February 10, 2009

The Ticket City Locker Room Report

Q: (Jag_sfa■) - Right now in the Big 12 offenses are ahead of the defenses and we see mostly high scoring games and gaudy offensive numbers. This has much to do with the spread offenses in the league. But, history has proven that this is part of a cycle the tide will change and we will see defenses catch up. Have you seen anything to indicate that the Big 12 defenses will take a step forward in the 2009 season or do you think this trend will continue for several more years?

My second question is more of a curiosity and has to do with your player evaluations and the LSR Top 100 list. Can you describe your evaluation process? Does it weigh heavy on game film? Measurables? Camp performance? Running and lifting test results? Gut instinct? And do you follow up 4-5 years after a class is signed to evaluate how you rated players and how they turned out? Thanks.

A: Good questions. Personally, I don't see the dynamics of the Big 12 changing any time soon because I don't see a lot of the schools in the Big 12 pulling in the kind of talent in recruiting that will enable the conference to turn the corner into another direction. The spread offense is currently seen as the great equalizer in college football because the truth of the matter is that there aren't a lot of schools that have the elite volume of talent on defense needed to simply suffocate a lot of what the spread tries to do, which is apply pressure on teams by forcing them to match-up against schemes that are tough to defend without elite-level talent. It's tough for the Longhorns to find three or four corners that can cover, along with the kind of athletic linebackers that can thrive in space, so how do you think schools like Missouri, Kansas and Colorado feel? Flat out - good quarterbacks and wide receivers are easier to find than quality defenders. Also, with so many teams in the conference using the spread as an equalizer, few teams actually get a lot of hard-nosed, between-the-tackles quality defensive reps in practice because they spend the entire season trying to perfect stopping the eight or nine spread attacks they are going to see up and down the schedule. It's a double-edged sword and I don't know how it changes without an increase in talent across the board within the entire conference.

Second, the process in making out the LSR Top 100 has many extended arms. Yes, film and in-person scouting makes up a huge piece of the puzzle, but there are a number of people involved in the recruiting business that I consult with in an effort to acquire as many opinions and viewpoints as possible. All of those things that you mentioned play a part in a player evaluation, but it's important to note that each player's evaluation and the methods used to get there are like snowflakes - no two are the same.

Let's look at a couple of 2010 offensive line prospects as examples because the truth of the matter is that we're knee-deep in the 2010 evaluation process, even if a lot of offers are flying out fast and furious. Cedar Park's Dominic Espinosa is a kid that I've seen in person a couple of times, and along with game film and his highlight tape, I feel like I've seen everything from his junior season that there is to see. He's also a guy that's been to several combines, has some strong testing numbers and competed very well in one-on-one's at a couple of those national combines. There aren't many people that I really need to consult with on that guy. On the other hand, let's take a look at North Shore's Trey Hopkins. Until this month, the only film I had seen was an early game film from the 2008 season and I really relied on word-of-mouth reports from those that did see him in person this season or might have had more access to a greater volume of game film. Over the course of the next year, the process will be very fluid because new info, film, reports, first-hand scouting, combines and other pieces will come into play on a daily basis for everyone.

By the end of the process, I hope to be able to take everything I've seen, heard or read and put it all together so that I can make a final gut feel decision on a ranking that I feel really good about.

Q: (Ignatius J Reilly) - Ketch, is there any reason to be disconcerted when some top targets don't commit this weekend given our history? Generally, a large number of Texas commits occur on spot at visits.

This year, two of our top targets in Lache Seastrunk and Jackson Jeffcoat walked away from the 40 Acres still wide open. Given Texas increasing tendency for losing recruiting battles late in the game and secure most of their commits early, is there a cause for concern (especially with OU apparently whispering 2-sport sweet nothings into Jeffcoat's ear)?

A: I think I would ask the question again in March if the Longhorns aren't sitting at 13 or 14 commitments, with a few more of those coming from super blue chips prospects. That being said, five of the 10 commitments that the Longhorns currently have are ranked among the state's Top 21 in the LSR rankings and if you look at last year's class, the Longhorns are already half way to that number and it's quite possible that a couple of the guys that committed this weekend will eventually move up in the rankings as the evaluation continues to evolve.

Overall, I would stress a little patience because this weekend was the single biggest haul I've seen them have at one of these events and I don't think the final shockwaves have been felt from its impact. From what I've heard, the entire Jeffcoat family was very impressed with the visit this weekend and the Longhorns are in a better position today than they were a week ago.

There's really no way to read the Seastrunk situation, which is why I think the staff must make a play a guy like Aldine's Dontae Williams.

