May 28, 2008

Inside the Locker Room

Q: (card008tdm) - The way the schedule is stacked up, what do you think about our chances of winning the big 12? Also is the running game up to par? Is John Chiles capable of stepping up and winning in case Colt McCoy gets hurt like he has the last two seasons? Are these Horns for real or should we get ready for a major meltdown? Thanks. Hook'em!!!

A: I'm not sure I have an answer yet for any of your questions. The Longhorns obviously have the talent to win the Big 12 this year, but they'll need to answer a lot of personnel questions in the pre-season and in the early portion of the non-conference schedule, while also playing a more consistent brand of football than they did in 2006 before we really know where's this unit stands. One of the real needs for this team is to re-establish a consistent running attack without Jamaal Charles and the weight of that challenge needs to be shouldered by an offensive line that must be better than it was a year ago. This was a group that struggled at times last year, but really started to play much better towards the end of the season and they flat out dominated the line of scrimmage in the Holiday Bowl. If that level of play can stretch itself out over a full 12 games, the Longhorns will be a better team than they were in 2007.

As far as Chiles is concerned, I'm not sure that we know how good Chiles is heading into this season. He's an obvious running threat, but I don't think anyone can say for sure where his development in the passing game currently resides, at least as it relates to his ability to have success in game action. Overall, I'm not sure about a looming major meltdown, but this is a team that has a lot of work to do before they travel to Boulder.

Q: (Horns A Plenty) - Ketch, can you get us an update on the development of Tray Allen and where he will fit in the OL pecking order this year? Since he came in a little later than a few of the Freshmen last year I am hoping that Tray might really come on during this off season. I know Tray personally as he played Basketball for my son his Senior year. He is one of the nicest kids you will ever meet. He is one of my all time favorite recruits at UT.

A: The coaching staff felt very good about the progress that Allen made in the final two weeks of spring workouts, but he still has some work to do before he's ready to be a starter for the Longhorns. Like all young offensive linemen, Allen needs to be more consistent on a play-by-play basis, but he's growing every day. With Adam Ulatoski and Kyle Hix projected as the starters at tackle, Allen will be the No.3 tackle this season and he'll play quite a bit in all likelihood. In this day and age of five-star recruits, there seems to be a rush to label guys as a hit or busts very early in their careers, but Allen is ahead of the natural curve that Mac McWhorter likes to use for his linemen. While McWhorter has historically positioned guys to make big impacts in their third year (usually after a redshirt), Allen was forced to play as a true freshman and he'll play a huge role in year two.

Q: (BuschLeague) - What is going on behind the scenes in the recruitment of Kevin Brent? Can't give up on someone like him if you're the coaching staff, or can you?

A: I think the biggest thing that's going to hurt Brent, as it relates to Texas recruiting him, is the fact that he's not being a little more vocal about his fondness towards the Longhorns. Whether it's the right way to recruit or not, the Texas staff cools on guys that aren't knocking down the door to come to Austin and Brent is likely falling into that category. Although he remains on the radar, I haven't talked with a single UT source that has mentioned Brent as a possibility in this class.

Q: (joejon3) - GK, without much recruiting news this time of year, what's your choice of brew?

A: Contrary to what some might believe, there were not any blue drinks in my hand over the weekend, but we did have a case of the new Bud Light Lime on the boat at Devil's Cove. You'll usually see me drinking an iced tea if I'm out and about.

Q: (Txczech) - Can you give us an idea what to expect out of the offensive and defensive lines this year. Last year the O line really seemed to come together and get stronger as the season went on. Do you see the O line playing at the same level to start the season or will it take some time? The D line seems to have some talent but a bunch of guys have moved around and there are some huge holes to be plugged up. If most games are won in the trenches, what does that mean for UT in 08? Also, I know you have been asked about Jamarkus McFarland a million times but I just seem to have this feeling in my get that LSU is going to get him, if they do but we have Calvin Howell and possibly land Derek Johnson, what kind of shape is the DT position in?

A: First, as I stated a little earlier, the jury is still out on the offensive line. More than Sergio Kindle missing the spring, I thought junior right tackle Adam Ulatoski missing the entire was a huge story that wasn't talked about very often, but it could have a big impact on the success of the team. As a player that is expected to be an All-Big 12 caliber player, Ulatoski has a world of upside, but he hasn't been a dominant college player and in order for this line to be really good, he needs too be the catalyst. The fact that he missed the entire spring raises questions about his ability to make that next step as a player this year. Overall, it's hard to envision the Texas offensive line not being an improved unit, barring injuries. Cedric Dockery, Chris Hall, Allen, Hix, Michael Huey and several others are all better right now than they were a year ago.

