April 4, 2008

Inside the Locker Room

Q: (Slabounty) - Is Mack Brown[/db[ one of the best coaches ever? His record the past decade is pretty darn good. And following that, wouldn't you think someone of his stature could tell any player to play any position he wants them to. Therefore, will he force [db]John Chiles to play in slot and some backfield while he still learns the QB position? If so, how would he do as a back? I would love to see that. I've heard many possible Darren McFadden comparisons, but that one is hard for me to understand.

A: First, I don't think anyone can label Brown as one of the best coaches in the history of the game, but if he continues at his current pace, he'll likely have a good shot at making the College Football Hall of Fame as one of this era's top program builders. He's going to need more than one title to summon up larger praise. As for Chiles, he's not going to be an effective player if he's unhappy and there are some serious questions about whether he would even be open to trying another position, even if only on a part-time basis. Brown isn't going to force any of his players to move to a position that's going to leave the player unhappy and unmotivated by team goals. I think it's probably far-fetched to think that Chiles can be an every-down running back, but the comparisons to McFadden are made because of Chiles' versatility. He is the kind of athlete that can do a little bit of everything and with his explosive ability, it's easy to start daydreaming about the possibilities.

Q: (PutYourHornsUp) - 1) Why do you think that the state of Texas has had recent trouble producing many top flight LB prospects? Is it a lack of focus being paid to the position by HS coaches, where they feel the players are better utilized in other positions?

2) We haven't heard many glowing remarks about our current back-up QBs this spring. And honestly, when Chiles did throw the ball last year it was sometimes laughable. Do you think Texas will go after a second QB to join Gilbert in this year's class? If Davis & Major are planning to pass more out of the spread and focus less on the zone-read, it seems we need another QB with reliable accuracy more than pure athleticism.

3) While Frank Okam had a good career at Texas, he just never seemed to live up to his lofty expectations. Even at the NFL combine he was just average at best. Can you pinpoint a reason why things turned out the way they did? Was it injuries, dedication, or just plain bad luck?

A: That's a good question and I'm not sure that anyone has the answers. I think the emergence of the spread offense in high school offenses in the Lone Star State has definitely had an impact for a number of reasons. We've seen more quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs come out each year in the state with the advent of the spread game, but it's safe to say that an offense that often renders college linebackers useless can do the same at the high school level. I also think a lot of the guys that would have played linebacker a decade ago might be playing on the hardwood these days. We can speculate about the reasons, but the truth is that there are probably a number of factors that are playing role, but the bottom line remains the same.

As for your second question, the answer is currently no. Unless something unforeseen happens, Gilbert will be the only quarterback taken in this year's class.

Finally, Okam was a good college player, but he was never a great one. At the end of the day, the final results tend to point towards us "gurus" simply overrating him coming into high school. While he was never a dominant player at Lake Highlands, his upside seemed sky high when he was entering college and he was definitely a "projection" guy. By that I mean that he was someone that everyone expected to take off after he got into a weight program and started to tap into his raw physical skills. As it turned out, Okam didn't develop much in terms of making significant improvement from year to year. He was someone that was projected to be a star and he turned out to be a pretty good player, but not more than that. I don't think it was bad luck (that's Drew Kelson) or any one thing that you can out your finger on. Instead, it's simply a case of the "experts" being wrong about a player.

Q: (Golfpr3145) - Since the OOS recruits seem to be responding so favorably to be recruited by Texas, do you think this may open Mack's mind to being more aggressive in the future with OOS recruiting? Also do you think the presence of Major Applewhite and Will Muschamp with their energy level has taken the whole program up to a different level?

A: I think the program is already more open to being aggressive in out of state recruiting and it's reflected by the fact that the Longhorns are offering some "difference makers" throughout a number of regions outside of Texas without the time honored tradition of making them come into Austin first. In discussions I had with some people close to Brown, I was told that he was frustrated by their profile on the national stage and he wanted to take steps to improve it. The hires of Muschamp and Applewhite certainly have helped changed the dynamics of the program's out of state recruiting because both are eager to get on the road and do the heavy lifting. Frankly, that's half the battle.

As for the presence of Muschamp and Applewhite helping take the program to another level, I suppose it depends on what your view of the next level is. I do believe that their hires gave the program a nice shot in the arm and the team is better-served to win a Big 12 championship in 2008. If you consider that the Longhorns have only one Big 12 title in the trophy case during this decade, it would probably indicate that the final answer is yes.

