August 13, 2011

The Ticket City Locker Room

Q: (treefitty) - Special teams cost us points in every game last season. Will this year's ST's at least keep us breaking even?

A:Great question. If I'm being completely honest, I thought last year's special teams were going to be elite, not good, but elite. With incredible return men in D.J. Monroe and Marquise Goodwin[/db[, along with guys like Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown and all of that recruited athleticism and speed, it just blew my mind last year to see that unit crumble, with the crumbling often times coming directly from the team's best players. It was an absolute disaster of the worst kind, with the exception of [db]Justin Tucker's steady play, which means that there's only room for growth heading into 2011 behind the direction of co-coordinators Major Applewhite and Duane Akina.

The best news is that the majority of the kicking game is in good hands with Tucker. Also, the return game still has Monroe and a host of guys that could emerge as tremendous return men. We'll have to see how this group comes together because from year to year you just never know. My guess is that this unit becomes a strength for this team, as it should have been last season before the wheels fell off and the coaches started conceding the idea of returning punts.

Q: (toxford) - Here's a question (or series of questions) for you: Last year's team had a ton of talent. No way they should have gone 5-7. But they did, which to me means they had a huge problem with team chemistry, team morale, that type of thing. What caused it? I heard that Muschamp-Davis had a blowup at halftime of the UCLA game. Did that really happen? What else?

Putting aside not-so-ancient history, I wonder whether we've got it fixed. What's your take on that?

A: What caused last year? How much time do you have? Asking the question is like asking why a 10-year old marriage ends in divorce. Was it really because the husband won't put the seat down or is it more nuanced than that?

Last year's team had everything. Mack did an admittedly extremely poor job and the connection with his staff was severed early in the season when he started pushing some wrong buttons. Meanwhile, the team was coasting behind the scenes with a strength/conditioning staff that's idea of a 2011 off-season model included the idea of "we would lift as heavy as we could to get as strong as we could and then we would stroll over to the next station." The upperclassmen in the program lacked the backbone to be great leaders and recognize what was happening, which is why captains on the offensive line were calling performances like those against Rice as "A+".

As if all of that was enough, you had an offense guessing from week-to-week on schemes, an inexperienced quarterback that lost his confidence and a two-deep that finally paid the piper for all of the misses, injuries and issues with bad luck, specifically at running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, defensive tackle and safety.

There's no magic singular moment. It was truly a perfect storm.

Q: (jhookem15) - With the new staff in place, mainly on offense, I know we are in a wait and see approach regarding what to expect. But with Mack letting Harsin/Applewhite run the show, do you see us using a "vanilla" approach in the game's leading up to OU? What I am getting at is, in the past GD would tell us, and we would see it on the field, that he held back on opening things up so not to show OU anything. Well, considering we were basic in just about every aspect, there wasn't really any point in that. So I am just wondering, do you get the feeling we open things up from the start and keep scoring? Or do we start slow and only show some of the playbook until we get to OU as usual?

A: I don't think a team coming off of a 5-7 season has the luxury of holding a lot of stuff back. This team can't get enough important game reps before the Oklahoma game on either side of the ball.

Q: (DHORN) - A number of Horns are coming off of injuries that messed up their season last year. The best feel good story to me is Blaine Irby. Is he recovered sufficiently from his knee surgery to become a difference maker like appeared to be becoming before that Rice game so long ago? What probability would you have assigned to his chance of returning to the field two years ago? And are Longhorn fans savvy enough to give him a standing ovation when he takes the field in 24 days.
Secondly, is it just me or has this been the longest off season ever? Thanks for your efforts,

A: The Irby story would have been an afternoon TV special 30 years ago because he was basically left for dead as it relates to ever suiting up in a football uniform. Yes, the coaches are still nervous about him, and yes, there are concerns about whether he will be able to hold up physically over the course of this season, but he's giving it a go right now and he'll play quite a bit at H-back for the team in games if he can. I don't know that he'll be a standout, but he might be a solid player for this team in his senior season, which was probably a 10,000-to-1 shot a few years ago. The coaches should let him run on the field by himself, a few seconds ahead of the other players on the first snap of the season, so he could receive the ovation he deserves.

Q: (Big Rusty) - It's October 7. Who is starting tomorrow across the board on offense and defense.

A: Let's rock and roll.

