February 27, 2009

Chip Brown: Top 10 revelations heading into spring

Here are my top 10 revelations from meeting with Mack Brown, Greg Davis and Will Muschamp Thursday with spring practices starting today:

1. John Chiles moving to WR

Actually, this was a revelation broken by Orangebloods.com after the coaches spoke to the media on Thursday. But this move hopefully benefits everyone. Chiles has to crank it up a notch. He goes from No. 2 on the depth chart at one position to possibly No. 6 or No. 7 at his new position. He's got a long way to go and a short time to get there. But the coaches will give him every opportunity to succeed. The bottom line is this move sets up the transition from Colt McCoy to Garrett Gilbert to Connor Wood/Case McCoy at quarterback.

2. DT Jarvis Humphrey has a kidney condition

The redshirt freshman being diagnosed with a kidney condition is a scary revelation because you hope it's not a long-term condition. Forget about football for a second. You hope Jarvis is going to be OK to live his life. When the subject gets back to football, Humphrey is a big loss this spring at a position where coaches are salivating for young talent to step up.

3. Cody Johnson listed first on the RB depth chart

I know depth charts are as good as bird cage liner at this point of the year, but this sheds some light into the coaches' mindset. They said the depth chart is being determined right now by the performance in the off-season program. Johnson is an energy guy. His teammates love him, and he loves contact. If the coaches want a "downhill" running attack, Johnson is certainly a downhill runner. But the line has to block it, and he has to hit it. So we'll see. If Johnson grabs this opportunity, he may have the rest of the guys playing for second place.

4. Aaron Williams listed first on the depth chart at CB

Again, bird cage liner. I get it. But Aaron Williams being listed ahead of Deon Beasley at left corner tells me, once again, that Will Muschamp just isn't going to go along with players who have "spilled a lot of blood" for the program. He's going with the playmakers. Remember, Muschamp played walk-on Clark Ford at DB in a couple games last year. He rewards the best play, not the longest tenure. That is aside from the fact that many, including myself, think Aaron Williams is going to be one of the best corners to ever come through Texas and will be a 10-year player in the NFL.

5. LB Emmanuel Acho will do it all

Will Muschamp has his new pet project - Emmanuel Acho. Acho is listed as Roddrick Muckelroy's backup at weak side linebacker, but Muschamp said Acho is going to be everywhere in the spring and said, "I'm excited about him."

"Emmanuel will be a guy that we want to look at end-of-the-line in rush situations because I think he's got the initial quickness and punch and power and change of direction to be able to do that and be able to hold the point against some of the bigger guys," Muschamp said. "Emmanuel will play some Sam. I told Emmanuel he needs to put his thinking cap on. We're going to move him around a lot this spring, and just find the best mix of guys that can be productive for us."

6. Greg Davis explains his philosophy on zone blocking in the run game

With so much consternation being expressed about how Texas blocks in the run game, I thought it would be good to let Davis explain it himself. So I asked him on Thursday …

"I think people get too carried away with man schemes and zone schemes because a lot of times when you're in two backs, you're manning on one side and you're zoning on the other, so it's not a whole man scheme," Davis said. "A lot of the two backs that many of the pros run, it's based on zone principle. You've got to be able to do both. In a one back offense, you're set up in a better position to zone than you are man scheme because you obviously lost a blocker.

"So any time you want to man a one-back play where you want to double a three technique back to a backside backer, now you're in a situation where the numbers have to be right. You've got six blockers up there with a tight end. You're going to double a three back to a backside backer, you can pull a guard for the front side backer and that play, that power play and man scheme play, only works if you're looking at a 4-2 front. The moment it becomes a seven-man front, you either have to check that play, you either have to throw the ball or whatever. The short answer is it fits the one-back [play] that we're in so much of the time."

In other words, the zone scheme will be the blocking of choice on run plays as long as UT is in one-back, which means the coaches had better find guys who are more athletic and capable of reaching the second level or the running game won't become the downhill attack coaches want it to be.

7. Tight end is Davis' No. 1 concern of the spring

More than establishing the running game, Davis said tight end is his No. 1 concern going into the spring. So that gives D.J. Grant a major opportunity to jump in at a position that may not have incumbent [db]Blaine Irby back for quite some time following his devastating knee injury. Josh Marshall is also limited while returning from his broken shoulder. The spring depth chart lists Greg Smith and Ahmard Howard as the co-starters, but neither of them are the downfield threat Grant could become. Mack Brown said they'll probably start with Grant at the inside slot position (where Jordan Shipley played against Oklahoma) as he works on his blocking. This was one of Texas' most productive formations (four-wide, one-back) last season. Ian Harris is a bit of an enigma at this point. He's had stinger issues since he's been at Texas and needs to show he can stay healthy.

