October 29, 2009

The Ticket City Locker Room

Q: (In Stink) - Kheeston Randall has stepped up his game this year, and it's a good thing because he'll be the only really experienced defensive tackle going into the spring. I know Tevin Mims and Kyle Kriegel have always been expected to end up at defensive tackle, and Calvin Howell looked promising in mop-up duty before getting hurt, but there's not a lot of snaps in the portfolios of the guys who will be competing at that position in the spring. So, can you see Muschamp asking an experienced player to become the next Lamarr Houston - chow down, lift heavy, and move to defensive tackle? Sam Acho has played situational snaps at DT this year, and he's already 260. I know next year he's a senior, but bulking up and moving inside might be good for his NFL future - and UT's 2010 defense.. Just a thought on a rainy afternoon in Houston. Can you see such a move happening with any defensive lineman?"

A: There's no question that if you look at the 2010 defensive tackle situation, it can be a glass half-full or glass half-empty situation.

On one hand, the Longhorns have a rotation of three going pretty good right now and two of those three (Houston and Ben Alexander) will be gone after the season, which leaves the Longhorns without much experience heading into next season. On top of that, only Howell looks like a safe bet for certain quality play heading into the next season, as the program will lean on true freshmen and second-year players like Mims and Derek Johnson to rise to the occasion.

On the other hand, Randall is emerging as a force for the Longhorns in the middle of the line. He's not quite on the same level as Houston as a pass rusher, but he's playing very well at the point of attack and seems to be making improvements each week. If you're looking for a foundation for the future, he should be a nice centerpiece heading into his junior season. Also, don't sleep on Howell, who has already shown playmaking ability from the interior and there's no reason to believe he won't be more than capable in the starting roll as he enters his second season. He'll be untested to a degree, but so were Randall and Alexander to heading into this season and both have more than lived up to the expectations and requirements. If you comfortable with a starting tandem of Houston/Howell, then you're going to need one or two of the incoming defensive tackle class, along with Mims/Johnson in their second seasons, to contribute depth.

I'm not sure that the full-time answers can be found at end this time around, although there a number of players that can lend help on passing downs as inside rushers, which is important to remember. The Longhorns will have a lot of pressure players to work with next season up-front and Will Muschamp will have the ability to mix those players into the rotation. One name to remember in my mind is Alex Okafor. He's so good at the point of attack and he brings so much size to the table, that I can see him sliding inside on passing downs next year on occasion. In my mind, Acho is going to be an NFL defensive end and potentially a very good one.

Q: (mikhailt) - Cover Skillz: Aaron Williams right now or Aaron Ross in 2006? Bigger Hitter: ET now or Ced Griffin circa 2005? Can you rank the top 10 Texas DBs this decade? Does Rod "the squirrel" Babers make the cut? What do your NFL guys think about Curtis Brown? Is his size a concern? With cats like Brewster and Wells in the wings, have we really missed C. Scott to date?

A: These questions are harder to answer than I realized when I first read them. You have to give it up for Ross in 2006 because he made so many game-changing plays that season to win games. Perhaps it would make a better comparison if we entered Earl Thomas into the discussion, but if we just stick with your question, you have to lean towards Ross.

I will say this about Williams - I wouldn't trade him for anyone and that includes Ross, Ced Griffin and anyone else that you might want to bring into the discussion. The brand of football that he's providing as a true sophomore has been undervalued because few teams have been testing him… at all. He's such a playmaker that Muschamp has started to incorporate him into their pressure packages, which is what I expected they would do with Christian Scott before the season. I'm not saying that Williams is the best defensive back that Texas has ever had, but I am saying I would not trade him for anyone.

Again, I think the comparisons would be more interesting if we compared apples to apples, so let's answer this question in every faucet. For the moment, I'll give the comparison advantages to the following players:

2006 Ross over 2009 Williams (for now)
2009 Williams over 2005 Ced Griffin
2009 Thomas over 2006 Ross

For the record, this is almost an impossible group to rank in order, but here's a look at my top 10 Texas defensive backs in the last 10 years:

1. Michael Huff
2. Aaron Ross
3. Michael Griffin
4. Cedric Griffin
5. Earl Thomas (rising fast)
6. Nathan Vasher
7. Aaron Williams (rising fast)
8. Rod Babers
9. Quentin Jammer
10. Tarell Brown

As for Curtis Brown's stock, I think it's too early to say because he's come on so much this season and I'm not sure that he's been fully evaluated, but his size will be a concern, which his freaky athletic skill should help offset. He's going to be a player that the NFL is interested in.

