Big 12: Ian Harris

These Big 12 positions need the most help

May, 26, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

All questions aren't settled during the course of spring practice as teams still have much work to upgrade their weaknesses heading into the season.

Obviously, some will receive a boost from incoming freshmen who will arrive later. But here's how each team's biggest liability shakes out heading into the summer.

Baylor: The Bears are desperately looking for help at offensive tackle after losing No. 2 overall draft pick Jason Smith and Dan Gay as their starters. Former Canadian firefighter Danny Watkins has established himself at Smith's old position protecting Robert Griffin's blind side. And on the right side, junior Chris Griesenbeck and redshirt freshmen Cameron Kaufhold are competing for the starting job with Tyler Junior College's Phillip Blake and Blinn College's Marquis Franklin set the arrive later this summer.

Colorado: Wide receiver has been a question mark for the Buffaloes throughout Dan Hawkins' coaching tenure. The Buffaloes return four scholarship wide receivers and had a chance to work out several new players with Scotty McKnight injured during the spring. Josh Smith and Markques Simas are the top playmakers coming out of the spring. Non-scholarship players like Jason Espinoza and Ryan Maxwell emerged, but the Buffaloes definitely need a big upgrade at the position from their arriving freshman class.

Iowa State: The Cyclones will be facing a big hole at left tackle, where two-year starter Doug Dedrick departs. It could be filled by Matt Hulbert, who started two games last season when Dedrick was hurt. Or it could be massive 354-pound junior Hayworth Hicks or freshman Brayden Burris at the position. Whoever emerges will face a huge challenge in filling Dedrick's experience as he protects the blind side of the Iowa State quarterbacks.

Kansas: Coach Mark Mangino will be facing a few huge rebuilding job at linebacker, where the Jayhawks lose key contributors Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and James Holt from last season. Mangino is talking about using a two-linebacker set as his base defense with fifth-year senior Jake Schermer and senior Arist Wright getting the starting jobs leaving spring practice. Sophomore Steven Johnson and converted running back Angus Quigley were competing for playing time during the spring and another boost is expected when junior linebacker Justin Springer, who is recovering from a torn ACL last season, returns in the fall.

Kansas State: Carson Coffman appeared to have claimed the starting job at quarterback -- at least for a few weeks -- after a strong effort during the latter stages of spring practice. But Coffman's late binge has to be tempered considering he is playing against the weak Kansas State secondary. So it's fair to say there are some lingering questions at the position. Coffman apparently has beaten back the challenge of challengers Collin Klein, Joseph Kassanavoid, Trey Scott and Milton McPeek. But the arrival of South Florida transfer Grant Gregory and heralded junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas will mean more competition in the summer.

Missouri: The Tigers will be facing a challenge of replacing NFL first-round draft pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood at defensive tackle to play opposite nose tackle Jaron Baston. Redshirt sophomore Terrell Resonno appeared to have claimed the job out of the spring, with Dominique Hamilton, Chris Earnhardt and converted linebacker George White perhaps earning their way into the rotation.

Nebraska: After the graduation of top receivers Todd Peterson and Nate Swift from last season, the Cornhuskers need to fill both positions. Leading returning receiver Menelik Holt appears to have a hammerlock on one position, but Niles Paul lost a chance to take a big step forward after missing the spring after he was suspended for driving under the influence. Antonio Bell was the biggest surprise, but converted I-back Marcus Mendoza, Chris Brooks, Wes Cammack and Curenski Gilleylen all showed flashes during the spring.

Oklahoma: There was concern before spring practice, considering the Sooners were replacing four-fifths of their starting offensive line with only Trent Williams back from last season's starters. And it got worse when Bob Stoops called out the young replacements because of their lack of diligence in their preseason conditioning. Williams emerged at left tackle with Brian Simmons and Stephen Good at guards, redshirt freshman Ben Habern at center and either LSU transfer Jarvis Jones or Cory Brandon at right tackle. The depth took a hit when center Jason Hannan left early in training camp and sophomore guard Alex Williams chose to leave after spring practice. The group struggled against the Sooners' talented defensive line, allowing Sam Bradford to be touch-sacked twice in three possessions in the spring game and produced only 27 rushing yards in 52 carries.

Oklahoma State: The loss of veteran center David Washington produced a huge hole in the center of the Cowboys' interior line. Andrew Lewis returns to his natural position, leaving Oklahoma State needing two new starters at guard. Noah Franklin and Jonathan Rush have staked claims to the starting positions with Anthony Morgan and Nick Martinez getting repetitions inside. This group needs to improve if it hopes to equal the standards of previous seasons, when the Cowboys led the Big 12 in rushing each of the last three seasons.