8. Mack Brown says positions aren't safe

This may not be a popular stand, but when I saw the offensive line depth chart I expected to see David Snow listed as a starter somewhere - center over Chris Hall, left guard over Charlie Tanner. Somewhere. I'm also looking for freshman Mason Walters, who is listed third at left guard to move up. At the end of spring - if players play up to what I think they can - I wouldn't mind seeing a line that starts Adam Ulatoski at LT, Mason Walters at LG, David Snow at C, Michael Huey at RG and Kyle Hix at RT. Make Chris Hall and Charlie Tanner your top interior backups and go from there. I know it's a longshot. But I hope coaches' minds are open to it.

I look at the offensive line and see some of the players who have "spilled blood" for the program syndrome. I get that Texas was an excellent pass-blocking line last year, so let's not go crazy shaking it up. But the offense couldn't run the ball when it wanted to against Texas Tech and Ohio State. That problem has to be solved. When I asked Mack about David Snow not having a starting spot on the line, Mack said, "Just because you've been a player in those positions doesn't mean you're going to keep your job. Same at defensive back and running back. It keeps everyone motivated, competing and fresh."

That's a good sign.

9. Will Muschamp will be experimenting, challenging, pushing and prodding

In addition to Sergio Kindle moving to rush end in the spring (replacing Brian Orakpo), Jared Norton and Keenan Robinson will get a chance to rush the passer in the spring in the Buck Package along with Emmanuel Acho. Tariq Allen will rep the SLB and MLB. Roddrick Muckelroy will rep at MLB and WLB. Muschamp also likes S Christian Scott and there's been talk he might be the nickel back in certain situations. But Muschamp had these words for Scott:

"I think Christian, athletically, has got a large upside at the safety position. He's a guy that's just got to continue to perform more consistently, and he knows that," Muschamp said. "It's something that we've talked to him about. There's a mental edge to the game and understanding that just being a good athlete on this level is not going to cut it.

"You've got to do the little things right, the mental things right, all the time, every snap. A three technique can have the wrong gap, and we can have a little bit of an issue, but when a safety is not in the right spot, then we've got some serious problems on our hands."

Muschamp also outlined the points of emphasis for the spring: turnovers, big plays and doing a better job defending third-and-3 to third-and-6.

"We were right at 50 percent getting off the field and we need to be 60 percent or more. Those are three glaring areas for us that we've got to improve on," Muschamp said. "The consistent performance and finishing games; we gave up a lot late in games and that's something we can't afford to do."

10. Mack acknowledges the expectations

Mack went on the record with Mel Kiper last year saying he thought his team was a year away (meaning 09) from resembling the 2005 title team. So it's not a shocker that Mack is embracing high expectations. But it's good to hear him openly challenging his players.

"This team is at a different place. This team is a team that is expected to contend and be a great team. What we've got to do is to make sure that the positive things that are being spoken about this team right now don't encourage them to be more complacent," Brown said. "They can't walk around and feel good about themselves. They have to go back to work.

"The attitude we've seen so far in the off-season hasn't been that way. They've gotten up every morning at 6:00, nobody has been late and nobody has missed. They're working really hard. I thought it was a great indicator that on Tuesday morning, they worked out at 6:00 and then lifted weights after they worked out. I walked out of the building for a while, and when I was coming back, it was 3:00 or 4:00, and Colt McCoy and probably 25 other guys were walking in the stadium to go out to try to throw some. It's amazing that they would run, they would lift and then they would go back out to work some more that afternoon. Those running workouts are really, really tough."

Mack and Muschamp both said they are trying to find leaders to replace guys like Roy Miller and Brian Orakpo by telling the players who work the hardest at each position group they will be the leaders. Muschamp said leadership isn't always vocal. He said leadership is grinding every day in practice and establishing a work ethic for others to follow.

We'll leave it on this - the quote of the day - from Muschamp:

"They need to perform every day and perform well. I view it like the business world. If you're a salesman and you don't sell, you're going to get fired. Our guys need to produce and go out and be productive every single day regardless of their classification. We have, obviously, different expectation levels for our new enrollees as opposed to a senior, but every day they need to learn to compete.

"We're trying to make everything as competitive as we can by position and simulate that as much as possible because the best motivator is competition. Those guys need to learn to come in and compete and compete at a high level. Hustle is a habit. Hard work is a habit that you better learn early."

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