Finally, the Longhorns have been terrific on defense, despite the loss of Scott, but I don't think there's any question that his presence would make them a better team. I don't know how you could measure that impact, but it would be real.

Q: (Golfpr3145) - Ketch, do you think they have given David Snow too much to learn? It seems like he is a little confused out there. I think maybe they need to give him a little more time to get adjusted to playing center before they try to move him around. What is your take?

A: The coaches appear to be on the same page as you, which is why they have moved him back to center for most of his work right now. They are confident that he could slide over to guard in a pinch, but there does seem to be a feeling that his brain is a little overloaded from all of the cross-training. It's important to remember that as great as the coaching staff and everyone else believes he'll eventually become, he's still a kid that's two seasons removed from playing Class 3A football in East Texas. If his head is swimming a little, we probably shouldn't be too surprised. The team just needs him to fight through this hurdle and when he gets clear of it, he'll be better in the long-term for having been forced to deal with it.

Q: (topgrpguy) - 1. Garrett Gilbert is our starting quarterback next year and has only seen live action in the blowouts. While he has had the opportunity to throw the ball a little, he has not worked with the first teamers. Do you believe he should have started the second half in Columbia with the Horns up 35-7? With the first team O-Line and receivers, all of which (except for Jordan Shipley) he will be throwing to next year? Would you have handled his game time experience any differently this year?

2. I have been on the road to Dallas for the OU game and Columbia for the Mizzou game. The fan bases of both were mighty sedate - no trash talking and no one-fingered salutes like I have seen in previous year's "away" games. Any ideas on what it is about this team that brings that on? While we were big favorites at Mizzou, that's certainly not the case against OU. What do you expect in Stoolwater this year?

A: No, I would not have started Gilbert to open the second half for a couple of reasons, but the biggest is that I think it would have sent a terrible message to the rest of the team. When Mack Brown went into the locker room, he mentioned that he was going to tell his team that the score was 0-0 and that he wanted them to play like the game was not in hand. Well, that's a hard message to drive home when you're quarterback is looking for a hotdog in the stands. This is still a team that's learning how to finish games and pile-drive teams into the ground when the opportunity presents itself. One final thing on the halftime switch idea - let's not act like the offense and primarily the running game has been so good this season that they could skip the chance to work on their craft in live action. The fact that the offense sputtered in the third quarter is enough proof for me that they needed to be on the field.

Also, I agree that the Oklahoma crowd was very tame this season and a lot of it has to do with the fact that their expectations for that game were very tempered. The same was true at Missouri last week. They didn't really believe they were going to win that game. I'm not so sure that will be the case this weekend in Stillwater (Also. I'm not sure if you noticed, but you misspelled the host city) because that place is treating this like the biggest event since knife first discovered bread. The problem the good people of Stillwater are going to have is that the 2009 version of their team isn't nearly as good as the 2008 product. Deep down, they also know that. I wouldn't expect to see too much venom.

Q: (Qwanseeker) - Ketch, going into the season DT was a huge question mark. We had one solid returning starter in Lamar Houston, some freshmen, and Senior Ben Alexander (who could never contribute in the years before). We were so desperate; we gave Tray Allen a shot at DT. Here we are two months later, and Texas is number one against the rush. DT seems to be playing lights-out, along with the rest of the defense. How has this been accomplished? Just how much has Ben Alexander stepped up this year?

A: You have to give the entire defensive tackle unit a lot of credit for stepping up their play this season, especially Alexander. I can't remember the last time I saw a guy completely remake himself over the course of a single season, but he went from a solid, run-stopper type to a playmaking force this season and that wasn't expected. If you thought before the season that I would type the words "Ben Alexander has been unblockable at times" while keeping a straight face, you'd be wrong. Yet, he's shown flashes of that kind of dominant play throughout the entire season.

A couple of keys for this group has been their play on first and second downs. The Longhorns are allowing a smidge over two yards per carry on both downs and that is forcing teams into throwing situations, which plays right into Muschamp's hands. Also, the Longhorns are forcing so many three-and-outs and turnovers that nobody has been able to stay on the field long enough to really test the depth and strength of this group for four quarters. They've played three steps ahead of the competition all season.

