October 4, 2007

Ketch's Inside the Locker Room Report

Q: (Austin Ex) - Regarding leadership on this year's team, we've all heard again and again about the great need for leaders to emerge. Well, who has stepped up? Which players have taken it upon themselves to become leaders in the Texas locker room? What evidence is there of this?

A: Based on what I've seen from this year's team, especially last Saturday, I would say that nobody had stepped up. Hence, the 20-point blowout loss at home to an unranked team. I'm really not so sure that this team isn't toast in that department until some of the younger players on the roster start to assume larger roles in the program and can start to spread their wings a little as vocal and internal leaders. One of the real problems with this program is that before Vince Young arrived in 2002, this had been a program without strong leadership. Mack Brown has even admitted as much in the last two seasons in commenting on how the program is no longer about people, but instead it's about the team. I fully believe that this team wants to embrace that approach, but there's nobody to lead them there. The older guys in the program were followers of the Church of VY for so long that they haven't been able to draw positively from his teachings.

That might seem a bit harsh, but this is the second straight year that the leadership has been a serious source of discomfort. Everyone was down on the departing seniors in 2006 for not being able to lead at a level that matched their talent, but this year's group of seniors and juniors hasn't been any better. Sure, they are nice guys and some are great students, but none of them has proven as an individual or as part of a group that they can ignite the passion in this group of players. It's hard to give an answer to the question because nobody involved seems to have an answer, either.

Q: (4th&5FromThe8) - Much has been made about the difficulty in detecting the pulse and identity of this year's team. What can you say about this?

A: I think this bleeds into the previous question to a large degree. Mack Brown's teams over the years at Texas have been very business-minded, but the current group of players is probably the hardest to get a read on that I've ever been around. Never was that more apparent than before last year's game against Texas A&M when I felt like the Longhorns were as keyed in as a team as I had seem them in recent years. I can honestly say I have never been surprised more by a Texas performance than I was at that time and since then I've quit trying because it's as difficult as trying to get a read off of Phil Helmuth. It's a focused group, but they don't seem like a desperate group. As a matter of fact, they made a point this week to disassociate themselves with that word. Frankly, that 2005 team was desperate for a win every single time they stepped on the field and they played like it on almost every Saturday. Perhaps a little desperation is exactly what this team needs.

Q: (VinceOwnsReggie) - I've heard some reports that John Chiles has been getting major reps in practice. Can we truly believe that Mack would consider playing someone so young even though he has never shown this in the past with young players?

What are recruits saying so far this year about the team's play? At what point do you think it's really going to start affecting our recruiting? Kids have short memories and I can imagine all of this negativity (with the arrests and the poor play) will eventually hurt the recruiting big time.
Do the coaches seem to have the same enthusiasm this year leading up to the OU game as they have the last couple? It seems to me and many that they don't seem to have the same fire and they seem to be much thinner skinned. What do you think?

A: There's definitely more urgency to get Chiles ready to play after Colt McCoy took the pounding he took from Kansas State and left the Longhorns without their starting quarterback at the end of the game. Rumors have been circulating all week that Chiles is going to start this week, but Mack Brown has reported that McCoy has been practicing with the first group this week, while Chiles continues to take all of the snaps with the second-team offense. Our inside sources have confirmed that nothing has changed in practice this week that would lead anyone to think that McCoy won't start. If McCoy doesn't play, the team will have pulled off one of the great shows of gamesmanship in Brown's tenure at Texas. Look for Chiles to get some snaps in this game, but I don't expect him to play a lot unless things are going very poorly.

From what we've been able to gather, there hasn't been much backlash over the off-field or the on-field play at this point. In fact, I haven't had a single recruit mention any of it at any time. Even the recruits we've spoken with that we're at the game reported nothing but great things about Texas. Thus far, I don't think any real damage has taken place in that department.

As for your final question, I'm not sure that the media gets to see enough of the coaches on a daily basis to know about their level of enthusiasm. None of the coaches have been overly-enthusiastic when dealing with the media this year, but that's expected. Frankly, I think Duane Akina seems more drained than I've ever seen before. Mack Brown and Greg Davis have faced the heat before, but this is the first time Akina has been in this position and it might be taking some time to adjust. Overall, I haven't had anyone complain about the coaches from within the inner workings of the program and usually when there's a complaint like that, you'll hear about it.

