December 16, 2009

The Ticket City Locker Room



Q: (jdanmiller) - I know everyone talks about 5 star players and who we might get that is ranked 5 stars. If memory serves me right, the rivals 100 has historically consisted of 32 or 33 five star players, with the rest being 4 stars. It seems that Rivals is using the "tease" strategy this year, and is gradually increasing the number of 5 star players with each release of the Rivals 100. Do you think this is what Rivals is doing and why? Also, how many 5 star players do you think will be in the final Rivals 100?

A: First, let me say that I really haven't spoken with anyone about the lower five-star count through the current stage of the 2010 recruiting rankings, but after having worked at the national level for a few years and after having been involved in the rankings process for the last decade, let me let you in on a industry secret or two.

First, it's much easier to give a kid a five-star ranking than it is to revoke it.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that this business is all about relationships and any set of rankings can cause relationship problems with a prospect based on where they are ranked. If you think a two-star prospect gets a chip on his shoulder, you should see some of the highest-ranked national prospects get their panties in a wad because of their ranking on an arbitrary list. Hell, there's a kid in the current Lone Star Recruiting Top 10 list for 2010 that I've been told won't do an interview with me because of his current positioning on the list… as if being ranked in the state top 10 was some sort of slap in the face.

The truth of the matter is that unless a kid is ranked No.1, he's never happy with his ranking and neither are his parents. Therefore, when it comes to star rankings, you can imagine the fuss that's made when a fifth star is either awarded or taken away. Sometimes in order to have integrity in the rankings, you have to make tough calls on young men that often have long memories. What I've noticed about the rankings this year is that Rivals has finally stopped handing out a five star ranking like they've got a full candy bowl on Halloween night at around 10PM. Unless the guy is a sure-fire five-star guy, they've been very reluctant to hand that ranking out this year, which is more than fine for me. The late-season all-star games have proven to be such a useful evaluation tool that I think you're seeing the national guys wait on a few guys that they have a question mark or two about, so that they can see what they look like on the same field as other five stars. Frankly, I've always felt like there should never be more than 25 or so five star players in any given year. In my mind, it's a ranking that should be reserved for the truly elite prospects and any set of national rankings that pretends that there are 40-50+ guys that all warrant that kind of status, doesn't have any balls.

Rivals is just taking a cautious approach and my gut tells me that a few more players will earn five-star rankings before it's all said and done. Personally, I really like the new approach.

Q: (dallashorn02)- At what point does Mack Brown get red-ass regarding the OL issues and run blocking? Its evident practicing more run game during the spring isn't the answer as practicing something incorrectly isn't a solution in any line of work. It's clear in order to find the answer, he's gonna have to seek outside expertise on the situation as between himself, Greg Davis, and Mac McWhorter, they don't have the answer. As has been stated, the problem is some combination of talent, coaching, and maybe not having the right type of lineman to support the scheme you want to run. Does Mack really have the burning desire to really pinpoint this problem and get to the crux of the issue?

A: Man, I don't know that you are showing enough respect for the coaches on a staff that have helped avoid losing on the field in all but one of the last 725 days or so… give or take a few. We've been pussyfooting around the biggest issue with the offensive line all season because it's not a fun thing to admit, but let's just say it - these guys aren't very good. Oh, it's a solid group of college linemen that has the ability to play well as a group a majority of the time, but when you talk about individual talent, it's not like NFL scouts are knocking down the door for any of the five current starters. You want to know why the 2005 offensive line was so much better than the 2009 group? Here's a hint - it's not all scheme and coaching.

Justin Blalock, Kasey Studdard, Lyle Sendlein and Jonathan Scott were really good players and every single one of them is currently starting in the NFL - not playing… starting. Now think about this 2009 group and tell me where the NFL starters are coming from. Outside of Adam Ulatoski, I'm not totally sure which of the current starters will survive the first cut at an NFL training camp.

Yes, I've got some problems with the scheme, but I absolutely will not diss the coaching staff by suggesting that they either don't understand what's happening up-front or don't care enough to take the steps to fix it. What the staff really won't do that upsets all of the crazies like us that are out there (and it's easy to understand why) is have an open conversation with the fans/media about the issue. Therefore, it only seems like they are clueless to the naked eye. I don't believe that to be true. I just don't think they have any desire to talk about it with us.

