December 13, 2007

The Locker Room

Q: (BEHorn■) - Are the players hearing rumors of possible coaching changes (on either side of the ball), and if so can you assess how it is affecting their bowl preparation? How "up" is the team for the Holiday Bowl?

A: First, let's address the question about the players and whether they've heard anything about potential coaching changes. The answer to that question is yes. In talking with people close to a number of players on the team, there seems to be little doubt that a number of players in the program expect some changes to be made after the season, with speculation being directed at both sides of the ball. Like everything else, it's all speculation, but the players are definitely chatting about the subject. As for the team's preparations for the upcoming bowl game, it's going to be interesting to see if the mood of the team changes in the next week or two because as of right now, I would describe the mood on campus as "up" in regards to this game.
Q: (fear_the_cow■) - Is there any talk of moving Tray Allen to guard during bowl practices or spring? It would seem that is his most natural position and much like Blaylock, be his NFL future. Do you see a scenario where John Chiles redshirts next year to create separation and to further develop? After Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley, who are the next 4 receivers that make up our top 6 next year?

A: Lots of good questions. All of the speculation about Allen possibly moving inside to guard is very premature. Allen is one of only three tackles that the Longhorns have on their roster that they feel strongly about at the moment and nothing is going to change with that any time soon, barring the staff bringing J'Marcus Webb back, but that alone might not do enough to change the immediate need that the team will have at tackle next year. The Texas staff feels like Allen is coming on strong and they have high hopes for him next season. I tend to agree that his best position could be inside, but let's give this kid more than a few months before we start making position shifts. It's not fair to base a judgment at this point when the natural timetable for players at his position to grow into impact performers is two or three years.

The Chiles situation is also a tricky one because if you truly feel that he's your No.2 quarterback, then you can't simply red-shirt him for the future when there's an immediate need in the present. In most years you'll need your back-up to make a real contribution and at some point the No.2 position needs to be filled by a player with some legitimate experience, rather than none at all. Also, let's not factor in the possibility that Chiles is going to really want to see the playing field in 2008 after getting a taste in 2007. I'm not sure I can remember many players that have openly volunteered to step back and take a red-shirt after having already tasted playing time. I would guess that a transfer is historically more likely than a redshirt.

As for the wide receivers that will make up the rest of the receiver rotation, true freshmen Brandon Collins and James Kirkendoll are certainly going to be in the mix after impressing the staff to the point that they made the decision to play them as true freshmen. Greg Davis mentioned earlier this year that those players will be infinitely more prepared for playing in 2008 than they would have been had they chosen to redshirt this season. That leaves the trio of Montre Webber, Phillip Payne and Malcolm Williams, along with a host of true freshmen to compete for at least one more spot. The smart money at this point has Williams emerging as a strong candidate at flanker, while one or two of the freshmen in the 2008 class will compete for playing time.

Q: (BondLoungeHorn) - Who do you consider to be the top 5 recruiters in the Mack Brown era and the biggest recruits they nabbed? Who do you consider to be the top 5 assistant coaches in the Mack Brown era?

A: I'll name my five, but I'll begin by saying that Brown deserves the No.1 spot because over the term of his tenure, he's been the guy that makes it all happen at the end of the day. Without him, the assistants are just bait on a fishing line. The top assistant coach is without question former tight ends coach Tim Brewster, who is currently the head coach at Minnesota. In some ways the program has never recovered from his departure. Others in the top five would be former wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, current wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy, current defensive coordinator Duane Akina and current running backs coach Ken Rucker.

My top five coaches on the field during Brown's tenure at Texas would include former defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, former defensive ends coach Dick Tomey, Akina, current offensive line coach Mac McWhorter and current offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

Q: (Kyle Key) - What do you make of the average grade Scouts Inc. gives Aaron Williams? I see USC made him an offer that is usually a good sign. Any updates on Darrell Scott or Terrelle Pryor?

A: I really don't make anything of that particular ranking of Williams. Frankly, I don't even know who the guys at Scout, Inc. are. On the other hand, I do know that I've seen plenty of Williams and I'm convinced that he's as good of a defensive back prospect as I've seen in this state in the last decade. He's a five-star guy. As for Scott and Pryor, things have been quiet on the Scott front while he finishes his junior season and the Longhorns have been out of the mix for Pryor for a while now.

Q: (DimiHorn■) - 1. I understand we have massively upgraded our LB talent since the days of Brandon Nava and Dusty Renfro but other than Derrick Johnson we have not had one single physical force behind the front four that makes plays that you expect from championship caliber defenses. For the most part we have had some average to above-average LB's but for the most part LB's have been one of the weakest parts of our team and surely our defense for some time. Why is that? Why can we not recruit or develop the talent we land? We have had one LB drafted in 10 years if I remember correctly....DD Lewis and Marcus Wilkerson were F.A. pickups. We consistently put out DB's, DL's, OL's, RB's, TE's, QB's but no LB's.....seems odd to me.