Texas: The tight end was rarely used for the Longhorns after Blaine Irby dislocated his kneecap last season against Rice. He still wasn't ready to go during the spring as Greg Smith, Ahmard Howard, Ian Harris and D.J. Grant all got work. None of them emerged. And with Irby's return remaining iffy, it means the Longhorns again could reduce the use of the tight end and utilize four-receiver sets when they want to move the ball. Don't look for the Longhorns to use the tight end much unless this production improves.

Texas A&M: T
he Aggies were wracked with injuries during the spring as projected starters Lee Grimes, Kevin Matthews and Lucas Patterson were sidelined all spring as A&M was down to only nine healthy offensive linemen for some practices. It still doesn't excuse the lack of offensive production for A&M's starting unit, which produced only 9 yards rushing on 24 carries against Texas A&M's first-string defense. Coach Mike Sherman will be counting on immediate production from an impressive group of incoming freshman at fall practice, but it's fair to characterize the Aggies' offensive line as the team's biggest spring concern -- especially after allowing 39 sacks last season and ranking last in the conference in rushing yards per game.

Texas Tech: The loss of productive starters Daniel Charbonnet and Darcel McBath left a gaping hole at safety for the Red Raiders. Junior Franklin Mitchem earned the free safety position leaving spring practice and redshirt freshman Cody Davis emerged at strong safety. Jared Flannel, Brett Dewhurst and converted linebacker Julius Howard also got some snaps at safety. It will still be a challenge to combat the explosive Big 12 defenses with such an inexperienced group at the position.

Notes, quotes and tidbits from UT's spring scrimmage

April, 5, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

As I'm typing these notes, the turf at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium is being systematically ripped up and sold to fans as the school prepares to install a new turf in time for the upcoming season.

The giant Orange Longhorn logo has been completely sold, along with 12-inch-by-12-inch chunks between the goal line and the 10-yard line near the North end zone. I would guess they made about $8,000 by selling about 400 chunks of the turf.

Here are some other observations to note from the Longhorns Sunday's scrimmage.

  • The scrimmage was played before an announced crowd of 44,000 at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. A stiff breeze was the only deterrent in the game. The wind was steady at 18 mph with gusts of up to 30 mph. Texas coach Mack Brown said he would have moved the practice inside if it had been a typical spring game.

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy said the breezy conditions helped contribute to his pedestrian final statistics.

"It's a challenge," McCoy said. "It seems like every time we've been outside the wind has been howling. But you have to get used to it. You never know when you have to play in conditions like that."

  • Texas defensive end Sergio Kindle was held out of action because Texas coaches felt he had proven enough earlier in the spring.

"The point of doing that was that he's proven his mettle as a player," Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said. "We needed to experiment with the other guys and look at what they are going to do. Our job is to get them all ready in the fall."

Brown said that Kindle played like he would have hoped coming into the spring.

"We answered the question about Sergio," Brown said. "He could drop [in pass coverage], we knew, but could he be a consistent pass-rusher like Rak [departing Texas All-America defensive end Brian Orakpo]?

"He can be a great pass-rusher and not a good one. So that question was answered for us."

The Longhorns produced only one sack in the game, as converted defensive end Dravannti Johnson contributed.

  • Among the players who did not play due to injuries included wide receiver Brock Fitzhenry (right hamstring), tight end D.J. Grant (left ankle), tight end Ian Harris (neck), tackle Kyle Hix (left shoulder), defensive tackle Jarvis Humphrey (illness) and running back Cody Johnson (left hamstring).
  • Brown said the kickoff returns were a little skewed because the top kickoff return team played against the second kick coverage squad. It helped account for an average of 31.4 yards per kick return, including a 52-yard return by Malcolm Williams and a 37-yarder by Aaron Williams.

And it also provided some weird plays for spectators, like when orange-clad James Kirkendoll was tackled by kicker Hunter Lawrence, who also was wearing orange.

  • Justin Tucker showed a little diversity, kicking with both his left and right foot in his rugby-style running punting style.

Tucker uncorked a 45-yard kick with his left foot and later had a 48-yard punt with his right foot.

"We feel our kicking game should be good," Brown said. "Justin's a plus and we feel our kicking game can be better than it's been."

  • Like it was at the final game last season, the winter rye turf at the stadium was slick. Vondrell McGee slipped on a goal-line run early in the game.

Brown said he won't miss the old turf, which will be replaced before the Longhorns' Sept. 5 opener against Louisiana-Monroe with a new Field Turf playing surface.

"The fact that we will have consistent grass every day and not have what we had in the A&M game, which none of us were proud of, is a positive," Brown said.

  • The game was carried live on and later shown on a tape-delay basis by ESPNU.

I wonder if Texas Tech coach Mike Leach noticed who served as the referee of the scrimmage. It was none other than Big 12 official Randy Christal, an Austin resident.

Leach bitterly complained two years ago after a loss to the Longhorns in Austin when Christal served as the referee of the game. The Texas Tech coach claimed that Christal was biased because he lives in Austin.

