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FROM THE STANDS: Spring Game Review

Let’s talk about Steve Edmond.

The big linebacker made some noise with these comments after the Spring Game on Saturday:

Edmond called league champion Baylor “trash” on Saturday after Texas wrapped up spring practice with its annual scrimmage. Edmond missed last season’s 30-10 loss to the Bears because he was out with a lacerated liver. The victory clinched the league crown for the Bears and denied Texas its first title since 2009. “I really don’t like Baylor,” Edmond said. “I still feel they’re trash.” Texas has lost three of its last four against Baylor. The teams meet Oct. 4 in Austin. “Y’all think it’s funny, but I’m dead serious,” Edmond said. “They’ve had some good players… But I don’t understand how we lost to Baylor.”

Well that’s something, isn’t it? He wrote a check that he, and the rest of the Longhorns, will have to find the funds to cover October 4th. He’s a grown man that knows what he said and the implications of it, and now it’s posted on the locker room wall in Waco. There are Texas fans, a large number, that dismiss this comments as irrelevant because they think Baylor is still the Baylor of 10 years ago. I’ve seen comments online that say things like “Baylor isn’t Texas’ rival…
“, “Baylor sucks…” and all points in between. Folks, let me tell you something- Baylor does not suck. Agree or disagree with Steve Edmond, but do not dismiss or be dismissive of the Bears, because the days of Guy Morriss and Kevin Steele are over. This is the reigning Big 12 Champion and winner of the three of the last four games with Texas, and in the end none of those three wins were close. I remember writing about A&M fans not acknowledging Tech’s success against them 10 years ago and I’ll not repeat history now. The Baylor Bears, like it or not, are a national presence and Big 12 power. They, not Texas, have a ring, a Heisman Winner  and the Big 12 Coach of the Year.

I am not here to defend or condemn Steve Edmond’s comments, but that was very tough loss at Baylor last year. No starting quarterback, no starting tailback, no Chris Whaley, no Jordan Hicks and no Edmond. Still, they were right there. Had they not totally gagged on a muffed punt, it’s 23-17 and a defensive stop could have… Nah, that’s not happening and maybe not even true. Texas had injuries, and Baylor did, too. It’s part of the game. It’s a staff’s job to recruit and develop depth for that very reason and Baylor did a better job of it than Texas did that last few years. Still, so close.

I’m not a fan either, Mr. Edmond, and I could understand that this is an emotional game and maybe those emotions got the better of you. Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe that was a calculated shot across the bow. Either way I respect that you “put your name on it” as Jay Mohr says.  All I ask is you own it. If this means the blood gets bad with Baylor, so be it. If nothing else, you put this game on everyone in the Big 12’s radar.

What a TERRIBLE weekend of sports, the polar opposite of last weekend. After sweeping the sooners, Texas returned the momentum by getting swept by TCU, dropping into third place in the conference… But it can all be rectified this weekend against Oklahoma State. I knew the Mavericks were going to lose. I know they will lose the series… But what I didn’t expect was for them to be BETTER for 9/10’s of the game. Stupid basketball. The bright spot was Texas football, so let’s go to that.

 

Texas Spring Football- The Game

It was a beautiful day for the spring game. Not too hot, not wet, nothing big on the calendar to compete, and the Texas fans responded by showing up in droves. I heard my first “boooooo!” of the 2014 football season on the second play of the game, so that was nice. It was longer than I thought it would be, but it went as I expected it to go. I saw some good, some bad and in between, so let’s get to it and break it down, by position:

 

Quarterback

What did you expect to see? I don’t mean to be antagonistic, but seriously, what did you expect to see? I saw exactly what I thought I would see: I saw a tight end that just moved to quarterback and a super athlete getting his first real work at the position in college. They each had some nice moments and some far-from-nice moments, but honestly I didn’t see anything from either guy that tells me they are ready to be the starting quarterback for the University of Texas. And none of that was surprising to me.

I don’t expect Tyrone Swoopes or Miles Onyegbule to be the starting quarterback for the Texas Longhorns next year. In fact, I don’t expect either one to be the backup quarterback next year. David Ash will be back for the fall after a foot injury and, according to the terrific Max Olson, Max Wittek was at the spring game on Saturday. It was the third visit of the spring to Texas for the former USC starting quarterback and, in my opinion, he’s a Longhorn in the next few weeks. The addition of Wittek and the return of Ash give Texas two talented and seasoned qbs, allowing both Swoopes and incoming freshman Jerrod Heard the much-needed luxury of redshirting.

As for the game, the two qb’s looked like inexperienced quarterbacks and a little lost. I thought Swoopes looked better as the game wore on and made some better reads and better decisions with the ball, but I didn’t think either guy looked ready for prime time. I did see some flashes of of prime time from Swoopes, but at the end of the day I thought they looked like I expected.

Get here, Max. And get better, David.