Q: (HKHORN10) - My question is about Will Muschamp, and how you see him coaching at Texas. The guy is one hell of a coordinator. But what do you think will be his coaching style? Do you think he'll still try to call the defense like Gundy calls his offense? If he doesn't... then who in the country would WM try to tap for a defensive coordinator position? Anyone with a similar drive would appear to be an HC candidate in the next few seasons, not coordinators.

A: I'm one of those guys that love pretty much everything about Muschamp. The only thing he'll have to curtail a little are his in-game emotions, which he pretty much lets sly without caution. In fact, I think his players feed off of his enthusiasm and intensity, but as the head guy he knows that he'll have to have a little more self-control. If teams are reflections of their leadership, there seems to be little question that Texas has 11 little Muschamp's on the field when the defense is in the game.

As far as calling the defense is concerned and any general thoughts about what he will/would do as the next head coach, he's respectfully stayed clear of that kind of talk because he's not the big man on campus… yet. That being said, I think it's safe to say that he will have a plan and a blueprint for success that he'll be ready to follow. It's pretty tough to speculate about right now because none of the parties are discussing an ounce of the details.

Q: (Jtrain99) - With all the controversy regarding viruses on Orangebloods, I'm interested to know if you are a Mac or windows user? Also, what is your web browser of choice?

A: I've always been a Windows guy, but I'm not one of those people that sends the discussion into a "Tastes great/Less filling" direction. For whatever reason, I've just never used Mac's very often, so I don't have a true opinion. Also, I usually use Explorer.

Q: (updownallaround) - What are the top three worst recruiting strategies by a coaching staff you have ever covered/been witness to?

A: That's a hard question to answer because it can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. Plus, I've pretty much restricted to keeping the discussion local because I've pretty much covered the Longhorns and the state of Texas exclusively since 2001. That being said, here are the top three bad recruiting strategies that stick out in my mind:

1. In the early part of this decade when the Aggies were first starting to get pushed around by the Longhorns in recruiting, one of their failing strategies was to tell prospects that they weren't good enough to play at Texas, but they could come in and play right away in College Station. Let's make it clear, I'm not saying that they were telling kids that they might have to wait three seasons to start in Austin and playing time was more-readily available at A&M. That's not what happened. They were actually telling players that they flat out weren't good enough to play in Austin, which most recruits found to be totally insulting and the irony of the message it sent about the A&M program wasn't discovered for several years.

2. The Rhett Bomar or bust decision at quarterback in 2004. The Texas staff's decision to focus their complete attention to Bomar, who always considered somewhere between a slight-to-pretty strong Oklahoma lean, turned out to be a disaster. It led to the nightmare situation with Bobby Reid, which threatened to leave the Longhorns on the outside looking in at one of their most important pipelines. It created an awkward situation with Kirby Freeman, who let his bitter feelings about not receiving any early consideration out on the phone with the Texas staff when they made a move to offer days after the Bomar commitment. Most important, it created some real doubt about the future of the program post-Vince Young that was perhaps only saved by the unexpected emergence of a three-star prospect from a small West Texas high school.

3. Oklahoma's sales pitch that recruits should come to Oklahoma because Mack Brown could never win a national championship or possess a head-to-head advantage over the Sooners. Oops. That drum was beaten loudly from 2000-04, but when Brown won his first title, the Sooners lost their single biggest recruiting lifeline in head-to-head battles with the Longhorns. If you go back and look at the shift that occurred in this state in recruiting beginning in 2006, you'll see that the Longhorns have crushed Oklahoma year-in and year-out. They've turned the Sooners' approach towards recruiting combat into mostly something that resembles a gimmick football formation. With the football aspect of the conversation out of the conversation, along with academics and social life, there's not much else they can sell to in-state Texas kids other than "Hey, we offered you first." That's not to say that the Sooners don't win a few head-to-head's every year, but if we're being honest, the recruiting battles since 2005 pretty much resemble the rivalry's look on the field.

Q: (Bamahorn)- When I was watching the Florida/Mississippi State game last weekend, the MSU cowbells reminded me of the old days when Longhorn fans used to bring cowbells to our games. I know the NCAA implemented a ban on "artificial noise makers" a few years ago. The question is...Why did we stop when others ignore the NCAA rule?

