Time to talk 'pure football' as recruiting season draws to a close

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By Eric Nahlin, Inside Texas Recruiting Editor
Posted Jan 28, 2013
Copyright © 2014 InsideTexas.com


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Peter Jinkens

A few members have made some very valid mentions of Inside Texas not having enough ‘football’ talk of late. Perhaps we’ve been a bit occupied with the coaching situation and recruiting given the time of year, but let us get back to some good old fashioned pigskin discussion.

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 year.

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 back-ups?

-          - 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 quarterback terror.

-          - 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.

 

 

 

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