GAME WEEK: The 2011 football season is here.
Last season couldn't end soon enough at Texas. The rudderless offense and disjointed defense. The special teams that were anything but.
Mack Brown, however, has truly tried to rebuild the Longhorns Brick By Brick. And I think his efforts will be rewarded. Maybe not in a championship season this year. But this program should get better and better every week. And there are going to be some players on this team who fans will fall in love with.
Let's take a look at five freshmen who will help change the direction of the program:
Jaxon Shipley - I'm now convinced he will lead the Longhorns in receiving this season. He had the most consistent camp, and is already polished, even as a freshman. I see Shipley catching at least 70 passes this season.
Dominic Espinosa - The kid is a technician. His technique (flat back, good feet, low pad level) is why he will start at center as a redshirt freshman. His heart and smarts are why he'll stay there. His emergence has created a ton of flexibility on the line.
Joe Bergeron- He put safety Kenny Vaccaro on his back during training camp. Let that sink in for a minute. Vaccaro is maybe the most physical player on the team, and Bergeron flattened him. He runs angry, but for a big guy, he is not a straight line runner. He can and will cut it back.
Malcolm Brown - Like Bergeron, he can run over you or run by you. The power and speed Brown and Bergeron bring to the field this season will be a perfect complement to Foswhitt Whittaker. The running game is alive once again at Texas.
Quandre Diggs - There's a very good chance he's a starting corner on opening day. As Manny Diaz said, "He was born to play corner." But Diggs is a leader as well. He helped hold the 2011 recruiting class together when all H-E-double hockey sticks was breaking loose during the coaching searches last year.
WHY BRYAN HARSIN IS A GOOD FIT: Everyone talks about the family atmosphere at Texas under Mack Brown (thanks in large part to the mothering influence of Sally Brown). But Bryan Harsin came from a similar program at Boise State.
Players at Boise often talk about the same family atmosphere created by Chris Petersen, a friend of Mack's. So Harsin feels completely comfortable in Austin on a personal level. And his offense is small wonder in college football that will translate to the BCS level.
There will be power football. Blake Gideon told me last year in practice the defense would sort of sit back on first and second down because there was a good chance it was a pass.
"This season, we have to buckle up and bring it on first and second down because it's usually a run," Gideon said. "This offense is much more physical than last year."
Someone else in the program said to me, "Last year, if it was third-and-3, you knew it was going to be a pass. This season, on third-and-3, it's likely to be a run. Maybe even on third-and-4 or third-and-5."
Harsin had a great feel as a play-caller at Boise. Not only is a wonderful teacher who can impart all the nuances of his offense to a group of 18 to 22-year-old kids. But he knows how to set up the defense by running a play in the first quarter that will pay of big with play-action or misdirection off that same play in the third quarter.
As good as Greg Davis was as a teacher and - he was able to teach passing game concepts as well as anyone -I always felt like Davis struggled as a play-caller, especially on third-and-short because he had a pass-first mentality.
Davis also didn't like to substitute much because he felt like it tipped off the defense (See D.J. Monroe). Greg wanted to run multiple sets out of the same personnel to keep the defense guessing. Harsin is the exact opposite. Harsin's offense looks like Grand Central Station with all the players going in and coming out on every play.
Combine his love of motion and shifting as well as the substituting with the fact that Harsin just seems to love living on the edge with his play-calling (so much misdirection and trickery). Fans should be wildly entertained this season and as long as Harsin is at Texas.
Good for Mack to shake things up like this and hire Harsin. I think this offense will be very hard to stop, and by the structure of it, the running game will be better. And thus the quarterback play should be much improved over last season - no matter who is under center (it will be Garrett Gilbert for the opener).
If Gilbert can just take what's given him in this offense and not try to go for too much, he should be able to hang onto the starting job. If he starts going for too much and making mistakes, I look for the leash to be pretty short.
The Texas running game will be the best it's been since 2005. (I would say 2007, when Jamaal Charles ran for 1,600 yards, but for nine games that season, the running game was stagnant. It wasn't until Charles started running zone read with John Chiles and Colt McCoy with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter against Nebraska that Charles' legs were unlocked that season. He picked up more than 900 yards in the final 17 quarters of that season.
DIAZ MAKING PLAYERS FORGET ABOUT MUSCHAMP: Manny Diaz making Texas players forget about Will Muschamp is one of the top stories of spring and fall camp.
Diaz has a live wire personality, a bonsai defensive scheme that has players energized, and he has players completely bought into his system.
When you think about how beloved Muschamp was by the players and assistant coaches on the staff last year, Diaz's ability to come in and create buzz, excitement and confidence has been enormous.
His scheme built on zone pressure will likely become the new flavor in college football. It is cutting edge, and because he's got some quality players at every level of his defense, Diaz can trust the players to make a bunch of adjustments on their own on the field before the snap.
And because this defense brings a lot of blitzes from linebackers, corners an safeties while dropping defensive linemen into coverage, the scheme really excels with athletic players, which Texas has in abundance.
Speed is the word you keep hearing when you talk about the Texas defense. And speed kills.
REDSHIRTING DAVID ASH?: Talked to a couple sources who say David Ash wouldn't mind redshirting.
In fact, he may even prefer it. I'm not 100 percent sure if that's true or just spin. But if it is true, and Garrett Gilbert and Case McCoy can handle the first and second-string QB chores with success, then UT could avoid a potentially problematic situation.
Case McCoy nearly transferred to Abilene Christian after last season. He stayed because Mack Brown promised an open QB competition leading into the 2011 season. By some accounts, McCoy had the most consistent camp of the quarterbacks.
And conspiracy theorists will wonder if the final scrimmage of fall camp was canceled because Gilbert looked so good in Scrimmage No. 2 (mostly against the second-team defense) that coaches wanted to preserve his confidence and the rest of the team's confidence in him before the opener.
Nonetheless, if Gilbert can't get it done this season, the coaches will have a tough decision on their hands between Case McCoy and David Ash. (We've been told Connor Wood was behind the others in mastering the offense and may transfer.)
All McCoy does, it seems, is move the chains. He doesn't wow you with his arm strength or physical tools (sounds like another McCoy we used to know), but doesn't make the big mistake, either.
Ash has all kinds of upside because he does wow you with his physical tools.
There are some in the McCoy camp who say all Case needs is one opportunity in a game to show what he can do, and he'll never come off the field. If the coaches were to go to David Ash this season, and he tears it up, there could be a mass exodus of QBs (McCoy, Gilbert and Connor Wood could all transfer, and UT could lose Connor Brewer as a commitment).
That's certainly the worst-case scenario, but it's possible. The quarterback situation at Texas is potentially volatile if Gilbert can't get it done this season. But that's why Mack and his staff make the big bucks.
THREE PREDICTIONS ON OFFENSE:
--Jaxon Shipley will lead the team in receptions with at least 70
--Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron will combine to run for at least 1,500 yards
--The offensive line will get better every week and be a strength by the end of the season. The line and the Harsinwhite offense will be the reason Garrett Gilbert has a chance to succeed at quarterback this season.
THREE PREDICTIONS ON DEFENSE:
--Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat combine to replace the 15 sacks posted by Sam Acho and Eddie Jones last year
--Quandre Diggs will lead the team in interceptions
--Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho and Jackson Jeffcoat will be All-Big 12 (Jordan Hicks and Demarco Cobbs will be the two best LBs in the conference that don't see the field every down. This will be Jordan Hicks' defense next season.)
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