December 3, 2009

The Ticket City Locker Room

Q: (MaestroHorn) - Geoff, I have one and only one concern about this weekend: the quality of the Nebraska Offensive line and how our D-line will do against them. Will we be able to contain the Nebraska run game and still negate the play action?

The Nebraska O-line is comparable in quality to what other O-line that we have played, and/or could you power rank all of the offensive lines in the Big 12 (including ours)?

A: The Huskers are an average offensive football team that is almost fairly below average in terms of throwing the football (especially by Big 12 standards), which makes their running game look sensational by comparison. Like the Texas offensive line, the right side of the Nebraska line has been inconsistent all season and they will have their hands full with the likes of Lamarr Houston and Sam Acho - those are players that I'm not sure that Nebraska will be able to consistently block and move off the line. Overall, I'm not sure where Nebraska has an advantage up-front against this Texas defensive line. There's not elite-level player in the group for the Huskers, as they only placed only one lineman on the All-Big 12 team (Jacob Hickman earned honorable mention honors) and the entire group will be facing one of their most difficult match-ups of the season. It would register as a huge disappointment if the Longhorns don't win this battle up-front in a decisive manner.

If you're looking for an offensive line on the Texas schedule that the Nebraska group compares favorably with, I'd probably pick out Missouri or someone like that. I'm not going to get into ranking the 12 offensive lines that Texas has faced this season because I'm not sure that it's something that I accurately list. How do you separate mediocrity? Frankly, the group that might have played the best against the Longhorns is Texas A&M and they've been a hot mess of garbage for a lot of the season, but found a way to play well against the Longhorns in pass protection and at times in the running game. I'm not sure that I can figure out who had the best or second line, let alone ranking the remaining 11.

Q: (Mshvll)- Out of the seniors that will be moving on to the NFL, could you: break down in what round you think they will be drafted, what NFL team would probably need them, and what team or scheme would be optimal for their skill set?

A: I'll do the best that I can do, but there's a lot of guesswork involved in this one:

Quarterback Colt McCoy (projected rounds: 1-2)

McCoy is going to be a highly scrutinized player in this draft and there are going to be a lot of teams that are going to want to see him perform really well in personnel workouts because he hasn't played in an NFL offense and a large percentage of his throws don't exactly translate into anything the NFL values a ton. It's the same type of criticism that Drew Brees faced when he was at Purdue and McCoy will likely find himself drafted in the same ballpark, depending on the draft needs of the teams in the middle-to-late first round and early-to-middle second round.

Wide receiver Jordan Shipley (projected rounds: 2-3)

His NFL stock has been on the rise all season and a number of scouts have told me he's moved into the first day area. If he tests well, he'll have a chance to go in the first two rounds.

Offensive tackle Adam Ulatoski (projected rounds: 3-4)

The big man hasn't overpowered people at the point of attack, but he's a four-year starter who possesses the ability to protect the quarterback. The fact that he can protect from the left side in pass protection is going to make him a very interesting prospect to follow.

Offensive guard Charlie Tanner (projected rounds: late/undrafted)

Tanner is going to run into some of the same problems that Kasey Studdard/Lyle Sendlein ran into when they came out in the 2007 draft. I'm just not sure that there's enough there physically for him to find a better draft projection.

Offensive center Chris Hall (projected rounds: late/undrafted)

Hall's value might be higher than Tanner's because of his ability to play multiple positions, but he's not an overpowering physical prospect. He has a chance to be drafted late, but he's likely going to have to go the same thing that Sendlein was forced to do - go out and win a job without a lot of job security.

Defensive tackle Lamarr Houston (projected rounds: 1-3)

There might not be a player on the team that has seen his draft stock go up as much as Houston. He's already a borderline first-day guy based on some early speculation from NFL scouts I've spoken with, but he has a chance to really improve his stock with his personal workouts. NFL people are starting to really open their eyes. I think he'll have value for both teams that run 3-4 and 4-3 schemes.

