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  1. 2014's Key Ingredient

    When it comes time to project the 2014 season, Longhorn fans are quick to talk about David Ash’s health, offensive line play and a thin secondary. A closer examination reveals that there is a different area that has more questions than any other – special teams.

    After more than a decade of dominance from the Texas special teams unit, fans probably take them for granted. Regardless, the truth is that the importance of special teams is vastly underrated.

    The most memorable name in special teams from last season was Anthony Fera. The kicker and punter was praised and awarded (rightfully so) more than any other player on the team. Though Fera deserved recognition, little to nothing was said about the rest of the special teams (kickoff return, punt return, etc).

    Absent Fera’s contributions in 2013, the special teams units have been a bleak area for the Longhorns in recent years. In 2013, Mack Brown stuck with his 2012 kick coverage coaches in Manny Diaz and Duane Akina even though that season was a sub-par year for the coverage units compared to those Texas had in prior years.

    In addition to working with the defensive backs, Charlie Strong tabbed Chris Vaughn to take the lead on special teams. Vaughn has the daunting task to make Texas’ special teams a force to be reckoned with by starting from scratch when searching for returners.

    With recent suspensions and dismissals forcing changes in the lineup for punt and kick returners this season, Coach Vaughn will rely on veterans to carry the torch and lead the team. Texas only averaged 20.1 yards per kick return last season, so Vaughn has challenged the team’s veterans to improve that number. Vaughn has Jaxon Shipley and Quadre Diggs as his punt returners, but has been quoted as saying he will make room for players who prove that they have the power to be a reliable returner.

    Preseason projections have the Longhorns picked to battle through several close games, so special teams figures to play a very significant role throughout the Fall. Without breakout star Fera, punters and kickers have huge shoes to fill before the season begins.

    Fans expect an extra point after a touchdown, and booming punts and kicks that pin opposing teams deep in their own territory. Coach Vaughn is having players fight for positions, and by doing so, he is finding out which players want to live up to fan expectations.

    Punter
    First Unit: Will Russ
    Top Reserves: Senior Michael Davidson and redshirt freshman Mitchell Becker

    Given that Anthony Fera’s performance on the field was both dependable and impressive, he is arguably the biggest loss from last year’s team. Will Russ, who was hindered by a back injury last spring, is tasked with replacing Fera at punter. Russ hasn’t seen much playing time, but unlike his two predecessors, Justin Tucker and Fera, Russ will not be used as a kicker. The separation of the positions puts less pressure on Russ and should allow him to focus on the task at hand.

    The key purpose of a punter is to limit the opposing team’s field position. “Hidden yards” are a key metric for punters and punt coverage teams. One of Russ’ strengths is his consistency. During the spring game, Russ’ three punts averaged 43.3 yards with two inside the 20-yard line. Expectations for Russ aren’t extremely high, so he should have the opportunity to prove himself valuable without the pressure that comes with being a Texas punter.

    Place Kicker
    First Unit: Nick Rose/Nick Jordan plus Will Russ as holder


    Top Reserves: Junior Ben Pruitt and senior Michael Davidson

    Coach Vaughn has Nick Rose and Nick Jordan competing for place kicker this season, and different publications have different answers on who’s winning the battle. Though Jordan didn’t have a chance to kick at all during the 2013 season, he was the backup for Fera in 2012. As a freshman, Jordan played in several games, but he only went 9 for 15 in field goal attempts. When Fera returned for the 2013 season, Jordan watched Fera from the sideline and hopefully took good notes. Rose, on the other hand, kicked the only live field goal during open practice last weekend.

    Vaughn has praised both players, but Strong indicated to the media that Nick Rose is serving as kicker on the first team.

    As we’ve seen multiple times in previous games, Texas relies heavily on the kicker to perform in all types of scenarios – from conference championship field goals to severe Midwestern weather. Even moreso than with punting, consistency is absolutely critical in the kicking game.

    Both Tucker and Fera were models of dependability during their respective times on the team. As stated previously, separating the kicker’s position from the punting duties should provide for more focus for all involved.

    The former walk-on (Rose) and the high school All American (Jordan) have both waited patiently for their opportunity to shine as the next heralded kicker for the Horns. Fans are hoping that both young men soaked up some of the moxie that Fera, Tucker and Lawrence left in the locker room.

    Punt & Kick Returners
    First Unit:
    Punt Returners- Jaxon Shipley, Quandre Diggs
    Kick Returners- Marcus Johnson, Duke Thomas
    Top reserves:
    Punt Returners- Armanti Foreman
    Kick Returners- Armanti Foreman, Jacorey Warrick

    As stated above, Texas ranked as one of the worst kick return teams in the country last year (21.02 yard average – 72nd nationally). Junior Kendall Sanders’ dismissal directly impacted the depth at kick returner.

    Marcus Johnson, who served as a kick returner last year, is slotted for one of the spots on returns this Fall. While Johnson isn’t an electric open field runner, his straight line speed is a plus (and on kick returns, the latter is more important than elusiveness).

