From the stands: No shortage of interesting storylines at Longhorn spring practice
- Please, please, please — no more black uniforms for basketball. They look really sharp, but the two times Texas has worn them they have absolutely beaten down on national TV. So that’s enough.
- Baseball started this past weekend, and Texas took two of three from Sacramento State. The Horns host former Big 12 rival Nebraska this weekend. First game is Friday night at 7 at The Disch.
- The Texas softball team is ranked No.6 and 11-0, the longest winning streak to open a season since 2003. In 11 games they have given up seven runs this season. SEVEN. Total. They host the Texas Invitational this weekend and then head to Kissimmee, Florida for the Citrus Classic in two weeks.
- Bob Stoops is cleaning house. He’s fired three coaches and three players are also leaving, including cornerback Gary Simon, who was competing for a starting cornerback spot.
- Hey Josh Hamilton: Shut up. Just. Shut. Up.
This week we talk some spring practice. Texas is unique in their format for spring football. Most programs spend the first two months of the off-season in traditional off-season work mode — running, lifting, drills, etc. — and then have spring practice at the very end of the year.
Not Texas. The Horns spend six weeks or so doing their off-season, then break for spring practice for a month and then return to the off-season program. I never participated in that format so I don’t know how I feel about it, but the pads coming is the payoff for all the dirty work in off-season, and the idea of having to go back to the off-season drills after spring practice is finished is terrifying to me ... But no one asked me what I thought, nor should they. Let’s move on.
The Longhorns hit the field this week and there is no shortage of interesting storylines. Let’s take a look at those storylines right now, shall we? Yes, we shall. To keep this shorter, I’m going to break this into three sections: offense, defense and special teams. This week we start with the offense.
Spring practice 2013: The offense
Ten starters return on the offense, but there is plenty of work to be done this spring to get Texas where they want to be. Not only does Texas return their entire offensive line, but also many of the top playmakers — except the biggest playmaker, Marquis Goodwin.
Gone is Bryan Harsin and in is Major Applewhite as the decision maker and play caller, and that impact will be felt and seen by everyone starting this week. I am going to break down every unit on the offense and highlight the top storylines heading into spring practice, but first let’s talk about the offense as a whole, because things are about to change drastically.
Check with me
From everything I’ve heard, Texas plans to open things up and go with a no huddle, “check with me” offense. That means after Texas runs a play, they immediately get to the line of scrimmage and line up. But before everyone gets set, they all look to the sideline to get the play to be run.
You have all seen that: an offense hustles to the line, lines up and then they all look to the sideline at the same time, then do whatever shifts are necessary for that particular play before the ball is snapped. It’s the system that oklahoma and Oklahoma State run so well. The idea behind it is to keep the same 11 guys on the field for the defense, wearing them out since they cannot substitute, and attacking them before they really have a chance to settle in.
It also gives Applewhite a few extra seconds to look at the defense before he calls the play. With that extra time and the play coming from the sideline, it takes some pressure off the quarterback since he isn’t making as many pre-snap reads (the coach is doing that). How can that possibly hurt David Ash? It can’t.
The up-tempo “check with me” offense is a proven success in the college game, and I think Texas making the move to it is a great idea. Offenses are going to score in the Big 12 and you have to be able to keep pace, which is hard to do with the grind-it-out approach Texas has been trying to employ the last three years.
Don’t get me wrong, Texas isn’t ditching the ground game. Far from it. Think about the no-huddle attacks of Oregon and Oklahoma State. Tailbacks Kenjon Barner and Joseph Randle rushed for 1,767 and 1,417 yards last year as their offenses spread out the defense with three and four wide receivers and attacked the middle. That’s exactly what Texas plans to do with Malcolm Brown, J. Gray and company.
Texas wants to be a quick-strike offense that can run and pass, pressure a defense, and put points on the board. While the Horns will certainly be ground-oriented in this new approach, it will not look the same as the power running game Texas used last year. This offense can excel if the right personnel are in place. So are they in place? Yes, yes they are. Let’s take a look:
It’s David Ash. Case McCoy is still around and still competing, but David Ash is the undisputed starter and working very hard to be that outspoken, emotional leader that Texas needs from the qb position. From taking the mic at the Texas basketball game to address the fans celebrating the Alamo Bowl win to leading voluntary workouts, Ash is doing everything right so far.
As I said, on the field he will have fewer pre-snap reads in this offense and will be asked to run a little more, looking very much like the Oklahoma State quarterbacks and very much like the quarterback in the second half of the Alamo Bowl. With Applewhite in his ear, he should pick this offense up quickly, and I’ve heard he is very happy with this new offense.
You know how I feel about the mental aspect of things on the field: If you are happy, you are comfortable; if you are comfortable, you are confident; if you are confident you aren’t hesitating… It can only be good. Ash and Applewhite will spend this spring installing this new offense and I think David Ash will look like a new player when it is unveiled this fall.