Linebacker Sergio Kindle. (projected rounds: 1-2)

Kindle's stock has also climbed this season and he seems pretty locked into a first day grade with room to rise after he works out and teams see first-hand just how special of an athlete he really is. Look for teams with 3-4 defenses to fall in love with him as an outside linebacker.

Linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy (projected rounds: 3-4)

For whatever reason, I haven't talked to many NFL scouts that are really high on him. They all like his athleticism, but there are questions about his ability to hold up physically. He'll be another guy that has a chance to impress scouts in post-season bowls and workouts.

Q: (Hookem99) - Over Mack's tenure, the coaching staff and the players act like nothing anybody says about them is worthy of comment. It's almost as if they ignore all bulletin-board material. This makes us look very professional and focused on the task at hand, but do you think Mack & company sing a different tune behind closed doors? How do you think Mack keeps a chip firmly planted on the players' collective shoulder?

Some running back questions:

1) Why is Vondrell McGee having such a tough time turning the corner? I really thought he would do well this year.

2) How has Chris Whaley responded to our strength and conditioning program? How will he fit in next year?

3) How do you see our RB recruiting (regarding the big three) playing out for 2011?

4) How will our RB recruiting change, if at all, now that we seem to be recruiting pocket passers?

A: Yes, I think the coaches will use anything and everything to privately motivate the players, even if that hand is never showed to the public. You better believe that a number of the players on the team are aware of the lack of recognition the team received this week from the Big 12 coaches, while Nebraska was seemingly more respected than the Longhorns in some areas. It might not come from Mack, but the assistants know what buttons to push and everything is fair game.

As far as your running back questions, let's knock them out one-by-one:

1. You asked the million dollar question with McGee and I don't think anyone can quite put their fingers on it. There are times in practice when he looks like the best back on the team, but that has rarely transformed into game success and his lack of versatility in some other areas means that he has to be great at running the football to warrant being on the field and he hasn't been that guy.

2. Whaley's fit into the running back equation for 2010 is completely unknown. He's responded well to what he's been asked to do since arriving at Texas, but the real commitment that has to be made will be required after the season. We'll probably have some answers to his 2010 future after the bowl workouts and spring.

3. I think the Longhorns are currently in very good position with both Cibolo Steele's Malcolm Brown and Abilene's Herschel Sims. I would be shocked if Texas is unable to land at least one of the big three.

4. I asked Major Applewhite this question earlier in the year and I was told that the Longhorns recruit the position for talent and not for scheme. Their philosophy appears to be to get the most talented players as possible and work out the details once they get on campus.

Q: (Golfpr3145) - Ketch who are the targets for recruiting for the tight end position next year? Is there anyone who has really made an impression on the coaches that wasn't under consideration before? I haven't seen too much feedback on possible new breakthrough candidates for next year. Sometimes a new name flies out from under the radar

A: The good news is that current starter Greg Smith will return in 2010 and while that might not seem like a huge deal when you consider his lack of receiving skill, it does at least give the team an experienced player that they can work with and count on. Also, he has been making real progress this season - more than I expected if I'm being honest. He's turned himself into a very serviceable player. As we move on to project ting others that can/will make an impact, I think the most obvious candidates to me are current true freshman Barrett Matthews and injured redshirt freshman D.J. Grant. Matthews has already started to receive more playing time in the regular offensive rotation and his talent and tenacity are going to get him on the field a lot in 2010. Grant is the guy in the group that gives you the most game-breaking receiving ability and had he been healthy this year, he might have posted some impressive numbers this year. Overall, the position has a lot more depth and experience than we've seen in either of the last two seasons.

Q: (texaroo) - With both Shipley (foot/ankle) and Malcolm Williams (hamstring) likely to be less than 100% this Saturday, how much do you think that will impact Colt and the Texas offense? The offense wasn't able to stretch the field much in the second half of the A&M game following their injuries, and you have to wonder if that will carry over to the Big 12 championship game and make Colt and Greg Davis's jobs that much harder.

