FROM THE STANDS
WITH TREY McLEAN
Co-op Game Day
|Every time we try and put the turmoil of last season away, it finds a way to come back up. It’s like a bad penny. As you are aware, Jerry Gray has left the Texas program and will take over as the new defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. I’ve seen plenty written and heard plenty said about Gray’s abrupt departure and many people are saying things like “hard to blame him…” and “who wouldn’t triple their salary?” My buddy straight-up told me Saturday night- “Calm down. Let’s move on.” That’s all good advice, but I just can’t do it yet. I need to vent because I’m mad. This whole thing is infuriating and there is plenty of blame to go around. I’m mad at Jeff Fisher and Vince Young for making the Titans an untenable situation where the organization had to start over with a new coach. I’m mad at the new coach for initiating contact with Jerry Gray and “not taking no for answer.” I’m mad at Jerry Gray for lobbying for the better part of seven years to get this job – so much so that his open politicking sort of turned Mack Brown off at times – and then patronizing me by saying it wasn’t about the money. I’m mad at the black eye caused the Texas program. I’m mad that the stupid, stupid fallout from the stupid, stupid season is still going on and furious this all went down a week before spring practice is set to start. I know it’s over and I’d like to think I will wish Jerry Gray the best in his endeavors, like Mack Brown did on Saturday night, but I just don’t know if I can. He sure doesn’t owe me any explanations, but at the same time I don’t owe him anything, either. So long, coach.
If you aren’t with us, you are against us, and right now Jerry Gray is Nashville, Tennessee and not here in Austin with the Texas Longhorns. Barry Switzer had a famous line back in the day, telling a recruit “Son, if you come play for us, we are going to compete for a national championship. If you go somewhere else, we are still going to compete for a national championship.” I think that sums it up perfectly, get on the train or get out of the way. Jerry Gray chose to get out of the way and, as we have done with players and other coaches in the past, today will be the last time we talk about Jerry Gray.
To recap, when Duane Akina left for Arizona in mid-January, Texas was in the I-need-a-new-position-coach market again. With all of the talented defensive recruits on the table, Texas needed to make a splash. They did with the hiring of Gray on January 17th. Jerry Gray left money on the table and reportedly turned down a raise from Pete Carroll to stay with the Seattle Seahawks as their position coach. He was the perfect hire because he was a guy that wanted to be here, loved his alma mater and had the experience and ability to carry on what Duane Akina started. He immediately calmed the fears of the class of 2011 and none of the defensive backs decommitted. Everything was a-okay. And then Jeff Fisher was fired at Tennessee. After siding with him in the Vince Young vs. Jeff Fisher saga, Tennessee then decided to let Fisher go as well. They hired Mike Munchack, the offensive line coach for Fisher at Tennessee, and then the fun started. Word started to leak out shortly after the hire that Munchack was interested in Jerry Gray as his defensive coordinator. The Titans asked for and received permission to talk to Gray and, despite multiple sources saying Gray was not interested, there seemed to be some smoke. Late last week I had someone very connected to the program tell me Gray was staying. And then he decided to take a trip to Tennessee to interview with the Titans. Even still, reports were he was going to tell his good friend Munchack in person that he wasn’t interested in the job. I don’t know if he actually did that, but I do know the salary jumped to $1.3 million per year and Jerry Gray accepted it. And there we were, right we were about a month ago looking for a new secondary coach. So what happened? I have thoughts.
I think Jerry Gray was so excited about finally getting the opportunity at Texas he jumped at it without really thinking about it. He was passed over several times for the defensive coordinator position as we all know, but that didn’t seem to bother him when Mack Brown called him in January. He was excited to be here and excited to be home. And then he started looking around. Maybe it was the fact his boss (Manny Diaz) was younger and less experienced then he was. Maybe it was the amount of time he would spend on the road, talking to high school coaches and looking at prospective recruits. Maybe it was the lack of control and influence he would have in the Texas defense as a position coach. Maybe it was something else. It just seems to me it was something and whatever it was it didn’t really bother him until the joy of being at Texas started to wear off and the daily duties of the work took over. Something turned him off and he listened when Mike Munchack called. Maybe. Maybe it was just the worst timing ever and it was all a coincidence. In the end it doesn’t really matter because he’s gone.
And who walks in the door to replace him? Duane Akina. The same Duane Akina that left for Arizona a month ago. I’ve heard and read that Akina actually talked to Mack Brown after accepting the job at Arizona and changed his mind, but the wheels were already in motion for Jerry Gray and the return-to-Texas-door was closed. I don’t have anything to back that up, but I did hear that before Jerry Gray decided to leave for Tennessee.