Who is the backup? We will see this spring. I don’t think this offense suits Case McCoy very well, but I thought the zone read didn’t suit Colt McCoy very well, either. I am not that smart. My guess is it is someone else a little more athletic.
Speaking of Malcolm Brown, J. Gray and company... I think Texas will employ lots of one-back sets with three or four wide outs, but I also think they will run quite a bit of two-back offense. Look for Gray and Brown to rotate in as the single back in the one-back offense, and look for Joe Bergeron to work in as the second back in the two-back offense.
Joe B. is going to need to transition his game if he plans to play in this offense, I think. He’s a big guy that can run and catch, but if he plans to be anything more than the short yardage/goal line back, he will need to embrace that second back role that will be as much lead blocking fullback as receiver and ball carrier. I think he does that.
I expect Gray to be a monster next year in this offense, looking like those Oregon and Oklahoma State backs. I think it’s the same three backs you saw last year doing work this spring, just lined up differently, with Gray leading the pack.
New running backs coach Larry Porter is probably trying to sell Joe B. on the next level virtues of being an athletic fullback. Those guys don’t grow on trees and are coveted in the NFL and Bergeron has the chance to be one of those guys.
Pencil in Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley as two of the starters outside. Both need to work on their blocking this spring with Texas turning running backs loose outside on the corner. A big run outside is almost always set up by a great block from a wide out on the corner, and these two need to spend all their extra time getting stronger and more physical to be that guy that springs a long run. We know they can catch.
The goal this spring is to find Nos. 3 and 4 (and even 5) for this new offense. Cayleb Jones, Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders are all competing for those spots, as is Bryant Jackson. I think Jackson gets one of those spots, because he proved last year (8 catches, 140 yards) he could make plays. So that’s two spots up for grabs. Actually, it’s just one, because Texas is going to use Daje Johnson as the new Ramonce Taylor.
He will play some wide out, some tailback, some slot back, etc. wherever they think they can get a mismatch. He’s going to get screen passes, reverses, handoffs and all the same types of touches that RT did back in the day. I imagine, if it all goes perfectly, he looks very much like D’Anthony Thomas at Oregon if you saw him play last year.
Who wins the job? That’s what we will find out this spring. Each guy brings a terrific work ethic and crazy skills to the table: Jones has the size and hands, Sanders is a sick athlete that can do many of the same things Daje can do. Marcus Johnson is sort of the hybrid between the two. You will see all three play this fall, but two will probably separate from the pack and that starts this week.
This new offense is going to make the Texas wide outs a lot of money. Shipley should have big brother Jordan-like numbers next year, and Mike Davis should be more involved with shorter routes as David Ash will have quicker reads with less play-action passing. Expect to see Daje look sensational in space, taking short passes and turning them into big gains.
You guys remember David Thomas? What about Bo Scaife? Remember when Jermichael Finley torched ou in the first half of the 2007 game? Me, too. That was awesome.
Texas returns everyone from last year up front. That’s good news, but at times last year they were pushed around by the bigger and meaner defensive lines in the Big 12. I think some of that inability to line up and move the pile led to this new offense, and that’s fine with me. There is no reason to bang your head up against the wall for the sake of banging your head up against the wall, and there were times last year when that’s what it seemed like Texas was doing.
The OL is going to be put through the ringer this spring as far as conditioning goes to get them used to this no-huddle, up tempo attack. But if the offense is running like it should, the need to “move the pile” will be less, as the goal will be to seal blocks to allow backs and receivers to get through the line and to the second level. In short, less “physically dominate the guy in front of you” and more “cut him off so the back can get by.”
That’s how I see it in my head, anyway. I see more technique and leverage in this system than before, which isn’t a bad thing. The Denver Broncos won two Super Bowls doing that.
Texas is waiting for Junior College transfer Desmond Harrison to get here this summer. Harrison is expected to take over at tackle, moving Donald Hawkins inside to guard and possibly moving Trey Hopkins to center when he returns from a stress fracture that will keep him out this spring. While they wait, the battle for that open guard spot with Hopkins out is on. Sedrick Flowers can take that job this spring and make Harrison’s arrival very interesting.
As for the OL that have not been mentioned, the clock is ticking. Texas has some big timers coming in this summer in the class of 2013 and they will play immediately if the guys in front of them are not ready. So take this time to find your place in the two-deep, fellas, because if you haven’t done it by August you might not do it at all.
Again, this new offense is going to benefit everyone, particularly the offensive line. I think these guys are well suited for what Applewhite wants them to do and I think they will start looking like the talented veterans they are very, very quickly.
I know, I made it sound like Texas is going to score 90 points a game next year with no sacks and no turnovers. There will be growing pains this spring and those will likely show up next fall at times, but I really like this new offense Texas is installing, and I think the personnel matches up well with what the staff wants to do.
These guys love Major, and Mack Brown has trusted him to install his own plan. I like his plan and I can’t wait to see it in action.
See you guys next week with some spring practice defensive notes.