Leach was fined by the conference for his comments, and Christal worked only two Texas games last season. But he was back working for the Longhorns on Sunday.

Irby, Shipley to miss Longhorns' spring practice

February, 26, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

AUSTIN, Texas -- Starting tight end Blaine Irby and wide receiver Jordan Shipley are among nine Texas players who will miss spring practice due to injuries.

Other players who will miss Texas' practices, which start Friday, include punter Trevor Gerland (knee), defensive tackle Jarvis Humphrey (kidney), defensive lineman Dominique Jones (shoulder), defensive end Eddie Jones (ankle), defensive back Kenny Vaccaro (knee), tight end Josh Marshall (limited to non-contact drills) and deep-snapper Alex Zumberge (shoulder).

Irby sustained a broken leg in Texas' third game last season against Rice and missed the rest of the season. Coach Mack Brown marvels at his spirit despite the injury.

"Blaine is doing pretty good," Brown said. "He is a wonderful young man who is really upbeat and positive. He's fighting it and coming back. You always worry about a guy who was starting and playing so well and then have that type of injury take his football (away) immediately. But he hasn't missed a workout and is trying his best to get back as soon as he can."

His absence this spring will make finding production at tight end one of the Longhorns' primary aims.

"We've had so many injuries at tight end," Brown said. "Those are positions hard to find any more because so few people are playing with a tight end and fewer are playing with a fullback in high school because of the influx of the Big 12's spread offense."

Greg Smith and Ahmard Howard are listed as co-starters at the position, with Ian Harris and D.J. Grant behind them.

"I would say it is as big a concern as we have offensively," Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "I'm concerned about it. But the good thing about it is that it gives us a chance for some of those guys to get a bunch of snaps."

Davis also conceded that Irby's injury explained why the Longhorns struggled running the ball.

"There's no question as much (four-wide receiver) as we used was a factor in our running game," Davis said. "We've got to find out if one or two of those guys are going to be able to do what we want done."

Shipley underwent shoulder surgery on Jan. 23, repairing an injury that bothered him most of the 2008 season.

"When they told us Jordan would have his operation we were disappointed for him he would have it," Brown said. "But at the same time he doesn't need spring. He can be out there running. As soon as he gets his brace off, he can get in great shape. And with all of the pounding his body has taken we thought it was a real plus. He could rest his body and it forces us to look at some of the young guys who haven't been out there."

Shipley's injury will provide a chance for young receivers like Brock Fitzhenry, Dan Buckner and DeSean Hales to have more playing time this spring.

"We're going to get really good looks at them," Brown said. "They'll have to be out there when it matters so the pace will pick up for them."

The Longhorns also announced that senior safety Ishie Oduegwu has decided to give up football after a series of injuries.

Oduegwu started three games in the 2007 season, but missed last year after having shoulder surgery before the season -- his fifth operation since arriving at college.

"We're pleased for Ishie that he's done so well here," Brown said. "He's had a real tough run with his injuries and he just felt like it was time for him to move forward with his life."

Ten minutes before kickoff in Austin ...

November, 27, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

AUSTIN -- Here are some late updates about 10 minutes before kickoff.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: The Longhorns are ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings and desperately need a convincing victory -- with some style points added -- to convince pollsters of their worthiness for the Big 12 title game and a potential BCS title shot. They are also determined after two straight embarrassing losses to the Aggies. The way the Aggies dominated the Longhorns after the game last season was a turning point. Coach Mack Brown threw open several positions and demanded more physical practices from his team. Texas is 11-1 since then.

Texas A&M isn't bowl eligible, but a victory would be a positive ending for what has been a season of disappointments in Coach Mike Sherman's first season.

WEATHER: It's been an unseasonably warm, sticky day throughout Central Texas today. The pre-game temperature will be in the low 70s with humidity hovering around 70 percent. There is a 40 percent chance of rain during the game and the temperatures are expecting to drop into the mid-60s by the end of the game. Wind shouldn't be a factor with breezes of 5-10 mph from the south.

INJURIES: Texas appears to be in its best shape since early in the season. Defensive end Brian Orakpo says he is close to 100 percent in his recovery from a sprained knee. His return will help juice the Longhorns' pass rush. Defensive back Aaron Williams (flu) should be back as well. Safety Blake Gideon (head) and tight end Ian Harris (neck) are both questionable as is safety Ben Wells (back).

The most notable loss for Texas A&M is starting tackle Travis Schneider who will miss the game with a concussion. Backup Robbie Frost is also out with a concussion, meaning that starting guard Lee Grimes will slide into the starting tackle position. Danny Baker will move into Grimes' spot. Defensive tackle Lucas Patterson also is out after fracturing a leg against Baylor and is out for the season. Safety Trent Hunter has been hobbled with an ankle injury since the Oklahoma game but should be ready.