    With Johnson’s experience, Vaughn may be willing to gamble in the opener and pair him with a younger player like Jacorey Warrick or Armanti Foreman. The safer bet is that Duke Thomas will provide a steadier pairing to Johnson.

    At punt returner, Vaughn will rely on Quandre Diggs against UNT. After the opener, the position is surrounded by question marks such as Jaxon Shipley’s health and Daje Johnson’s eligibility.

    Johnson’s suspension (at least one game) will affect the Longhorns, but maybe not to the extent that it’s projected. Although Johnson is vividly remembered for his 85-yard punt return during the Oklahoma game last year, most fans have forgotten his lack of reliability on returns after the OU game. Johnson definitely presents a high risk/high reward choice for Vaughn (assuming his return to the team).

    Conclusion
    Whether it’s providing the offense with a short field, pinning an opponent deep for the defense, or converting on every opportunity to score points, special teams is poised to have a huge impact this year. If the special teams units perform to their greatest potential, it literally could mean getting a win in what would otherwise have been a loss. Between consistency and accuracy of the place kicker and punter, to the speed of a return, Texas has a lot to prove in its special teams. For this team, especially for this year, special teams must be special.

    • A day ago
    • by Kylie Hopkins
  2. Game 10: Oklahoma State

    The Oklahoma State Cowboys finished last season with a 10-3 record, ending an otherwise solid season with a close (and a bit controversial) 31-41 Cotton Bowl loss to former Big 12 foe, the Missouri Tigers.

    Though the Cowboys are one of the league’s most consistent teams, finishing with at least nine wins in five of the last six seasons, this year could prove to be one of Mike Gundy’s most difficult in Stillwater, considering the team only returns nine starters. While most football fans don’t know what to expect from the Cowboys this season, they are a team that traditionally seems to do best when flying under the radar.

    It won’t be easy, however, as the Cowboys open up the season in Arlington against Heisman winner Jameis Winston and the reigning National Champion FSU Seminoles. They end the season by traveling to Waco to take on the Baylor Bears, who are no doubt seeking revenge against OSU for ruining their National Title chances last year, as well as Norman, where they will face their in-state rival Oklahoma Sooners for the Bedlam Series.

    Here’s a look at the 2014 Oklahoma State Cowboys...

    Offense

    The Cowboys are most known for their high-powered, high-scoring offense and it’s almost a guarantee that we will see the same this season. While Gundy hasn’t officially named him the starter, it seems that it’s just a matter of time before J.W. Walsh, the most experienced quarterback on the roster, gets the nod. Walsh struggled a bit in the passing game last season (less than 60% passing efficiency), eventually being replaced by Clint Chelf, who graduated in May. Nevertheless, based upon what we did see from Walsh last season, especially with his ability to use his feet, he should be able to at least be efficient in leading the systematic offense. If not, Arizona transfer Daxx Garman, a pass-first QB that may fit the system a bit better than the run-first Walsh, is waiting in the wings. In fact, Gundy has stated that Garman, who hasn’t seen real action in more than two seasons (but has been learning the OSU system the last two years) very well could see the field against the Seminoles.

    A major concern on offense is that the Cowboys have to replace three of their top wide receivers, but, fortunately for them, they have an embarrassment of young talent at the position. They return three 200+yard receivers in sophomores Jhajuan Seales (who is expected to have a breakout season), Marcell Ateman, and junior Brandon Sheperd. Austin Hays, Blake Webb, Ra’Shaad Samples, C.J.Curry, and David Glidden, all of whom have some experience, return as well. Yet despite a logjam at the position, no one has made more noise this preseason than incoming freshman receiver, James Washington. He’s definitely one to keep an eye on.

    Oklahoma State returns their leading rusher from last season, senior Desmond Roland (811 yards). Rennie Childs showed some promise last season as a true freshman, so he and Roland should provide a solid run game. Additionally, QB Walsh is a threat to use his legs, adding a dimension to the OSU rushing attack.

    Incoming JUCO transfer, Tyreek Hill (whom many think could be the fastest player in college football this season and was named the Big 12’s Preseason Newcomer of the Year) will be the player to watch this season for the Cowboys. If he lives up to expectations, he could become a huge part of the offense, both in the running as well as passing game.

    The biggest question mark on offense, however, is the offensive line. While they return six offensive linemen, the Cowboys will have to replace 1st Team All-Big 12 guard, Parker Graham as well as position coach, Joe Wickline, widely regarded as the best OL coach in the country. It will be interesting to see how new OL coach Bob Connelly fares with Wickline’s talent.

    Again, while the offense must replace multiple starters, there is no doubt they are incredibly talented on that side of the ball.

    Key losses: Clint Chelf (QB), Tracy Moore and Josh Stewart (WRs)
    Newcomers: Tyreek Hill (WR/RB), James Washington (WR)

    Defense
    While the Cowboys have never been known as a strong defensive team, defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer had them playing solid defense against both the pass and the rush in his first season at OSU. However, the defense was even more gutted than the offense, and Spencer is dealing with the loss of many key players. The top two linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, as well as lead tackler Daytawion Lowe and last year’s top ten draft pick Justin Gilbert, are all gone this season.

