We are down to 1 sport left on the 2012/13 sports calendar for the Texas Longhorns: track. Both the women and the men are headed to Eugene, Oregon for the NCAA Championships this weekend (starting Wednesday), and for some reason the season will continue on with the U.S. Championships in late June in Des Moines. What is the difference between the two? Can someone be an NCAA Champion and not a US Champion? I assume one is all college athletes and the other is everyone who qualifies? My experience with track was the shot and discus, and by “experience” I mean “being the alternate for shot and discus” and watching my teammates throw, wondering if someone would pull a muscle or chip a tooth or something and let me throw. None of that happened. That wondering lasted about 15 minutes, because that’s how long the shot and discus last in ninth and tenth grade. And since the shot and discus are first, the rest of the time you sit and watch the other events. That sitting and watching lasts about 15 hours. Maybe not quite that long … No, 15 hours.
The elites in the Olympics and at the college level make it fun to watch, but there is a reason high school track has not taken off as a TV sport. Did I enjoy track? No. Did I enjoy missing football off-season to be in track? Yes.
What were we talking about? Oh, yeah … Texas Softball. The ladies were eliminated with a 2-1 loss to Tennessee on Sunday night after knocking out No.2 seed Florida earlier in the day. The loss ended their run in the Women’s College World Series, and while they are surely disappointed, they had more success this year at the CWS then they have ever had. Connie’s girls will surely be a force in 2014.
With track closing out and the end of softball, the time has come to look forward to football. The football team has returned to the field this week as the first summer session of school starts (June 6th), and the guys are back to work, getting ready for fall camp in roughly nine weeks. Mack Brown had a press conference on Monday addressing this very topic. The highlights:
- Case McCoy (mission) and Nate Boyer (Special Forces assignment) will miss the summer and are expected back next fall.
- Yes, “Special Forces assignment.”
- Jalen Overstreet and Duke Thomas will work at their current positions (qb and db) as well as other positions on the offense — Thomas at wr and JO at rb and wr.
- Garrett Greenlea will take a medical redshirt this fall and help coach the ol.
- Cayleb Jones and Kendall Sanders are back on the team and will miss game one as a result of their off-season arrests.
- Grade casualties? None to speak of.
- Transfers? None to speak of.
- All the injured are scheduled to be back 100% this fall.
The grind of summer and “voluntary” workouts is brutal: It’s very hot, it’s very much not fun and it’s very, very important. Texas is poised for some big things in 2013 if you ask me — go ahead, ask me — but some things need to happen/progress over the next two months for that to happen. Here are those things, things I call my Summer Wish List.
Summer Wish List
As is the case with my annual Summer Wish List, these aren’t necessarily things that have to happen (not all of them anyway) but things I want to happen. I see three big-picture things I’d like to see and several one-off type things. Let’s go!
The new up-tempo offense has been installed and from everything I’ve heard, the reads will be easier and the information to process will be lighter … but decisions will need to be made and the reads will need to be correct for David Ash. The development curve tells me that David Ash is poised for a big year: a two-year returning starter that has seen his share of highs and lows that is the leader of this team. He’s experienced (the most experienced in the league), he’s confident and he’s surrounded by talent; now it’s just a matter of making it work.
So make it work, Mr. Ash. Spend the summer throwing with your wideouts against the NFL corners on the defense and get synced-up like identical twins. Know the playbook (smaller than last year) inside out and you’ll be ready for anything a defense throws at you this fall.
I, as did many others, noted last year that far too many times the linebackers were staring at the sideline as the ball was snapped. We’ve talked about this many times: When a player is unsure of what to do, he usually does nothing. He starts over-thinking and falls victim to paralysis by analysis. I saw that last year at times: young lb’s not sure what they were being asked to do and less sure how to do it, and the result was, well you saw the result. After the Kansas game, Manny Diaz simplified his approach with the linebackers, changed the personnel and the result was better play and a better overall unit. But as my academic advisor told me one of my freshman years “… there is room for improvement.”
The Horns’ defense was a disaster last year, but Manny Diaz didn’t forget how to coach defense in one season. He didn’t make all the right moves and waited far too long to adjust, but he did make some moves and he did adjust. He surely is more aware of what his personnel are capable of and what he’s asking of them now, and that’s a good thing.
Those inexperienced lb’s are not inexperienced anymore, meaning they are going to be more comfortable, more confident and more sure of themselves. That’s going to make a world of difference on the field as they simply know more and understand more of what they are being asked to do.
This summer is all about furthering their education; learning and understanding what the defensive plan is, not just their specific job. Think about it: If you know the reason behind why you must do something a certain way, doesn’t it make more sense? Sure it does. Explain yourself, coach, and you guys listen. I think that’s already happening and you will see a vastly improved defense, especially at linebacker.
