Archive | July, 2012

FROM THE STANDS: Summer Tidbits

On my mind:

  • At the All-Star Break, the Yankees, Rangers and White Sox lead the American League while the Dodgers, Nationals and Pirates lead the National League… The Pirates? The Pittsburgh Pirates? Yes, the Pirates. The last time I remember the Pirates being good was like 1992, and the Reds were also in first place, then. Good for you.
  • The Dallas Mavericks are on a historically awful slide from the 2011 NBA Championship to the 2013 lottery. Are there even enough guys to field a team? First 10 callers make the roster…
  • If I am the Orlando Magic, I am not trading Dwight Howard to Brooklyn. In fact, after the way he’s acted, I’m seeing if the Turkish Leagues have anyone I can use for a year.
  • 5-star defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, the top-rated defensive end in the nation, verbally committed to Clemson in June, but now he’s waffling. Why? He wants his two-star high school teammate to get a ride to Clemson as well. He said last week “If Clemson doesn’t offer (teammate) Ryan, it would make me look at Ole Miss a little more, it would… It’s very important that I have my boys with me.” He has since backtracked on that statement saying he didn’t actually threaten Clemson with an ultimatum, but he did. I don’t blame the kid for trying to get his buddy a Division I, BCS bowl team scholarship. He’s 17, he’s going to say dumb things. If Clemson does it, or anyone else does, shame on you for bowing down to a 17-year old with a tremendous ego. And wow, I imagine if it works it won’t exactly humble him, will it? How are they both not committed to Texas A&M already? I’m sure you’d both be given the starting jobs today.
  • Speaking of Texas A&M, they have 23 commitments for 2013 already. They lead the nation in most-commits-not-able-to-go-see-rated-r-movies-without-a-parent, so that’s something. Whoop!

Enough! On to football. We are 24 days away from the Texas Longhorns reporting for fall camp. That means three weeks from Friday football season officially starts. For us, anyway. For the guys on the team, it’s there 24-7-365. Away from the fans and the media, the team has been very busy this summer working and repping so they can be hitting on all cylinders when August 4th gets here. For those of you that don’t spend all your time reading and listening to what college kids do to stay physically fit over the summer, today is your lucky day, because it just so happens that I do all of those things. Yay! Here’s the skinny on the summer so far for your Texas Longhorns.

Conditioning
From what I hear, everyone looks like they have fully committed to the summer workout program. Guys like Dominic Espinosa, Desmond Jackson and Josh Cochran have added good muscle weight and are filling out. This can only help a guy like Espy, who was just too light at times last fall to handle the bigger, more physical defensive tackles in the league. Likewise, defensive tackle Desmond Jackson has added some bulk, which will help keep him on the field more in running downs. The one guy, however, I’ve heard has made a noticeable jump in size is Case McCoy. No.6 has bulked up and his new size is paying dividends with better arm strength and more confidence, which you know to me, is one of the biggest things necessary to be successful on the football field. While some guys need to add weight to compete, others need to get more athletic, and that is happening as well. Jackson Jeffcoat and David Ash are both doing different things to get more limber and play less stiff. JJ doesn’t have his full strength back after surgery this off-season, but he’s 100% and working to get it back. While he’s doing that, he’s doing more stretching and more speed training to get more fluid in his moves and making him harder to stop rushing the passer. From all accounts it is working. Same with Ash, who unlike McCoy doesn’t need to get any bigger. He needs to get more elusive, more slippery and show the ability to make a big play with his feet, like Case McCoy did against A&M. He is also doing speed training, stretching and drills to work on his mobility. It isn’t something you will see much in the 7-on-7 work over the summer, but I hear he’s following Bennie Wylie’s plan.

The overall conditioning of the team is as good as it’s been in a very long time and it would easy to say it is all Bennie Wylie making it happen. The truth is, however, that it isn’t all Bennie Wylie. He’s putting them through the paces this summer and working on drills to not only get them in shape, but get them ready to play football. But he can’t do it alone. He’s remaking a lot of these guys physically and mentally, but his plan (tailored to each player) wouldn’t matter if the players themselves weren’t buying in. The team has to want to be remade for it to work, and they do so it is working. Attendance at the “voluntary” summer workouts is at an all-time high and everyone knows that missing just one session might cost them playing time or a job entirely. Alex Okafor, Kenny Vaccaro and Mason Walters are the leaders making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be and there when they are supposed to be. Not only will you likely lose pt missing these “voluntary” workouts, you will likely have to explain yourself to one, or all three, of those guys. When players will pay the price in the summer for success in the fall, the team is usually successful. In 2010 attendance was poor in the summer and the team went 5-7. This year they all want to be there and want to be pushed to get better. How can that be bad? It can’t.