    Regardless, the team’s success in stopping the run should continue with six experienced players returning along the defensive line, including James Castleman, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Jimmy Bean. Additionally, Ogbah and Bean led the Cowboys in sacks last season.

    Junior Ryan Simmons, who had 58 tackles last season, will be the leader of the linebacker corps. Junior Kris Catlin and sophomore Seth Jacobs, both of whom are expected to have big years, also return to the fold.

    The secondary is the defense’s biggest question mark heading into the year – the Cowboys have to replace every starter from last year’s secondary. Fans are hoping that Josh Furman, a safety transfer from the University of Michigan, will provide the group with some experience that it is lacking. While he only started three games last year for the Wolverines, he is expected to immediately compete for a starting job.

    Despite their youth, sophomores Miketavius Jones, Ahston Lampkin, Keven Peterson, Jordan Sterns, and Deric Robinson all saw some action on the field last season. Senior Larry Stephens, who suffered a game-ending injury in the first game of the season last year, is also expected back. So while there will likely be a bit of a drop-off due to a lack of experience, the Cowboys do have some young talent waiting to step up.

    Key losses: Justin Gilbert (CB), Caleb Lavey, Shaun Lewis (LBs)
    Newcomers: Josh Mabin (LB), Josh Furman (S)

    Team will have a successful season if…
    It doesn’t really matter who starts at quarterback, but for the team to have success, either Walsh or Garman will need to have a solid season for the Cowboys to continue to rack up points. If that happens and if the young group of wide receivers performs as expected, the Cowboys should continue to have one of the top offenses in the conference.

    On the other side of the ball, the young secondary needs to step up and perform. Though some drop off is to be expected from such a young group, if the Cowboys’ defense is going to continue to grow under DC Glenn Spencer, they will need to consistently make plays to keep opposing offenses honest. Concerns in the defensive backfield, particularly in a pass-happy Big 12 (and undoubtedly against FSU) must be resolved early. If OSU can somehow pull off what would be an incredibly surprising upset in Arlington (the FSU game is at AT&T Stadium), that could set the Cowboys up for another nine-win season.

    The key to the Texas game will be…
    With the uncertainly revolving around a Texas program under a completely new regime, it’s hard to say how the Longhorns will fare against anyone this year. David Ash will need to take advantage of a young and somewhat inexperienced Cowboy secondary and Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray will need to run well enough to rack up enough yards to keep the OSU defense honest. Needless to say, this truly hinges on the Longhorn offense line and whether or not they are able to protect Ash and open up some holes for Brown and Gray. If the Texas offense can remain two-dimensional, Texas could have a big day against a young defense.

    Defensively, the Longhorns will have to put some pressure on J.W. Walsh (or Garman) while keeping him contained. If they can shut down the running game and force Walsh to pass, they will stand a better chance of slowing down the high-powered Cowboy offense. If Garman lines up under center, Texas’ thin secondary could have some trouble with the Cowboy receivers, so fans need to hope that they remain healthy.
    Winning in Stillwater is never easy, and with the game falling late in the season, both teams will have had time gel. It will definitely be an interesting match-up, particularly with the Longhorns bringing a brand new style of offense with them. Will this new Texas offense be able to put enough points up on the board? Will the defense be able to keep one of the highest-scoring teams in the last decade off the field? We will have to wait until mid-November to find out.

    • 3 days ago
    • by Marian Hinton
  3. Questions Answered!

    Contributors: Matt Cotcher; Darrell McPhaul

    Lukus Alderman - What is it that is setting guys like Taylor Doyle and Dylan Haines apart to the point that they are moving up from the scout team to finding a way into either the starting lineup or at least finding meaningful snaps?
    There are multiple factors contributing to Doyle & Haines moving up the depth chart:
    1) The previous staff (and scouts) misevaluated some guys.
    2) Coach Strong is going to play the best players regardless of recruiting rankings or age.
    3) Haines and Doyle are 3rd and 4th year players (respectively). With focus and dedication, players can make huge strides as they’re maturing physically.
    4) They both play at a position of need. Coaches are giving everyone on the OL and at S a serious look. Credit Doyle and Haines for being ready to take advantage.
    5) For Doyle, being 100% healthy is a big boost. It’s never been headline news, but he’s battled nagging injuries.

    MikeV73 - Antwan Davis, is he looking like a player who can play significant time this year? Been following him since high school recruitment. Has speed, does he have coverage skills as well?
    Davis is running second team and making plays. He’s been good enough that the coaches have given him a few looks with the 1st team grouping. At this point, there is little doubt that Davis will play – the question is how much?

    He played both ways in high school and ran track – great athleticism. Expect him to be a standout on special teams (multiple units) while the rotation in the defensive backfield sorts itself out.