I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Well, that isn’t true. I could. I have a ridiculous imagination. Anyway, I didn’t make this up. It’s like Men in Black. Tommie Lee Jones is going to put on some sunglasses and hit us with the red light thingy and we are all going to forget Jerry Gray was ever here. Or that Seinfeld episode where George quits and tries to come back and pretend he didn’t. Only this time it works.
Sooooo, we are done then, right? Right?
On to something that makes me happy- Texas Basketball. The Horns are 10-0 and a 2 ½ up in the Big 12 Standings over Kansas. Texas went 3-0 in the last week, looking very good at times and incredibly sloppy at times, but the bottom line is they won those three games and are still undefeated in conference play with six games to go. Let’s take a look at last week and what the Horns have in front of them as the head towards the finish line.
The week that was:
Texas 68 oklahoma 52
With only six games left, Texas needs to win five to lock up the Big 12 Title. Unlike football, basketball does not use a tiebreaker to determine the Big 12 champion. So if Texas were to drop two games and Kansas were to win out and both finish 14-2, they would be considered “co” champions. The Horns would be the top seed since they won the head-to-head, but the two would share the conference title. Stupid, I know, but that’s how it is done. So, in order to avoid that, Texas needs to win five of the last six because you can’t assume Kansas drops another game. Who does Texas have left? Let’s take a look.
2/19 @ Nebraska (16-8/4-6) 12:45 Big 12 Network
2/22 Iowa State (14-11/1-9) 7 pm Big 12 Network
2/26 @ Colorado (16-10/5-6) 3 pm Big 12 Network
2/28 Kansas State (16-9/4-6) 8 pm ESPN
3/5 @ Baylor (16-8/8-5) 7 pm ESPN
It was clear last year during the football season that Texas lacked the tough, in-your-face leadership necessary to be successful. Every team needs a mouthpiece and enforcer and it needs to be a guy that leads from the front, meaning a starter. I also think you need at least two of those guys, one on offense and one on defense. The best thing about this class, aside from the talent, is I see the guy that will be the leader on the defense in the future. I also see multiple players that could see time immediately.
Here are your 2011 defensive recruits:
Texas landed according to ESPN, the top-rated corner in the nation in 2011. At 5-foot-11 and at 188 pounds or 203 pounds (depending on who you read) he is physically ready to play now. He has 4.4 speed, great feet and great hips, meaning he turn and run with receivers in coverage. Diggs is already enrolled at Texas and will go through spring practice, meaning he will see time on the field. Texas isn’t overly deep at corner this year, so expect to see him on the defense and on special teams this fall. I fully expect Diggs to be a mainstay in the secondary, like his brother Quentin Jammer was back in the day. Watch for him to get a crack at returning punts down the line as well.
Texas brought in some already-constructed hosses at the linebacker position this year. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds Edmond is bigger than a lot of linebackers starting in the Big 12 right now. In fact, there is a chance the Edmond could grow out of the linebacker position and turn into a lightning-quick defensive end, like Sergio Kindle. As for now he will start at lb and I think with his size and athletic ability he could play all three linebacker spots. I think the top three or four are set in the linebacker rotation, but if Edmond can come in this summer and show he has the lateral quickness to get outside and the speed necessary to pick up backs in coverage, I think he plays early. He’s a big, strong and physical player that can bring the hammer in run support and on blitzes, which will get him playing time early on running downs. If he can improve his speed some this summer, he might see even more playing time this fall. I can’t wait to see him running downfield on kickoffs.
His game might not be quite as polished as Diggs’, but the skill set the Evans brings to the table is unparalleled in this class. He’s tall (6-foot-1) and unbelievably fast (4.35 in the 40). With his size and speed he reminds me a lot Jamaal Charles coming out of high school. He has the terrific track credentials like Charles did (21.3 seconds in the 200-meter for Evans) and, like Charles, is probably the best athlete in the class. I expect to see him playing a lot for Texas, I just don’t know when. I think there are several positions where you can play new players and use their talent to overcome their lack of knowledge of the scheme. I don’t think defensive back is one of them. I could be wrong; he could jump in right away and play immediately, but I think it is more likely he redshirts and makes his move next spring.
Again, depending on where you look Jackson’s size varies. I’ve seen him listed at 278 and 285 and it is amazing what 8 pounds can do. At 278 he is probably a little small to play right away. He will need the summer to add 10 or so pounds to stand up to the rigors of a college football season. At 285 he’s ready to play now and if he could another five or so pounds in the summer he would be physically ready to play immediately. Weird, huh? I like Jackson’s size and quickness off the ball, I just don’t know where I’d put him. At 6-foot-1 he seems ideal for the nose guard, adding weight and becoming the Casey Hampton-like anchor of the defense in the middle. With his quickness, however, he could slide outside to the three-technique (the outside shoulder of the guard) and use his agility and speed to get in the backfield. I just don’t know if he is tall enough to affect passing lanes outside. Quite the conundrum. I think you will see Jackson playing this year with the lack of depth at tackle and, depending on his weight, he could be a big contributor playing inside at the nose.