Q: (In Stink) - Regarding Sherrod Harris, the reports coming from preseason camp last August said that Sherrod, before his injury, was looking strong as a passer, that he might throw the best ball on the team, and that he had firmly established himself as the No. 2 quarterback. I seem to recall some speculation from reporters (not posters) that he was looking good enough that if Colt were injured, he might have a hard time reclaiming his job. Then came the injury. I don't know if he ever fully recovered during the season (you might shed some light on that), but this spring Sherrod certainly appeared to regress from the level he had achieved last August, and that was surprising to me. Was the reason for this: 1) that his level of play simply slipped back; 2) the coaches wanted to do as much as possible to see how much John Chiles could progress as a passer, and this came at the expense of Sherrod Harris's opportunities; 3) he still isn't fully recovered from the knee injury; 4) Sherrod wasn't really as good as he was reported to be last August; or 5) some other reason, or combination of the others? In general, I'm wondering why, considering the reported level Sherrod had achieved last August, that he was not able to once again to firmly establish himself ahead of Chiles this past spring.

A: I think your memory of what happened last fall is a bit faulty. Harris was injured so early in last year's August camp that he was a virtual non-factor from the very beginning. By the time he was healthy (a month into the regular season), he had been replaced by a true freshman, who had his redshirt pulled because of the need to get him some snaps in the event of an injury to Colt McCoy.

Once he did return to the team he had missed the entire set of fall workouts and was trying to return at mid-season and the staff had already committed to developing Chiles out of necessity, and they didn't have time to start at square one with Harris in an effort to get him ready for the 2008 season. He had missed too much time and his limited reps (all were going to Chiles) ensured that he was a non-factor.

Coming into this spring, he had a chance to make up some ground on Chiles for the race to be No.2, but his inconsistency earlier in camp eventually led the staff to once again give the majority of the snaps with the second-team offense to Chiles. After not receiving many reps in workouts in the first week back from spring break, he finally got a little more exposure in the final week of spring drills and he performed well, but it's obvious that he's a distant No.3 heading into the fall.

I'm not sure what reports from last August that you're talking about, but he never had a chance to really get his feet wet after his injury, which is disappointing because he had reportedly made a lot of progress in summer seven-on-seven workouts, but he never got a chance to put his progress on full display.

Q: (Ralphie369) - Please evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, & potential of each running back currently on the roster---leaving out John Chiles. As you have previously written there appears to be no game changer like JC was. Does Cody Johnson have a future at rb or fb? I suppose the verdict will remain out on Whaley's position until he completes his senior year & goes through a camp. If we should get Richardson or Wood, are they "changer" enough to come in & start during their freshman year?

A: Let's start with the running backs.

Vondrell McGee - A very stronger runner that runs through arm tackles and thrives between the tackles. A great one-cut runner that rarely has a lot of wasted motion. He's not a juke and jive guy as much as he's a downhill runner that has the ability to make players miss on the fly once he gets to the second level. McGee runs with a great downhill lean and he's not a player that has a lot of negative runs. He needs to continue to improve his passing and blocking, but he's the best short yardage back on the team and he's probably the only player capable of handling a heavy workload this year.

Foswhitt Whitaker - In some ways, Whittaker is very similar to McGee. While he's not as big as McGee, Whitaker thrives between the tackles and isn't going to be the first guy in line to bounce everything to the outside. Although he has good speed, Whittaker is quicker than he is fast and most of his big runs come when he's able to use his outstanding burst to get him into the second and third levels of the defense. Obviously, his size is a question mark and there are questions about his ability to survive the pounding that will come over a 12-game season. Like McGee, Whittaker is a guy that is still a work in progress when it comes to his pass protection and receiving skills.

Chris Ogbonnaya - This senior is the class of the position for the Longhorns in the area of pass protection and receiving skills, which is why he's slated to be the team's third down back this season. As a runner, Ogbonnaya is a solid player, but there's nothing exceptional about his athletic ability and he hasn't shown than he can be a big-play provider.