    MikeV73 - Is the walk on JC transfer QB doing anything meaningful at practice? Seems that Heard has the skills to avoid a RS year (hate to say it, and hoping to RS him) and will play above this guy as needed. Fingers crossed for Ash to stay healthy and have a great season (or two counting next year with his medical RS). I think he can be a quality QB if healthy, has experience and a good arm.
    Our reports have Trey Holtz taking the most snaps after the three scholarship quarterbacks. To your point, Heard has his moments but is understandably struggling with the speed of the game. Swoopes has been described to us as “James Brown-like in that he plays better in live game situations than a practice drill”. That makes it difficult for coaches to evaluate him.

    MikeV73 - John Harris: does he still have stone hands or is he catching the ball in practice? Good size, upperclassman, hoping he brings it this season. Foreman looked sharp, quick, and polished in the few clips I saw on the news. Is he a slot guy, possession type guy, or deep route guy? All of the above?!
    When Harris is fully concentrating, he catches everything in sight. How to make sure he is 100% engaged at all times is the battle. Especially with the dwindling depth at wideout, Harris is a player that the coaches are giving every opportunity to be a contributor.

    As we’ve commented in other reports, Foreman looked good early. Like many true freshmen, he’s had a more difficult time as the intensity went up. When Strong talked about hitting the wall earlier this week, we’re told the freshmen were a focus of that message. This team needs contributions from the incoming class.

    MikeV73 - JC TE Whiteley: any news on his abilities in practice this far? I remember his game clips as a tall high schooler destroying short Canadian football players. Seems to have good potential?
    His high school stats and mix of blocking and receiving skills make Whitely an intriguing guy to keep as eye on. When he adjusts to DI competition, he will contribute. Until that happens, he’ll stay behind MJ McFarland and Geoff Swaim on the depth chart.

    doc longhorn - Does Hornsports have a body at the practices and pressers - now that they are credentialed? If so, who is it?
    Practices are closed to the media. To get reports, we’re talking to team and staff members.

    At the press conferences and media events, Matt Cotcher is there as our representative. He’ll be in the press box during games and at post-game pressers as well.

    doc longhorn - Any inside info on the suspensions - like how many games?
    Some issues still need to be resolved. Until that happens, Coach Strong has not decided how many games suspended players will miss.

    doc longhorn - Where do the Strong’s live - what part of town?
    West of town.

    doc longhorn - Is Strong’s wife active in community affairs?
    The Strong’s chose a church and have been attending for several weeks. Notably, Pat Moorer is also attending the same church - no confirmation on if he smiles in church.

    You can expect Vicki, Coach Strong’s wife, to get increasingly active around Austin as they continue to get settled and the kids are in school.

    doc longhorn - Any prediction about which runner-up teams from the Big 12 and the SEC will play in their interconference bowl game?
    Bob Bowlsby has done an excellent job of improving the Big 12’s bowl lineup. Top billing is the Sugar Bowl deal which features the Big 12 Champion vs the SEC Champion, unless either is in the 4-team playoff. The two conferences will also face each other in the Russell Athletic Bowl and the Liberty Bowl. As for predictions…

    McPhaul: I predict Alabama & Baylor.
    Cotcher: I picked ‘Bama & OU to go to the playoff, so I’ll take Baylor vs UGA in the Sugar Bowl.

    doc longhorn - How many players live outside of the athletic dorm and who are they?
    Per Coach Strong there are only a few upper classmen that are still living off campus.

    KatyHorn - With Directtv's standalone agreement to carry the SEC network, is the chances that Direct picks up the LHN becoming slimmer?
    Yes. The fact that SECN was negotiated as a standalone offering certainly weakened LHN’s leverage with DirectTV.

    Echeese - Speaking of the next recruiting class. . .can you break it down by position (QB, RB, OL, DL etc). . .what have we filled so far, what do we need to fill, how many do we likely take and rank our key targets . ..Aslo, keep in mind the OLB v MLB are actually 2 different positions, CB v S, Slot vs WR. . .looking for some specifics. . .a DE may or may not be a DT so DL .. . not the depth I'm looking for. .
    We like this idea so much, we’re gonna get multiple folks together to collaborate and make it a full article! Thanks for the input.

    • 5 days ago
    • by Horn Sports
  4. Game 9: Texas Tech Red Raiders

    It’s Year 2 for the Frat Pack – at least that’s what the media nicknamed Texas Tech. Kliff Kingsbury, the face of the Frat Pack and Head Coach of the Red Raiders, is entering his second season at the helm of the program.

    Kingsbury’s tenure leaped off to a hot start in 2013 with Tech winning seven consecutive games to start the season. Then reality hit and the Red Raiders lost their final five conference games, notably playing the top four teams in the league. Tech finished the year by solidly beating the ASU Sun Devils in the Holiday Bowl and Kingsbury became only the second coach in school history to win a bowl game in their first year as coach.

    What is in store for Kingsbury and the Raiders in 2014? It depends on who you ask. Tech was picked 6th in the Big 12’s preseason poll. That equates to the best of the bottom half of the league, or the worst in the top half of the conference.