The single biggest issue as far as I can tell is a talent deal, which means that the coaches don't get a free pass on the subject. Not Mack. Not Greg. Not Mac. When Mack sits down in front of the media each February and talks about the selection process that they are forced to go through each year, understand that he's telling us that they could have had anyone in the state that they wanted, but the ones they signed are the ones they wanted. Either the staff is missing on their evaluations or the kids aren't taking to the current program very well or a combination of the two is consistently taking place. You certainly can't blame all of the depth issues on non-football attrition.

Of the top players currently listed on the Texas two-deep depth chart along the offensive line, you've got one five-star (Tray Allen), three four-stars (Michael Huey, Kyle Hix and David Snow) and five three-stars (Adam Ulatoski, Chris Hall, Charlie Tanner, Britt Mitchell and Luke Poehlmann). Perhaps the star rankings don't matter, but there's only two players from that group that were regarded as nationally elite players (national top 100) when they signed.

I did a quick headcount of the last five offensive linemen that have been drafted out of UT this decade and every single one of them was a four-star/national top 100 caliber prospect at a minimum. Tony Hills, Jonathan Scott and Leonard Davis were all five-stars.

Clearly, talent is an issue, as is the selection and development of the players involved. I think the coaches will need to have a conversation in the off-season (if it hasn't already taken place) about the current approach that's in place, which is owned equally by the three coaches that truly make the decisions on that side of the ball. It's not just a position coach or coordinator deal.

As for the approach that Mack and Co. need to have with this group heading into the bowl game, I think there's a delicate line that has to be walked. In getting the red-ass with this group, you also have to make sure that you don't lose them in the process. Confidence is a tricky thing and I have to believe that this group's is shaken quite a bit after what happened in Dallas. Frankly, if I was Mac McWhorter, I would have done two things:

1. Chewed some serious ass out and let it be known that there's a standard that I'm demanding that they haven't reached all season. For the next 30 days, I would push them harder than I've ever pushed them.

2. I would burn the film of the Nebraska game. I wouldn't even show it to them. From a mental perspective, this group has to get away from that game as much as possible. The next 22 days need to be about what they can and will do against Alabama and not what they horribly failed to do against Nebraska.

Q: (Bustahorn) - As FTC has noted, why on earth don't our linemen help Colt back up when he has been knocked down?

A: I actually asked a few people in the program this question and as far as I can tell there isn't any concrete answer.

Q: (Golfpr3145) - Ketch, how much do you see Greg Timmons contributing at wide receiver next year? I know he was a priority recruit. Haven't heard too much about him this year since he redshirted. Also, seeing that Malcolm Williams has stepped up his game, who do you see as the starting WRs for next year.

A: Timmons is going to be a good player for the Longhorns, but there's no question that the battle for playing time will intense with Williams, James Kirkendoll, Dan Buckner, John Chiles and Marquise Goodwin all returning from the core group of receivers being used this season. Four of the five listed caught at least 34 passes this season. When you add in the continued development of the other receivers on campus, along with the talent arriving from the true freshman class, it's pretty easy to see a logjam at the position in 2010. If Timmons is going to crack the rotation, he's going to need to be the best of that next group of players because it's not like there will be a flood of opportunities available next season unless there are injuries or he takes his game to a level that forces the staff to put him on the field. Overall, I expect Williams to be the No.1 receivers for the Longhorns, with everyone else serving as nice compliments to his skill set. The rest of the starting line-up is up for grabs as far as I'm concerned, even if we already know the core group that will likely fill in the remaining spots.

Q: (JimsTexas) - Ketch I know that we have beat this horse to death. I would like to just kick it around one more time. The lack of aggressive play by our offensive line has to be a big concern going into the MNC game with Alabama. I just have to wonder about the confidence level of our offensive linemen going into this game. Nebraska certainly made our offensive linemen look less than average and it probably cost Colt the Heisman. If anyone can get a team ready to play it's Mack Brown but the offensive linemen might take some work.