QB: Garrett Gilbert
RB: Fozzy Whittaker
FB: Cody Johnson
WR: Mike Davis
WR: Darius White
WR: Jaxon Shipley
TE: Barrett Matthews
H-back: D.J. Grant
LT: Trey Hopkins
LG: Thomas Ashcraft
C: Dominic Espinosa
RG: David Snow
RT: Mason Walters

DE: Jackson Jeffcoat
DT: Kheeston Randall
DT: Desmond Jackson
DE: Alex Okafor
LB: Jordan Hicks
LB: Keenan Robinson
LB: Emmanuel Acho
CB: Quandre Diggs
CB: Carrington Byndom
S: Blake Gideon
S: Kenny Vaccaro
Nickel: Adrian Phillips

Q: (Park-O) -When it comes to amateur scouting, we always use a score for a prospect/ recruit that ultimately gives us a grade and somewhat slots where we would draft him. How is the Rivals Rating composed, e.g. what are the components of the score that get a player to his ranking? Is the Rivals Rating capped at 6.1 (which I think is the highest rating I've seen)?

Different from Professional Scouting, there are various services for Clubs and Scouts to use that provide information on prospects to help make more educated selections in drafts. What are some of the various services that CFB relies upon for this information? Is there a particular service that the Texas staff and Mack trend towards? I have to imagine that this can't all be done via the THSCA network and other out-of-state networks, as it's interesting to me, especially with some of the recent misses (whether it's evaluation, make-up, a prospect was just a good HS player, player development, etc.) particularly along the o-line? Any sense of whether a database from one of these services is actually used to put together a "target pool" of players by position, then having Mack rely upon the coaching staff to evaluate the player in more detail and make a pursuit decision? It's always interesting, as many coaches are good talent evaluators, but not always good at evaluating when it comes to projecting the future performance (e.g. the tweeners, ala a Michael Huff (2*), etc. - ala someone saw something that made him project well vs. say a Ben Wells (4*) that just did not work out)

Finally, I've got to think that with Malcom Brown and Cayleb Jones (both 6.0), maybe even Kennedy Estelle and Thomas Johnson (both 5.9) sitting where they are that Texas ends up with more than one 5-star player in this class that's currently committed if they have the type of year that their ranking score seems to project them? If they don't, what is it that would stop those players from earning the grade?

A: Lots of layers to your questions, so let's just work paragraph-by-paragraph, starting with the beginning. There's nothing scientific about the process of the star rankings, although it's a concept that I've always wanted to explore and I have to admit that I have been working for a while on changing my grading system since the Rivals system incorporates a numerical grading system that was originally developed by the National Recruiting Advisor's Bobby Burton. As a guy that has had ideas stolen from him in his career, I'm not a fan of the idea that we're still using a system that was truly his brain-child (although it could be argued that Yahoo bought his system and he was paid handsomely for it) and one that hasn't been updated in over a decade. Of course, there is value in being the establishment in the industry with methods that are tried and true. The star system should remain, but I think the scoring underneath it should change and during this football season I will implement my own new scoring method for scouting recruits.

That being said, here's the ballpark zip code for how to view the current rankings:

6.1: Top 25ish in the country (elite of the elite)
6.0: National Top 50-100ish
5.9: National Top 100-200ish
5.8: National Top 250ish
5.7: National Top 500
5.6: National Top 1,000
As for your second question, the Longhorns have never really relied on scouting services inside the state of Texas, and they've been off and on (mostly off) during Mack's tenure. For instance, I'm not sure if they are a subscriber to Randy Roger's service, but for a long time they were one of the few schools that recruit the state that didn't. Surprisingly, most scouting services are even less sophisticated than the Rivals system. For instance, for more than half a decade Rivals worked with one of the top scouting services in the state and their rankings for coaches were on a six-point scale:

1: Top 25
2: Top 100
3: Possible Division I prospect
4: Lower level prospect
5: Even lower level prospect
6: No grades/JUCO

Finally, the Longhorns have several prospects already in or headed to the fringe five-star area, so big senior seasons could absolutely shoot them into the rarified air. If they don't make it, it'll probably come down to one little nit-picking thing on their resume because if you're in the area of the top 50 nationally, you're very close.

Q: (dropshot_7) After initially hearing about Keenan Robinson's move to the middle for this season, I was pretty disappointed. However, after reading up on the Tampa-two, and the requirements for the middle linebacker to be more athletic, and possess more athletic skill to cover the deep middle (Derrick Brooks, Brian Urlacher), am I wrong in thinking that Keenan might be a great fit?