    In 2013, Tech assumed what now seems like their rightful spot at the top of the Big 12’s passing attacks by averaging 373.7 yards/game. A porous defense was not the only culprit in their second half struggles – Texas Tech only finished with 116.9 yards/game rushing.

    In years past, when the Red Raiders have seemed unstoppable, it is because their offense relies on an efficient ground game to keep defenses honest. Last year Tech finished next to last in the Big 12 in rushing.

    With plenty of experience returning on both sides of the ball, Kingsbury is expected to show improvement in his second year. With those expectations mounting, the Frat Pack’s leader sat down to address reporters at Big 12 media days and his opening remarks were, “Let’s just get to questions.”

    Offense

    Kingsbury and Tech fans are all wildly optimistic about quarterback Davis Webb’s potential. Webb followed up a strong freshman season by throwing 13 touchdowns and no interceptions in three scrimmages this Spring.

    While Webb should be at or near the top of the league in passing statistics, the void behind him on the depth chart is alarming. Texas Tech has no experience behind Webb….as in no one. True freshman Patrick Mahomes was penciled as the No. 2 quarterback the day he arrived in Lubbock.

    Last year Kenny Williams and DeAndre Washington split carries at running back. In 2014, Williams is transitioning to linebacker and Washington is the clear cut starter. The depth behind Washington looks solid on paper, but is unproven.

    As usual, the Red Raiders have explosive athleticism at wideout. Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez, and Reginald Davis all return to serve as Webb’s primary targets. The trio dominated ASU in the Holiday Bowl, combining for four touchdowns. D.J. Polite-Bray looks like the No. 4 receiver after torching Tech’s secondary throughout Spring practice. With speed to burn among all four players, it should be noted that Kingsbury has eagerly talked about how much more vertical the passing game will be this Fall.

    Along the offensive line, things are considered a work in progress. All American La’Raven Clark is sliding back inside and will play left guard. Massive JUCO offensive tackle Dominique Robertson, who arrived in August, is the key player allowing Tech to shift Raven to the line’s interior.

    On the right side, tackle Rashad Fortenberry was awarded another year of eligibility and provides solid experience. Clark’s move to the left guard spot, gives the Red Raiders the ability to move Andrew Morales to the right side of the line.

    Key losses: Jace Amaro (TE); Eric Ward (WR); Baker Mayfield (QB)
    Newcomers: Justin Stockton (RB); Patrick Mahomes (QB); Dominique Robertson (OT)

    Defense
    Many Longhorn fans remember Thanksgiving night 2013 as the single-best performance by the Texas running game in recent memory. Kliff Kingsbury remembers it too. That’s why Texas Tech signed four JUCO defensive lineman in the offseason.

    While end Branden Jackson returns and was Tech’s best player on the d-line last year, he needs quality help. The mass of humanity that is JUCO transfers Rika Levi, Brandon Thorpe, Marcus Smith, and Keland McElrath need to be that help for Jackson. How many of the four pan out will go a long way towards determining the success of Tech’s season.

    As mentioned, “football player” (his preferred term for the position he plays), Kenny Williams has moved to defense and looked like a star-in-the-making this Spring at the “Raider” linebacking spot. Joining Williams is a solid group of returning upperclassmen: Pete Robertson; VJ Fehoko, and Sam Eguavoen.

    The Red Raiders are young, but experienced in the defensive secondary. At safety, Tech returns JJ Gaines from injury and has hard hitting Keenon Ward. Justis Nelson, who started as a true freshman, is back to man the boundary corner spot.

    At field corner, Tech has questions that lack answers. Nigel Bethel was reinstated after a jury did not indict him. How will his suspension affect the position? Who will step up early in the season while Bethel is suspended? After Bethel’s three game suspension will he be in football shape, or will the current starter have locked down the position?

    Key losses: Terrance Bullitt (LB); Kerry Hyder (DT)
    Newcomers: Rika Levi (NT); Brandon Thorpe (DE); Marcus Smith (DT); Keland McElrath (DT)

    Team will have a successful season if…
    Texas fans have heard these phrases too many times over the last two weeks – “If we can keep the starting quarterback healthy..." and “If our starters avoid injury…”

    Interestingly enough, it’s the same things that fans in Lubbock are saying.

    Texas Tech has solid starting talent. If the Red Raiders can avoid injury, particularly to Davis Webb, and if at least two of the JUCO d-lineman are consistent producers, then Tech is a sleeper team to watch in the Big 12.

    The Red Raiders must do a better job of stopping the run. Tech’s offense should rival Baylor as the top scoring team in the league, but if the defense cannot stop the run and get off the field, then the offensive fireworks will be for naught.

    The key to the Texas game will be…
    November 1st is an eternity away in football. That’s when the Longhorns will travel up to Lubbock to play the Red Raiders, but so much will happen before then.

    The first, and most important, question is whether David Ash and Davis Webb are still healthy. Clearly an injury to either player is enough to solidly tip the scales in the other team’s favor.

