September 2, 2009

One of UT's greatest answers your questions

Former All-American offensive lineman and two-time Super Bowl winner Dan Neil is the newest member of the Orangebloods.com staff and one of the articles that he plays to contribute every week is a Q&A session with the Texas fan base. In this first installment, the Longhorn legend pulls no punches and runs from nothing.

Let's get right to it!


Q: (Texas Diesel)- There have been two distinct sides on Mack Brown's time at Texas. There is the side of people who remember the bad times and think we should be thankful that we have someone like Mack who has brought the program to a level that many schools only dream of. There's the other side of Mack having only won one conference title even though he has all of the resources at his disposal and how he has settled as a recruiter and he just isn't getting us to where we should be.

So, my question is..."What do you think about Mack and the job he has done?" so that all can tell if you are a "pumper" or a "hater".


A: Let me start off my answer with a few questions - . What coach would you fire Mack Brown for? Who do you think is better? How many times has Texas gone undefeated in the history of this great football program?

Going undefeated and winning a national title is no small feat. As far as conference titles, Having OU in your same division also makes this no small feat. We all remember the lopsided defeats to OU and the fire Mack Brown web sites. I prefer to look at the quality of players that made up those teams. Where are those team's superstars today? Roy Williams, Mike Williams, Chris Simms, Cedric Benson, all have not lived up to their potential thus far in their NFL careers. I am not questioning the character or quality of these individuals, rather the leadership ability.

Sometimes I think coaches get too much heat when the teams do not perform well. Remember this - the team belongs to the players and the seniors, in particular. When teams that are talented do not perform well, most of the time you need only to look at the senior leadership.

What happened to the fire Mack Brown web sites - one name… Vince Young. His leadership here at Texas has never been questioned and he set the tempo for that great 2005 team. Look at the other players on that team. David Thomas Kasey Studdard, Lyle Sendlein, Aaron Ross, Justin Blalock - to name a few. You could argue some have been overachievers in the NFL. Who do you want to play with? Overachievers or underachievers? To sum up, I am a "pumper." There is no coach in college football that I think would be a better fit at UT than Mack Brown and his entire staff.

Q: (Longhornfan2818) - What do you think Tray Allen's biggest obstacle will be moving from the offensive side of the ball to the defensive side?

A: All of it will be hard. The hardest part is the reaction time. Most defense lineman learn where the ball is going very quickly because they have learned to react to what the offensive lineman are doing. Tray will have to learn to use his hands and strength to keep the offensive lineman off him and watch the backfield to get a read of where the ball is. Trust me, everything is moving fast and it is hard to find the ball. He will have to also learn to read pass, run, play action, keepers, bootlegs, draws, screens, QB keepers, counter plays, and so much more!

Tray is also going to have to learn to pass rush. This is probably the hardest thing for D-lineman to learn. Most of the great college pass rushers take a year or two to learn how to pass rush on Sundays because it really is an art. I imagine Tray is not going to be asked to rush too often at first because they will try to keep him in run situations until he becomes comfortable on the defensive side of the ball. However, teams do throw the ball in run situations and he will be asked to put pressure on the QB.

What Tray is being asked to do will take time, but it can be done and has been done before. Generally, D-linemen are more athletic than O-linemen and Tray is rare in that he is a good enough athlete to get it done. There is a reason I was never asked to play D-line.

Q: (treefitty) - I would like Dan to compare and contrast the style and types of coaching and teaching at the OL position between now and his time on the 40 acres. What's different? What's better?

A: The thing you need to remember about football is that nothing new has been invented since Halas and Brown revolutionized the game. Different O-line coaching style does not change with time, rather it changes with coaches. Texas runs a different offense today than they did when I was there. Today they are a spread offense team and most of their running is a zone-read draw.

When I was at UT we were a pro set system very similar to what you see most teams on Sunday run. We had a different run game and we had a different philosophy. I even had an O-line coaching change and we did things differently when our new coach got here. The differences really boils down to what the team's philosophy for running and throwing the ball, along with the O-line coach's schemes for getting it done.

The things that do not change are some of the drills that are done. Every football practice you go to will have a 1-on-1 pass pro-drill. They will also work with dummies, sleds, chutes, ladders, bags, and many other torture devices that still give me nightmares. There really is not a better or worse, but rather what system you like better.

Q: (Razumihin) - I'd like to know what Dan thinks of Gary Kubiak as a person, a coach, and what he thinks of the Houston Texans current O-Line play.

