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October 22, 2010

The Ticket City Locker Room



Q: (78LonghornJoe) - It appears our receivers aren't getting open as much as we'd like. If true, why do you believe that is the case? Isn't this all about them getting separation, running crisp routes and being on the same page as the QB?

A: I think the issue at wide receiver is multi-layered and the problems across the board are related to a combination of things involving player development, recruiting, offensive scheme, injuries and probably more details that we don't even know about.

Let's start with a foundation for the discussion. I'm a big believer that UT wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy is very good technical coach and he's absolutely been an ace recruiter during his time in Austin. Although both Limas Sweed and Quan Cosby were very talented when they arrived in Austin, Kennedy helped both players shave away the raw spots around their games and helped them evolve into college difference makers. He's had enough success over the years, both at Texas and Washington, to qualify him as one of the better wide receiver coaches in the country.

That being said, in the seven years that he's been on the staff, there are some interesting numbers to toss around.

From 2005 (Kennedy's first recruiting year on the staff) through 2009, the Longhorns recruited/signed 14 true wide receiver prospects under Kennedy's watchful eye. During that time, only Cosby has emerged as a true difference maker worthy of all-conference status and the complete crops signed in 2006, 2008 and 2009 aren't contributing to the program at all right now, with an amazing six of the 14 not finishing up their eligibility in Austin.

Some of that has been bad luck. There's no question that Brandon Collins and Dan Buckner were quality players, whose losses have hurt the offense. However, the absence of those two players alone does not excuse the fact that the Longhorns haven't developed an NFL quality receiver from any of their last four recruiting classes before the heralded 2010 class arrived with Mike Davis, Darius White and others in the fall.

On a lot of levels, the information suggests the Longhorns simply haven't recruited good enough players. Even the top recruiting class in relation to actual production (2007), currently features players in James Kirkendoll, John Chiles and Malcolm Williams who have proven to have been unsolved puzzles for the last four years. Hell, Williams seems to be a better special teams coverage guy than receiver right now and when you consider the lack of support from the three surrounding recruiting classes, you can see the Grand Canyon sized problem at the position.

Injuries and bad luck haven't helped matters. Losing Davis and Chiles for the last month has stalled out the passing offense this year, no question. Collins and Buckner would also be factors in 2010 and they are nowhere to be seen for reasons not related to football.

I'm also not sure the Texas offense always helps with the development of the receivers because there's not often a lot of diversity to what the receivers are asked to do in the passing game. There's a lot of controlled aggression in the Texas passing attack with regards to the use of the wide receivers and I'm not sure that it always plays to the strengths of the players.

Overall, there's a lot of stuff going into the reasons for why there's not more separation from defensive backs or big plays in general from the position, and it's something that Mack Brown and his offensive coaches need to seriously explore in the off-season. It would appear to the naked eye that every aspect of this discussion, from evaluations to development to the offense, needs some inspection.

Q: (Horn_for_life) - We all assume that at some point Mack will ride off into the sunset and assume Muschamp will take over. The idea that Mack is "training" Will to take over the program sounds great and we all hope he can step in and not miss a beat after being tutored by Mack. My question is about the impact the loss of Sallie Brown will have on the program when Mack decides to hang it up. I think many underestimate the importance of her contribution to the program. Her work is behind the scenes but has lot to do with the family atmosphere that exists in the program and is so vital to our current recruiting success. The team presenting her a game ball after the NU game is an example of how connected she is to the team. Does anyone have a read on Mrs. Muschamp? Is that something that she will be able to carry on after Will takes the reigns or does someone else have to step in and work to keep the family atmosphere going?

A: Great question and I'm not sure if there's anyone that can truly answer the question at this point. The Mack and Sally duo really compliments each other so well in every aspect and it resonates throughout the program. During Muschamp's term in Austin, we really haven't been afforded an opportunity as a public to get to know Muschamp's family because that's the role that assistant coaches play. Yet, I'm almost 100 percent positive that one of the many things Muschamp has learned about being a CEO of a major program is the importance of creating a family atmosphere for all of the student athletes, and that is going to mean opening up his family as well.

Sally's ability to give the rock'em, sock'em world of Texas football a deft touch from the hand of a woman can't be underestimated and if you believe in the notion that behind every good man is a better woman, then replacing Sally whenever the day comes might be just as important as replacing Mack.

