|So what do you think Bob Huggins and DeSean Butler were talking about when Butler was on the floor? Sure, I guess Huggins could have been telling his senior star that he had done all he could do and there was no shame in losing to Duke in the Final 4. He could have been telling him his career as a Mountaineer might be over, but he took his team to the Final 4 and he had a long NBA career in front of him. Maybe he saw the tears coming down Butler’s face and he knew he was done and the opportunity for a National Championship was slipping away. Maybe. I think Huggins was down there pleading with Butler to get up. I think he was telling him “listen, dude. That guy that writes a football thing in Texas has money on this game. So get up. NOW. Get up! We don’t even have to win on Monday, we just need to win today.” He wasn’t hugging him; he was trying to pick him up. It didn’t work. They lost to Duke. Not because Duke was red-hot from behind the line, but because they all hate me. Duke ruined my basketball season last year when they knocked Texas out and they did it again this year when they stole money out of my pocket. Duke. Again. There are people that are none too pleased with me for picking against the Blue Devils, and to them I say this — you owe me money. It is not my fault West Virginia got cold at the wrong time; it is YOUR fault for beating someone I needed to win. Stupid basketball. Congrats, Mollie, on the winning the pool and having a baby on Monday. Showoff.
Texas wrapped up spring practice over the weekend and now they head back into the off-season program, which makes my head hurt just thinking about. I saw plenty of good from the Spring Game, as well as some not-so-good. Let’s take a look.
Spring Game, 2010
My annual Spring Game disclaimer: You cannot get too engrossed, good or bad, with what you see on the field at the Texas Spring Game. At times starters/contributors are going to be lined up against walk-ons, the schemes are not overly complicated and the quarterbacks cannot be hit. As well, the special teams are not 100% and the coverage teams are often comprised of starters on one side and walk-ons on the other. That produces things like Phil Geiggar’s school record for most career special team’s touchdowns in spring football. You have to take some of what you see with a grain of salt; however, there is plenty to glean from what happened at DKR on Sunday afternoon. I’ll break this down like an annual review for the football team. I’ll take three to four things that the football team has done well, three to four things that were done exactly as they should be done and three to four things that need improvement. We will then assess where this football is and what they need to do by August to get a bonus, or a raise, or whatever officy theme you like. Let’s get to it.
Garrett Gilbert — After the horrific start for him in the National Championship Game, Garrett Gilbert settled down and nearly brought the Horns back. He has carried that second half over to the spring and showed terrific ability under center and terrific ability to become the leader of this football team. The great size, great ability and great arm were on display Sunday as Gilbert looked completely comfortable going under center and throwing on three and five-step drops over the middle and down the field. He checked down to the right open receiver when someone was covered and laced the ball in there, showing his accuracy and arm strength. He finished the day 10-13 for 165 yards with three touchdowns and no picks. The new run-oriented, traditional offense (no or little shotgun formations) was not a problem for Gilbert, who handled going under center as if he’d done it all his life — he hasn’t, by the way — and I didn’t see one bad exchange or a bobbled snap. You could see Gilbert’s poise right away as rushers were coming from different angles and Gilbert stood tall, remained calm and found receivers downfield. Back to the disclaimer — there is a good chance that Gilbert knew he would never get hit (he’s a quarterback every day and knows the drill). He was not always lined up against the No. 1’s, but, still, it was nice to see him not get rattled in front of the crowd (40,000? Please) and step into the pocket and deliver a strike. You might have noticed right away the big difference between GG and McCoy. When McCoy got pressure, he would roll out and either find a receiver or take off. When Gilbert gets pressure, he steps into the pocket and uses his big arm to find receivers downfield. He did that incredibly well Sunday afternoon. He never looked harried or frazzled, which is as big a compliment as I can pay him.
Gilbert is ahead of schedule in his development and Texas is in great hands with him running the show. Look for him to fine tune his skills over the summer with the skill players.
