Football is here. I have some thoughts, in general, about football being here:
- I watched the ENTIRE Cowboys/Dolphins game Sunday night. It was awesome. I won’t be awesome in a month when there is more to the football sample, but it will do for now. I can ignore the missed tackles, the penalties, the drops, etc. for now because it’s back!
- What color are the Dolphins now? They’ve changed aquas. Right? It looks less like the Dolphins traditional green and more like a color option at Ann Taylor.
- Johnny Manziel is in the midst of a full on meltdown. He’s gone from fun-loving quarterback to a caricature of a fun-loving quarterback. No classes on campus last spring, security details, a personal assistant, the infamous tweet, “dehydration/dead cell phone,” the ESPN expose and now this investigation about whether he was profiting from selling his autograph to brokers. This has a Maurice Clarett-in-2003 feel to it, but without the crime. Like Clarett, JFF is done with college and ready to move on to the NFL, but he is not allowed for one more season. I’m not going to be surprised at all if he never sets foot on the hallowed Kyle Field grass again.
- Quarterback Kendal Thompson, son of sooner option qb extraordinaire Charles, broke his foot last week and is out recovering from surgery. His return is not soon or certain, so that leaves Blake Bell and whoever the other guy is left in the “replace Landry Jones at qb” race. Odds are high it’s Bell, who is the greatest fullback to ever line up and play quarterback in the history of ever.
- Bob Stoops said junior college defensive tackle Quincy Russell “…will arrive soon.” The former Texas commit (didn’t qualify, went to junior college) is still finishing up some classes. That’s not good if you are ou. Not at all. “Will arrive soon” means “isn’t here now.”
- Norm Chow fired his OC Friday, the day before Hawaii started fall camp. He reasoning was “issues have arisen” and the timing was “unfortunate.” He was hired in February. I need more details, please.
- This can kill an afternoon- http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1714263-grading-the-new-college-football-uniforms-for-2013/page/11 . I love the new UNC look. Who you got?
We have broken down the roster, now let’s break down the units on the Texas Longhorns, 2013 version. And we start where we are always start this time of year- special teams.
2013 Texas Longhorns- The Special Teams
I was driving back from Dallas last Friday and I was listening to the college sports channel on Sirius/XM radio. Whatever you think of Rick Neuheisel as a coach (or a member of your basketball pool), he’s insightful and knows what he’s talking about. His co-host was explaining how broadcaster Gary Danielson doesn’t believe momentum exists in college football. He thinks the better team wins and losses and “momentum” is a myth. Neuheisel very politely disagreed, but not nearly enough. I say “not nearly enough” because THAT IS CRAZY.
Football is a game of emotion. Momentum is created from emotion. Sure, you could say a long touchdown pass or a sack creates momentum, but you know what else it creates? Emotion. They are hand in hand. A big play gets the fans and the sideline excited and, conversely, it sucks the emotion and spirit out of the other sideline. Rarely will you have momentum when you have no energy, and when you don’t have momentum you lose. It’s there in every game. I remember watching Texas and ou walk out of the tunnel in 2000. My first thought was “oh, (expletive)…” That sooner energy and lack of Texas energy led to big plays, big yards and big momentum. I remember watching Texas and Texas A&M walk out of the tunnel at DKR in 1996 and thinking the same thing, but in a very good way. Remember the 2007 Holiday Bowl against Arizona State? Or the 2006 Texas/A&M game? The team that wanted it more made their own momentum. Was Texas A&M better than Texas in 2006? No way. But on that day they were. Why? Momentum. They made plays while lethargic Texas did not. Those plays created momentum and you could feel it. Not only is it real, it’s palpable at times. Sure, the most talented team usually wins, but talent can’t explain Colorado beating ou in 2007 or 3-7 Pitt ruining West Virginia’s perfect season that same year.
Why am I am telling you this? Because emotion plays a huge role in special teams. It’s all about who’s excited, who has energy and who wants it more. It’s about emotion and that emotion leads to momentum. A huge return, a huge hit, a blocked punt, a missed field goal- they open or close doors all the time in football and that, my friend is momentum. And emotion on special teams is paramount to creating that emotion.
