November 8, 2007

Inside the Locker Room

Q: (kadenmc2000) � With the defense being so inconsistent do you foresee changes in scheme or coaching in the off-season?

A: I suppose that there could be a staff change or two at the end of the season, just like there is at the end of each season, but I would anticipate at this point that the defensive staff will come back in its entirety. While the defense has struggled at times this season, there was a ton of turnover in the secondary and the talent deficiency in a few spots has really impacted what this team has been able to do. Duane Akina has waited a long time to get his shot and Mack Brown is not going to pull the plug after one season. The same is true with Larry MacDuff, who didn't leave the NFL for Austin without the comfort of knowing that he's going to have job security.

When you look at the defensive side of the ball, there are some question marks about the overall depth at defensive tackle and the lack of experience at safety, but this team will return all of its defensive ends, it's top three linebackers, arguably its top two cornerbacks and there are a lot of dynamic young talents just itching to get on the field. The best young talent in the program right now is on the defensive side of the ball. As some of these young kids start coming into their own, you can pretty much bet the farm that Akina will be the guy responsible for getting the most out of them.

Q: (DimiHorn) � How much of and impact has Ken Rucker's return had on Jamaal Charles going bananas the last two weeks? Should A&M land Tommy Tubberville as Fran's replacement should we be worried? Will Jason Suchomel ever pay his debt to me? I want my t-shirt. Tell him I said so.

A: First, there's no question that Charles and Ricker have a very close relationship, but I think this resurgence in the last two weeks in the fourth quarter has more to do with Charles getting the opportunities to succeed and making sure that he takes advantage of them when he's been given the chance. The Longhorns have had to take a leap of faith in the last few games in the running game and they've been rewarded with the decision to keep running the football, even if the early results aren't eye-popping.

As for Tubberville, there's no doubt that he would be an immediate upgrade over Dennis Franchione, who is just awful his current role. Tubberville isn't known as a great personality and it would be interesting to see how well he'd succeed in recruiting the state of Texas, but he does a great job of developing talent and his teams have historically played very well on the road. Those are two very important areas that the Aggies will need to address with the next hire. The scary thing for the next A&M coach is that there won't likely be any quick fixes. The failures in recruiting in recent years have left the program short on top-flight talent.

Finally, I don't know if Jason will ever pay up, but your request has been officially recorded.

Q: (bopeep007) � (1) After Texas' win over OSU this past weekend, it setup a potential 3-way tie for first in the Big 12 South. If OSU wins out, Texas wins out, and OU loses in Bedlam that would leave the three teams with a 6-2 record in conference play. I'm assuming OU would get the tiebreaker, but could you explain how the process goes for deciphering a champ in that situation?

(2) Sasquatch has all the measurable to be a star in football, but what position? Is he really a Mack type of player?

A: The problem with a three-way tie as you described is that it would eventually come down to the Big 12 South Division records. The Cowboys have two Big 12 South losses, while the Longhorns and Sooners have only one at this point. Therefore, the Cowboys would be eliminated and the Sooners would get the nod based on their head-to-head win over the Longhorns.

When you talk about Sasquatch, I think you're talking about one of the best left tackle prospects I've ever seen. With his size and agility, he could make a lot of money one day if he keeps his head on straight. His issue is that he's a late-bloomer in the classroom and will need a strong structure to survive at a major university after having been home-schooled for so long.

Q: (LoveHorns10) � What are the chances that we will see Curtis Brown this weekend roaming the secondary? Has there been any word from the 40 as to how he is developing at cornerback? We all just have such high hopes/ expectations for a kid that talented and it seems as if his redshirt was wasted.

A: Barring injuries, you're not likely to see Brown on the field much this weekend. With Drew Kelson out with a knee injury, his spot in the dime defense will likely go to Erick Jackson instead of the true freshman. Even with him not expected to have a huge role this weekend, I'm not sure there's a player in the program that Duane Akina is more excited about. In fact, Akina seems to be as high on Brown and his potential as any player he's had since he's been at Texas. As far as his redshirt having been wasted, the staff seems to think that even the small dose of playing time that he's seen this season will help him immensely when it comes to preparing for major playing time next season.

Q: (Sundance7) � From what you have been able to learn, which QBs will get the first scholarship offers next February? Do you think they will offer all three of Russell Shepard, Garrett Gilbert and Casey Pachall and take the first two that commit? In the alternative, are there any other QBs that they might consider?