Just how much of a loss is Malcolm Williams? Who will take his place on the punt and kickoff teams? Of the receivers, who are considered strong blockers?

How sloppy do you expect the team to be against Rice? At what point, if any, do you expect for the proverbial light switch to come on with this team this season?

A: I'm on the fence with Robinson being used in the middle, but the Longhorns don't have any natural inside guys unless Steve Edmond emerges very quickly as a starting-level player and I think he contributes, but isn't ready to be a starter. Last year, he simply wasn't physical enough to handle the position. If he's a different athlete/player in 2011, we just haven't seen it with our own eyes when it counts. I think Robinson is an NFL outside linebacker and he showed flashes of greatness on the outside last year, but the jury is out a little.

As for the loss of Williams, I'm not sure it's much of a loss on offense after he missed the spring. The receiver position is young, but loaded and I think the foursome of Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley, Darius White and John Harris will hold down the fort more than adequately. Williams will be missed most on special teams where he was one of the team's best players and it remains to be seen as to who and how well they will fill the void.

Finally, it's too soon to know. The first scrimmage is on Saturday and it would be a total guess-point for this team. I had a high-level source tell me that they believed the light comes on for this team at some point, but maybe not early in the season. We'll see.

Q: (lpohl) - Of the following, tell me which you think is most likely (rule: you only get to say "both" or "neither" once):

(1) David Ash becomes a 1st-team All-American or Malcolm Brown becomes a 1st-team All-American?

(2) Desmond Jackson becomes a 1st-team All-American or Jackson Jeffcoat becomes a 1st-team All-American?

(3) Jaxon Shipley wins the Biletnikoff award or Quandre Diggs wins the Thorpe award?

(4) Mack Brown wins another national title at Texas or he doesn't?

(5) Bryan Harsin is the next Texas HC, Major Applewhite is the next Texas HC, or Manny Diaz is the next Texas HC?

(6) Texas wins 10 games in 2011 or Texas wins 8 games in 2011?

(7) Vince Young becomes a perennial playoff QB or Colt McCoy becomes a perennial playoff QB?

(8) Texas' next Heisman finalist is ________?

(9) Garrett Gilbert starts the last game of the 2011 season or someone else starts the last game of the 2011 season?

(10) Texas has 2 or fewer 1st-team All-Big 12 players or Texas has 5 or more 1st-team All-Big 12 players in 2011?

A: 1. Ash

2. Jeffcoat

3. Shipley

4. He doesn't.

5. Neither/none

6. 8

7. McCoy

8. Johnathan Gray

9. Gilbert

10. Five or more.

Q: (colliedp) - I don't really have any purpose for this question, other than I'm dying of heat and lack of football. So here goes. Could you go through each position group (except QB's and K/P's) and pick one guy from each group who you'd consider the toughest, strongest, and scrappiest player? i.e. If all the WR's were to face off in a, MMA style, battle of life or death, who is your selection to come out on top?

After you've made your pick for each group, pit them against their counterpart. To make the numbers match, 3 offensive groups and 3 defensive groups, TE's will be lumped in with the O-Line. To be clear, here are the match-ups:

WR's vs. DB's
RB's vs. LB's
OL/TE vs. DL

Who wins? Maybe I'm trying to see if the offense is finally growing some teeth…but I'm probably just bored.

A: You need to email more questions. I actually asked a few people around the program for qualified opinions.

Here's who I picked for each group:

WR: Darius White (I asked one person who would win between receivers and they joked, "The ref.")
DB: Kenny Vaccaro (Quandre Diggs was a close second, but I consider Vaccaro to be a little crazy)
RB: Joe Bergeron
LB: Keenan Robinson (although Steve Edmond could be Kimbo Slice in a football uniform?)
OL: Dom Espinosa
DL: Desmond Jackson

If we matched off positions, I'd go with Vaccaro, Robinson and Espinosa.

Q: (Golfpr3145) - In reading Chip's post on Harsin regarding using only one QB and not rotating two, it makes me wonder what if. First of all, I totally agree with having just one QB, but does that mean that the starter, whomever that might be, will continue to retain his starting role if he shows signs of not being able to handle the job? I know you have to give the kid a chance without the pressure of being jerked from the game because of a couple of mistakes. But if those mistakes continue, do you think Harsin will make a change

A: No, I think the starting quarterback this year has a short leash. The ship won't go down this year with just one quarterback having been used. Period.

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