A: Gary Kubiak is the best coach I have ever been around and one of the best persons. He truly cares for his players on and off the field. I cannot say enough good things about him. His current situation in Houston is tough because of what Charley Casserly did. You can always tell the good coaches and GMs by the number of job offers they get after they are fired. I think Casserly is in the media somewhere and I have not heard of any job offers since he almost ruined the Texans franchise. Houston just does not have the amount of talent that the other teams have because the cupboard was totally bare and the bank was empty when Kubiak got there. Since his arrival look at what they have done in the draft. Winston, Williams, Ryan, Slaton, and others are the future of that team. They need to get a couple of gems in Free Agency to help give that team a chance to be good now.

I like what they are doing up front in Houston. They are young and they are still learning what Alex Gibbs wants them to do. Once all 11 players completely grasp the running game you will see the entire offense open up. I do not think offense is their problem this year. So far, the defensive side of the ball is low on talent and they need help stopping the run. To win in the NFL you must run the ball and stop the run. I think they will have part of this down and I am concerned about the other part. I know they are headed in the right direction and it will come along. Dallas sucked when (Jimmy) Johnson got there and he slowly got the players he wanted and they started to win. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Q: (bnewnham) - Can you describe your version of the ideal running back? Would you prefer someone who is balanced and can fit into almost any scheme, or would you look for someone who excels at an elite level in one phase (the best power back in the country, or the shiftiest, the best receiver, etc.) to fit into a particular scheme?

A: Every scheme wants a different back. Adrian Peterson ran well at OU in the spread. He runs like the one of the greatest ever in the I-formation with a fullback. Barry Sanders hated the I-formation and excelled in one-back sets with the offense spread out. The good ones are good in any system. They can be great in the scheme that they fit best into. If I was a coach I would prefer the one that fits into my scheme, but I would take any back that can play. I do not get too caught up in size and speed. There is an art to playing running back that is hard to teach. You can have all the size and speed in the world and if you cannot find the hole you are useless. Basically, I want a football player that can make big plays touching the ball 25-30 times a game.

Q: (knightfd) - You blocked for several NFL caliber runners while at Texas, including Priest Holmes and Ricky Williams. You then played in Denver and blocked for Terrell Davis. You did this under two different blocking schemes (from what my limited knowledge could tell). If you could, humor me with answering the following questions:

1) To the layperson, what would be a simple description of the run blocking scheme employed (a) by Texas during your time here, (b) at Denver when you won the two Super Bowls and (c) by Texas now? How are they similar, and how are they different? Which one, in your opinion, is the most effective, and why?

2) If you were in charge of running back recruiting at UT now, what type of back (skill set, height/weight, etc.) would you target for UT's current running system? If you were coaching the offensive line at Texas, what would you look for in an OL recruit, based upon your experience and the scheme Texas uses now?

3) Who was the toughest guy you ever had as a teammate at Texas? Who was the toughest guy you ever lined up against while playing college football? What made them tougher than everyone else?

Thanks. I'm looking forward to your contributions to the site.


A: Let's get right to it!

Question 1 subcategory a:

Every offense must have a counter game. When I was at Texas we ran the counter play to perfection. We'd pull our guard and tackle, and Ricky would set it up as good as any back I have seen. We had a zone blocking scheme and would use our speed to get to the second level. We had two backs and ran a lot out of split back formation because we had two tailbacks with Ricky Williams, Shon Mitchell and our back up was Priest Holmes.

Subcategory b:

At Denver we ran the zone scheme to perfection. We were a one-cut and get north team that had no counter game. Our counter plays came in the play action with naked boots. Let me try and sum up the Denver run scheme. We would try to make the lineman move laterally further then they wanted to go and cut down the backside to create our running lanes. You had to be quick to get one what we wanted to. We had a fullback and played predominantly out of the I-formation.

Subcategory c:

Today Texas runs a spread offense. They have no fullback and do a lot of zone reads. They basically are blocking against a nickel defense that is spread out. They let the back move east and west more before finding the seam to get north and south in. I felt like the system we used in Denver was the best. All 11 guys on the field understood what their job was and they all did it. It could not be stopped and it rarely was. We almost always rushed for 100 yards a game and even had one back rush for over 2,000 yards in a season. I loved it because of what made it effective, one cut and get North and South. "No negative yards!" We were rarely in any 3rd down and 5+ yard situations because we would not have negative running plays. 3rd and 5+ situations create a long day for an Olineman.