A: As I mentioned in another answer to a previous question in this column, I completely agree that one of the staff's real challenges going into this game is rebuilding Humpty Dumpty… aka… the line's confidence. It's easy to say that a group should just get mad for a month and come out playing like madmen against Alabama, but this is the real world and things like psyche and confidence can be broken fairly quickly. When the team returns to workouts later this month, McWhorter will need to walk a fine line between pushing them as hard as possible, while trying to rebuild the trust amongst themselves that's required. I know it sounds like I'm going all amateur psychologist in answering this question, but there is no more important storyline in this game. If they don't play any better than they did against Nebraska, the Longhorns cannot win this game.

Q: (hotlantahorn) - Give us your VERY early predictions on how the Big XII South race will end up next year.

How about a little synopsis on each team, and what the strengths and weaknesses they will all have. Also, with the current commits of each team, which players do you see coming in? That will make an immediate impact?


A: That's a good question, but it's one I answered in detail about a month ago in a previous Locker Room, so I'm just going to hit the rewind button and give you the same answer I gave then. For those of you that have already read my breakdown of the Big 12 South back in November, you can skip to the next question. For those that didn't, here's my breakdown (complete with projected records):

1. Texas (projected record: 12-0 or 11-1)

Returning starters: 14 (6 offensive/8 defensive)
Possible early departures: Earl Thomas

The Texas defense should be flat out nasty next season with the players they have coming back and I would project Garrett Gilbert to have a better sophomore season than Colt McCoy had in 2007. If that's the case, the Longhorns are the clear favorite in the conference.

2. Oklahoma (10-2 or 9-3)

Returning starters: 15 (7 offensive/8 defensive)
Possible early departures: DeMarco Murray, Gerald McCoy and Jeremy Beal

The 2010 Oklahoma squad could look a lot like the 2009 Oklahoma squad. The defense should be loaded, although if they lose McCoy and Beal, the defense loses a little luster, especially when you consider that Brian Jackson, Ryan Reynolds and Keenan Clayton are also scheduled to depart. Still, this unit projects as one of the nation's best. Their problems are going to be on the offensive side of the ball where much of the offensive line returns, except for their best players - Trent Williams and Brian Simmons. Also, I'm not so sure that Landry Jones has what it takes to be a legitimate championship-level starting quarterback.

3. Texas A&M (projected record: 8-4 or 7-5)

Returning starters: 14 (5 offensive/9 defensive)
Possible early departures: Von Miller

This is your sleeper team in the conference next season when you consider that it returns most of its top skill guys at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, although the Aggies do lose three of their five average starting offensive linemen. Over on the defensive side of the ball, this is a young group that is overmatched this season, but it will certainly be better next season, especially if Miller returns.

4. Texas Tech (projected record: 8-4)

Returning starters: 12 (6 offensive/6 defensive)
Possible early departures: None (although you never know)

It's a reach to think Texas Tech will emerge as a sure threat for the Big 12 title next season because their quarterback position has been in flux all season and the same group of players that have mostly struggled in 2009 will return in 2010. The lead candidate is Steven Sheffield, but it's impossible to grade him off of what little we've seen. On top of that, the Red Raiders will be breaking in four new offensive linemen and they lose quite a bit of senior talent on defense with Marlon Williams, Jamar Wall, Richard Jones and all four of their current defensive end two-deep departing.

5. Oklahoma State (projected record: 7-5)

Returning starters: 7 (5 offensive/2 defensive)
Possible early departures: Dez Bryant (already declared) and Kendall Hunter

Oh man, the Cowboys are going to be cleaned out by graduation after this season. The offense will not only feel the sting of Bryant's departure to the NFL, but Zac Robinson, Russell Okung and Keith Toston will all be gone as well. It's even worse on the defensive side of the ball, as only Ugo Chinasa and Markelle Martin are scheduled to return as starters. This team will go through a serious overhaul in 2010 and the only known part is the presence of Hunter, who could be tempted by the NFL after an injury-plagued season.

6. Baylor (projected record: (6-6 or 5-7)

Returning players: 12 (7 offensive/5 defensive)
Possible early departures: Phil Taylor

The Bears could be better than last place with the return of Robert Griffin, but their defense is going to lose a lot of key players and it remains to be seen when and if the Bears will ever emerge as a legit bowl caliber team.