Q: (rylo7956) - How many incoming freshmen do you see starting by next year's Oklahoma game? Assuming we have no major injuries can you project the starters for that game? Thanks

A: I would project as many as three starters at this point, although there are a few guys that could make certainly push for that kind of playing time. Cibolo Steele running back Malcolm Brown is the most obvious selection because it seems like the running game has been waiting for his arrival since Jamaal Charles departed following the 2007 season. Jaxon Shipley is another guy to keep an eye on and if needs mean anything, a dark-horse to emerge as an immediate contributor is M.J. McFarland.

Of course, there will be needs at cornerback and along the offensive line, but the coaches like some of the young kids at corner, including Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom, and the foundation of linemen that includes David Snow, Mason Walters, Tray Allen and Trey Hopkins should help keep the team from placing too much unneeded pressure on first-year linemen if they aren't ready to play.

As for projecting the 2011 starting line-up, I think it could look a little like this:

QB: Garrett Gilbert
RB: Malcolm Brown or Fozzy Whittaker
WR: Mike Davis
WR: Darius White
WR: Marquise Goodwin
TE: Barrett Matthews
LT: Paden Kelley
LG: Tray Allen
C: David Snow
RG: Mason Walters
RT: Trey Hopkins

DE: Jackson Jeffcoat
DT: Kheeston Randall
DT: Alex Okafor
DE: Reggie Wilson
MLB: Jordan Hicks or Emmanuel Acho
SLB: Hicks or Acho
WLB: Keenan Robinson
CB: Carrington Byndom
S: Blake Gideon
S: Christian Scott
CB: Adrian Phillips
Nickel: Kenny Vaccaro

Q: (Golfpr3145) - Ketch do you think Mack has actually learned anything from the poor offensive showing? Seems to me every week is a rerun of old movies as far as the offense is concerned. Do you think he actually sees the weaknesses of this offensive scheme, and at the very least will get some of these young kids on the field?

A: It's too early to tell. I'm not in disagreement with you, but we'll simply need to see where the program goes from week to week. It's the No. 1 story of this weekend in my mind. Can this phase of the ball improve on what it did last week and by making that improvement, what exactly does it mean for the future - both immediate and long-term?

Q: (tylerrose20) - I don't know if you saw Chris Whaley on the fake FG/punt return Nebraska had, but he looked terrible out there on that play; and I'm not just talking about the coverage. Physically, he looks awful. I know we had a bunch of lineman on the field in coverage, but some of the lineman looked more agile than Whaley did covering and it got me wondering how much Whaley is weighing now? Do you know what that number is and what are you hearing about Whaley and his progress (if any) towards being a regular on the field.

A: I would relax and show a little patience with Whaley. He's always been a bit of a long-term project (much like Henry Melton) in my mind and the only reason that everyone is a little quick to judge him is he was unfairly saddled with the title of "only running back in the 2009 recruiting class." We're talking about a small-town kid with a lot of natural talent, who is still learning what set of tools he's working with and how to harness them. He's not anywhere close to being the player he can become, but there's a level of commitment and dedication that has to be made before he's going to get there.

Q: (treefitty) - Greg Davis (and many, many other offensive coordinators) are obviously very protective of their new QBs early in their careers - keeping the leash on and limiting field size almost to the point where a loss is virtually inevitable. As maddening as this is, I'm willing to give GD the benefit of the doubt for the purposes of this question. Can you name me some 4- or 5-star QB talents that have been "damaged" by being thrown into the fire too quickly? Are the psyches of these QBs really so fragile that they can be irreparably hurt by early difficulties? Is this "micro-managed growing process" really needed for someone like Gilbert? Just give me a name or two to hang my hat on as examples of early QB overload and I'll back off this issue once and for all.

A: Chris Simms? That's the easy one.

Outside of that, if you look at the top national recruiting lists, it's hard to find too many players who were greatly impacted in a bad way by their insertion into a hot fire as young players. I suppose Mitch Mustain is a guy that comes to mind because of all the drama that took place during his freshman season. Jarrett Lee might be another player that would qualify.

Overall, the list isn't that long and history actually shows that a much larger number of those players eventually received some pay-off for that early birth by fire. Still, the experience of this staff with Simms, and to a lesser degree Vince Young, has it wanting to treat the position a little more carefully than it probably needs to. Greg Davis recruited Gilbert because he thought he was a special player/talent … so treat him as such.


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