A: That's a great question and if I had to place a sum of money on it, I'd think the Longhorns will likely offer Shepard and Gilbert when the first batch of offers go out, with Pachall possibly receiving one if the others indicate that they aren't interested in either committing early. I fully believe that the depth in this year class is going to force the Longhorns to take two prospects in this class and it's going to be hard for the staff not to come out with two terrific quarterback prospects because of the immense talent base that they can choose from in 2009. Really and truly, this is the deepest quarterback class in the history of this state and you can't go wrong with any of the top in-state guys. When it's all said and done, you might see 10 quarterbacks ranked among the top 50 in-state prospects in 2009.

Q: (Beagleme) � I know that Mack is disappointed in his defenses tackling..... With Texas Tech a team that thrives on turning short passes into longer gains, what kind of refresher course can Duane Akina do with his schemes to help put our LB's and DB's in a position to not get burned too many times ? I know we can score on tech, but I worry if we can shut them down enough to win....

Also, the fact that it is Senior Day this Saturday, will that help energize the team, or is it just another game (albeit an important one) ?

A: When you get into the 11th game of the season, you are what you are in most cases. This has been a team that has struggled with tackling all season. Some weeks have been better than others, but it's been a constant problem and there have been times when it has been too much to overcome (Kansas State). With the amount of injuries the Longhorns are fighting through on the defensive side of the ball, I doubt that taking the team back to square one with a series of tough, physical practices was a realistic approach. Texas Tech's receivers are going to make some plays this weekend, but the key for the Longhorns will be swarming to the football on defense and making sure that they keep everything in front of them.

Your question about Senior Day is an interesting one. I talked with several senior this week and they told me that they haven't really thought much the emotions that they'll go through on Saturday. Frankly, with their lackluster player at home this season, this group of Texas seniors can't take anything for granted. The emotions will be high, but guys like Frank Okam, Scott Derry and Derek Lokey seem to understand that winning the game is the only thing that matters. There will a lot of time after the game ends for the players to focus on their emotions of having played its final home game in Austin.

Q: (skolodn) � First question involves recruiting. It seems like nationally in the media Texas doesn't seem to have the "buzz" about them they did prior to the national championship. Do you think that Texas is hurting in terms of coverage which is or can be carrying over to the recruiting? I remember you, at the time, talking about the BCS win over Michigan could pay huge dividends, do you think that beating say a Georgia or Boston College in a BCS game would be likewise important? That is if we make it in of course....

Second question involves running game. Unlike in the Nebraska game it seemed like our offensive line, with the younger guys in there, were able to finally impose their will on OSU defensive front seven. I didn't read much into the Nebraska running game because they had no one on second level. But watching the OSU game got me wondering, has something philosophically changed in the Texas run game? You have watched the game many times, what is your assessment of the Texas running game?

A: The Longhorns haven't received much of a buzz nationally in the last calendar year because they've been a very inconsistent football team that hasn't been much of a factor in the national picture. Overall, the Longhorns don't recruit enough outside of the state for that to have a huge factor, but the Longhorns still have a very strong national pull. If the Longhorns play in a BCS game this season, it will certainly have a positive impact. A lot of times winning the game isn't nearly as important as simply making it there. When Texas beat Michigan in that first Rose Bowl, they got a huge push in recruiting because the program had finally reached a new level under Mack Brown. There's no question that making a BCS Bowl this year will quiet some of the skeptics that think the programmed succeeded in 2004 and 205 because of Vince Young and no other reason.

As for the Texas running game, it's still a major work in progress, even with the success of the last two weeks. This team still hasn't shown that it has a bread and butter play to go to in the running game, although Greg Davis loves the counter play and the team achieved a lot of success against Oklahoma State last week. What the Longhorns did a much better job of last week was finishing blocks and getting to the linebackers and defensive backs at the second level. The difference between a four-yard run and an 80-yard run is often tied to someone like Adam Ulatoski being able to make a seal block like he was able to do last week on one of those counters, which allowed Jamaal Charles to get to that second level.

Q: (ATRumbler) � We still have a number of names being tossed around as possible late recruits for the 2009 class, despite seemingly having an almost full class. If some late season studs show significant interest, what's the maximum number of ships that the staff would consider or have the capability of still offering? And what's the most likely number of ships? And can you give us your current view of who will get those ships and how this class will look on a position by position basis.