2. I love sweet potatoes with cinnamon's almost an obsession this time of year? What is your can't resist holiday food?

A: I think one of the major issues plaguing the team right now as it relates to the linebacker position is that the coaches haven't gone out of state to help supply the talent at the position. This state is currently not producing many elite-level linebacker prospects and it hasn't for much of the last decade. This isn't just a Longhorn problem, either. Think about all of the great linebackers that Oklahoma has been able to produce in recent years and you might be surprised to know that none were Texas high school football players. The last time an Texas linebacker signed with the Sooners and earned all-conference honors was in 1993 (Aubrey Beavers). That means it has almost 20 years since the Sooners recruited an NFL linebacker from this state. It's the same with the other major programs in this state. It's time for Texas to adjust their recruiting strategy at the position because the facts that point towards a change are staggering.

Also, I'm a big sugar cookie guy, so the holiday cookies get me every time. Anything with sprinkles on it will do.

Q: (Sundance7) - What information regarding coaches changes can you share with us?

A: I can't confirm anything specific, but I can tell you that there is a buzz coming from a lot of directions that suggest some changes will take place following the Holiday Bowl. I know that's not the answer you're looking for, but it would be fair to mention the specific names being mentioned without stronger evidence. The flow of info has trickled in at a snail's pace since we first reported that Mack Brown warned the staff about the possibility of major changes. We're still hearing that changes will be made, possibly on both sides of the ball, but don't look for anything to come out before the bowl game.

Q: (jackonice) - I've been giving the current roster and our current crop of commits some thought and it occurs to me that we have taken many players who were/are/going to be considered "projects." Many of them are outstanding athletes and no doubt know how to play football well. My question is that we seem to be taking a lot of kids these days and hoping they grow into, develop into, or just plain find a position on our team. Does that seem about right to you? It would seem that we are asking DE to gain weight and play DT, LB to put there hands down and turn into DE, RB's becoming LBs, LB's becoming S's. QB's becoming WR's. WR's becoming DB's. The list just goes on and on.

It seems to me, and PLEASE correct me if I am wrong, but perhaps part of the problem we are seeing with this team is that we have become a team of "tweeners." Rather than make a list of players and single some out...I'd rather not...we ALL know this is happening on a fairly massive scale in the program. Could this be a factor in our perceived slide? Is it due to our recruiting strategy? Personally, I see it as a little bit (or a lot) of a sign of arrogance by our staff who believes they can take great athletes and mold them into whatever they want. We have seen this fail over and over again. Yes, there are exceptions, but I think this is a fairly serious issue and one that has not received any play on OB yet.

A: First, taking perceived "projects" or "tweeners" is something that every staff in the country deals with. Among those that were projects or tweeners are Marcus Tubbs, Lyle Sendlein and Brian Robison to name a few. When you're talking about projecting talent, sometimes you have to actually get into the risky business of guessing a player's physical upside and ceiling. I think you can go through the Texas program and find a number of successful and unsuccessful projects. In my mind, there are bigger issues in recruiting for the Longhorns right now than simply recruiting projects or tweeners. The biggest issue is the staff's decision to limit the pool of perspective prospects to a much smaller scale than any other major powerhouse in the nation.

If you look at the recruiting done in 2003-05, there was an obvious dip in recruiting and it just took a few years for everyone to totally understand how severe the pains from the mistakes were. Starting with the Rose Bowl season, the Longhorn enjoyed a spike in recruiting in 2006 and 2007, but there's been a bit of a dip this year. We don't yet know if this year is just an anomaly or if it's the continuation of a stretch like the one we saw in the middle of the decade. However, there are some concerns that the Longhorns are going to tighten their requirements, especially in the wake of the off-season troubles that a number of players went through.

The 2009 recruiting year will probably be a very telling indicator of where Texas is heading as a program because there are a number of difference makers that list the Longhorns as an early leader. There's no reason why this shouldn't be one of the strongest classes that Mack Brown has signed. If that's the case, there should be plenty of talent in the program heading into the early part of the next decade because of elite recruiting efforts in 2006-07 and 2009, along with a very solid class in 2008.

Q: (centexu) - What players do you think have the potential for a breakout year next season? Also, have you heard anything regarding Brian Ellis? I heard on the radio that Aaron Lewis said that the coaching staff has been talking about moving some DE's to defensive tackle, any ideas on who the candidates are?

A: If I'm looking at some breakout players for 2008, I'd probably nominate Vondrell McGee, Brandon Collins, James Kirkendoll, Blaine Irby, Kyle Hix, Michael Huey, Roy Miller, Sergio Kindle, Rod Muckelroy, Jared Norton, Curtis Brown and Deon Beasley to name a few. It's still too early to know what's going to happen with Ellis, but if he can get his academics in strong order, he has a chance to be an impact player. If you look at the current defensive tackles on campus, he has as much pure ability as anyone of them. That being said, I think Lewis, Henry Melton and possibly even Lamarr Houston could be candidates to see snaps at defensive tackle next year.

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