Being on the kickoff return team stinks if you are on the front line. You have to run back to the kick returner and find your man- your man running full speed at you from 30 + yards away- and block him. Usually this involves you trying to maintain your feet and headgear as the nutjob racing down the field barrels into you like a runaway truck in an episode of CHiPs. And they are nutjobs. They are the guys that headbutt things, staple things to their heads as party tricks (completely true) and love nothing more than full-speed collisions with other people. It goes for the kickoff return team as well, because to want to be run into is just as insane. In practice, unless you’re a kicker or a specialized snapper, special teams work comes in addition to your position work. Everyone else gets a water break while the guys on specials are out there doing their drills. In addition, most of the time the special teams guys are asked to get out there early, before practice even starts, to get more reps. It’s a dirty job and, as far as the spotlight goes, a thankless one if your name isn’t Justin Tucker, Hunter Lawrence or Dusty Mangum. Most guys are obliged to do some special teams work, especially early in their careers, but there are those guys that love it. Those, as I said, are the nutjobs. But here’s the thing- you need these nut jobs. These wonderful, excited, emotional nutjobs that can turn games around and lock them up, ending and making momentum.
Let’s take a look at Texas’ special teams going into the 2013 season:
Here are the names you know (some you do not) that will be playing on special teams this fall
Returning: Kickers Nick Jordan (So) and Nick Rose (So), Punter/Kicker Anthony Fera (Sr), Holder Cade McCrary (Sr), Punt Returner Quandre Diggs (Jr) and Jaxon Shipley (Jr), Gunners Adrian Phillips (Sr), Mykkele Thompson (Jr), Leroy Scott (Jr) and Josh Turner (Jr), Snappers Nate Boyer (Jr) and Kyle Ashby (So), Special Teams Monster Dalton Santos (So)
Departed: Punter Alex King, Kick Returners Marquis Goodwin and DJ Monroe
Key Additions: Daje Johnson, Duke Thomas, Kendall Sanders
I remember last year saying the special teams scared me to death. We had no idea who the punter was going to be, no idea who anyone kicking the ball was going to be, because Justin Tucker was gone. The only sure thing was the return game with DJ Monroe and Flash Goodwin. And the All-Big 10 kicker that was transferring in, Anthony Fera.
Fast forward one year, and the special teams scare me. Not to death, but into like a mild anxiety attack. We had no idea Alex King would turn into one of the best punters in the nation and now the two sure things, Monroe and Goodwin, are gone. Oh, and the sure fire transfer from Penn State, Anthony Fera, suffered a horrific groin injury that robbed him of most of his Big Ten Award-winning mojo.
The Kicking Nicks are back, as are the snappers and holders, but everyone is just going to have to be better this year. Especially…
… The points team. Yes, it’s a made up phrase. The purpose of the extra point and field goal teams are to score points, right? Hence “Points Teams.” Points Nick (Jordan) was solid on extra points, but struggled on field goals, going 9-15 on the season. He was shaky outside of 30 yards, but even a shaky Points Nick was more consistent than the injured Fera, who missed two extra points and two of his four field goal attempts. Kickoff Nick (Rose) has a bigger leg than Jordan, but he’s not as consistent closer in. Fera’s injury is still nagging him and apparently it bothers him quite a bit on place kicks, so barring something extraordinary in the next few weeks expect Points Nick to be the man once again this fall. Will Russ? Paging Will Russ. Has anyone seen Will Russ?
You know I’m big on confidence and comfort, and I expect Points Nick to be much, much more comfortable and confident this fall. He’s got a year under his belt and the nerves will surely settle down some. He needs to be more consistent over 30 yards. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE be more consistent.
This, to me, is the biggest liability on the team right now. If this can get shored up, I think Texas has the other people in place to do some things. SHORE IT UP.
I love that Nate Boyer and Cade McCrary are back as the snapper and holder, which should only help Jordan this season.