    The second key is also surrounded by question marks on both sides. How the Texas O-Line matches up with Tech’s revamped D-Line will dictate the pace of the game, and possibly the outcome. Churning out rushing yards, and chewing up the clock will be keys for Texas playing on the road.

    • 6 days ago
    • by Matt Cotcher
  5. Hitting the wall

    Head Coach Charlie Strong met with the media on Tuesday after his Longhorns practiced. This is the third time in a week that Strong has made time for the media and his scowl signaled that today’s news conference would be different.

    Strong’s opening statement told us why he wore such a dissatisfied look, “During preseason camp there's going to be days where you hit a wall. You're just going to have to be able to just push through it. Mentally, you're going to have to have some toughness to you. Today we hit that wall and we were unable to push through it. We just weren't very pleased with today's practice. “

    Strong continued, “We're not a good enough football team to just waste days. We only have so many opportunities and we've got to take full advantage of the opportunities.”

    Yep, it was puppies and rainbows at Moncrief-Neuhaus tonight.

    After launching into a litany of why it was readily apparent that today was a subpar day, Strong recognized that today marked the beginning of the second week of practices, “It's going to be a grind. This week is a grind.” Continuing with, “You look at it and the first week went good because everybody's fresh and new, and here comes the second week and the battles begin. It's just a mental battle and physical battle and you're just trying to finish up school. This is the last week, they're dealing with final exams.”

    Strong also noted injuries to Miles Onyegbule, Duke Catalon, and Greg Daniels, although the latter two are not considered serious at this point.

    After detailing his displeasure with the team’s practice effort, Strong noted a few positives about the team’s senior leadership and talked about how he expects the seniors to propel the team through the tough days ahead. One senior in particular, linebacker Jordan Hicks, drew praise, “The thing about him is he works so hard and you want him to do so well just because of how much he's put in to it and just tried to overcome.”

    Also discussed was the importance of the offensive line, “You look at your offensive line -- you like to have at least seven or eight guys ready to go play and then you just continue to roll those guys during the game.” As expected Strong confirmed only Dominic Espinosa’s position, saying that the rest of the line is still a work in progress and noting that Coach Wickline does a great job because, “he's getting guys prepared and he's placing them in those situations where we're going to need them.”

    Texas’ Head Coach concluded by talking about how difficult it is for a lineman to come in and compete in their first year. 4th year lineman have obvious weight and strength advantages over an 18-year old freshman.

    However, Strong provided a clue about which freshmen might contribute when he added, “You look at the skill position, it's totally different than when you're looking at linemen. With the skill guys, it's all about athletic ability, just skill where you can make a guy miss. They're going to get bigger and stronger but if you can outrun people and just put them in the right position, the skill guys it's not hard for them to go play.”

    Although Coach Strong’s demeanor and updates told the media it was a tough practice day, Texas fans should be encouraged by what I saw after the press conference:



    And remember, that’s after a bad day.

    • A week ago
    • by Matt Cotcher
  6. Dominating Defense

    In the last decade, the Texas Longhorns have found their greatest success on the field when the defense was playing at an elite level. While the 2005 and 2009 teams were headlined by offensive stars like Vince Young, Jamaal Charles, Colt McCoy, and Jordan Shipley, those teams reached the BCS title game on the effort of stingy defenses.

    Following the 2009 season, the Longhorn defense started to wobble. In 2012, under new coordinator Manny Diaz, the wheels came completely off as the Horns reached new lows on the defensive side of the ball. The midseason takeover by Greg Robinson proved that the talent is there, as the unit saw drastic improvement.

    However, a defensive mind, like Charlie Strong, will demand the very best out of his defense. The cliché is that “defense wins championships”, and while a national championship might be out of reach for this Texas team, the defense will still be vital to the success or failure of Coach Strong in year one.

    The 2013 defense started off as poorly as one could imagine with a horrifying night in Provo, UT. BYU’s running attack, led by Taysom Hill, racked up over 400 yards rushing on the Texas defense. That performance brought an end to the short lived Manny Diaz era and ushered in former Texas Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson in the interim. Robinson’s guidance quickly improved the defense and turned them into a respectable unit by the end of the season, but he was not retained when the new coaching staff took over.

    Fortunately for Texas, Charlie Strong and defense are synonymous with one another. It’s where he has coached his entire career, and he made a name for himself as the head of some of the most elite defenses in recent college football history. Strong knows that his defenses were the backbone of Florida’s two National Championship runs.

    The current Longhorn team is lacking firepower on offense and is still looking for a proven quarterback. In order for Texas to succeed this year, they will need to field a defense that can slow down the high octane Big XII offenses, and provide field position and game changing plays. It may be a tall order from the looks of things, but Greg Robinson proved the talent is still there to make something happen. Strong’s task will be to continue that improvement and build on Robinson’s foundation.

    Defensive Line
    The Texas defensive line is the surest bet for success on the entire 11-man unit. Led by Senior Cedric Reed, this group has the ability to set the tone where it matters most in football. Reed proved to be a destructive force last season in all phases of the game, and turned down a chance at the NFL to return for his final season.