 

Running Back

Malcolm Brown is an NFL back. He was very close, if not there, last year, but this spring he looks quicker, more explosive and better outside than he did last year. I’ve always thought Brown was a terrific back, but there were times when he maybe got too conservative. I didn’t see that this weekend. I saw a guy that bounced outside to make yards and run over defenders, make cuts and create his own space and look sudden, decisive and confident.

I thought Jalen Overstreet looked pretty good, but it’s Malcolm Brown’s show. I don’t know what’s going on with Joe Bergeron. I’ve heard conflicting things about his future, but when it all comes down I think he’ll be back for 2014. Jonathan Gray is shelved recovering from his Achilles injury, so look for lots of work this summer from incoming freshmen Duke Catalon and D’Onta Forman. And Daje Johnson. He wasn’t featured this weekend, but I didn’t expect to see him much as his package of plays will be off the public radar and opponent’s film.

With the injuries, it looked as I expected. The good news is I expected Malcolm Brown to look like a next level guy, and he did.

 

Wide Outs/Tight Ends

It was hard to get a good read on the wide outs early on with such uneven play at quarterback. The standout was Jaxon Shipley, who looked every bit the part of a senior leader and No.1 wide out. He doesn’t burn teams with his speed as much as he finds holes in the secondary and makes them pay. After Swoopes settled down, he started to find Shipley in those holes. A great, hail Mary touchdown catch from Daje Johnson aside, the Texas wide outs had a pretty quiet day. I’m fine with that, because Texas has a terrific receiving corps with Shipley, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Johnson. There will be others, but those are the top four and those top four are DYNAMITE… Just not dynamite on Saturday with a tight end convert and inexperienced backup throwing them the ball.

I’ve been hearing for a while the staff is high on Geoff Swaim and he showed why on Saturday. He made two excellent catches and continues to be the best blocking tight end on the team. His ability to seal the edge in the running game will open up receiving lanes in play-action as defenses must respect the Texas ground game. I think he’s poised for a big year as he took the majority of first team snaps and was the only tight end I saw make a play.

I am very comfortable with Geoff Swaim as the starting tight end and my hope is MJ McFarland can become more consistent. I love the Texas receiving corps and anything the tight end can add is a bonus.

 

Offensive Line

There’s a catch 22 in watching spring games. If one unit is doing well, does it mean the opposing unit is bad? It’s yes and no, I guess.  I thought the starting o-line looked good inside. They had trouble with Malcom Brown, but everyone in the country is going to have trouble with Malcom Brown, and I thought they won as many as they lost. But outside things were not as good. I thought the tackles struggled mightily with the ends in pass protection at times as I watched Caleb Bluiett run past Desmond Harrison like he didn’t know the play started. I think Harrison has NFL talent, but it wasn’t on display Saturday afternoon.

There was concern coming into the spring that the Texas ol would be a project as three starters are  gone from last year’s team and I think Texas answered most of those concerns… but then others popped up. Kent Perkins was lost of the spring with a knee injury, and while he’ll be back 100% for two-a-days, he missed a lot of valuable reps the rest of spring. Kennedy Estelle seems to have locked the other tackle spot down, but there are rumors of grade issues. The Longhorns have all the pieces to have a good offensive line, but Joe Wickline needs everyone healthy and eligible for that to happen. With Dominic Espinosa locking down the center spot and Sedrick Flowers and Rami  Hammad (I think he’ll end up the starter) manning the guards, Texas looks stout in the middle. Add in true freshman Alex Anderson, as well as Taylor Doyle and Curtis Riser and the guard-center-guard trio looks deep as well. But tackle needs to be sorted out. Health (and good grades) will go along way towards ensuring that.

As for the second team ol, they looked like the second team ol. There were some nice individual efforts, but on the whole they were overwhelmed by the defense.

 

Defensive Line

Dynamite. Texas has two NFL talents on the defensive line with tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. At times on Saturday they both seemed unblockable as Reed had 1.5 sacks and Brown pretty much went wherever he wanted whenever he wanted. Reed looks like a bigger Sam Acho to me and Brown is the second coming of Shaun Rogers. Watching him roam the sidelines and interact with his teammates and coaches his personality reminds me of Rogers a bit as well. Those two are known commodities, as is fellow starting tackle Desmond Jackson, but one defensive end spot is still up for grabs. Going into the spring it was assumed Shiro Davis would take that job, but if the spring game is any indication it will be sophomore Caleb Bluiett. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder from Beaumont was a beast on Saturday, blowing by offensive tackles and totaling 1.5 sacks, a batted down pass, three tackles for loss and one additional pressure.  He’s bigger than Davis and not as able to slide between end and linebacker, but he has excelled in the traditional hand-on-the-ground defensive end role. Big enough to defend the run and quick enough to get into the backfield and be disruptive, Bluiett has all the skills to follow in the Texas defensive end tradition and keep it going. As does Davis, who offers a bit more versatility and athleticism to the position, but if the season started today it’s Caleb Blueitt.