Q: (Longhorn77) - How about an update on Buck Burnette. There was a rumor that he has gone to ACU, but I can't find any verification.

A: Yes, he is enrolled at ACU and I can tell you that the ACU entire team was asked to vote on the matter before he was accepted into the program, so it looks like he's entering a situation where he's going to be around people who will offer him a bit of a clean slate.

Q: (Dillionaire23) - Ketch, I have noticed that you sometimes post "Inside the Forty" while you are on air. Do you sit there in the studio on your laptop reading through all these morons' posts, or do you wait until commercial break?

A: I'm pretty much on the boards all day (at least I try to be as much as possible) and that includes skimming through threads in the middle of a segment on the air. Most of the time I'll wait to respond to a thread during the break, but there are times when I don't wait. Also, don't tell anyone, but I'll occasionally play online power while I'm on the air and reading the boards. I'm quite the multi-tasker.

Q: (wabash512) - I applaud the staff's effort this year in trying to land some serious OOS talent. And while there's always an interesting story why we lose these national tug of wars, the result is always the same. Do we have recruiters who can match up with the Ken Norton Jr.'s or Jackie Shipps? Is there anyone on the staff who is considered a top 5 national recruiter?

A: Last year, Norton was the primary recruiter for five kids that signed with the Trojans and only one of those was a national top 100 selection in the final rankings. If you look at Shipps' body of work, he was the primary recruiter for four signees and two of those were ranked in the national top 70. There were several Texas coaches that could match those recruiting accomplishments this season, but they didn't have a lot of late-game wins. In looking at the commitments of these out of state prospects, make sure and look at the misses as well. For instance, Norton was the primary recruiter on 11 other kids that USC offered but didn't land and that includes five-star Vontaze Burfict. I think the truth of the matter is that the Longhorn assistant coaches get punished because they simply close the deal on recruits so early that they don't get the big headlines that come with landing those late-season recruitments.

That being said, I don't know if the Longhorns have a true bird-dog on staff that would rank that high on the list of top recruiters, although I haven't seen enough of [DB]Will Muschamp[/DB] and [DB]Major Applewhite[/db] to know if they have that kind of potential. However, I think the one thing that most people forget with a lot of these college coaches that needs to be remembered - these out of state battles are life and death deals. Most college coaches have to recruit outside their state out of necessity and if they can't close the deal on kids that they don't have built-in connections with, they won't have a job. Because of that, I think Texas fans are sometimes shocked to see the length that some coaches will go to get a prospect because they don't support a school that has a staff that attacks the assignment with the same type of mentality because Mack Brown just doesn't view anyone as someone that will make or break the program. It's not like that everywhere.

Q: (CBHookem) - 1. Right now, do you think Garrett Gilbert will redshirt? In your opinion, what would be the ideal situation for both Gilbert and the team? Would he really be that much better in 2010 if he plays in mop-up duty in 2009?

2. If you had your pick of WR's in the 2010 class, who would you take? Not necessarily the best 3-4 or guys, but the group that would be most dangerous on the field together, the best combo of flankers/split ends and slot guys?

A: I'll be honest in that I'm a little split on the red-shirt decision on Gilbert because there are strong benefits of both options. I'm leaning towards the idea of not red-shirting him because I do think it helps him prepare more quickly for the role of starting in 2010, and I believe that if it helps that preparation just a little, then I think you have to ensure that a team that will be capable of competing for a national title has all of the advantages possible.

Finally, if the Longhorns can put together a class of John Harris, Darius Terrell, Darius White and one of Trovon Reed, Tai-lor Jones or DeAndrew White, I would think they'd have a class that's missing very little. White is the key for me because he's by far and away the top in-state prospect in my mind and a guy you just don't see every year.

Q: (MCB0703) - 1) What position changes, if any, do you expect to take place in the spring?

2) Are Orangeblood members invited to the wedding?

3) What is your gut feeling on Mack's tenure at Texas? Let's say the over/under is at 3.

A: First, I would take a look at a few guys that might be behind on the depth chart, but have the versatility to play at another position. I've heard that Phillip Payne would be open to a possible move to linebacker. Obviously, the D.J. Grant move to tight end will be a switch that everyone will be watching closely. Also, keep an eye on the defensive line because the staff loves to cross-train them so that a few of the guys can play inside and out.

Second, there won't be any uninvited OB subscribers because my fiancÚ will not be excited to hear anyone ask me recruiting questions on that day.

Third, give me the under.

