May 10, 2008

The Locker Room

Q: (Eric_mattson2000) - I know the subject of Russell Shepard and Garret Gilbert has come up and that there have been many threads about who is the better QB choice for Texas and who is the better pick for Texas. I'll be the first to admit that I was on the RS bandwagon after watching his film. I felt I was seeing flashes of Vince cutting through defenses like butter. I know we probably won't see a VY for a while if at all and looking at the stats between the two, the choice seems to make sense. Can you give a fair comparison between the two? Perhaps touch on the choices of the staff to pick GG? Is Shepard just another John Chiles? It doesn't seem like a subject that will be put to rest so I was hoping you could give us some better insight. Thanks.

A: Hey, I'll be honest when I tell you that I don't know if there's truly a great answer right now. For one, I don't know what Texas wants to do as an offense right now, at least as it heads into the future. Since the departure of Vince Young, the Longhorns have been trying to find themselves as an offense and at the quarterback position. Well, it's been two years and I still don't know if the magic potion for moving forward has been made. Is Colt McCoy really going to have a significant role in the running game for the next two years? I don't know if McCoy being able to make some plays with his feet should automatically mean that his legs are a huge piece of what Texas does in the running game.

It would appear that the Longhorns are moving away from that type of offense with the recruitment of Gilbert because if they try to use him even remotely like they have used McCoy, it's a bad move. Gilbert is a spread-offense, pass-first, pass-second quarterback and the debate some are having is whether or not Texas can repeat as a national championship threat in an offensive attack that morphs into something that the 2005 offense wasn't about. The schematic changes in philosophy is the issue that is being debated, but the pawns in the discussion end up being Gilbert and Shepard, which isn't fair to them.

Both seem like great kids and both are elite-level prospects. For 95% of the programs in this country, landing either would trigger a ticker-tape parade.

I can only tell you when looking at Gilbert, here are the things I see. He's a tremendous leader and as low-key as he is on the field, he's a merciless competitor on it. Even in his first season as a starter during his sophomore season, I could see the moxie that you love to see in your quarterbacks. It's not manufactured, either. This kid is the best player on the field every time he steps foot out there and I've never seen him play in a game when the other team didn't know it. I've probably seen him play four of five times in person and in each game, he led his team to points in a two-minute drill to close out the first half. I don't know if I can explain it well, but he just has a feel for when he needs to dial in and push the turbo button.

In addition to that, he's as good of a quarterback as I've seen at the high school level, with the obvious exception of Vince Young. He doesn't have the arm-strength that Matt Stafford has, but I feel like at similar stages of their developments, Gilbert's a better player. Whether he's moving to his left or right on the move, he's the most accurate player I've ever seen in that regards at this age. He's also a strong runner, if not an elusive one. Overall, he reminds me a lot of Drew Brees, whom I loved coming out of high school in 1997. Throw in the fact that he's local and that's a hard kid to turn down. Heck, if Shepard were the hometown kid I'm not so sure that this decision would have went the other way.

Q: (Snoop9928) - With an improved line from last year do you see Texas running the ball more or letting Colt McCoy sit in the pocket and throw more than last year? Do you think our running game will be strong enough this year to keep the defenses honest and allow us to try more play action passes from under center? If you had to choose right now on who we would have on the field in a 4-wide set, who would the 2 receivers be besides Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley? Thanks

A: I think with an improved line you'll see a lot of improved things from this offense in both phases of the game. Really and truly, if we want to get right down to the heart of things, this team will go only as far as this group can take them. As they enter the season, the running game is unproven, the passing game doesn't have any known vertical threats and the tight position is weaker than it was a year ago. Those are facts.

I would anticipate improvement on the line as some of these young guys grow up a little, but how much can be expected this season? I also wonder whether Adam Ulatoski having missed the spring will slow his development, as he tries to evolve from a good player into a great one. To answer your first question, yes, the Texas offense will run more with the backs and Colt will have more time to throw with their improvement. I'm probably of the opinion that I'll need to see some real results, either good or bad, before knowing exactly where this offense is going to go this season.

As far as the next two receivers, I'd probably go with Brandon Collins and Malcolm Williams. I'm not sure that Dan Buckner is strong enough off the ball right now to push for a lot of early playing time, but he gives the team a big target, so he needs to eventually be out there.

Q: (uttotop) -Obviously, you know the pitfalls of glowing predictions of an upcoming season, setting the expectations bar too high, but what do you think this team has to accomplish to exceed last years record, given our conf schedule is much tougher? I know one of those points has gotta be how well Colt performs(ball security, etc) and, that stays injury free--obviously, we need a WR (or three) to step-up in addition to Quan & Ship, same in the defensive secondary & DTs, but what is your insight about the importance of TEAM chemistry? And the other intangibles? Basically, I am looking for your thoughts on the non-personnel issues that definitely impact how a season top two are attitude and top-notch, consistent effort, but there are more...What are yours?

