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October 18, 2007

The Locker Room Report

Q: (ut_alh) - In the past you have given grades to the players (OL). What about the coaches? What grades would you give them this year?

A: It's really too early to give grades because the story of this season has yet to be told. At this same time last season the general consensus was that the Texas staff was in the middle of its best season at Texas. Yet with a collapse in November to end the regular season, that opinion changed overnight and questions about the coaching lasted throughout the off-season and into this year.

Overall, I think the offensive staff is doing a fair job. Greg Davis has had his moments, both good and bad, but his work as of late has been strong. Bobby Kennedy gets a solid grade for the job his guys have done, especially with the injury problems that has plagued the team all season. The final grade for Mac McWhorter would seem to be up in the air as well because his linemen are still evolving and that was expected heading into the year. If the team gets hot and these guys can build some momentum up-front heading into this year, McWhorter will have done a strong job.

Over on the defensive side of the ball, the pass rush has been poor at times and the development/play from the linebackers and safeties has left a lot to be desired. The jury might be out on Duane Akina as a play-calling defensive coordinator, but he deserves a lot of credit for improvements that Ryan Palmer and Brandon Foster have made.

Q: (BurtHorn) - What can you tell us about the remaining portion of the recruiting class of 2008? Who's committing/de-committing? Also, why isn't MAC (Mac and Company) throwing everything in the book at recruits such as Darrell Scott, and players that are currently committed to Nebraska and A&M? Thanks!

A: Well, I'd like to sit here and tell you that my crystal ball sees an eventful final homestretch for the Longhorns in 2008, but that's probably not going to be the case. Denver, Colorado offensive lineman Bryce Givens is a kid that the Longhorns would appear to have a good shot with in light of the current situation at Nebraska. Outside of that, no other prospects has really emerged as solid targets, although the recent history suggests that the staff will target two or three players in January, ala James Kirkendoll, Tyrell Higgins and Ian Harris.

If you're looking for players that you might want to keep an eye on in regards to potential de-commits, there have been rumors about Kheeston Randall, although he continues to downplay them.

Overall, I think the Texas staff feels like it wants to stay in-state for the majority of its recruiting and there aren't many out of state leads for 2008, and the ones that they've had haven't led to much, so the focus appears to have turned to 2009. If that means that the coaches get a jump on some of the elite prospects in that class, it might end up serving for the greater good.

Q: (islndfvr) - Is it just Texas high schools or is there a lack of dominating players at the linebacker and tight end positions nationwide? I am really surprised that there are so few individuals at these positions in Texas that we go after. Why the lack of talent? Is it something that runs in cycles or are these two of the hardest positions to project at the D-1 level?

Running a pro-style or west coast offense, I believe that Colt has the ability to take this team to a NC game in either '08 or '09, possibly both. The college game requires a better than average quarterback but not an all-American to get the NC game, but it does require senior leadership on the offensive line, a game breaker at running back and at least one WR that can make a difference. Defensively you have to be better than average with at least two players that can make plays from the defensive side of the ball. In your opinion, can Texas be in position to make a run for the NC in '08 and '09 given the aforementioned parameters?


A: Yes, there has been a serious linebacker drought in this state for a very long time. There's been speculation that the move to more spread offenses at the high school level has impacted the development at the position across the state because more players are focusing on the other side of the ball. Whatever the reasons, there's no question that the state as a whole isn't developing many elite linebackers. Outside of Derrick Johnson, you'd be hard-pressed to find many Texas-produced linebackers that been true difference makers in college and then went on to the NFL in the last decade. It's not just a Longhorn problem. The Aggies, Red Raiders, Sooners, Bears and everyone else in between that recruits this state hasn't had any better luck when it comes to finding great linebackers. I've actually talked with Mack Brown about it and he hasn't been able to put his finger on the reasons, either.

As for as the next two seasons are concerned, I've said for the last year that I felt 2007 would have some low-points, but the 2008 and 2009 editions of the Longhorn football team should be poised to make a run at some things on the national stage. With the return of Colt McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Quan Cosby, Jermichael Finley and the expected improvement up-front on the offensive line, the Longhorns should be better on the offensive side of the ball. The same is true on defense where continued improvement across the board at defensive end (they all return) and linebacker (Sergio Kindle, Rod Muckelroy and Jared Norton will all be juniors). The question marks are going to be at defensive tackle (depth) and in the secondary, as three starters from this year's unit will have to be replaced. Overall, this should be a much better team in the next two years with the continued development of the players from the 2006-07 recruiting classes.