Moss is my favorite player in the defensive class. He is the one I think could be the leader of this defense very soon. He has the personality, talent and confidence to demand his teammates follow his lead in preparation, execution and dedication. He reminds me a lot Roddrick Muckelroy. They are roughly the same size and their games are similar in that they might not make a ton ESPN highlight reel plays, but they are good for 10 + tackles a game and bring the steady, consistent play that every team needs. Like Edmond, I see opportunities for Moss to see the field early. His love of contact and ability to hit will get him on the field on special teams and short yardage and if he can show he can cover in pass defense that time will only increase. Moss is enrolled right now and will go through the spring, enhancing his chances for early playing time. I see a team leader in the making with Moss.
Reed is going to be a star for this Texas defense; it just won’t be this year. He is long and lean and every bit the athlete that Sheroid Evans is. A terrific basketball player in high school, Reed has the quick feet and burst that will make him elite coming off the edge. I think he’ll need to add some weight, some strength and bulk up. I can’t wait to see him on the field because he is going to be a great pass rusher; I just think his clock will start in 2012 when he is closer to 260 than 240.
Quincy Russell has all the tools to be one of the great defensive tackles for Texas, but like some others his clock might not start in 2011. I think the staff would like it to and he has the size and ability to contribute immediately at tackle, but he is coming off knee surgery in January and I don’t see everyone taking their time to make sure he is fully healthy. He is explosive and quick for a player that weighs 290 pounds and very strong for a high school senior. With the lack of “wow” from the underclassmen on the roster now, the door is open for Russell to make a dent when fall camp starts; unfortunately, while the other tackles are going through spring with Wylie and the staff, Russell will be home in San Antonio waiting to arrive in the summer. Those are big obstacles to overcome and I see him redshirting this fall. Probably.
Scott might be the most undervalued player in this class. He is roughly the same size as Quandre Diggs and has impressive speed at 4.4 in the 40. Some might look at the 3-star ranking and think him not as skilled as the other corners in the class and I think that is far from the case. He is probably the most physical of the cornerbacks and I could actually see him moving over and playing safety early in his career like a lot of young corners do for Duane Akina. He reminds me a lot of Earl Thomas in his size, even though a bit heavier, and speed. He isn’t the tallest or heaviest defensive back on the field, but he has a nose for the ball and is physical and tough. I could easily see him moving over to cross-train at safety this summer and see the field as special teams monster in 2011.
Oh, my gosh is Kendall Thompson a big kid. He’s already 6-foot-3 and, depending on where you look, anywhere from 225 to 235. He has tremendous speed at 4.55 in the 40 and has the frame to add another 10 or 15 pounds and get up to the 245-250 range. The sky is the limit for Thompson and with Bennie Wylie in charge, expect him to add to the frame sooner rather than later. A lot of times you would think a player that could get that big would spin down to the defensive line, like Kindle, but I think with that straight line speed Thompson has the ability to be a next level linebacker. If you look at the super linebackers in the NFL, they are all fast and big, like Clay Matthews. With Thompson’s height and speed he is the ingredients to be that big, fast linebacker that the NFL covets. Just like the other lb’s in this class, the opportunity will be there for playing time. I think he gets in the mix on special teams at the very least, because you just can’t coach size and speed.
I imagine of all the players listed on as defensive recruits, Thompson will be the one to sit and find a spot. He has terrific speed and length and game-changing ability, it will just be about finding him a home. I think he will see time on both sides of the ball and see where that takes him this summer. If I had to guess, he’s a redshirt learning the receiver spot and competing for pt in the spring of ’12.
Again, it warms my heart to take the No.1 recruit from the state of Oklahoma for the second straight year. Turner is impressive size and speed, but I think he will need some polishing for his game to be successful at the elite college level. I think Turner takes the fall to redshirt and create some separation from the others in the class and adds some weight and strength in that time. I expect him to compete for playing time next spring and to be a dynamic playmaker at the corner spot when he sees the field.
The class of 2011 is wrapped up. I think there are quite a few players you will see next year on the field and the others will come along as they develop and progress. This is a terrific class in a vacuum and considering everything that went wrong in 2010 and the aftermath, this class is absolutely outstanding. Mack Brown always talks about wanting players and coaches who “want to be here.” That’s what he has in this 2011 class and I can’t wait to see them in action.