    The interior will most likely be manned by Desmond Jackson and Malcom Brown. Jackson has been a solid contributor for his entire career, but will need to take the next step in his development to improve the defense. Jackson has been mentioned as one of the strongest players on the team, and his quick first step will allow him to disrupt both the running and passing games of opposing offenses. Brown looks to be primed for his coming out party on the national scene. The junior from Brenham has flashed enormous skills throughout his first two years and has the tools to be a first round NFL draft pick.

    The biggest question on the defensive line will be at the defensive end spot opposite Reed. Defensive line coach Chris Rumph calls this position the “Fox” role, and Shiro Davis appears to have the inside track on the position. His main competition will come in the form of Caleb Bluiett who ran with the first team during spring practices and was a standout in the Orange and White game. Davis has the edge in the competition due to the fact that he plays the run a little better, but Bluiett will see considerable playing time as well and should be considered the top reserve at defensive end.

    Hassan Ridgeway is the name to watch as a reserve at Defensive Tackle. Though he is a massive human being, Ridgeway has experience as a former defensive end and has the talent to be a true breakthrough player this season. Texas will also need contributions from the younger players on the line including true freshmen Poona Ford and Chris Nelson. On his high school film, Ford looked like a player that could contribute in his freshman season, while Nelson is a bit more raw and could take some refining in a redshirt year. Ultimately the depth throughout the season will dictate the need for Nelson to play or redshirt.

    The talent on the Longhorn’s defensive line is more than enough to cause a lot of havoc in opposing backfields. If the starters stay healthy and play to their potential, the line will be the key ingredient of success for the 2014 defense.

    Linebackers
    While the Linebacker corps is less heralded than the front four, this unit actually has the potential to be a big time group this season. The likely starters are composed of a group of players that haven’t yet reached that tremendous potential. Jordan Hicks returns on a medical redshirt, and the former five star recruit has never put together a consistent season. Injuries and off the field troubles have plagued this talented player throughout his career. There are times when Hicks looks like a bona fide NFL player, and the biggest hurdle he will face is his health.

    Steve Edmond is another player that looks like he is built for the professional game, but took Blake Gideon’s spot as the scapegoat on many busted plays against the Horns. The encouraging thing with Edmond is that he looked to be improving consistently before an injury sidelined him last season. Edmond’s big frame and bone crunching hits have always been neutralized by his lack of instinct and poor reads. The question with Edmond is whether he could not learn a system or if Manny Diaz’s inability to coach and scheme was the culprit?

    Peter Jinkens figures to be the third starter, and in his freshman season he played well enough in a few games to show fans a glimpse of what he might have in him. Unfortunately, Jinkens had a major sophomore slump and was a non-factor when on the field for the most part. Jinkens can be a key contributor for this group because he has a defensive back’s athleticism in a linebacker’s body and is a good matchup in a pass happy league.

    Dalton Santos, Tevin Jackson, and Tim Cole all figure to be key reserves and could log significant time in a league that demands depth and substitution. Also keep an eye out for DeMarco Cobbs. The long forgotten linebacker who suffered numerous injuries and inconsistency in his early career is still around and could make an impact under a new staff. True Freshmen Andrew Beck and Edwin Freeman could see early playing time if the depth demands it, but will have a tough time beating out the experienced upper classmen ahead of them.

    While the talent is there for this group to be successful, there are far more hurdles in their way than there are for the defensive line. This group will need to stay healthy and consistently execute their assignments to find any success. They are pivotal because of their role against both the pass and run, and will need to support the defensive line. Most big plays are broken because of a mistake on the part of a linebacker, and for this defense to succeed it will need strong play from this unit.

    Defensive Backs
    For the last decade The University of Texas has been known as “DBU”. In recent years the secondary suffered a bit, but this season is the most uncertain this unit has looked in recent memory.

    Senior corner and team leader Quandre Diggs is one of the better defensive backs in the conference and provides steady play on the boundary or in the slot. While Diggs has been prone to some mistakes in coverage, his good plays have outnumbered the bad. Outside of Diggs there are a lot of questions with few answers. Duke Thomas will factor in at corner where he played in rotation last season. Thomas has been a low impact player thus far, but could turn the corner this season. Safety Mykkele Thompson is cross training at corner and everyone is awaiting the switch to turn on for him. Thompson’s speed and fluid athletic ability is there for everyone to see, but he’s best known for shying away from contact and making poor reads that have gotten him beat in coverage. It could be said that, like Edmond, Thompson suffered from some poor schemes during Diaz’s tenure and looked improved and more certain under Greg Robinson.


    The recent suspension of Josh Turner might hurt the Longhorn’s depth early in the season. Turner was an experienced player who showed some upside and was probably in line for a starting spot at safety. Once Turner is reinstated, he will have a legitimate chance to play his way back to a starting role, but it might be too late at that point. It remains to be seen if Mykkele Thompson will stay at safety or as previously mentioned make the switch permanently to corner; but, the suspension of Turner and dismissal of Chevoski Collins really thinned out the free safety position. The safe bet is that Thompson will stay at safety.