Q: (KROOT) - Can you give any updates on the 2 Freshman OT that are red shirting (Luke Poehlmann and Mark Buchanan)? Can we assume that the coaches desire to take fewer OL in next years class can be attributed to their development?

A: I've actually head very positive things about both players after the bowl workouts, but they are probably a year away from being major contributors on the line. Some of that has to do with the need of continued development and some of it has to do with the high volume of upper-class players in front of them. One thing is for certain, when the Longhorns lose six offensive linemen following the 2010 season, they are going to need two to be starting-level players as they enter their red-shirt junior seasons.

Q: (Ralphie369) - Please discuss the projected Linebacker depth chart in 2010. This appears to be the least deep & least impact player team position. The only sure impact starters appear to be Keenan Robinson & maybe Emmanuel Acho. Do you see Tariq Allen developing as the third starter? What is the potential for Dravannti Johnson because he came in with such high hopes? Do you ever see Dustin Earnest or Ryan Roberson as starters? Will any of the 2010 recruits like Aaron Benson, Tevin Jackson, CoreyNelson, etc. come in & impact as true freshmen? Do you see them moving Nolan Brewster or others down to LB? Do we stand a good chance with the kid from Ohio even though is not coming to junior days & what is his potential?

A: Love the questions. I think it's important to start out by mentioning Mack Brown's comments from signing day when he stated that of the 700 plays that ran as a defense last season, only 100 of them came from their base 4-3 scheme. The truth of the matter is that in today's Big 12 and college football climate, having 10 linebackers on scholarship at one time can feel like having five fullbacks on the roster. At this moment in time, the Longhorns will have five scholarship players on campus that will be with the team in 2010 and when you add in the two signed in 2009, along with the members of the budding 2010 class, you can see that numbers won't be an issue.

Of the five guys on campus, the feeling by most is that Robinson and Acho have a chance to be serious playmakers, which makes them the favorites to emerge as starters in both the 4-3 and passing down packages. I'm of the opinion that Earnest is pretty good player and I'd be interested to see how he performed with more playing time, but he'll likely have a battle with Allen for that starting middle linebacker position. Honestly, it's tough to answer your questions completely because we haven't seen enough yet of guys like Johnson and Roberson to know what they can really do. This spring should be a good indicator of where this team's future at linebacker truly looks like.

Q: (dr_drums) - Can you describe what a typical day is like for you being the publisher of OB? How do you handle the criticisms? Do you sleep? How many dinner plates are at your computer desk? How long have you known Jason? For some reason I always picture you and your wife in the same room with "dueling" computers. You peer over the computer and give her a wink and she emails you a lipstick kiss print...is this how it is?

A: I think you nailed it.

Seriously, I usually get up around 7AM every morning and I try to shut myself into my OB world by visiting the boards, working on stories and answering email during the first four or five hours of my day. I'm usually a very tough guy to reach in the mornings because I won't answer the phone or return texts until I feel like I've handled as much of my immediate concerns as possible before moving to the next phase of my day. With the volume of email that I receive, it often can swallow me whole if I don't set aside some time to go through it all at once. As good as I am at returning emails, there are those that can tell you that I've occasionally only seen their emails two weeks after the fact.

Usually, I'll go buy a couple of newspapers and I'll go have lunch for an hour every day and read up on the world and sports scene after finishing my morning OB chores, while putting a lot of thought into the production of the radio show that day. When I'm finished at lunch, I usually head to the radio station where I'll have meeting with my co-host and we'll map out our ideas for the show that day, as well as the rest of the week. After I have the producing role of the show out of the way, I usually have an hour or two to return phone calls, check the boards, work on a story or return e-mail.

From 4-7pm every day, I have the radio show and as soon as it's over I'll head home, have dinner and unless something is really of a pressing nature, I'll unplug the batteries for a little bit and watch some news or sports. Whenever I feel ready, I'll turn on the computer and work on OB stuff for the rest of the night, while also trying to mix in some quality time with the fiancÚ and dog.

On a few of the specific questions, here goes:

a) I don't really concern myself with criticism. I'm a big fan of Charles Barkley and I've always remembered something that I read as a high school student in his autobiography. He mentioned that for everyone that loves you or hates you, there are a billion Chinese that don't care or know who you are. For some reason, I've always remembered those words and when some of this stuff seems like its life or death to some, I'm wired to naturally treat it like it is not. Those that know me well know that there are not a lot of up's and down's with me.
b) On most nights I'll get five or six hours of sleep, although there are probably a couple of days per week when it's less. My problem is no matter when I go to sleep, my mental alarm clock goes off at about 7:10AM every day and it's tough for me to go back to sleep, if I wanted to, once I'm up.
c) I try to keep the desk and work areas clean, but I can tell you that right now there's a plate from last night sitting in my work area.
d) Finally, the fiancÚ and I don't usually sit side-by-side with our computers, but there are times when she's much more into the comings and goings on the message boards than I am, which often leads me to reminding her that the last thing I want to talk about after 12 or 13 hours of work is something that was said in the Corral.

