October 15, 2010

The Ticket City Locker Room



Q: (mikepo3) - I saw a comment this week from Greg Davis that the Offensive Line has very little real competition to push the seniors. Couple that with the lack of accountability shown by the A-Plus grades they give themselves, you really have to question why Mack is letting get away with such a sorry display so far. My question is that we assume there is accountability on Defense that there is Not on Offense, why is this the strategy by Mack? Thanks Ketch.

A: And we're off… Let's start with something that I think is very important to this discussion, which is that Mack Brown most certainly does hold all of his coaches accountable. There's a perception of Mack that he's some sort of Wade Phillips nice guy all the time and the truth of the matter is things are a little different behind the curtain than what they sometimes appear to be before our public eyes.

After more than a decade of covering Mack, I can tell you that he's a guy that can run things with an iron fist and a lot of the coaches that you think are coasting on a free ride would describe their situations much differently. I remember having a conversation with an assistant coach several moons ago around the time of the national championship run when I just happened to cross paths with him out on a scouting trip. After a bit of small-talk, the coached mentioned to me that he was somewhat nervous about his job security and he asked me if he thought was safe. It sounded preposterous at the time that he would feel under the gun, especially on the heels of a historic run and what I considered to be some quality recruiting over the years, but it was a snapshot at the kind of pressure these coaches deal with from all directions all the time.

In the years that have followed, similar type stories and situations have occurred, which confirm that there's far from a sense of entitlement and relaxation among the ranks below Mack - on either side of the ball. Although the first part of this answer doesn't really pertain to you asked about, I think it's important to paint a picture of the overall atmosphere/scene when discussing the many layers to this conversation.

I mention all of the above because I do sense urgency at all times from the assistant coaches on the staff - on both sides of the ball. Those guys really do live through the grind and they are on the receiving end of whatever Mack's not 100% happy about. It's what makes what is happening in my mind on this team right now so impossible to fathom and I can't for the life of me figure out what the hang-up is because there is no question in my mind that the defense and offense operate under different structures, and don't think that those inside the belly of the beast don't know it.

Yes, everything about the defense feels different from the offense in my mind, from the way the players publicly hold themselves accountable to the way the way Mack hires/fires his assistant coaches. While there have numerous rotating bodies come through the coaching ranks on the defensive side of the ball over the years, Mack has only made pushed for one coaching change on the offensive side of the ball in his entire tenure in Austin and that's when he phased out Tim Nunez as the offensive line coach. Even when Nunez departed, many thought he was provided a two-year exit plan that allowed him to pick up his an annuity package that was set up when the staff came together in 1998.

One of my theories is that this is directly related to the idea that the Texas offense at its very core doesn't belong to Davis as much as it belongs to Mack. Don't confuse "Mack the CEO" with a coach that isn't involved with the inner strategies of the team because he sits in with the offense much, much more than he does with the defense. He's an offensive coordinator to the bone and it's quite possible that Mack isn't giving the appearance of equal standards on both sides of the ball for the same reasons Jerry Jones never holds the general manager of his team accountable.

The bottom line is that unless some things change drastically soon on the offensive side of the ball this season, Mack needs to take a step back this off-season and ask himself if that side of the ball is truly hitting on all cylinders and he needs to seek the root of the true sources of the problems because this season is close turning into a wasted year based on the standards that Mack has established, and I can't imagine that Mack is in a stage of his life where he wants one of his potential last bullets to accidently get fired into the floor.

Q: (dallashorn02) - 1. There has been a lot of discussion on this board about our offensive philosophy, and I would like to tie that back to our recruiting. Which approach do you feel a program should take?

a) Pick your offensive system and recruit players who fit that system

b) Just get the highest rated guys on your board, regardless of system, and then try to match the pieces together?


A: When you're Texas, you can have your cake and eat it, too. The Longhorns have the pick of the litter each year, so this shouldn't really be an issue. As I see it from my comfortable spot on the living room couch, the Longhorns have two problems on the offensive side of the ball.

1. They don't truly have an identity and I'm not sure if they know where they are currently headed and why, which makes it hard to recruit for a system. They've got so many square and circle parts that they can't decide what shape to take.

2. They often make some of their recruiting decisions as if the clock is playing against them 12 months out from signing day. When you look at some of their early offers over the years, especially from 2006-08, it's hard to understand the rush in a lot of cases. Some of the personnel issues at running back, tight end and offensive line were directly caused by offers to kids that probably never should have received an offer 12 months out from signing day. If you can eat from a five-star chef every night of the week, would you eat a McDonald's hamburger simply because it was the first food idea in your brain?

Q: (scary jarbro) - With the TX offense almost certainly going back to some form of spread in order to give us the best chance of winning games for the rest of the year, how do you feel that will impact (if at all) the commitment of Malcolm Brown? Along that vein, could you please forecast the starting OL next year & give your prediction on where the offense will be.

A: First, I think Brown is a smart kid surrounded by a smart family. I'm sure he's seen with his own eyes the commitment the Longhorns have tried to make with respect to transitioning into an offense that he feels would best showcase his skill-set, but the Longhorns have issues that are keeping them from reaching the type of success and one of the biggest issues is simply personnel. The Longhorns have seen a decline in NFL talent at running back, tight end and along the offensive line since the completion of the 2005-07 seasons. The staff has sold and committed to Brown the idea that his talent is a big piece of the solution that they are looking for, which is one of the reasons they had to have looked so inviting on paper. In addition to all of the non-football related advantages that they would have in most head-to-head battles, they actually had a clear path to playing time from the day he enrolls and that's a big-money chip to have in your stack. Honestly, you'd probably run into more trouble if one of the umpteen Longhorn running backs on the roster had emerged as an All-American this season than anything else. I've learned over the years that college prospects love the idea of being thought of the missing piece and in a running back group that appears to be starving for an A-plus player/prospect, perhaps he is.

