Please keep in mind that I’ll be going over all the
storylines in greater depth as we near spring practice, especially after
National Signing Day and the first junior day frees me up a bit, but here are
my thoughts on what I believe will be the main themes of the spring, with some
fall carry over.
Let’s all agree to put the Mack bashing aside and speak
constructively (note I didn’t say positively) about next year’s prospects,
because I sincerely believe, thanks to some obvious internal and external
factors, that Texas will make a run on at the conference championship next
Quickly, the internal factors are the number of returning
starters and the expected growth of David Ash and the offensive line. Now, I
don’t think Ash will make as noticeable a leap next year as he did this past
season, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that he’s
fighting for top conference honors with whoever Oklahoma State starts. I don’t
expect the line to be dominant by any means, but I like the depth and the
competition it should breed. I also think offensive line coach Stacy Searels is
getting closer to his preferred ‘type’ of line. This should improve both the
running game (inside running specifically) and the passing game.
External factors are the overall lack of difference makers
throughout the conference especially at the all-important quarterback position,
and relative lack of top flight defenses. The schedule, when looked at from a
home and away standpoint, also benefits Texas.
Let’s talk about what we know regarding the team, what we
think we know, and what’s impossible to know at this point. In the case of the
defense, we won’t know anything of substance until after Oklahoma, but some
personnel decisions are safe to assume.
WHAT WE KNOW
- David Ash is the unquestioned starter at
quarterback but he needs to become the unquestioned leader of the team. It’s my
opinion that Texas has a good quarterback that has the potential to be great.
I, like everyone, wish his growth rate was a bit faster, but quarterbacks
mature at different paces. With even modest improvement from Ash, Texas
improves next year and won’t stub its toe against the TCUs and K-States of the
conference. David Ash does not lack for physical talent. Marry his ability with
Johnny Manziel’s brain and you have something truly special. Ash will never be
the stone cold killer (used in the figurative sense, I hope) that JFF is, but
all Ash needs to do is remain on schedule.
- Texas has a stable of running backs unrivaled in
the conference with strengths that run the entire gamut of what you’re looking
for; inside power, outside speed, vision, and explosiveness. Texas has to find
a way to get Daje Johnson more touches, something I’m quite certain Major
Applewhite will do. Be patient with Jonathan Gray’s homerun ability, I think we
all noticed how close he was on a number of occasions to making a house call.
- - Though Texas didn’t use Marquise Goodwin enough
last year, his speed and downfield ability will be missed. With Texas unable to
replace his skill set in this recruiting cycle (as of this writing) and likely
won’t, I believe Kendall Sanders will get a lot of the Goodwin type looks. The
Asset tells me Sanders is actually more explosive initially than Goodwin,
though he doesn’t have quite the top gear Goodwin does. I’m also told that
Sanders has exceptional hands, something that was under-rated about ‘Quise.
- Offensive line depth will exist for the first
time in a number of years, but how much better will the starters be than the
- - On defense, Texas will need Cedric Reed (a
player I was mistakenly not very high on in high school) to fill the Ronald
McDonald shoes left by Alex Okafor. At a minimum, Reed will be a quality
starter, though I’m not sure he has the explosive first step to be a true
- - Linebacker play last year was atrocious, though
it got noticeably better as the season went. Not coincidentally, it also
improved as Peter Jinkens started to play more. I’m ready to pencil in Jinkens
and Edmond as starters.
- - Secondary play was similar in ‘quality’ to
linebacker play at times, but not to that extent or length of time. That said,
replacing Kenny Vaccaro will be as hard to do as replacing Oak.
- - UT’s kicking game should come complete with
defibrillators, but I’m ready to give Anthony Fera the benefit of the doubt. I
hear he’s putting in tons of time on Shuttlesworth’s kegel machine
WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW
- - With Applewhite assuming the alpha offensive
coordinator role, Texas will likely run a more up tempo attack. In talking with
Longhorn Scott, he thinks Texas will be base 20 personnel (2RB’s, 3 WR’s). Your
initial thought might be, “poor Geoff Swaim,” but I’m not so sure he doesn’t
get a good hard look at full time fullback even if he doesn’t fit the
traditional build with his taller height.
- - Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis provide Texas with
its best receiving duo since Jordan and Quan in 2008. In the Applewhite scheme,
I believe Shipley plays a bigger part than with Harsin calling the plays
because up tempo play calling typically results in a lot of underneath routes.
Think Wes Welker and Tom Brady, or even Ash and Ship in the Alamo Bowl. I think
because of this, Mike Davis will become a more complete receiver and be more
than just a deep threat. His average yards per catch will likely drop, but it
will be for the greater good as Applewhite looks to involve one of the team’s
best playmakers on a more consistent basis.
- - Applewhite loves speed, this is something I know
rather than think, but what we don’t know for sure is how much of the perimeter
speed game he’ll look to employ. I’m fairly certain he realized the indecision
the jet motion created for the defense and will look to continue it. He showed
in the Alamo Bowl that it would be a mainstay, but to what degree we don’t
know. We also don’t know what sort of counters he’ll design for it so it
doesn’t bog down as it did at times this past year. Also, the fact that jet
motion was absent for long stretches of time when Texas struggled to move the
ball was border line criminal.
- - Texas should be set at defensive tackle, even
with the departure of Brandon Moore. I’m fairly certain Malcom Brown and
Desmond Jackson will be your opening day starters with Chris Whaley, Ashton
Dorsey (if he’s still on the team), Hassan Ridgeway and A’Shawn Robinson seeing
rotational work of varying degrees.
- - At defensive end Cedric Reed will definitely be
one of the starters with Reggie Wilson likely holding off the hard charging
athleticism of Torshiro Davis. TD will factor in much more in obvious passing
downs. The Asset recently told me that Davis, Brown (DT) and Ridgeway are the
three best athletes on the team that don’t man skill positions.
- - Despite struggling mightily at times, Adrian
Phillips and Carrington Byndom are locks to start at safety and corner respectively.
WHAT WE HAVE NO IDEA ABOUT
- Normally teams will go as far as personnel takes
them. Unfortunately Texas is the opposite and will go as far as they’re led by
the coaching staff. Some may think that’s an unfair statement, players play,
after all, but after what I witnessed this past season I believe it’s a fair
statement. In line with that, we have no idea what you the Longhorn consumer
will get this next year. Will Texas show up for that little tilt in Dallas this
year? Will Texas have something that most people recognize as a defense next
year? Will they continue to show late season improvement on defense, that,
though noticeable, was laughably late and predictable to fix?
- - What will the Texas offensive line look like to
start the season? Unfortunately we won’t truly know the answer to this until
fall practice because of Desmond Harrison’s May arrival and Trey Hopkins
missing the spring due to injury. Other than the coaching questions, finding
the right mix on the line is the team’s most pressing question. Those five
fingers (four fingers and one thumb, KBrown) need to become a fist or whatever
that fortune cookie saying is.
- - Defensively, whose fingerprints will be the most
evident on scheme/play calling and will they exonerate or incriminate? Of
course Manny Diaz will remain the in game play caller, but will it be ‘guessing
Manny’ or ‘play straight up Manny’ as we saw late last year thanks in large
part to intervention from Stache Akina and Bo Davis?
- - Is Quandre Diggs really going to get a look at
safety, or will he remain at corner? I’ve long chronicled my fondness of Diggs
at safety because of his instinctive play and ball hawking ability, but does
the staff see it my way? This question should be answered by the end of spring.