Q: (ruwohe) - What are the future plans and expectations for Tray Allen? Is he a serious factor for the Longhorn's future?

A: That's a good question because at this point Allen is the team's back-up at left tackle and only has one year of separation between him and four-year starter Adam Ulatoski. I really believe that Allen would like to have two years of separation between him and Ulatoski, but I'm not sure that the coaches would go for a mid-career red-shirt. If nothing changes, he'll be in line to start for one season in 2010, but if the staff feels like they can survive the season because of improved depth from some others, it might not be a bad idea to further protect themselves from the mass exit along the offensive line that is scheduled to take place in 2010. I don't know if this idea is something the staff has considered or talked about with Allen, but I'm of the opinion that they should at least consider it.

Q: (texaztom) - 1) How realistic is it to think that 2009 Texas defense will be close to a dominating, top 20 type of unit? After all, though most of the players will return, Miller and Orakpo are pretty important losses. Also, while we always assume young players will improve, it doesn't always work out that way.

2) To the extent that there is improvement, how much will be because of improved understanding and application of Muschamp's defense, and how much because of player improvement?

A: There's no question in my mind that this defense has a chance to take a step forward as a unit because this is only the first second time since 2003 that the guys on the defense have been able to enter a second consecutive season with the same defensive coordinator. Think about that stat for a second. The carryover of schemes and familiarity of what's being asked of them will help greatly. In addition to that, they return almost the entire back seven and lot of those babies in the secondary from last year won't be going through their first rodeos in 2009. That's going to make them better. If they can find the depth they are looking for up-front, the pieces would seem to be in pace for an impact unit next year.

Q: (orange8) - It seems that Texas often have ships left. From what I read on OB (if my memory serves me) Texas could have comfortably signed 23 football players this year but only signed 20. Why does Texas offer so few players? At the final stretch, Texas had 4 outstanding offers and 20 commits. That's 24 total. Out of the 4 outstanding offers 1 of those offers was added last minute. If my memory and therefore the above numbers are wrong please let me know. But if the numbers are slightly wrong, please still answer the questions below. I believe my questions below will still apply if the numbers stated above are close to fact.

Isn't it logical to assume that some of these prospects will sign with other schools (especially those that are from out of state or if Texas start to recruit them late)? If so, isn't it logical to offer a few more? I am not suggesting that Texas offer many more prospects. Of course that is not a good idea. Prospects like to feel that they are special and many don't like schools to offer other players who will play in the same position. Furthermore a school can miss out on the prospect that it really wants if it runs out of ships by offering too many prospects. But it seems to me, that 24 offers when Texas can comfortably take 23 are too few, (especially when most of the outstanding offers were to out of state students.) Do other schools also limit their offers to the number of available ships (or close to it)? Is there some NCAA rule prohibiting too many offers?

A: The Longhorns always prefer the rifle approach to offering kids rather than the grenade approach. They are going to isolate the players that have interest in and they put all of their focus into a select few, rather than casting a wide net that might involve 50-100 prospects across the country. That is what has made the out of state failures in recent years so frustrating because they have invested so much time and attention, and it just hasn't paid off a lot.

Also, don't get caught up on that "24" number. Those are the players that Texas brought in for official visit and of that group they hit on 20, which is a bit deceiving because 19 of those guys were committed before they visited, which means Texas was one of five with prospects that took official visits while being uncommitted. There were kids like Kevin Brent and Craig Loston that were on the table early on with offers, even if they expired or had stipulations when originally made. It doesn't change the fact that the Longhorns try to select their group of players from a pool of about 35-45 kids each year across the nation (with about 5-10 being out of state kids), while the rest of the nation is working with a number that's at least doubled.

If anything, perhaps the staff needs a different weekend program for these out of state kids because the family atmosphere pitch that works for in-state kids doesn't resonate as much with kids from Florida or California, who have been beaten over the head with pitches that focus on the NFL and depth charts.

Finally, there are no limits to how many offers can be made as long as you understand that you have to stay within the 25/85 scholarship limits every year. You can offer 1,000 kids scholarships, but the plan has to include a lot of variables because the final number that you can take can only be so fluid before it crosses into a real problem area.

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