On LHN “All Access” there is a segment in the spring where Mack Brown says (more or less) to the team “If your coach can only take one of you into a fight, who will it be?” To me this is all about conditioning.
I used to think it was all about attitude. Who’s the nastiest, the meanest, the toughest on the field. But it’s more than that. Attitude can only take you so far (ask the Detroit Lions) before you run out of gas. Everyone at this level wants to win; the difference is who has the stamina to do it? Who can wear the other guy out? Who can take the will of the other team by force? Sure, that can and will be accomplished at times by attitude and personality. But, like running water, you can do it EVERY TIME by being stronger, faster and better conditioned than the other guy and eroding their confidence until it’s just gone.
I remember Ricky Williams, in 1998, knocking Baylor Bears out of the game in the fourth quarter as Texas scored 22 points to win, 30-20. The Baylor guys were gassed and Rick was just punishing them. Texas was stronger and better conditioned and beat them down for the win. I want to see THAT.
Much has been made about Jeff Madden returning to run the conditioning program for the linemen this summer. But I say relax. Remember, Bennie Wylie is the boss and is designing all the workouts while Madden is implementing them for the big boys. There will be plenty of sprints as well as weights this summer for everyone, I guarantee it.
This new offense demands a unit that can run 80+ plays a game and a defense that, ideally, is back on the field quickly after scores. Everyone knows this, and steps are being taken to make sure the team is ready for that.
A key for the Horns will be making sure the injured return to the field. Jordan Hicks (hip), Jackson Jeffcoat (pec), Trey Hopkins (leg), and Josh Cochran (leg) are some of the names of the infirmed that missed spring. All are on schedule to be back in time for full contact this fall, but “on-schedule” means “not yet,” and I won’t breathe a sigh of relief until they are all in pads and running into each other.
And not only must they return feeling well, they must return playing well. Hicks was the most important piece to the defense last year as we saw when he went down. He makes the calls, gets everyone lined up and cleans up a lot of mistakes. He must return to form as that guy. Jackson Jeffcoat is a potential first round pick next spring with his talent, experience and pedigree, but he has to stay on the field. He needs to return with the same level of play he had pre-injury. Texas’ o-line is experienced and, I think, will take a leap forward this year … as long as Cochran and Hopkins are back. Again, they should be, but I’ll feel better when they are, and I see them playing like they did last year before the injury.
Everyone must be well-behaved, also. I’ve heard some rumors about a few guys, but so far everyone seems like they’re making the right choices off the field. And the two guys that got into some trouble in the spring are apparently back with the team and working hard, laying low and selling out. Keep it up.
Overly simplistic? You bet, but I think those three things encompass the things I want to see this summer from the team as a whole. Here are some more specific things I want to see:
- Desmond Harrison to be the second coming of Leonard Davis at tackle. the 6-foot-8, 310-pound junior college transfer is the most important recruit in the class of ‘13 as he can take over a tackle spot and allow Donald Hawkins to move inside, beefing up the OL. We won’t see him until August camp opens to the public, but this summer he can win that job. So, please do: Win it.
- Dominic Espinosa to make moving him out of the center position impossible. The belief is that if Harrison wins the job, Hawkins or Trey Hopkins could move to center to supplant Espinosa, who has struggled with the bigger nose guards/tackles he’s faced. I’ve heard he’s bulked up significantly this spring. I want him to hold on to that job as much as I want Harrison to win his. I want a conundrum.
- Kickers. I want a human person to kick the ball consistently well. I don’t really care if it’s Kickoff Nick, Points Nick, Fera, another person …. Someone.
- David Ash pre-gaming to TI. Ash has been hanging with Vince Young a lot this off-season and I want all of it to rub off. The success, the confidence, the dancing, the swagger, the fun, the iPod- I want to see Ash rockin’ “Tha King” in Dallas like VY did.
- Step into the spotlight, Malcom Brown. Time to be the next great defensive tackle at Texas.
- Cedric Reed to be the other guy. Brian Orakpo had Sergio Kindle, Sergio Kindle had Sam Acho, SACho had Alex Okafor, now it’s time for Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed. Which leads to Cedric Reed and Shiro Davis in ‘14.
- Pre-shoulder injury Adrian Phillips. The guy was the best db on the team in 2011 and the shoulder injury got in his head in 2012. Word is he is back in form, which means he could be a monster at safety this fall.
- The running back dance. I love the running back dance after someone scores. The entire unit meets the one who scored on the sideline and they all do a little thing. I hope everyone in the unit continues the competition that was going on all spring with good attitudes and effort, so we can see more of it.
What did I miss?