February 23, 2008

Ketch's Sweet 16 thoughts from Saturday's practice

1. If we're judging both sides of the ball on the first two days of practice, the defense looks to be easily in front of the offense and a lot of that has to do with a lot of second- and third-year players that are starting to emerge in a big way. In past years the offense has almost always been ahead of the defense, so to see them really controlling the play on the field this early can be interpreted in a couple of ways.

a) This Texas defense is really talented and has the potential to be much better than the units from the last two seasons.

b) The opinion that exists about the offense lacking playmakers is spot on and the young players that have the potential to fill the void are still a major work in progress.

c) A little bit of both.

2) I don't know when it happened, but the switch has come on for Chykie Brown. The third-year sophomore has been the definition of inconsistency the last two years, but he's straight-up balling in these first two days of workouts. With Curtis Brown out of the line-up, Chykie has seen a lot of reps with the first-team defense and he's more than looked like he belongs. Frankly, he's been the best player on the field for the first two days. With Quan Cosby often matched up with him on the perimeter, Brown won the majority of his battles between the A-list wide receivers.

3) On the offensive side of the ball, it's clear that there's a huge need for more size and speed at flanker. If Cosby is forced to play outside at flanker this season, the Longhorns are going to struggle on offense. This team needs someone to grow up real fast because there is no bigger pressing need.

4) In that same vein, redshirt freshman Malcolm Williams had what was probably the best practice of his short college career. Williams dropped a few balls early, but he came back and made some serious plays in a variety of manners. He caught a short pass and turned it into a big play, while also catching balls across the middle and deep down the seam. He still runs like my one-year Weimaraner with arms and legs flailing about at times, but he's an explosive kid. Expect him to start seeing more and more reps with the first group as the staff tries to find an answer at flanker.

5) With Adam Ulatoski out of the line-up, sophomores Kyle Hix and Tray Allen are getting a ton of snaps. If you asked me right now, I'd tell you Hix is the first guy on the field for me among the offensive linemen. I also think Allen looks much more comfortable at left tackle right now than he ever looked last year. I'm curious to see how he handles things when the full pads come on, but he's making progress.

6) Roy Miller and Ben Alexander are getting the snaps with the first-team defense at defensive tackle, while Michael Wilcoxon and Brian Ellis worked with the second-team. If you're wondering about Ellis, he looks like a monster physically. If he shows out when the pads come on, a major question mark will be answered on the defense.

7) I like what I'm seeing from Ben Wells and Earl Thomas at safety. In fact, I like what I'm seeing so much that I'll go so far as to say that this position is better off right now than it ever was in 2007. Both kids have ball skills and both seem to have a lot of range and they make a lot of plays on the ball. Wells was around the ball more today than anyone I ever saw last season. Who knows how they will play against the run, but those two guys look great in coverage right now.

8) Phillip Payne really struggled early in practice, but he pulled it together and really had a nice workout when you look at the entire day's worth of work. I can't help but wonder if he shouldn't be on defense, specifically at linebacker, because of his size and athleticism, but he had a day to build on this morning. He's making progress and that's a good thing.

9) I thought the quarterbacks were just ok today. Colt McCoy had the best moments at the position, but he was also intercepted a couple of times on the day and wasn't as accurate at times as I have seen him be. As I said yesterday, outside the timing he has with Cosby and Jordan Shipley, everything else is a work in progress. As for the back-ups, it's hard to say whether anyone is really ahead of others. John Chiles appeared to receive the most snaps among the back-ups and he was the guy working first with the second-team offense, but he was up and down throughout practice, as were Sherrod Harris and G.J. Kinne. If any of those three can get hot in the next few days, they can create some separation while the other two still try to figure it out. At this point the team doesn't really have a No.2 quarterback.

10) Staying on the topic of the back-up quarterbacks, all three look like they need some work on their mechanics. Chiles' footwork is all over the place and both Harris and Kinne looks like they are over-throwing. The first guy to get comfortable with the basics is likely going to surge ahead of the other two.

11) This isn't a prediction, but I'm telling you right now that Foswhitt Whittaker has been the best running back on the team through two days or t-shirts and shorts. On Saturday he continued to flash suddenness about his game that none of the other running backs are coming close to. The route, catch and run afterwards on a wheel route with Keenan Robinson in coverage was one of the highlights of the day. In case you're wondering, there aren't any other backs running many wheel routes right now in practice.

12) I have a feeling that Vondrell McGee will make his presence felt when the pads come on this Tuesday. If you're fretting over his name not being called very much right now, don't be. He's never going to be an underwear All-American, but when the hitting begins, he'll be there and ready.

13) I still haven't noticed a single tight end through the first two days, which is surprising. I was certain that sophomore Blaine Irby would be making more plays thus far than he has.

14) Deon Beasley is playing with a ton of confidence right now. He looks like a starter and is playing like one. Just like Chykie Brown, he's suddenly thinking less and reacting more, which is allowing his ability to take over.

15) Brandon Collins is a very smooth receiver that can make everything on the field look like it's effortless for him. In fact, it looks like he's coasting at times on the field, but he's just a smooth receiver that has a lot of natural receiving skills. That being said, I think Texas receivers coach Bobby Kennedy wants to see more of a sense of urgency from him.

16) The starting linebackers today were Jared Norton, Roddrick Muckelroy and Rashad Bobino. When Bobino wasn't on the field, Keenan Robinson would come in and the combination looked really good. Those three guys on the field together might represent one the fastest set of three linebackers on the field at the same time that the school has ever had. Throw in Sergio Kindle once he gets healthy and you're going to have a seriously athletic second level on the defense. I think new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp knows exactly what he has with this group of linebackers.

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