Q: (jthhorn00) - 1. Does it look like DeSean Hales will get any playing time next year with the starters, maybe in the slot with Shipley moving on?

2. So we have five receiver positions... Split End, Flanker, Sub B, attached Tight End, and the Flex Tight End. Where do the current commits and recruits fit in? Is Darius White a definite Split End guy, or could he come in and compete at Sub B? Are Mike Davis and Chris Jones destined for the slot or could they fit in somewhere else? John Harris, DeMarco Cobbs, and Darius Terrell?

3. Same question about the Linebacker commits and recruits and where they will line up... Strongside, Middle, or Weakside?


A: Ok, let's start with Hales, who has been a favorite of Garrett Gilbert's throughout the fall. The fact that he's been able to take a lot of reps with Gilbert with the back-ups and will continue to get those reps in the bowl scrimmages, spring workouts and summer workout sessions gives him a chance to emerge as a legit contributor next season, unless the path to playing time remains blocked because of the presence of other, more-established players.

As for the incoming wide receiver class, I think one of the things I love the most about the group is it's versatility. Of the current commitments, Davis, Jones and Cobbs all look like players that can probably cross-train and achieve success in all three of the main receiver spots. Harris is probably more of an outside guy that could slip into the split end role. Terrell looks like another perimeter player, who will eventually evolve into a flex tight end over time. If the Longhorns land Darius White, he's yet another guy that can probably play anywhere on the field.

As for the current linebacker class, Aaron Benson can probably provide depth both inside and out, while Tevin Jackson could potentially do the same thing, but his upside as a pass-rusher in the Buck position is an added value. He's certainly a player that is at his best when he's moving forward and attacking, like Sergio Kindle.

Q: (RU4UT2) - 1. Looks like Brent Venables and the OU staff did a good job of teeing up Bo Pelini for our offense. Apparently, OU has done their homework and figured us out pretty well. Since, relationships and rivalries apparently mean more than coaching etiquette or what's in the best interest of the conference, I'm wondering if we going to gather intelligence from former Longhorn coach Gene Chizik, now at Auburn? Auburn held Alabama to 291 total yards and ran the ball well against them, too.

2. When McWhorter took over from Tim Nunez, it seemed like we quit recruiting giant offensive lineman and trying to whip them into shape and, instead, recruited more nimble lineman and tried to make them bigger. I think the results have spoken for themselves. We have no maulers on the line that can impose our running game upon a defense and our lack of size means that giant DTs simply toss our interior lineman around. Do you agree with these thoughts and are there any chances we'll go back to making sheer size a higher priority?

3. I'm beginning to think that OL should always redshirt. The extra year of conditioning is more important at this position than any other. This seems especially true considering that we are recruiting lighter lineman. How much do think the lack of redshirting has hurt our current OL, specifically Allen, Hix, & Huey?


A: I wouldn't get too worked up over Venables having Texas' number. He might have won a battle this season, but that 45-spot that was dropped on the OU defense in 2008 still lingers. Over the course of the last five seasons the Longhorns have averaged 31 points per game against Venables' defense. Yes, Venables had it cooking this year and probably gave some good insight into what would and wouldn't work against the Longhorns, but let's not act like he's a defensive witch-doctor with the secret to some voodoo curse.

That being said, damn skippy the Longhorns staff will likely spend an hour or 100 with members of the Auburn staff, including Chizik. All is fair in love and football, which means I would expect the Longhorns to pick up some useful information. I'm also sure that Nick Saban will have a number of friends in the business that will be able to provide solid advanced scouting reports. Again, it's not rocket science.

As for the second question, I agree that the Longhorns should take a step back after this season and re-evaluate what they are doing with the offensive line from top-to-bottom. I'm not suggesting that McWhorter and the rest of the staff needs to completely overhaul everything that they are doing, but they do need to cross a few bridges in an attempt to make sure that the formula still works as desired and necessitated. The truth of the matter is that I believe that there a number of areas that might need to be tweaked. As easy as it might be to simply say that the problem begins and ends with a philosophical approach in recruiting that marginalizes the importance of mass, I think things are a little more complex than that. For instance, none of this has anything to do with what's happened to Michael Huey and Kyle Hix this season. Both players came into the program with reputations for being large maulers, which makes projecting the issue as a wide-spread virus within the program a little hard to accept. In hindsight, the Longhorns should have gone after Ciron Black, Trent Williams and some of the other physical monsters that the Longhorns simply weren't high on from the get-go in previous years, but for every guy they were wrong on, there are probably 10 that they were right not to recruit. We just don't keep as good of score for those.