Chemistry
As you know, this is a very big thing with me. You cannot be successful on the field if you don’t get along off it. That doesn’t mean that all 100 or so guys have to be going to the movies or having slumber parties every single night, but it means their cannot be factions that don’t like other factions. There cannot be entitlement and there cannot be the privileged that are above authority. At times at Texas I’ve seen all of that happen. The 1994 team didn’t get along, with each other or the coach, and it came to a head at Rice in a 19-17 loss. Entitlement raised its head in 2007 before Mack Brown went medieval after the loss at A&M. The lack of chemistry/level of entitlement on the 2010 team was palpable at times. You can’t ask 100 competitive guys to be best friends, but if they are working, sweating and sacrificing together and all want the team to be successful, they can coexist and respect one another as teammates. Girls, jealousies, playing time, personalities, trash talk and girls are all going to be points of contention within a football team, but a team that has solid leadership and good chemistry can overcome those things.

This Texas team has excellent chemistry and you know that because you never hear about any of those aforementioned points of contention with this group. They are there, it’s silly to think they aren’t, but with guys like Walters, Vaccaro and Okafor policing the team it gets squashed before it becomes an issue. Some will look at the Pizza Parlor Incident and wonder how two guys that went knucklehead can be leaders. That’s a fair question, but look at them since that incident. I remember guys getting arrested on previous teams and nothing really changed with them, but these guys have. Both have deleted the Twitter accounts they were so fond of (especially Vaccaro) and both are the first in and last out at the workouts, helping the younger guys with their games. InsideTexas reported last week that Alex Okafor regularly talks with the offensive lineman about things they can do to get better AGAINST HIM. That is leadership. That is the team before yourself. No one is perfect and these guys certainly had a bad judgment moment, but since that moment they have done everything necessary to be leaders, and then some. And, might I add, you haven’t heard about any other incidents this summer (hang on… had to go find some wood and firmly and loudly knock on it) with just three weeks left before camp starts.

7-on-7
The  foundation is there with solid leadership and chemistry and an excellent summer conditioning program, but no one will really care about any of that if the team isn’t any good, will they? No they won’t. It’s a good thing, then, that they are pretty good. The format they use in the summer is called 7-on-7, which means it’s the qb, wide outs, tight ends and running backs with no offensive linemen. On the other side of the ball it’s the back seven (lb’s and secondary). The linemen usually have their own drills and they will do some 11-on-11 work at times, but for the most part it’s all about throwing and defending the pass.  Let’s go unit by unit.

Quarterback

 David Ash is the man. The newly upgraded Case McCoy is not going anywhere and has stepped his game up significantly, but it’s still David Ash’s show. He’s more comfortable and confident in the offense, checking down to his third look when he has to, and from what I hear of the defense he has had to check down a lot. With no linemen and no running game in this format, he cannot really scramble to get away from the rush (since there is no rush) or run the ball, so he has to throw it. Going against the Texas secondary- one of the best in the nation- isn’t always easy. When he follows his passing tree (checking down when routes are covered) he does fine. It doesn’t always produce big yards, but it does move the chains. When he doesn’t, he gets picked off. Early in the 7-on-7’s, he forced more and it led to bad results for the offense. As he has grown more accustomed to the format, he has become more patient and found more success. I didn’t expect him to light the world on fire against this secondary, but I hoped he would have success. He’s done exactly that.

As for McCoy, he has shown more patience and less gunslinger, meaning fewer turnovers and more completions. His improved body and improved play has really pushed Ash, which can only mean good things.

It’s Ash, McCoy and everyone else. Jalen Overstreet is getting some reps as the zone read quarterback, but he’ll need to show success in live contact before I’d really consider that a possibility.

Running Back

As Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron work on conditioning and stamina to stay healthy for the fall (which from all accounts they are doing) the guy that is making a splash is Jonathan Gray. It isn’t entirely fair to the power runners Brown and Bergeron because catching balls in the passing game is not really what they do. It is, however, what Gray does and does very well. He has another gear that most backs do not have and when he catches the ball he makes defenders miss in space. As a true freshman he has made the defenders aware of his presence and with a defense as talented and experienced as Texas’, that’s truly something. Not quite as impressive, but still very impressive, freshman Daje Johnson is electric with the ball in his hands as well. He moves around quite a bit, much like Ramonce Taylor did, and will line up in the backfield and at wide out depending on the formation. I don’t know how many carries he will get in the backfield, but he will line up there at times and when he does he’s an excellent receiving threat.

Brown and Joe B. will get their time to shine when contact comes, but right now Gray (and Johnson) are as good as advertised.

