Monday, April 4, 2011
Extra thoughts/notes on UT's spring game
By David Ubben
AUSTIN, Texas -- Taking a big-picture look at Texas' spring game on Sunday, I can't say it was much better or worse than I expected. Our postgame coverage can only say so much, but there was plenty more leftover after Sunday. Here's a few thoughts and notes:
First things first: Texas, to me, looks like a seven- to eight-win team. The defense in 2010 was better than it gets credit for, but the truth is the talent on offense isn't there, and unless Malcolm Brown is quite literally the reincarnation of Adrian Peterson, I don't see it happening right away. Maybe Texas proves some people wrong and exceeds expectations to win 9-10 games. Maybe not. If so, they're going to have to do it as the season goes along. Though the offensive and defensive playbooks were limited, Texas didn't show a ton of potential offensively that makes me believe they can put up the points necessary to return to double-digit wins or anything close. A month of fall camp and improving over the summer isn't going to give the Longhorns enough offense to compete for a title in a league that should be as high-scoring as ever next season.
That said, when fall comes around, Texas will get votes in the preseason poll. Big 12 fans, just be ready for it. Those that do put Texas in their preseason top 25 though, simply aren't paying attention to anything more than the name on the front of the jersey. Texas could certainly improve over the course of the season and play their way pretty quickly into the top 25 with BYU and UCLA on the nonconference schedule along with a likely early-season conference game on the slate. But to start the season, the only teams in the Big 12 that Texas looks markedly better than are Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and ... well for now, that's it. To beat anyone else (i.e., Missouri, Baylor, Texas Tech) they'll have to overachieve a bit and improve rapidly, especially on offense. It's really, really hard to envision the team I watched on Sunday knocking off Oklahoma, Texas A&M or Oklahoma State next season.
Texas isn't far off. I believe Mack Brown when he says turnover ratio (-12 in 2010, ranking 116th nationally) is the biggest thing they have to fix. But fixing that will only get them to 7-8 wins. The talent level across the board on offense, quarterback, running back, receiver and offensive line, just isn't what it was in past years. Bringing in more guys like Mike Davis or perhaps Darius White and Malcolm Brown can help change that, but looking back, Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley carried the Longhorns offense perhaps even more than any of us knew.
I really liked both coordinator hires. Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz were exactly what Texas needed, and they'll pay off in the long run. But in the immediate future, there's still some rough times ahead for Texas.
So, that's where I see the Longhorns right now. That's not to say there weren't plenty of positives on Sunday.
- For all the pressure he's under, Brown did a nice job of not showing it too much on Sunday. He was all smiles and even left the media room just after entering for interviews to visit with some recruits who were making visits rather than begin answering questions again. "You all are a really important part of our lives, but not nearly as important as recruits," Brown joked when he returned. "I know that's disappointing, but it’s fact." He also joked about being undefeated a few times. I'm sure part of him has to be at least a little rejuvenated by what should be a big challenge next year.
- Everyone had to be really impressed with both defensive end Alex Okafor and early-enrolling freshman cornerback Quandre Diggs. Okafor looks like he and Jackson Jeffcoat should be great up front, though Jeffcoat's two tackles on Sunday pale in comparison to Okafor's five sacks, a feat he said he never even duplicated in high school. Okafor is even more impressive when you consider he was planning on remaining at defensive tackle until a few days before spring practice began. "We saw that he had the ability to move around and change direction where he could be that guy that can move around. And he is a big imposing figure out there at defensive end," defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. "The thing is this: he has to be that guy for us. If you look around, he is it. He is our elder-statesman at defensive end. If he feels like he can be good some of the time, then we're going to be good at defense some of the time. For us to be really great on defense, we need him to be great on defense."
- As for Diggs, I don't mean to overhype him, but the coaches did it plenty after the game. He looks a lot like a player who could leave Texas with "All-American" affixed to the front of his name. "Quandre is a guy who was born to play defensive back. He just has the knack," Diaz said. "Some guys you have to draw them a map, but Quandre understands what it takes to play there."
- Of Diggs, Brown later added: "He does get it," Brown said. "You would never think he's a guy who should be a high school senior." Brown credited Diggs being around his brother, NFL defensive back Quentin Jammer, who was in attendance on Saturday. Texas' secondary is replacing three corners next season, and I'd be shocked if, at the very least, Diggs wasn't in the rotation along with Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom. I wouldn't rule him out as a starter, even. Considering everyone is starting on even ground this spring, I doubt he's far behind either.
- And one final note on Diggs, a rousing endorsement from senior safety Blake Gideon: "Quandre’s going to be a very good player. He’s got a chance to do some great things while he’s here. There’s only so much you can coach. Coach [Duane] Akina tells us that all the time, and he seems to have that natural part, that instinct, that knack for the game, stems on routes and feeling a receivers hips, and that’s something that, for a young defensive back is pretty rare,” he said. “I think everybody is pretty excited about Quandre and what he brings, and he keeps his mouth shut, which is a very important aspect of being a freshman here."
I'd caution fans not to put a ton of stock in Case McCoy's performance on Sunday for two reasons:
- It was one scrimmage, albeit an important one.
- The numbers were good, but the performance left a lot to be desired.
I was really impressed with McCoy's ability to keep the chains moving and make completions, which is definitely important. But he still looked uncomfortable in the pocket, unwilling to set his feet and throw despite no threat of taking any big hits in a spring game that protected Texas' quarterbacks. He threw off his back foot often, and mechanics like that will have to be fixed if he's going to have consistent success and put up the kind of numbers he did on Sunday throughout next year.
It was a nice step for the quarterback, but when Texas' coaches insist there's no real leader in this competition, I don't believe they're slow playing anyone and trying not to show their hand. I do believe the coaches really have no idea who's going to start next season and need someone to step up and play. With this new system being as complex for quarterbacks as Brown says it is, I don't see last season's experience for Garrett Gilbert being a huge advantage.
Finding a quarterback will be a good test for offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who found a freshman named Kellen Moore in 2008 and got to the Fiesta Bowl the last time he had one of these competitions. In practices, Harsin will let his quarterbacks throw until they have an incompletion in pass skeleton drills, a move to make separation more obvious and one Brown called "genius."