I couldn't really care less if most Aggies feel like they came away with a moral victory on Thanksgiving, but I do wonder how much that one game could give them some momentum going forward. With proof (on national television finally) of a high-powered offense waiting to break out at any time, will our game mean more TV for A&M next year (they couldn't do any worse in that area than they did this year), more to offer higher-ranked recruits (on the offensive side at least), and of course, more hope for better things to come? As insufferable as aggie fans tend to be, I'd much prefer to see their program stay middle-of-the-road at best and really hope that Texas didn't leave the door open just enough for them to climb their way back towards the upper division of the Big 12.

A: I think the injury to Shipley ranks as one of the great unknown storylines of this game because we don't know what it might mean to this game. Everyone saw Shipley on the sideline of the Texas A&M game and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to compute that he didn't catch a pass in the second half after he was attended to on the sideline. With Shipley in the line-up, but not at 100%, it's imperative that Williams and James Kirkendoll bring their A-game because Colt's second- and third options will be key in this game. I'm really not too worried about Williams headed into this game and if you ask me today, I think he emerges from this game as a national name. Expect the Longhorns to take their shots down the field with Williams, while also continuing to incorporate him as much as possible in the wide receiver screen game.

As for the Aggies, I really think it's this simple - whatever momentum A&M might have from a 10-point loss, the only way they keep any of it is if they win their bowl game and finish with a winning record. That 10-point loss will seem very hollow if they end up 6-7 with a bowl loss to Navy. However, if they are win their bowl game, I don't think there's any question that it should produce some sort of bump, but it's unclear if Mike Sherman has what it takes to maximize it.

Q: (Jake) - You have mentioned several times that other sites are given more access to the program than you are. I think that you mentioned the Fla. St. team gives their guys tons of inside access. What access to the team to other rivals sites get that you would want? Thanks

A: Here's a few examples of access that we don't have that other schools give our Rivals brothers. The Oklahoma site is allowed to cover all of the school's summer camps, featuring the best prospects and is given access to all of the athletes on hand. Our Florida State and USC sites are allowed to film and post the summer seven-on-seven workouts on their sites, which isn't against NCAA rules because it's an unofficial and unsanctioned event, but UT has made it clear they don't want us attending the workouts, let alone turning it into site content. Of course, all spring and fall practices are closed from the media and fans, which isn't exactly uncommon, but that's not ideal for us. Anyway, I'm not complaining, just answering your question.

Q: (Weenhorn) - You previously rated Texas' chances with the Top 25 LSR for 2011. Would you likewise handicap our chances with the primary OOS candidates like Christian Westerman, Jermauria Rasco and any others that you believe are receiving a serious look from UT.

A: I think the Longhorns are in tremendous shape for kids like Westerman and Rasco, who have already made their way down to Austin for camps and/or unofficial visit for games. Those are the two players that are really on the radar at this point and I wouldn't be shocked if either ended up in burnt orange.

Q: (Insp_Clouseau) - Ketch, one of Mack's greatest attributes has been to take the weaknesses of the team and turn them into strengths over time. One area he has not succeeded doing this is kick off coverage. We have always been poor in kick off coverage. This year I think we are ranked about 65-70th and this is about par for how we are most years. Think back to the 2004 Rose Bowl where Michigan returned it nearly to the 50 yard line each time. Even the 2005 National Championship team did not do well on coverage and gave up a lot of yards. So why is this? What makes us so mediocre and why can't they seem to improve here? Why not do what the Cowboys did and find a kicker who can kick it deep into the end zone? We always seem to kick it short and our guys don't seem to wrap up the return guy. I just don't get it.