The much more difficult question is the one about next year's offensive line. Let's just look at the scheduled returning parts as they are currently slotted (not yet including incoming freshmen):

Tackle: Luke Poehlmann, Paden Kelley and Mark Buchanan

Guards: Mason Walters, Thomas Ashcraft, Trey Hopkins,

Center: David Snow, Garrett Porter and Dominic Espinosa

Wildcard: Kyle Kriegel

Ok, we know Snow is going to be the starting center and I think we can take to the bank that Walters and Hopkins are going to be starters somewhere, with Hopkins registering as a possible left or right tackle possibility. The other tackles are all unproven and possess question marks that make them anything but a certainty as a full-time starter prospect. For instance, it remains to be seen whether any of the tackles have the strength/athleticism combination that is needed to be an elite college player, which is what Texas should be looking for.

Ashcraft seems to be a guy that the coaches feel like will be a real factor next year, so if we slot him in as a guard, that would allow a possible interior line of Snow, Walters and Ashcraft, with Hopkins on either side at tackle. Of course, Espinosa is a guy that everyone is excited about and if he develops quickly inside, he could emerge as a top five talent guy among those ranks, which would give the Longhorns a little more flexibility.

The question everyone wants answered is whether the staff will ever give Walters a chance at tackle, especially with the need for quality is so apparent.

My best guess today would have the line looking like this from left to right: Kelley, Ashcraft, Snow, Walters and Hopkins.

As for what the offense will be in 2011, who the hell knows?

Q: (Jonusn44) - Mack stated that holding back the playbook sends the wrong message to the kids, do you think that starting a game conservative; does the same thing? My understanding is that when you play the game half ass injuries are a little more probable, and playing conservative isn't conducive to inspired players. Discuss.

Is it true that the Texas coaches send video of questionable calls, what is the purpose? Is it to get clarification on the rules? Is it to expose bad officiating? And what kind of response do they normally receive?


A: The coaches all talked about the need to more aggressive in the first half on the offensive side of the ball this week, especially Greg Davis. Everyone should be sensitive to the idea that Davis wants to protect his young quarterback and attempt to get him into an early rhythm with safe, controlled throws, but you can only go so far with an offense on training wheels. We'll see if this is the week that they finally let it all hang out. I'm not expecting it.

As for your second question, there's an official way of dealing with official related issues. Talking about them publicly is a no-no. The only way to have any kind of voice at all is to file reports from the previous games with the Big 12 officials. Does it change anything? Nope, not even a little. However, it does allow the staff to officially point out issues with plays/specific official that they might have and there has to be some slight residuals from it all, although I'm sure the staff probably feels like it's mostly pretty worthless. Still, it's the only hand they've been dealt.

Q: (MCalk) - When looking at the up-coming game with NU, how would you attack there defense if you were GD? What strength does UT's offense have that you see that could help us against them(If any)? So basically, if Mack made you OC for this game, what is your game plan?

A: Texas has to make Nebraska defend the entire field. Former Nebraska player Jason Peter had it right when he said that the Longhorns too-often play offense in a box, which allows opposing defenses to crowd down because they have little fear that the game will extend beyond the box.

It's an especially dangerous tactic against teams with a lot of speed because there is so little of the field that's not occupied. If the Longhorns are going to have any success this weekend they have to keep Nebraska on their toes. I'd take the tight ends off the field and play with four receivers and use a lot of the underneath passing game as a substitute for the running game, but Davis simply must take some shots down the field early in the game and he can't ignore the middle of the field. More than anything, they've got to trust Garrett Gilbert this week? What other choice do they have? Chad Morris let this kid sink and swim on his own faster than they have and I'm not sure why. Let the kid do what the kid knows how to do.

Which leads us to the next question…

Q: (cgarcia89) - Why does Greg Davis baby Gilbert like this? Every pass play is 5 to 10 yard hooks or God forbid bubble or Slip screens. They babied him in the 1st half of the Championship game and it was a disaster. They let him open it up the second half and he looked so much better, not all world but better. I would rather go down like that than what I am seeing now. I don't understand it, Davis has a history of doing this with the best players. He did it with Cedric not starting/playing him in the RRR his freshman year. He did it with Vince until he let Vince be Vince. Gilbert is a 2 time State Champion QB all be it at the high school level but come on, he knows the position, and he can make all the throws. Just a couple a crossing routes, a skinny post or seem pattern attacking the safeties for a change. Take the training wheels off the kid and let him at least try to make a play or two. Gilbert looked so frustrated in the RRR game with the play not to lose play calling that I feel sorry for him. I know Davis is here as long as Mack is, but come on, someone bend his ear and try and get him to let it loose…just a bit…PLEASE!

A: Nice rant. It would not have been complete without the all-caps and exclamation point at the climax.

Bottom line - they haven't let Gilbert get on a big boy bike yet through five games, but I don't put it all on Davis. He's only a co-author.

Q: (realdlx) - I have a completely hypothetical question. If Malcolm Brown was playing for Texas this year, how many yards would he currently have and is the team's record different?

A: Impossible question to answer, but there's no question that the potential for the texture of this season to be different would exist with that kind of infusion of talent, but this team's current issues go way beyond the talent at running back.

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