Finally, yes. Yes. YES. With rare exceptions, a redshirt year is always the best option for a young offensive lineman and there's not a Texas coach that will tell you otherwise. More times than not, when the Longhorns have played true freshmen along the offensive line, it's been out of necessity as much as anything else. Guys like Huey and Hix played because they had to and probably would have been better served to redshirt.

Q: (chargee) - A few different trains of thought.

1) If we were to close up the year by beating Alabama and landing Jackson Jeffcoat, Jordan Hicks, Darius White and maybe even Corey Nelson......do you see Mack hanging up the whistle for good, or is there one more year no matter what?

2) What are the combined odds of landing all 5 of those guys?

3) If we somehow land Davis and Nelson, and LSU steals Fobbs from aggie, would that be the aggie's worst-case//punch-in-the-balls scenario seeing as how there's no way they lose Matthews?

4) Regarding our Big 12 CG play-calling, do you think Davis was just that unprepared or was he trying everything he could and just had one of those days? It reminded me of the 2003 Holiday Bowl. WSU had a great Defensive game-plan and he never adjusted with hot routes, screens, quick hitters, QB draws, crossing routes etc....

5) I'm going to assume our D does enough to keep Bama in check, below 24 points. If you get to design the Offensive game-plan for the MNC game, where do you start? Assuming #8 and #9 are healthy I spread and stretch the field with them and get creative. I think if we play vanilla for even a half against Bama we lose by 2 TD's. I would like to see the pissed off version of our offense we saw against ASU in 2007.


A: 1. If Mack Brown wins a second national championship and then closes with one of the strongest recruiting classes in the history of his time in Austin, he might never leave. Why would he? He'd be leaving in his prime with the program at its highest level in history with a potential dynasty in his hands if Garrett Gilbert is everything a lot of us think he'll become.

2. Odds on landing Jeffcoat, White and Hicks: 6-to-1. Odds of landing that trio, along with Nelson (if he is still interested in January): 6:1 (if he visits, he's a Horn).

3. I think the worst case scenario has nothing to do with Matthews and everything to do with guys like Shep Klinke and Cedric Ogbuehi. What happens if those guys end up with offers from the likes of Florida, USC or LSU, instead of a bunch of mid-level Big 12 schools? I'm guessing the same thing that happened to the Aggies in the early part of the decade would happen again. That's when a school like Florida State would come in and steal a Bobby Meeks from them at the last hour because… well… because they can.

4. I think Davis has taken a little too much of a beating for the game-plan against Nebraska when the protection issues kept the Longhorns from ever truly get into a groove. I'm not saying it was a great game-plan, but when the offensive line can't stop the other team's front four, it changes the way an offensive coordinator calls a game and I thought that happened against Nebraska. The Longhorns cannot afford for a repeat of that against Alabama.

5. I'd line up against Alabama in a lot of four-wide sets and I would try to spread them out as much as possible. Every player in the offense from Tre' Newton to Malcolm Williams to Jordan Shipley to everyone in-between would have a purpose in the game-plan. My first goal in the game would be to try and create a one-on-one situation with Williams in the first series and I'm either throwing it to him short (if the corner plays off), which would allow him to have a one-on-one opportunity in the open field (which he normally wins), or I'm taking my a shot down the field. Perhaps we'd go three-and-out on the first series, but I wouldn't run a play in the first series against Alabama that Nick Saban has seen in any opening series of any game this season. I'd show him a formation that looks like a short screen on the opening play and if his defense cheats to Texas' trends, I'm going vertical wherever the best one-on-one situation presents itself. If the question mark about this defense is it's ability to stop a pass-first spread offense that features an elite quarterback, then I'm going to test the hell out that theory. Perhaps there won't be a quick-snap running play all night, but I'm definitely going at a quicker pace to throw off the rhythm and the substitution patterns of the Alabama defense. Those are just a few of the things that are rolling around in my head for starters.


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