Jeremy Hills - Of all the backs on campus, Hills probably has the most speed, but he's having to learn the tasks that come with the position at the next level. Hills definitely needs to add some strength and size to his frame because right now he's probably not physically equipped to handle a lot of carries. It might not happen this year, but Hills will eventually add some big-play pop to this offense, once things start to slow down for him.

Tre Newton - A very well-rounded player that has impressed everyone with how quickly he's been able to make adjustments at this level. A smooth runner that doesn't always seem to be moving fast, Newton is a long strider and he's drawn comparisons to Ogbonnaya early in his career.

As for your other questions, it looks like Johnson is going to be a fullback and he's not quite ready to be an impact player in that role. Also, if the Longhorns land a five-star type of back in recruiting, yes, you can expect that he'll likely have the ability to come in and make a first-year impact.

Q: (Eric_Mattson2000) - Ketch, my question is pertaining to the amount of scholarships we have left over. How many more do you think we have? Also, how many do you think we are losing to attrition?

A: I don't think the staff is all that worried about the numbers game for the 2009 recruiting class. I would think they could likely go into the 22-23 area and still not have too many problems getting under the 85-man limit by the fall of 2009. That would obviously mean that a number of players will have to leave the program, but you would expect some attrition over the next 15 months or so, especially if you look at the recent history of the program (average number of players lost per year).

Q: (ut_alh) - Your comment #4 about the Spring Game has lead to a lot of interesting discussion. In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle for getting Chiles into a McFadden-like role on this team?

A: The biggest obstacle is probably getting Chiles to buy into that role.

Q: (HookemUK) - If you were a) a backup QB with "Rivals 5 Stars(ish)" athletic ability, who was b) about to enter your true Sophomore season with your team, and was c) personally convinced that your future earning potential resides at the QB spot, and therefore d) absolutely not interested in making a position change, and most important (perhaps) e) quite realistically still 2 full seasons away from actually competing for the starters role (in your final year of eligibility), would you presently be considering a transfer to another program?... If you don't want to answer my first question, then would you mind telling me if you believe that John Chiles is at all considering a transfer at this time? Thanks.

A: First, I don't think that Chiles is looking to transfer. The vibe I'm getting from those close to the program and those close to Chiles is that he's going to see an increased role this fall and he doesn't believe that he will automatically sit behind McCoy because he has two years of eligibility left.

If you're asking me what I would do if I were a quarterback in a situation similar to Chiles, I'd probably remain patient and allow myself the opportunity to develop a little bit. Without a redshirt year, I'd already be behind the eight ball to a certain extent, so I would probably see how things go this season and then make a decision. Even if things were to not go the way I'd hope in 2008, I would still have the ability to transfer in 2009 and I would still have two years of eligibility remaining after I sat out a year. This is no time to panic.

Q: (Bigtimehorn) - Can you please go into detail describing the organization of the 7 on 7's? Specifically discussing how it is run, who organizes everything, and some of the benefits of this particular off season program. I know it gives a chance for the QB and the WR's to jell... how is the rest of the team specifically impacted?

A: The quarterbacks are usually the guys that act as the ringleaders for these events. They usually have the keys to the field and they are the ones that usually make the calls to each player confirming the time and date of each workout. The biggest thing that comes out of these workouts is the timing and chemistry between the quarterbacks and receivers. On the defensive side of the ball, the entire back seven has a chance to get a lot of reps in defending the pass, which can often be a big deal, especially for young players. It's like anything else in life in that the more you do something, the better you usually will be in performing that action. It's important to note that the offensive and defensive linemen have got into the act in recent years and they will often go through one-on-one battles while their skilled teammates practice on the other side of the field.

Q: (GeoHorn) - Ketch, from your years of covering the horns recruiting, do you recall any instances in which the stadium renovations had an affect on recruiting? Do any recruits list or mention the renovation/expansion as something that made their mind up to commit to UT? And finally, do coaches show the recruits the final expansion plans (that is if it were planned to be completed before their four years is up)?

A: I can't remember the last time I heard that Texas was recruiting mention stadium improvements as a reason for their decision. That type of stuff usually happens when a player is looking at a school that is going through a complete overhaul of the facilities and not just the addition of more seats and a bigger end zone capacity. That being said, the staff always keeps recruits in tune with the changes being made to the facilities, but since the Longhorns built their facilities at the turn of the decade, it hasn't been that big of an issue for them in recruiting.

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