The other standout Saturday was Hassan Ridgeway. He’s competing for time behind Jackson and Brown, who are the solidified starters at tackle, and the only knock on him has been consistency. Well that’s wasn’t an issue on Saturday as he was on the backfield just about every play. He’s a hulk of a man at 6-foot-4, 309 pounds that is astonishingly quick for a guy that size. He is the perfect complement to the two starters, and paired with incoming freshman Poona Ford Texas could be stacked inside… But that effort has to carry over to the summer and fall. A good spring game for Ridgeway, who definitely opened some eyes with his size and speed.

A great showing all around for the d-line, who are definitely the strength of this team.

 

Linebackers

With the base defense being a conservative 4-3, Texas employed three linebackers and I was impressed with what I saw. They filled well, pursuing the ball and getting through blocks and making tackles at the line of scrimmage. Did you hear me? LINEBACKERS. MAKING TACKLES. TEXAS LINEBACKERS. I thought Dalton Santos did a great job of filling on the run game and looked better in dropping into coverage than at any time last year. It seemed like he was playing with the No.2 defense, but I thought he looked better than Steve Edmond. And it was the return of the disruptive, 2012 Alamo Bowl Peter Jinkens. He was active, disruptive and very quick and looked like the playmaker against Oregon State. Also returning was Demarco Cobbs, who missed all of 2013 with a leg injury. He’s back and looks bigger, at 225, and he looked quick and decisive working with the second team. He looked good and I think he’s the best option at OLB if Hicks’ return is at all delayed or complicated.

Everything wasn’t going to change overnight, but I liked what I saw from the lb’s, including incoming freshman Andrew Beck. It was nice to see Cobbs not only playing, but playing well. If it started today I’d say the starting trio would be Jinkens, Dalton Santos and Cobbs… But it doesn’t start today, so that’s pretty useless, isn’t it?

They seem like they are headed in the right direction. And TACKLING.

 

Secondary

This might be just me, but if I am Montrel Meander I am ready to fight Mykkele Thompson… No, I AM fighting Mykkele Thompson and I’m doing it right there on the spot. In the first half of the spring game, Meander totally lost a pass and it hit him in the helmet, but he never saw it. As it bounced off, Thompson came over from his safety spot and absolutely TATTOOED a completely unaware Meander, facemask to helmet, planting him on his ear. It drew a flag and had it been a real game, Thompson is done for the rest of the day for a targeting penalty… Except it wasn’t a game. It was against a teammate and it was clear the play was over and Thompson and everyone in the stands knew the ball was incomplete. There was no reason for that hit to occur and with concussions ending seasons and careers all over the place, if I am Meander I am making that very clear right there… But that’s me. Maybe I’m wrong. It seemed to serve Ahmad Dixon at Baylor well the last few years. I guess the upside is they were more physical than anyone since Kenny Vaccaro was here and if Thompson will light up a teammate in a practice like that, what in the world will he do when its game time? He’s always been a super athlete but not very physical, but that changed on Saturday. With he and Josh Turner at the safety spots, Texas (might) now have two guys that can fill the run and cover the pass.

The hit aside, the secondary was stellar. Quandre Diggs was locking down his side of the field and Duke Thomas looked confident and sharp on the other side. And how about Dylan Haines, the walk-on that picked off Tyrone Swoopes early in the game. Well done.

I liked what I saw from the secondary, and I’ll shut up about the hit since I wasn’t the one that was hit.

 

Special Teams

I was really  happy with the kicking on Saturday. Will Russ looks like the man at punter and I think Nick Rose is going to win the points team kicker job. There was no sort of rush and you could see Russ took his time to punt the ball, knowing there was no one coming after him. Rose missed a 55-yard field goal, but it had more than enough distance to get there and he connected on another more manageable kick. I really, really hope he takes it and runs with it.

Obviously there won’t be endless amounts of time to punt in the fall, and the staff knows that. There were also no returns as it seemed every return man was mandated to fair catch the ball. I don’t blame them as that’s one aspect of your team you’d like to keep as secret as possible, but I liked what I did saw,

So…

The first spring for Charlie Strong is in the books. I saw plenty I liked: the running game, the wide outs, the safety play, the kicking game, the dl, and I saw some things that need work: consistent play at tackle, a healthy experienced quarterback, ol depth, but overall the spring game went as I expected it to go. I didn’t think either Tyrone Swoopes or Miles Onyegbule were going to win the starting quarterback job and they didn’t. This was a conservative taste for the fans. A small sample of a few things to expect this fall. The Horns are going to look much different the next time they run out of the DKR tunnel in  four months and there is work to be done, but it looks some work has already been done. What did I miss?

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