Wide Outs/Tight Ends

Jaxon Shipley, Mike Davis and everyone else. Shipley is stronger but still needs more weight room work to create separation with physical defensive backs at the line of scrimmage. But against two of the better cornerbacks in the country in Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom, he gets open and makes plays even in the 7-on-7 format. He’s maturing and learning the little things to make him great, like blocking and great route-running. Mike Davis is a guy that I was very critical of last year and there was talk he was leaving last spring with his roommate Darius White, but Davis has stepped up his game and looks much better. He’s stronger, more confident and excels at the deep ball; the only problem is he still has oven mitts on some times and drops passes he should catch, but that is far less often than before. DeSean Hales has had some nice moments at No.3 and the guy everyone is waiting to get back into game shape is John Harris, who is the biggest and most physical of the wide outs. Who slides into the fourth/fifth wide out spot? Watch out for Cayleb Jones. The true freshman from Austin High is a gym rat that was coming to meetings during Spring Practice while he was still in high school. He isn’t the physical specimen he will be in two years, but he is a gamer that also has the attention of the defense. He runs good routes, has good hands and is a tireless worker, which the older guys respect. With he and Daje Johnson out there, Texas is five or six deep at wide out and there is game-breaking talent and ability in the ranks. Once Marquis Goodwin gets back from the Olympics, the unit will be dynamite.

MJ McFarland is the tight end. He catches everything thrown his way and is a nightmare for the linebackers to cover because of his size and quickness (6-foot-6, 245 pounds of basketball quickness). If he gets the blocking down he’s an NFL player, plain and simple. He’s getting there, but isn’t as good as could be just yet. Still, he’s a weapon Texas hasn’t seen since Blaine Irby in 2008.

Linebackers

Your starting trio in the summer is Demarco Cobbs, Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks. Cobbs is a beast that lives in the weight room, sometimes twice a day, and eats and sleeps football. He has defensive back coverage abilities and quickness and is excellent in coverage in the 7-on-7 format. If he can stay healthy he can be a game breaker. Inside is the hulk that is Steve Edmond. At 255 or so pounds, he seems like the guy that would come off the field in nickel situations, but he can handle his business in coverage most of the time. He doesn’t look as athletic as he is, but he can really move for a big man. The linebacker that looks and acts the part so far this summer is junior Jordan Hicks. Healthy and hungry, Hicks looks 10 or 12 pounds heavier and is the leader of the group, getting everyone lined up and making sure everyone knows where to be and what to do. He’s taken on a leadership role this spring/summer and it sounds like he’s a guy that is comfortable owning the room. Edmond and Cobbs haven’t played a lot, but this a sick, sick unit with a lot of talent waiting to see the field. This isn’t a format where they can truly excel, but they are doing well and look good.

Remember the name Dalton Santos. The true freshman will play this fall if summer is any indication.

Secondary

Simply put, this unit is the star of the show. With NFL talent all over the place, the secondary is loaded. The emotional and vocal leader is safety Kenny Vaccaro, who makes sure everyone is giving their all every play. He has talent and swagger that bleeds off into the rest of the unit. Returning to full speed is Adrian Phillips, who was the best defensive back on the team early in the 2011 season. Shoulder surgery ate up his spring, but he’s 100% back and seems to be doing fine. He’s shown this summer he’s more than capable of handling the attention he will get from offenses as they avoid the corners and Vaccaro. The key is staying healthy and so far this summer he has.  Texas is set at corner with Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom. Both are killing it this summer and the qb’s pretty much stay away from Byndom, who just locks it down.

The Horns are getting plenty of younger guys reps at safety and corner like Sheroid Evans, Josh Turner and Duke Thomas. Everyone is getting a little time to create depth, but this summer and this fall the starting four are locked down and locked in.

The Lines             

While the skill guys play catch, the linemen are doing one-on-one drills in pass protection. It isn’t really a true test because there are no pads and it’s all one-on-one, but there are still standouts. Okafor and Jeffcoat, as mentioned earlier, are doing good things at end while Ashton Dorsey and Malcom Brown are excelling inside. Brown, the true freshman, is a great athlete in a big body that brings the total package that no other tackle has and, in my opinion based on the summer workouts, will be No.2 at worst when the season starts. On the offensive side of the ball Donald Hawkins is holding his own at tackle and seems to be locked in as the starter, which is great news for everyone.

It isn’t as black and white as the 7-on-7 match ups, but the lines are looking better. Everyone looks stronger and ready to fight. There is some ill will between guys in each unit, but like I said that isn’t an issue when you know it’s just between the lines and not in the locker room.

So…

The problem with summer is most of the reports are through the eyes of people close to the program and you can get the this-glass-isn’t-even-half-full-it’s-totally-full reports that can be misleading. But what do we know? We know Texas is going to have a killer defense, one of the best in the country, and assuming the offensive line progresses on the learning curve as they should the running game will be bruising with Joe B. and Malcolm Brown. Add in the electricity of Jonathan Gray and Daje Johnson and the welcome addition of a pass-catching tight end and Texas just needs the quarterback to be consistently serviceable for this team to be excellent. I think Ash is better than consistently serviceable, but he has to prove he can be that when the lights come on. He’s doing the things this summer to show he has improved, as has Case McCoy, which gives me cause for joy.

It’s cautious joy, because there are no game plans to stop anyone in place right now and everyone is healthy and no one is watching. While I want it all to be true, I just don’t know until I see it in the fall. Still, I like what I am hearing and I CAN’T WAIT to see it in 24 days.

Comments { 7 }