New Passing Weapons — With the new offense and a big NFL arm throwing the ball, receivers are going to have plenty of room to operate down field. That was obvious on Sunday as two favored targets for GG emerged in wide receiver DeSean Hales and h-back Barrett Matthews. The sophomore Hales was sensational working out of the slot and getting open over the middle as he lead the team with three catches for 77 yards and all were sensational. The highlight was the 41-yard touchdown pass from Gilbert. Hales isn’t the biggest guy on the roster at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, but he has amazing athleticism, excellent speed and he flashed great hands Sunday afternoon. The way he was slashing and darting over the middle and getting open reminded me of Billy Pittman in 2005. When defenses were concerned with VY, Limas Sweed and David Thomas, Big Play was killing them down the middle. I see the same things coming from Hales this fall if Sunday was any indication. I also like what I saw from Barrett Matthews. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound sophomore is listed as a tight end, but I think after Sunday he will be seeing the majority of his time as the h-back, where he was the starter in the spring game. He had three catches for 31 yards and showed great moves in space, evidenced by his outlet pass catch from Gilbert on third down when he eluded two defensive backs (Aaron Williams being one of them) to pick up the first down. He doesn’t have ideal size for a tight end on the line of scrimmage, but after watching him run routes, I see him being a big problem in coverage for linebackers and getting big yards on dump offs and outlets as the h-back. Like I said last week, he reminds me of Ivan Williams and his athleticism and good hands did nothing to dispel that Sunday.
Expect to see both play big roles this fall and spend the summer working with Gilbert in 7 on 7’s.
Offensive Line — While no one rushed for 300 yards and there weren’t pancake blocks on every play, I was impressed with the offensive line play. I said earlier this spring that I thought a big component to the offensive line’s success was confidence and comfort with the offense. Kyle Hix said as much in the post-game, stating that he thought the o-line was much more physical and intense due to their comfort level with the offense. Offensive linemen love to run block, love to be aggressive and love to, no pun intended, go on the offensive. That’s what Texas is letting them do this spring, and the fact the offense came out under center to run the ball at the start of the game was a telling sign that the change on the offense was not just talk. There is plenty of work to be done as the boys up front work on chemistry and the finer details, but I saw the pile being moved forward, great protection in passing downs and lots and lots of physical play. I liked what I saw from Britt Mitchell as the new starting tackle, and I liked what I saw from the backups playing with Sherrod Harris.
It wasn’t a total domination, where certain players just owned their opponent, but I was impressed with the attitude and work the offensive line did. The Horns didn’t pile up a ton of yards and they were playing Will Muschamp’s defense, so it wasn’t like the 90’s Nebraska teams, but I liked what I saw. If they can progress over the summer like I expect them to, Texas will be more than fine up front and the running game will be very good, which will open the door for Gilbert & Co to get the ball down field.
John Gold — It was telling that John Gold, not Justin Tucker, got more kicks in the Spring Game. Gold averaged 45.3 yards per kick, which is absolutely dynamite. I think Tucker is going to have his moments, but with him being the kickoff specialist as well, I really like the idea of Gold taking the majority of the punting duties. Again, the kicking wasn’t live (no 100% contact), but Gold showed how consistently he could kick when given the chance.
More of that in the fall, please.
The Running Backs — I liked what I saw from the running backs. Tre Newton and Fozzy Whittaker were a little banged up (Tre going in, Fozzy during the game), but I thought they did well. The two leaders, Newton and Whittaker, aren’t highlight reels like Jamaal Charles was, but they can do everything well. Newton only carried the ball six times but had a 23-yard touchdown catch from Gilbert on a wheel route. Whittaker showed his burst on a few draws and counters, totaling 42 yards on 11 carries. He looked bigger and very, very quick. Chris Whaley showed excellent feet and vision for a guy his size, leading all rushers with 70 yards on 14 carries. The staff wants him to drop some weight over the summer to get to a svelt 240 or so and I think if he does his quickness and ability to make people miss will only increase. He will still be able to truck people at 240 (like he did AJ White on Sunday), but his stamina and athleticism will be even better when he hits his weight. The star of the show on Sunday was Jeremy Hills. The 6-foot, 195-pound junior, and brother of Tony, is one of the forgotten in the running back corps. He made the most of the injuries in front of him Sunday, taking a swing pass 52-yards for a touchdown. I’m not sure why he doesn’t see more time, because every time he is in the game he seems to get separation and get behind defenses to pick up big yards. With the glass-like health of some of the running backs, Hills could make a move and work into the rotation this fall.
While I liked what I saw, especially from Hills and Whaley, the injury bug is an issue with this unit. Cody Johnson missed the game with an injury, Newton was hurt going in and Whittaker got hurt during the game. It’s a rough game and a rough position, but it seems Texas has someone hurt a lot.
If Whaley takes the staff seriously and shows up at 240, he is going to see the field. At whose expense? Johnson’s? The competition will heat up, especially with Traylon Shead coming in, but right now they are exactly where I thought they would be.
The Defensive Ends — I don’t want anyone to think I’m dismissing the ends by not putting them in the “exceeds expectations” category. I think the ends are terrific and one of the strengths of the entire team. They didn’t “exceed” my expectations, because they are exactly what I thought they would be — excellent. Sam Acho, Eddie Jones, and Alex Okafor are outstanding and the emergence of guys like Tevin Mims, Russell Carter and Dravannti Johnson is only making the unit deeper and stronger.