Q: (chargee) - Our back-up corners and safeties have seen very little work until recently, namely Chykie/Curtis Brown and Drew Kelson. It seems that those decisions could come back to bite us when we play OSU and Tech, two teams that like to sling the ball around. Am I just being paranoid?

A: The Longhorns have played a lot of base defense against Texas Tech in recent years, so I'm not sure that the inability to get the back-ups on the field is going to have a huge impact in those games. The staff probably feels like they've got the players they'll need to win that game. The real area of concern in my mind is that this team will likely be in the same situation next season that it was in this year. Brandon Foster, Marcus Griffin, Erick Jackson and Kelson are all departing and although there's no short supply of outstanding young prospects to fill their positions, none of them have played a lick thus far.

Q: (bigzak) - I noticed in the OU game and especially in the Iowa State game that Colt appears to have major happy feet in the pocket. He seems to look at one receiver on his right side and then pull the ball down and scramble. More often than not he has a pocket formed and had plenty of time. Do you think that this is by design and part of their simplifying the offense and trying to protect him or is he just getting gun-shy?

A: Most of the big plays in the Texas passing attack this season have come outside of the pocket and the staff has made an effort to create more possibilities by moving McCoy around in recent weeks. I agree that McCoy seems to be bailing out of his protection in the pocket quicker than he needs to, but I can't tell whether he's simply panicking or if he's just trying to flow outside of the pocket in an effort to give his receivers more time. I've asked McCoy about this very thing last week and he indicated that each situation was different and there wasn't anything to what appears to be a growing trend. Overall, his impatience in the pocket has led to some highlight moments and it's also led to a few more sacks and tackles near the line of scrimmage.

Q: (Jettrink) - Dick Tomey started NOS's (Not Our Standards) as a means of team building and letting players know that they were accountable to each other. He also started very early morning workouts which also built a bond between players and held them accountable for after hour's activities (to an extent). Have these methods fallen by the wayside?

A: Everyone in the program will tell you that the NOS's are still something that the team uses, but there doesn't appear to be as much focus on stressing the accountability issues on the field as a team as there was when Tomey and Greg Robinson were here. During the 2004 season, the Texas players and coaches talked each week about accountability and they would openly talk about the number of NOS's in each game and how many were committed by each position. That hasn't happened as much in the last two seasons and to be honest, I'm not sure a single coach or player has mentioned the topic all year. The presence of Tomey/Robinson helped get this program over the hump and I'm not sure they've ever really been replaced because that's much easier said than done.

Q: (K. Weaver) - Hey Geoff - can you provide a listing of the true freshman that have burned their redshirt and who is redshirting this year? Do you have any scoop on Brian Ellis - many have said he was in the stands at the OU game? Lastly, any word on how Russell Carter has done since he arrived on campus? I figured if any of the freshman d-ends played this year it would be him - was Sam Acho more ready to step up or did RC just personally decide to redshirt?

A: Here's a list of the true freshman that have played this season: defensive end Sam Acho, left tackle Tray Allen, cornerback Curtis Brown, quarterback John Chiles, wide receiver Brandon Collins, tackle Kyle Hix, guard Michael Huey, tight end Blaine Irby and wide receiver James Kirkendoll.

To follow-up that up, here's a look at the players that are red-shirting: defensive end Russell Carter, tight end Ian Harris, defensive tackle Tyrell Higgins, tight end Ahmard Howard, running back Cody Johnson, quarterback G.J. Kinne, guard Aundre McGaskey, linebacker Keenan Robinson, safety Christian Scott, cornerback Earl Thomas, safety Ben Wells, running back Fozzy Whitaker, defensive tackle Michael Wilcoxon and wide receiver Malcolm Williams.

As for your final two questions, Ellis appears to be focusing on academics this fall, while Carter has opened some eyes this fall at defensive end, but still needs to some polishing before he'll be ready to contribute in the defensive end rotation. All of the coaches are very high on Carter's potential heading into the 2008 season. Acho's ability to make plays off the edge as a pass rusher is what allowed him to play this season over Carter, who is clearly the stronger player at the point of attack.


Q: (m quinones) - I have a few since I am worried about recruiting: You always thought if we ever won a MNC our recruiting would be silly. It was in 06 and 07 but what has happened lately. Is it a poor job of talent evaluation as some kids are being offered early over others?