A: Let me come to Justin Tucker's defense to a degree because I think his work has been a little underrated. Of the 62 teams ranked ahead of Texas on kickoffs, only 10 have more touchbacks than the Longhorns. It seem like you believe that it should be easy to go out and find a kickoff guy that just power the ball through the end zone, but Tucker actually ranks among the top 15% nationally in that regard. Just something to think about. When the NCAA decided to move kickoffs back to the 30-yard line, this is what they had in mind.

Overall, the coverage teams have been hit or miss and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that there's only so much time in the day to work on all of the things that you need to work on. Also, special teams are hard to truly simulate in practice because you're not going to ever practice them at full speed. On top of that, the coaches run a fine line between putting their best experienced players on the field, while not trying to expose them to too much to injury, which often leads to young players coming in later in games and that can lead to a lot of the sloppiness that we're seeing. I don't meant to minimize the problem because it's one that can absolutely get you beat in a big game, but the difference between the top 15 and top 65 nationally is about two yards. For instance, the Nebraska Cornhuskers rank 16th nationally at 19.53 yards allowed per return, which translates to a 2.25-yard advantage over Texas. If you really want to see bad kickoff coverage, just look at Alabama because they rank 116th nationally at 25.56 yards allowed per return.

Q: (JimsTexas) - Ketch as usually it seems like the SEC and Tebow is getting a lot more press time than Colt. Do you think Colt has to play lights out in the Big 12 Championship Game to have a shot at winning the Heisman? There is not a person more deserving than Colt and what he has meant to Texas Football. Thanks and y'all keep up the good work.

A: Personally, I think Colt has received a ton of publicity in recent weeks and he'll be front and center on Saturday night with the entire nation watching, so his national exposure meter is running pretty high. With the respect that Nebraska's defense has nationally, I think he'll be in very good shape with a strong 275-yard night with a few touchdown passes. As long as he minimizes the turnovers and doesn't have to worry about an other-worldly performance from Mark Ingram or Tim Tebow, I think he'll be more than fine.

Q: (PTSO) - What will be the best way to protect Colt against the Husker pass rush? Who is the best blocker of the backs?

A: Your first question is one the staff has probably been struggling with all week. In my mind the game comes down to Texas needing the trio of Chris Hall, Charlie Tanner and Michael Huey being able to block Nebraska's dynamic duo of Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick. The Longhorns will have a double-team block on Suh with the combination of Hall and a guard, which is battle that double team has to win. Meanwhile, the remaining guard will need to win his one-on-one block with Crick and that's not unrealistic to expect because he comes into this game a little overrated in my mind. He has 15 tackles for loss and nine sacks this season, but seven of those tackles for loss and five of those sacks came in one game against Baylor. Don't get me wrong, Crick is a heck of a player, but he's not a physically dominant player like Suh, Gerald McCoy or Lamarr Houston. He's a high-effort player, but a guy like Tanner should be ok. I'm not so sure about Huey's ability to hold up in those one-on-one situations, but he's going tio need to kick it up a notch. Texas needs to control those two players because that's where Nebraska's strength as a defense comes from. I truly believe that the Texas tackles will be fine along the perimeter, so I'm not sure how much a tight end at the end of the line really helps the team, especially when you consider that the Longhorns might be much better off spreading the Huskers out and going with more four wides.

As far as the backs are concerned, it's not even close in my opinion - redshirt freshman Tre' Newton is your guy.

Q: (bar10wb) - Questions comparing Lamarr Houston this year and Roy Miller last year:

1. Which played at a higher standard?
2. Which was more valuable to the team?

A: 1. I don't think there's been a better defensive tackle at Texas than Houston this season since Casey Hampton was patrolling the 40 Acres.

2. Miller was the heart and soul of last year's team, so I'm not sure a guy can be more valuable than he was in 2008. That being said, there was little tackle depth behind Houston coming into this season and had he had more pressure on him this season to be great than any player on the team outside of Colt McCoy. He's been every bit as important to Texas as Miller was last season, which just means that the Longhorns have been blessed with some amazing play and leadership from the defensive tackle position the last couple of seasons.

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