Kick and Cover Teams
There were times last year when Kickoff Nick was flat-out dominant. On his 82 kickoffs in 2012, 30 were touchbacks. Most of the ones that were not touchbacks were high and deep enough that the cover team got down there and pinned in the opponent, who averaged starting at their own 27-yard line after each kick. Like Points Nick, expect Rose to be as good in 2013 with a year of experience, film and weight room under his belt.
Also back are the gunners in Leroy Scott, Josh Turner (and Mykkele Thompson) as well as the fan favorite Dalton Santos. Slimmer now at about 235, Dalton Santos should be flying down the field like the wonderful, violent nutjob that he is. Expect to see some big plays from Dalton Santos and expect to see some big plays from the Texas kickoff team.
Alex King is gone, leaving as a one-year wonder that was All-Big 12. Gone with him is the No.4 ranked punt team in the nation. Snapper Kyle Ashby is back to start again as the deep snapper and the Horns are loaded on the punt cover team with the same cast of Scott, Turner and Thompson. They were solid last year, aided by King, but you’d like to see that 10 yards-allowed-per-return to go down to 8 or so. I think Texas will get there. Why? Anthony Fera.
People expected Fera to come in last year (by “people” I mean “me”) and win the pk job, but it didn’t happen. While he’s trying to find his way as a place kicker, he’s already found his way as a punter. Not only was All-Big Ten as a kicker he was All-Big Ten as a punter as well. The injury doesn’t seem to bother him punting, so I expect him to take that job and run with it, picking up where King left off last season. All Big 12 good? Why not? He’s already proven he can punt at the highest level and I expect he’ll do that this fall.
Texas has to shore up the protection as they allowed three blocked punts in 2012, which is unacceptable. This has to be fixed.
Who’s your guy? Think about all the stars that burst on the scene on kickoff coverage- Michael Ungar, Bo Trahan, Terrol Dillon, Peanut Hightower. I remember Michael Huff, Michael Griffin and Kenny Vaccaro all making plays on specials early in their careers. Being a talented nutjob surely helps, doesn’t it?
I’m going with Bryson Echols. He’s got the speed and he knows this is the fastest way to the field. Who you got?
The bad news is the return men are gone. The good news is I just saved 15% on my car insurance… Seriously, you don’t get better losing two playmakers like DJ Monroe and Marquis Goodwin. But we move on. In their place steps Daje Johnson, who has the potential to be electric as a kick returner. Look for other youngsters like Kendall Sanders (after game one) and Duke Thomas to get a shot as well, and I would expect two of those three will be the return men on kickoffs for game one. Watch out for Thomas, who is playing both ways because of his athleticism, to make some noise. Of course don’t expect to see any of that noise at the open practices as kickoff returns and coverage are not for outside eyes.
As for the punt return team, the storyline is both Quandre Diggs and Jaxon Shipley are limited early in camp with injuries (they will be fine), and as the primary punt returners, it means someone else will get a look. That’s a good thing, because the Horns were not very good returning punts last season. The averaged only 8.8 yards on 14 punt returns. Maybe some new blood will kickstart it. It can’t hurt, can it?
Again- Daje, Sanders and Thomas will likely get the first looks at the punt return job. It is very different from the kick return job as there is more traffic with the ball in the air and defenders coming from everywhere, even behind you, at times. It isn’t for everyone, but with all the talent on this team there has to be someone. Right?
Right. And with the defense being better, the punt return team will be better. More stops earlier and more often will put the return team in better spots, which can only make things… Wait, the defense will be better? Yes, yes it will. But that is for next week.
Where the hell is the block party? I’ll talk about them when they give me a reason to.
For 2013 this means…
OK, so now I’ve freaked everyone out, I would guess. I know I freaked myself a little bit. Yes, there are some issues on specials- a consistent placekicker, a new punter, new return men and some leaky protection- but the right people are on the roster to make this a non-issue. Daje Johnson and Duke Thomas are going to be DYNAMITE returning the ball. Anthony Fera will show why he was All Big Ten as a punter in 2011 and Nick Jordan will be more consistent. How much more consistent is what keeps me up at night.
Yes, that is glass-half-full stuff, but I’m just not a glass-half-empty person. Come on, Nick. Find your way.
See you next week with the preview of the Texas defense.