Question 2 Subcategory a:

I would go after the most talented back regardless of their height or weight. I would never want to block for Barry Sanders, but I certainly would not turn him away if he was knocking on my door. You adapt your system to fit great players. Ideally you want a big back that can make one cut and get from 1st gear to 5th gear in a hurry. Plus, he can't be arm tackled and has to make the safety miss or run him over.

Subcategory b:

I like the type of athlete Texas recruits up front. Coach Mac McWhorter knows what he is doing and they do not get much better. I would not change a thing about the players Texas recruits for their O-line.

Question 3 Subcategory a:

One of the toughest guys I played with at Texas was a guy named Robert Crenshaw. He would lay the wood and not blink an eye. Scary tough.

Subcategory b:

Grant Winstrom at Nebraska was like hitting a rock. Good football player that came at you for four quarters. Really, it is hard to just single out one.

Subcategory c:

The tough players were the ones you respected. I always felt the way to earn respect on the field is never back down from anybody and bring all you got for four quarters. It is not the most talented, but the hardest worker I feared. The talented ones that worked hard are the ones that kept me up at night.

Hope that covers every part of this question.

Q: (knightfd) - What are the similarities and differences between the Texas program that you played in and for and the current Texas program that we have today?

With Will Muschamp set to take over the reigns at some point in the future, what do you see as his greatest assets that he brings to the program, his biggest challenges ahead of him and what do you see the state of the program being 10 years from now?


A: Similarities are few and differences are aplenty! I was at UT from 1992-1996 and played for John Mackovich for five of the six years he was at the forty acres. We won three conference championships and went 1-3 in bowl games. We did have success on the field and produced some NFL caliber players. Also, much of the non coaching staff is the same. After that the similarities pretty much end.

The Texas program under Mack Brown has taken a decidedly different path. The alumni and letterman are embraced by the coaches today to the point where all letterman are invited to attend practice if they wish. When I was here letterman were not welcome and we never got to meet the great players that help make Texas what it is today. When I left in the Spring of 1997 they just broke ground on the new field house and had the plans and funds to begin the stadium expansion that you see completed today. What is there today is nothing like it was when I was there. There were four or six trophies from a few bowl games that UT had won back in the 60's and 70's over in Bellmont Hall. When Coach Brown got here he saw the lack of a trophy room in the plans for the new field house and rectified that problem immediately. The sad thing is that some trophies from the great years of the 60's - 80's had been lost!

The caliber of athlete and national attention is on another level today. Today every time Texas plays a ranked opponent it is the game of the week. We lost most of the top recruits to Texas A&M and played in a few big time televised games. OU was bad and A&M was the dominant school of the time. Today Texas gets whatever recruit they want and they have to battle OU for a chance to win the conference. I go to practice today and see level of athlete that is amazing. I would not be recruited to play at Texas today. That's why when you see a four year starter at UT now you know he is a great player. When I first got here they were looking for starters.

The fan base is just a little larger today. We would be lucky to sell out 86,000 and have half of them stay for the whole game. Memorial Stadium was not an intimidating place to come play. The games that were sold out always had empty seats in the corner of the north end zone horseshoe and the top corners of the upper deck. Much different today. We were not No.1 in merchandise and the independents in the state were pulling for A&M. I look at the fans today and game day atmosphere and wish that I could go out there and play in front of that crowd just one time.

We fans really owe what we have today to Mack Brown and DeLoss Dodds. Mack saw what Texas was lacking and began a media campaign to motivate the fan base and players. Where do you think "come early, stay late, and be loud" came from? There was a need for it and Mack Brown attacked the problem. Putting in the trophy room, Embracing the Texas traditions. He changed the culture of the athlete and fan at Texas. DeLoss Dodds gave Coach Brown what he needed to be successful and supported him along the way. Could you imagine the amount of hard work Mr. Dodds has put into this program to get it where it is today? He has hired the right people, built the right facilities and raised the money to do it all. It truly is a great time to be a longhorn fan!

What Coach Muschamp needs to do what when he takes over is keep driving the Cadillac he has inherited. Coach Muschamp will want to put his mark on the program and he needs to. He needs to let everyone know he is not Mack Brown and some things are going to change. He just does not need to have the mindset that everything must change.
There will some turnover of coaches and staff, but that is to be expected. He will put in the people he wants and change is good. Keep recruiting the same payers and keep the alumni and fan base happy. Being a head coach at Texas is not just winning. You must go out of your way to win the support of the alumni and fans. I have no reason to believe there will be any drop of at Texas in the next 10 years. As long as the program does not rest and keeps pushing forward it should be fine. Hey, you are either moving ahead or backwards, you never stay the same. It is up top you which direction you want to go.


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