They are going to be a nightmare this fall, but on Sunday I thought the offensive line did a great job of keeping them in check and letting the quarterbacks find receivers downfield. I don’t concern myself in the least with a less-than-dominating day from them in the Spring Game. I like the emergence Dravannti Johnson as the new buck (what Kindle and Orakpo played, meaning he’ll see some linebacker time as well) and the return of Russell Carter to good standing. Just wait until those freshmen get here.
The Secondary — See the defensive ends. These guys are probably the strength of the team and they are exactly where I thought they would be. The corners are terrific, all three of them, and all look ready to start this fall. That means that Chykie Brown has his 2008 swagger back, which is excellent. Christian Scott is coming on nicely as the starter at safety and the star to watch is hard-hitting Kenny Vaccaro. The sophomore made his presence known when he de-cleated Tre Newton on a pass route and nearly picked off Garrett Gilbert on a great over-the-shoulder play. He is vicious in run-support and there won’t be a receiver on the field unaware of where he is when he comes in. I see him winning that nickel back role and coming in as the fifth defensive back, allowing Texas to move Aaron Williams around while still having a physical presence on the field for run support with both Scott and Vaccaro in there.
The success of GG aside, the secondary is right where they should be. The vets are doing fine and newcomers like Vaccaro, AJ White and Eryon Barnett are coming along.
Wide Receivers — With the exception of DeSean Hales and Barrett Matthews, I didn’t see anything from the others that leads me to believe the talented freshmen coming in aren’t going to get a shot to play early. Malcolm Williams was terrific on an end around, but that was all I saw from him. Chiles was out with a hamstring and Greg Timmons had a nice catch, but I didn’t see anyone else step up in the fashion of Hales.
I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that the game was focused on running the ball, but there is too much talent for them not to be asserting themselves and too much experience for newcomers to be considered candidates.
Come on, No.9, become a star.
Backup Quarterbacks — If GG gets hurt, Texas is in trouble. The backups need to get it going and I do mean fast, because none are separating themselves right now.
Defensive Tackles — Sam Acho is starting at tackle right now. While Kheeston Randall is poised for an All Big 12 season, the freshmen and underclassmen at the tackle spot next to him are not. A defensive end, a starting defensive end, is now at tackle. Someone needs to step up and take that job and it might be one of the true freshmen coming in this summer.
Where is Derrick Johnson?
The Linebackers — I don’t think the guys on campus have done anything deficient, but the numbers aren’t there right now. Dustin Earnest looks to have earned his spot in the starting lineup this fall in the middle and Keenan Robinson and EAcho are entrenched, but the depth isn’t there and now there is some talk that Jared Norton’s return might not be a slam dunk.
It isn’t a knock on the players, but Texas needs an infusion of bodies into the linebacker spots this fall. They will get that with the incoming freshmen.
Earnest, EAcho and Robinson got it locked down and Dravannti Johnson and Ryan Roberson are learning the ropes, but if someone gets hurt there just isn’t anyone behind them to step in. Texas needs the kids coming in this fall to show up ready to play, because they will have to.
(Most of) The Special Teams — There was no contact on special teams so it was hard to gauge how everyone did. I like the idea of Aaron Williams returning punts, though. That will be fun to watch.
There you go, Spring 2010. Keeping with my review, theme, I think Texas is doing a great job and the future looks bright here at Dunder-Mifflin. Texas is exceeding expectations in many areas, the most important being at quarterback. I see them being right where they should be in most areas, although there are some “growth opportunities” at defensive tackle, wide out and linebackers. I do think with the personnel coming in this fall and the staff coaching them that those deficiencies will become strengths very quickly, either because the new personnel pushes the existing personnel to improve or that new personnel takes the jobs in question. All in all I give the Texas Longhorn a very positive review for the spring of 2010. A raise is coming. Yay!
The running game is going to open some holes for GG to throw to Hales, Matthews and Marquis Goodwin (don’t forget about him), and I see DJ Monroe (don’t forget about him, either) getting reps in multiple spots. Texas has a lot of playmakers on the offense and the right guy in place to get them the ball. Will Muschamp and the Texas defense need to plug a few leaks, which I have no doubt they will, and they will be outstanding once again this year, lead by one of the best secondaries in the country. With the speed and athleticism available to Duane Akina, the Texas special teams are going to be lights out next year.
Will Texas will be up to the task of defending their Big 12 Title in 2010? From what I saw this spring, I say yes.
I can’t wait.
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