P.S. .... The Bama bubbas are really cocky this year...hope we get to show them how to play football in Pasadena in January!

A: I've never possessed an urge to carry a cowbell into a football stadium. Therefore, I'm going to have to ask you why you don't carry your cowbell in to clang? What's stopping you? Have you tried? If they told you that you had to leave your cowbell outside the stadium, would you give it up or is the cowbell too personal? Because if that's the case, I can understand not wanting to have to walk all the way back to the car to secure the cowbell. It's a risk vs. reward question for most I'm guessing.

p.s. - When I encounter Bama bubbas and they get a little too big for their britches, I usually just remind them that they are from the state of Alabama. Have you ever been there? It's like Waco, but in 1984. Even Reverend Shaw Moore thinks that they need to get out and see the world a little. Of course, they don't usually get the joke, but that's kind of the point. How much run would it be to turn the Clampett family loose on Rodeo Drive all over again.

"Come and listen to a story about a man named Nick
A coach without a conscious, barely kept his family fed,
Then one day he was hopin' to bail on Wayne,
And up through the ground came a bubblin' rube.

Out of control donors, blank checkbooks, the Crimson Tide.

Well the first thing you know ol' Nick's a multi-millionaire,
Kinfolk said Nick was quick to sale his soul,
Said Californy is the place where he wants to be
So they loaded up the trailers and moved to Beverly.

Hills, that is.
Lindsay Lohan, Subscription marijuana.

The Beverly Hillbillies… Alabama-style!"

Q: (Bill Boy Bryant)- Someone posted this week a list by Conference of the number of NFL Players from each college in the major conferences. I knew Texas had to be in the upper echelon but was surprised to see that they were #1. The numbers have gone up a bunch since the 2005 season. It made me wonder what that number was when Mack got to Texas. My guess is that it was Under 20 and maybe way under……This has got to be a great recruiting tool.

Lots of talk about the younger McCoy and the younger Shipley this week, have you had a chance to look at film of both of these kids and compare them to their older brothers at the same point in their high school careers. How are they alike, different and upside potential? It will be weird to see McCoy throwing to Shipley Take 2 in a few years.

A: I asked Texas sports information director John Bianco about the official NFL numbers for the Longhorns prior to Mack's arrival and he didn't have the exact numbers, but there's no question that it's more than doubled over the course of the last 10 seasons and when it comes to NFL player development, there's not many places that can enter the same level of discussion. There's no question that it's an aid in recruiting because love to see an existing blueprint.

As for Case McCoy and Jaxon Shipley, there are a lot of similarities with their older brothers. In fact, when I watch Case throw the football at Graham, he looks eerily familiar to Colt when he played at Jim Ned. Both players are football gym-rats that are dedicated to their craft. The biggest difference between the two is in the athleticism department, as you'd have to give Colt the advantage there because he's just a little more fluid and natural.

With the Shipley's, Jordan is probably a shade quicker/faster than Jaxon, while the younger brother is probably a stronger overall athlete at this stage of his development. Like his older brother, he's an excellent route runner, he has great hands and he has the ability explode out of his breaks to give him easy separation.

Q: (yoda4806)- If we win out, we clearly play for the NC.

After watching Bama struggle, can we still be a national championship player in the event we lose to Oklahoma State and the Sooners subsequently beat them later?

A: I'm not going to put the Longhorns out for dead, but they would probably be on the outside looking in with the national championship picture, barring a slew of upsets in the coming weeks. Basically, the Longhorns would need USC, Cincinnati and Iowa to lose, along with perhaps TCU and Boise State, and then they would still need to hope that a one-loss SEC team doesn't skip them at the finish line. The Longhorns have to win out.

Q: (ut_alh)- How do your NFL contacts view various Longhorn players based upon their performance in the season to date?

A: Colt McCoy's stock has slipped a little and he's probably on the outside looking in with the first round. He'll have to play his way back into that territory. Jordan Shipley's stock has really taken off and I've had a couple of guys tell me that he's a likely third that could become a two. I don't know a lot about what scouts are thinking about Ulatoski, based on his last month of the season. His slow start to the season had a few people raising their eyebrows.

Over on the defensive side of the ball, I think everyone's stock is climbing, including Lamarr Houston, Sergio Kindle, Roddrick Muckelroy and Earl Thomas… to name a few. There won't be many guys on this defense that won't have the NFL's attention.

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