Q: (Dan McKenzie) - Do you think Colt McCoy is suffering longer lasting effects of his nerve injury from last year? Ever since the first game, I noticed his arm motion seems different. His upper arm is parallel to the ground with his forearm coming over the top albeit at a lower elevation. He is throwing from the elbow, not the shoulder. When he throws long, he is not throwing over the top like most quarterbacks not named Vince. While the release seems much, much quicker than a standard motion, it seems to affect his trajectory. What do you think
A: Honestly, I haven't looked at McCoy's throwing motion this season and compared it to last season's, but I think it's hard not to have some questions about McCoy through the first five games of the season. From a game-planning glance, I've wondered whether the lack of vertical throws in the passing game have anything to do physical issues he might have. Still, McCoy has made some great, great throws down the field this season that would indicate that he's not having any problems, but the play-calling hasn't asked for him to often throw the ball in the intermediate and deep areas of the field. Nobody within the program has mentioned that there's a concern and McCoy has certainly not indicated that he's not at 100% (heck he wouldn't even admit he had a concussion on Monday, just concussion-like symptoms), but there's no denying that he hasn't played anywhere near the level that he performed at during the 2006 season. Most would probably mention that his arm will start to look a lot better when the play of his offensive line improves.
Q: (JPeel801) - Last year, Florida's offense completely overwhelmed Ohio State in the BCS Championship. Urban Meyer's unpredictable offensive sets that featured Tim Tebow and Chris Leak on the field at the same time, Leak under center, Tebow under center and Leak split out, Harvin under center, etc. seemed to keep the tOSU defense on its heels all night and completely lost. We have similar personnel with Colt (who is probably even more elusive than Leak was), Chiles, Quan, Shipley, et. al. Any reason to feel optimistic that GD may try to incorporate a similar package this year? If not, is it out of arrogance, fear, or is he just fundamentally opposed to being a little more unpredictable on offense

A: I wouldn't be surprised if you see some of what you're talking about in the Oklahoma game this weekend. There are obviously some whistles and bells with that grouping of players and this will likely the week that they have been wanting to display a few of them. One thing is certain, the offense needs a shot in the arm any way it can get it.

Q: (echeese) - A) What is up with Brian Ellis, I'm surprised he hasn't logged time yet considering we're losing 3 DTs after this year B) With Michael Huey, Kyle Hix, Tray Allen, Aunde McGaskey and David Snow, are we seeing a subtle change in OL recruiting? Away from the finesse guys to more brawlers? C) Are we seeing a move by the staff away from redshirting? We've burned 9 guys' shirts thru the Rice game. D) With are attrition, do we chase 2 or 3 more for this class or add numbers to '08?

A: Ellis has turned into the Keyser Soze of the Texas program as he hasn't been seen and not peep has been mentioned about him all season from any of the coaches. While the Longhorns are deep at defensive tackle, this is a kid that might be a start next season if he can put all of the pieces together, so not seeing him get any playing time at all is a surprise. If I had to guess, I'm thinking that the staff might have Ellis focusing on academics right now.

As for the offensive line, I think there's a definite upgrade in the physicality of the offensive linemen that have been recruited. Texas took several projects in 2003-05 with their offensive line recruiting and not many have panned out. The players that the Longhorns have brought in from the last two recruiting classes are more ready to play than those guys were and being a little more physically mature has quite a bit to do with it. That being said, the Longhorns did recruit Mark Buchanan and Luke Poehlmann this year and both of those guys look like they are going to need a year or two of development before being ready to play. Mac McWhorter likes his guys lean and athletic, so if you're asking if mass is suddenly on the upswing, it's not intentionally.

I'm not sure if there's been any change in the philosophy in redshirting. The guys that are playing this year have absolutely been needed because of depth issues.

Finally, I'm not sure if Texas is going to add two or three more players to this year's class, but I wouldn't be surprised if a Tyrell Higgins or Ian Harris pops up on the radar in late January if they miss out on the top remaining prospect. Recent history has shown that Mack Brown is just fine with the bird in hand theory of recruiting.

Q: (Craben) - At the start of the '06 season, there was much consensus about OU's severe weakness in its OL, both in terms of depth and experience. In light of that, how were OU's coaches able to cobble together such a strong running game so quickly, doing so in spite of Adrian Peterson's injuries and a mediocre passing QB? UT has suffered some blows to its OL due to injuries and transfers, but OU's coaches overcame their OL problems, so why can't the UT offensive staff do as well?

A: That's a good and fair question. What the Sooners have been able to do with their offensive line is one of the most impressive things I've seen in recent years. With all of the injuries, transfers and busts that they've had, you just have tip your hat to their coaching staff for a job well done. The Longhorns have a talent issue on the offensive line right now and it's not going to be addressed until some of the younger players eventually assume larger roles, probably next season.

If you look at the last few years, those offensive lines have been full of current NFL players. If you look at this year's group, only left tackle Tony Hills is a sure thing. Adam Ulatoski and Cedric Dockery should both have opportunities, but none are slam dunks at this point. If you look at the 2003-05 recruiting classes, the Longhorns only signed seven true offensive linemen. Of that group, Dallas Griffin (2003), Dockery (2004), Charlie Tanner (2005) and Chris Hall (2005) have all emerged as starters, but there is zero depth beyond those guys when it comes to upper-classmen.

Those numbers get helped a little by Hills' move to the tackle position after his leg injury in high school, but there's just not enough quality during those years and the program is paying dearly for it. When you only have four or five linemen with experience, it leaves you at a very small margin of error. Add in the fact that the best lineman in the 2006 class (as well as another tackle candidate) flunked out of the program this summer and you can see the source of the problem.

There was a coaching issue involved here, but it's not an on-field issue. Instead, it was the decision to recruit such a small number of prospects at the position and you can make a case that the problems were doubled by some of the talent selections that were made.

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