A: Ok, if I've got this right, you're asking what this team needs to do to improve off of last season's record, while also conceding that there a host of legitimate personnel questions that also need to be addressed. More than anything, those issues needs to be addressed in a big way. That being said, I agree with you that there are some team chemistry issues at hand. In my opinion, the biggest transition that this program has gone through in recent years is a culture change. The players that played on that 2005 national championship team were a different breed of guys and they all clung to each other like bothers, on and off the field. I'm not sure that as new leadership has taken over amongst the players that they have that same type of togetherness. I think some of that has been caused with the number off-field issues in the last few years. When your older leaders remark that they've had enough with some of the entitlement that the younger guys in the program have exhibited, you know things are not what they used to be. For the first time since the Rose Bowl in 2006, I sensed some real team unity and togetherness coming in and out of that Holiday Bowl against Arizona State. The question now becomes whether or not they can build off of that. If they can, I believe that will lead to the kind of off-season that will help contribute answers to those personnel questions we first mentioned.

Q: (texaztom) - When Mack Brown said that he might stop redshirting freshmen because of the possibility that they might leave after playing two seasons, he seemed to be responding in part to the Jermichael Finley situation. This made me wonder, if Finley had not redshirted in 2005, just how much would he have played? He wasn't going to take any PT away from David Thomas, a critical member of the NC team, and a critical part of the victory over USC. So, if players don't redshirt, does it really change anything?

A: I think the future philosophy is more important to focus on than the specific case of Finley. You're exactly right when you suggested that Finley would have seen little playing time as a true freshman. However, I sometimes think that Mack Brown had a hard time believing that the trend of all Longhorns staying for their senior seasons would ever change until it actually did. Now that he knows that dam has been broken, he has to focus on adjusting his timelines for all incoming players. There were a number of redshirting players last year that could have really helped the team in the final six games of the season, but the commitment to honoring those redshirts left him in a pinch and he's not going to allow that to happen in the future. If a D.J. Grant starts to blow up in practice in mid-October, he's going to play if he can help win games in the present. As long as a player understands the rules at the very beginning, there won't be any squabbles.

Q: (Choice Cuts) - Can you give us some basic ideas of the off-season 7 on7? Are the NFL guys participating? Is there good attendance? Who has looked good?

A: Usually, these take place two or three times per week once finals are completed. On a lot of nights the linemen on both sides of the ball will work at one end of the field while the rest of the team goes through the seven-on-seven workouts. In 2005 the attendance was off the charts and it declined some in 2006, and I've heard from some former players that have attended that the participation hasn't been as strong as it once was. From the sounds of things this year the pace has picked up a little following the Holiday Bowl, but I'd take a wait-and-see approach at this point before putting all my faith there. One curious note to report is that I had heard a lot of positive things about G.J. Kinne in seven-on-seven reports prior to the start of spring workouts and obviously it didn't quite come together like some thought it might. Let's hope we start hearing some things once the players get back into the summer seven-on-seven workouts after finals.

Q: (Sundance7) - I know it is early but please give us your assessment of our chances in landing 2010 RB Lache Seastrunk and how hard the staff is going after him. I am of the opinion that he has been made a No. Priority by this staff. Also do you have anything regarding Jamarkus McFarland since the last War Room?

A: My honest opinion is that the Longhorns should be considered the team to beat. From what I can gather, the Longhorns are putting on a full-court press here and I was told by someone connected to the program that he's so highly thought of that he'd be the No.1 running back prospect on their board in the last three years. He's a huge, huge priority. The kid has a great relationship with the Texas staff and I would imagine that they'll try and have him at every single home game this season, along with scheduled camp visits and any other reason they can think of. Just like LSU should be favored for any kid in Louisiana, the same remains true for the Longhorns in Texas.

Q: (FeDog) - 1. I wanted to see if you could give us your opinion on the upcoming season. What I am looking for is your opinion on wins and losses for each of the upcoming games in 2008.

2. I have also been thinking about our schedule next year and I find it hard to believe that MU and KU will be as good as last year. Maybe I feel this way because of the name and the fact that they have been very mediocre in the past. Do you think they will be as good as last year and have the same success, or do you think it was one hit wonders?

3. Finally, I think the UTEP game will be much tougher than people think. They have a very good QB and Price is a heck of coach, plus their whole spring practice has had a theme of BEAT TEXAS. I know we have way more talent, but you still have to play the game.


A: First, I think it's tough to project a season record at this point. History suggests that this team will do no worse than nine wins because that's a standard Mack Brown has met each year in Austin. Still, the schedule is tougher this year, much tougher in fact, and the Longhorns struggled in quite a few games in 2007. I think everyone needs to enter this season with a lot of optimism, but also the understanding that there are a lot of questions without true answers at this point.

Kansas has to replace a lot of big-time players, but they are going to be very good, even if there is a slight drop-off from last season. On the other hand, the Tigers should be better than last year. The offense is loaded and the defense looks to be making major progress. If there's a right time to have Missouri at home, it has to be this season because winning on the road would be the most difficult challenge on the schedule.

Finally, I agree with you about the Miners. After some of the struggles last season, this team still has a lot to prove. That game reminds me quite a bit of the Central Florida game from 2007.

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