A: I think the staff will give out another two or three scholarships in this class if they are the right guys. Obviously, Darrell Scott has been a player that's been discussed, but the reality is that players like Denton Ryan defensive end Josh Williams and Colorado offensive lineman Bryce Givens are serious options. The 25-man limit isn't an issue and the staff feels like they've got the 85-man limit under control. The real issue is that for every offer they hand out at this point in 2008, it takes away a scholarship from the 2009 class, which is as deep and talented as any year in Texas in the last ten games.

Q: (Elk Basin) � As they say in the radio call-in shows, "first time questioner, long time reader" of your website. In the interest of time, here's a hastily generated question (hope it's not something you've already extensively covered and I just missed it): Lots of debate about the academic standards for athletes at UT vs. OU and how it's affecting our recruiting. What's your take?

A: Glad you sent in an e-mail this week. It's as simple as this � with the added academic requirements that the Longhorns have imposed on themselves, it thins out the talent pool from which you can recruit from. It's already been documented that the Longhorns passed on several top prospects this year because of academic deficiencies, while other teams won't have a problem getting them into school and probably won't have problems keeping them eligible. What this means for the Longhorns is that they have to be better at evaluating than everyone else that they are recruiting against and their margin of error is much smaller. If there are only one or two prospects in-state that have the combination of quality academics and special physical ability, you better be sure and get those kids because the drop-off from one available player to the next could be significant.

Q: (Longhorn 2014) � What is it about fans that never played a particular position, particularly at a high level, that makes them believe they are more qualified than the players and coaches to critique a player's or team's performance?
A: I know your question was made mostly in jest, but I'm going to address it in a serious fashion. I had a conversation with Sean Adams this week about this very topic and he made a good point about the available resources to the common man when it comes to following one's favorite team. If you look back ten years ago, you didn't have the volume of TV coverage that you currently have and the Internet was in the infancy stages. On any day of the week, you can watch ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, CSTV, The NFL Network and, and you can get incredible insight into the game that wasn't available years ago. The common fan is far more educated about the game than he used be and it means that his football IQ has increased to the point that he wants to ask very specific questions about any deficiencies that he sees on the field.

Contrary to what a lot of people want to believe, football isn't so complicated that you have to be a player or coach to understand the in's and out's of the sport. It's not about being more qualified than a player or coach because that is not even close to being the point. There's an idea from some coaches on all levels that the "fan" doesn't know his knee from his elbow, so what could he possibly know about the game of football. Actually, the answer is quite a bit, more at any time in the history of a sport. Therefore, when a coach answers a football question with a very bland and seemingly negligent answer, he's going to be called out on.

That's just where we are at in this current age of football. The fans see more, know more and have more access to the game than they've ever know. While that doesn't make them necessarily an expert, it does mean that they have more than a passing understanding of the game. It's just like anything else in life. I don't have to be a chef to know how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I certainly don't have to be Mack Brown to understand the difference between cover two, cover three or man coverage.

Q: (CyOswalt) � What young players stand to gain the most from this years bowl practices? The inability to have games comfortably in hand (save Rice and Iowa St.) has limited some of the young players' ability to gain game experience. Can players like Christian Scott, Earl Thomas, and Ben Wells make up enough ground in bowl practices to go into the spring with a chance to compete with Ishie? The young O linemen are presented with a similar situation. Can Michael Huey, Aundre McGaskey, and Britt Mitchell pass up an, up to this point, underwhelming Charlie Tanner?

A: Great question. I think the most underrated aspect in the development of young players is the two weeks of bowl practice that usually allows them to go from getting zero quality reps on the scout team to getting a hard hour of scrimmage and individual work. It was during last year's bowl workouts that Brandon Foster was able to turn the page as a player and even though it wasn't something that could be seen by the public, it had a very real impact on his development into a key player in 2007. I would anticipate that players like Curtis Brown, Scott, Thomas, Wells, Brandon Collins and James Kirkendoll will all improve with their increased action and it will no doubt help them get ready for the spring, which is the time when the staff will really start to infuse them into the line-up for 2008. The same is true on the lines. All of those freshmen offensive linemen, along with players on the defensive side of the ball like Russell Carter and Keenan Robinson will get infinitely more snaps in December than they've received since they arrived in August for fall drills.

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