What has happened in Houston these last few years? I thought Oscar Giles would be dynamite in Houston; is it a case of not being able to sell the kids he likes to Mack or just in over his head?

Do you expect changes in the staff and changes in the way we have recruited? A junior day invite should not determine if a kid should be recruited or not; especially when you are recruiting vs. other aggressive, young and energetic staffs (OU, LSU, Alabama and luckily aggie has not had anything to sell these young kids)


A: The 2006 and 2007 recruiting classes will be the foundation of top ten teams for the rest of the decade. After a series of small and disappointing classes in 2003-05, the two Rose Bowl games really allowed the program to rise to the top in recruiting once again, but there has been a drop-off this year. The volume of 2009 prospects that have listed Texas as their early heavy leader suggests that some of the issues from 2008 were circumstance, but it warrants keeping an eye on because there's no excuse for this program not to have a top five class two years after winning a national title. The inability to bring in greater dividends from that title is definitely disappointing and it's a wasted opportunity in my mind. The rush to fill up the recruiting class in February played a role for sure. I'm of the opinion that there's no reason to offer anyone other than elite prospects early in the process if you're Texas. However, the staff likes to take Texas kids and they want players that are dying to be Longhorns, even if they aren't the most talented options available for the staff to choose from.

As for the city of Houston, the official word is that there isn't a problem, even if there appears to be one on the surface. The early mishandling of Desean Hales was chalked up to seeing poor film, but I'm not sure how that can be possible. I don't know that there's any film that exists that shows Hales in a poor light. Heck, his highlight film was available on this site for months and I'm pretty sure that the Texas coaching staff has access to the Rivals video library, just like ever other school in the country. The other recruitment that people have questions about is the staff's decision to pass on Darryl Stonum. The unofficial word is that they didn't like his core GPA (reported to be a 2.70). If that's the case, then there's a very high new standard in place and it will be tough for the Longhorns to maintain an elite position nationally if they are self-enforcing academic policies on par with the Notre Dame's and Stanford's of the world.

Outside of those two situations, it would appear that the other top-end prospects from that area that the Longhorns passed on were mostly talent based. Andrew Luck, Sam McGuffie, Aundre Dean, Daniel Campbell and J.B. Shugarts were all players that the staff passed on for various reasons, but the bottom-line is that they weren't viewed as must-have prospects.

Q: (creschberger) - With the information about Colt's speech it sounds like he has turned the corner on be coming the leader the Horns need. My question is has anyone on the defensive side of the ball started to take the leadership role? It seems they need it just as bad.

What are the coaches seeing different than we are as fans with the LB position? I know they have more inside knowledge of what is actually going on, but this does seem to be obvious that the younger guys are actually being more consistent than the older guys along with superior athleticism.


A: There are more quiet, hard-working types on the defensive side of the ball than there are emotional types. With guys like Frank Okam, Derek Lokey, Marcus Griffin and Scott Derry leading the way, there's a quiet group of leadership on that side of the ball. Junior linebacker Rashad Bobino is a vocal leader, but he's not a great player and more times than not, the leadership on your tram has to come from the guys that are leading the way on the field. I think there are some players from the 2006 and 2007 classes that have some very real leadership qualities, but it's not their place right now to lead the way in the locker room, which means that there might be a void in this area until they are the center-pieces of the defense.

As far as what the coaches see at linebacker that you aren't seeing, it basically comes down to a loyalty issue. Some of the older guys at the position have "spilled a lot of blood" for the program and the staff feels obligated to remain true to them. The coaching staff can say that they play the best players until they are blue in the face, but it's obvious to everyone that the best linebackers on the team are the ones running with the second-team unit. Through seven games, the starting linebacker trio of Bobino, Robert Killebrew and Derry have combined for zero sacks, five tackles for loss (Killebrew has none) and they've been involved in creating only two turnovers (Derry has an interception and a forced fumble). Meanwhile, the trio of Roddrick Muckelroy, Jared Norton and Sergio Kindle has produced more big plays than the older guys despite receiving far fewer snaps. Heck, Kindle has just as many TFL's this season as any of the starting linebackers and he missed the first three games of the year.

As it stands, the starting linebackers at Texas are averaging 0.0 sacks per game, 0.7 TFL per game and 0.3 turnovers created per game. If you want to know exactly what is holding this program back on the defensive side of the ball, there it is.


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