the playoff. I would also oversee a complete overhaul in the voting system, completely eliminating the coaches poll from the process and I would replace it with a poll of 100 national media members and the only way that a voter could quality for a spot is if they have viewed games in-person from at least three different conferences in the previous season. The idea would be to exclude participants that might have an inherent bias towards a particular conference because of his scheduling. As is the case with the AP Top 25, I would make sure that each poll is available for immediate viewing each week upon updated releases. This polling would make up 40% of the formula. The second 40% of the formula would be come from the computer polls. Any potential computer poll model would have to be completely transparent. Anyone one that doesn't want to play by the rules could simply have their useless formula for whatever reason that they'd want, but it wouldn't be a part of the BCS process. Finally, I would make the final 20% strictly strength of schedule based. We'd take the mean strength of schedule from each of the computer polls used in the BCS.

We would take the top eight schools and host a two-day NCAA national semi-final playoff at one pre-determined BCS bowl site. The next weekend we'd play the national semi-finals at two of the other four BCS bowl sites and then we'd play the final championship game at the last remaining BCS bowl site. The bowls would rotate the hosting responsibilities, so that once every two years they were holding a piece of the NCAA two-day event or the championship game.

I'd also be in favor of actually letting cities bid for the first round two-day event like the Super Bowl and Final Four.

Q: (RC Didn't Offer) - What happened to the Jared Norton/Ryan Bailey/Deon Beasley of 2007? These three players have regressed more than any others in my opinion. Norton seems to have slowed dramatically, Bailey went from clutch to bench and Beasley seems to have been exposed now that he doesn't have the veteran backfield covering his back.

2) Do you think Mack will change his philosophy on non-conference scheduling? In the past he has made it clear that he'd prefer to schedule powder-puff teams like Rice to rest up and prepare for the Big 12 stretch and risk going undefeated with a weak SOS rather than playing some decent teams and risking slipping up against a Ohio State and starting off behind the eight ball.

3) How do you think we handle WR and OL recruiting this year with so many numbers already tied up at those positions and a great 2010 WR class and a very good 2010 OL class coming up?

4) Case McCoy - Do you think its crossed Mack's mind that pursuing Case might tip the scales into Colt definitely coming back (if you believe its a 60/40 or 70/30 deal right now)?

A: Wow, lots of questions. Let's just start at the top and work our way down the list. I think all three players you mentioned have a different story. With Norton, I think he's being hurt by playing in a league that features so many spread offenses. The Big 12 is not a safe-haven for tried and true middle linebackers, and that is what Norton most certainly is. The Longhorns have played a lot of nickel and when he's been asked to play in space, he's struggled some. Frankly, he's in the wrong conference. I think the kid plays on Sundays, but this style of play that he sees week-in and week-out is not tailor-made for his skill set. With Bailey, it seems that Lawrence just beat him in the of-season and throughout camp. Both players were really good, but Lawrence turned out to be a really good surprise for the Longhorns. Finally, with Beasley, I just think he's simply leveled off as a player and some of his limitations have been exposed a little. He's a god player, but he's not a great one. He really needs to dedicate himself at the off-season to maximizing his physical ability because the competition for playing time at cornerback next year will be no joke.

Moving on to the second question, I'm not sure if Mack Brown learned a lesson about scheduling or not. Yes, he was somewhat punished by Oklahoma having a better non-conference schedule, but the Longhorns overall SOS was among the toughest in the nation. In a year when the Big 12 is this good, the computers have historically indicated that there's no need to play a lot of tough teams. Frankly, I don' think Brown will be in Austin long enough for a change of philosophy in this area to really come into play.

Third, look for the Longhorns to initially look to take two wide receivers and offensive lineman in this class. If I was to bet today, those offers would go to Darius White, Darius Terrell, Dominic Espinosa and Evan Washington - and it wouldn't be a shock if they landed all four. The decision the coaches will have to make is whether to offer another player at both positions and the depth of both groups suggest that they might. For instance, I don't see how Texas could not offer Jake Matthews and Trey Hopkins and take both if they wanted to come. All four of these line prospects are elite-level prospects in my opinion. As I discussed earlier in this article, the wide receiver position goes nearly ten-deep with seriously talented prospects that would be UT scholarship-worthy.

Finally, I don't think the recruitment of Case will have any impact on Colt's decision, especially with Colt's eligibility expiring before Case would ever step foot on campus.

Q: (410772) - Why can't the staff fix the ongoing problems with the kickoff coverage? 50k plus students and we cannot find anyone, man or woman, capable of consistently kicking the ball into the endzone? This fact, along with the fact that we fail to tackle, leads to a huge disadvantage. Urban Myer was recently interviewed about his emphasis on special teams and how much it has helped his team win. Why do we not seem to emphasize it?

A: I think you have a point with not being able to find someone to kick the ball into the end zone, but I don't know if that's the problem. You can't convince me that Justin Tucker cannot kick the ball out of the end zone, but the coaches prefer height on their kickoffs more than anything else and they'll sacrifice distance for a better hang-time if push comes to shove. The one thing that all college coaches are worried about is a guy not kicking for height and kicking a line-drive that is easily returned. It's playing to the side of caution, but everyone does it. I think you're wrong if you don't think Mack Brown puts a lot of attention into the kicking game. We're talking about a head coach that takes a ton of pride in his special teams and he envisions the Longhorn program as being every bit as good historically in this area as a school like Virginia Tech. That being said, the Longhorns were one of the worst kickoff coverage teams in the nation this year. It's all about lane integrity and with so many young players playing special teams, they struggled with this one aspect quite a bit.

Q: (Northernhorn) - When Muschamp eventually takes over the head coaching job after Mack steps down, how do you think he'll approach OOS recruiting? Will he go more OOS or stay pretty much the same as Mack?

A: I think you'll definitely see Texas spread its national recruiting wings when Muschamp takes over. It might not be an extreme change, but I don think Muschamp will be more aggressive.

Q: (Horn O Plenty) - If Mack Brown had been hired by Notre Dame instead of Texas back in 1998, how would he have done there?

A: I think Brown would have won a national championship in South Bend because I believe he's the best program builder in the nation and with that staff that he brought with him to Texas in 1998, he'd have recruited like a champion from the get-go.

Q: (Horn O Plenty) - We read about how underclassmen get lots of reps during bowl practices. What do the starters do during this time? Help coach? Watch game film? Go over situational strategies? 7 on 7? How much work do they get? And is there any/much contact that they get during the weeks of non-games?

Finally, what is the prognosis for Blaine Irby's return? Beginning of next season? Mid-season?

A: The bowl practices are often broken down into two parts - bowl prep and the scrimmages with the young players. A lot of the time the older players will simply be dismissed from the workouts, although they will hang out and coach the younger players. This is a daily part of bowl workouts, which means all of the young players get more live reps than they've seen all season.

It's probably too early to know when Irby will be back on the field, but he reportedly has a very long recovery process ahead of him. It might be a couple of seasons before he resembles the player the Longhorns thought he was on the verge of becoming. Be patient because it might take a while for him to make a full recovery.

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