Over on the defensive side of the ball, I think the defensive line has the looks of an outstanding unit, but everyone will need to take a wait-and-see approach. The starting tandem of Roy Miller and Lamarr Houston have a chance to be the best pair of defensive tackles in the Big 12, while Brian Orakpo, Sam Acho, Eddie Jones, Henry Melton, Aaron Lewis and Russell Carter give the Longhorns a deep and versatile mix at defensive end. In order for this group to dominate, Mack Brown needs to let Will Muschamp unleash the hounds, which is not something he's ever let his defensive coordinators do on a consistent basis. I'm of the opinion that Brown has somewhat restricted his defensive coordinators in the past and I'm dying to see if anything changes this year. If things don't change, Texas won't have a dominant defense.

As far as recruiting is concerned, don't be so sure that Texas won't get McFarland because they are most definitely a strong presence in his recruitment and that might be understating things. If the Longhorns don't land him, it'll represent a huge loss because this program needs difference makers at defensive tackle and he qualifies as the best this state has produced in years. The Longhorns might be fine without him, but is that where they want to be? Fine? The 2005 national championship team was built around recruiting classes that landed every major prospect on the board. Losing on McFarland would be a major blow in my mind because we're talking about an in-state prospect at a major area of need and the Longhorns seem to have the mom in their corner. What else do they need?

Q: (SmokeyHorn) - Is there any chance at all that Tre Newton and Jeremy Hills can get on the field in 2008? Also, can you tell me why Curtis Brown isn't playing on offense. It would seem with us dying for a deep threat at receiver and full of cornerbacks that there's a bigger need for him on offense.

A: There's a chance that Newton and Hills will play this year, but neither showed enough in the spring to suggest they are ready for a major role like Jamaal Charles had as a true freshman in 2005. As for Brown, Duane Akina believes he has as much physical ability as any corner he's ever coached, so you can bet every dollar in your wallet that he's not going to give up on Brown so that he can go play offense. Basically, it would be over his dead body.

Q: (skolodn) - Let's talk offensive philosophy for the 2008 season. Do the Horns, in your opinion, tinker with the offensive philosophy in any way this season? Specifically, do you think we will finally start to incorporate more multiple formation sets on offense to keep defenses honest and help the running game given our youth in the backfield? In addition, multiple formations and the second-guessing it would cause defenses should only help our young offensive line with pass protection, something they struggled mightily with at times last year.

Secondly, how much of John Chiles do you honestly expect to see this year? In addition, do you expect ot see him for entire series (like last year) or more like LSU used Perriloser at times (situational substitutions)?

Do you honestly think Desean Hales has a chance to see the field as a slot receiver this year as a freshman? He has the potential to be a real game-breaker, but I am not sure he is good enough at this stage in his development to play as a true freshman on offense.

Finally, put on your preseason prognostication hat. At this point in time, who will you predict will be: (1) Offensive MVP, (2) Defensive MVP, (3) Team MVP, (4) Most Improved Offensive Player, and (5) Most Improved Defensive Player for 2008.

A: It's tough to project what changed will be made in scheme on either side of the ball because we seem to do this each and every off-season. Will the Longhorns open things up on offense? Will Mack play young players over older ones? Will the defense be aggressive?

Basically, it's the same song, different 2008 verse. We hear all of the big plans right now, but things have historically slowed down when the opening kickoff of the season-opener is made. I would guess that we'll see an offense that is very similar to the one we saw in the final five weeks of last season. Without a clear upgrade at receiver, especially in the form of some players that can stretch the field, this is going to be a unit that stresses the running game.

I do believe that Chiles is going to play a huge role in the offense this season and he'll likely play more than Ryan Perrilloux played last season for LSU because he represents the most dynamic offensive weapon that the team currently has, which was not the case last season for LSU. I won't go so far as to project the percentage of snaps that he'll take, but if he's not on the field, the offense is wasting perhaps its best talent.

As far as Hales is concerned, it's tough to project how soon a true freshman can make an impact, but he'll be given every chance to prove that he should be on the field because they need his big-play potential.

Finally, if I were to take a wild guess today, I'd give out the awards like this:

Offensive MVP - Colt McCoy
Defensive MVP - Brian Orakpo
Team MVP: McCoy
Most Improved on Offense: Kyle Hix
Most Improved on Defense: Orakpo

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