    The most fascinating story in the secondary has to be that of walk on Dylan Haines. Haines emerged during the spring and recorded an interception in the Orange and White game. Thus far Haines has seen a lot of practice repetitions with the first team unit and is pushing Adrian Colbert every inch for his starting position. While Haines doesn’t have the athletic ability of Colbert, he’s shown a good understanding of the game and an ability to limit mistakes.

    The depth in the secondary, especially at safety is paper thin, so reserves should play a big role this season. Redshirt freshman Antwuan Davis could see time at corner along with Sheroid Evans if he returns healthy from a season ending knee injury suffered last Fall. Bryson Echols has impressed the coaches early on and could figure in the nickel package and work in rotation. This will be an all hands on deck situation, so expect true freshmen John Bonney and Jason Hall to work in as depth at safety and Jermaine Roberts to backup at corner.

    This unit is a mixed bag full of inexperience and is perilously thin in depth. The most important thing the secondary can do is stay healthy. They simply do not have the depth to sustain injuries to starters in that unit. The second thing to do is hope that everything clicks for the more inexperienced players. The bright side is that a good pass rush can make a struggling secondary look good, and the Longhorns have the makings of a stellar pass rush. The secondary will need big time play from the front seven to slow down offenses like Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma. There is a lot being asked of this group to perform up to standard, and they could prove to be the Achilles heel for the Longhorns.


    I think we can see that, currently at least, the theme of the day is “It remains to be seen” for the Texas defense. Texas looks ready to roll on the front four, and optimistic at linebacker, but a lot will depend on the play of the secondary. As mentioned, a great pass rush can cover up deficiencies in the secondary, but there will be times during this season that the Longhorns will need all eleven on defense playing well to win.<br>
    The concerning point is the depth and inexperience at safety. This could be a position that burnt orange faithful look back on at the end of the season and wonder “what if”. It will be up to Vance Bedford to have that group of players prepared for the frying pan they are about to be thrown into…the question is, will it be enough?

    • A week ago
    • by Mike Roach
  7. Horns Up!

    "Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
    - John F. Kennedy

    Humans seek stability. Stability is predictable and it keeps us safe. I believe most creatures on planet Earth seek stability in one form or another. So when a person or entity comes into the picture and wants to change things, people are always resistant to the change.

    Such is the case with the NCAA and the student-athlete. For generations, the NCAA model has rarely been challenged. People love the idea of a young adult not playing for money but for the love of the university and the game. It's a romantic notion.

    Most who watch sports played organized sports at some point in their childhood. When we watch sports, we remember the "good ole days" of playing as kids. As I am writing this, I remember my days on the baseball field, playing in the twilight with the smell of dirt and Big League chewing gum filling the air. It fills me with joy knowing that I had a fulfilling childhood.

    Unfortunately, we all grow up. We begin to take care of ourselves and in some cases, our families. The fortunate ones have their families help them through the transition from childhood to adulthood by taking care of certain aspects of adulthood while the young adult tries to establish their place in the world. Some don't have that luxury.

    Part of the perception issue with the current collegiate model is that the public identifies with kids from the "well-off" families. Many recruits come from very poor backgrounds, where to get to a football game their family has to take the public bus system. Where families give up groceries so they have enough money to participate in a camp so maybe they get noticed by a college scout...all in hope of getting a scholarship.

    If they get that scholarship, players must stay at least 3 years at that school before they can go to the NFL. During that time in school, that players' likeness might show up on posters, tickets, jerseys and t-shirts without them receiving a dime. Up until this coming school year, student athletes couldn't even get money for something to eat when the dining halls were closed because that would be an NCAA violation.

    Now to be fair, I was on the record last year against this issue. I even wrote an article on another website spelling out the issues with giving players even a small stiped.

    After writing that article, I did some soul searching. I found some glaring hypocrisies in the amateurism stance that the NCAA and it's member institutions enforce. I remembered being a student at University of Missouri and being in the official team store when I saw a Kellen Winslow jersey from the 1983 Liberty Bowl. It was a replica jersey but it had his name and number on it. After that recollection, I thought to myself "Is he getting any money from those jersey sales?" The answer was no. Then, I also recalled that universities auction off game worn jerseys and helmets. Who's jerseys go for the most money? I will give you a hint, it's not the walk-on's jersey.

    I don't believe universities are horrible. I want to believe in the notion that the universities are trying to give opportunities to students who wouldn't have one without these scholarships. Unfortunately, when I read the NLRB's ruling on Northwestern players spending 50-60 hours a week all year doing football related activities and see the North Carolina academic scandal, I lose faith in that notion.

    These universities aren't putting these student-athletes in the best position possible to achieve academically. Some just want to keep them eligible so they can win football and basketball games. That's not right.

    Judge Wilkens put amateurism in the NCAA another way:

    There is no evidence to suggest that any schools joined Division I originally because of its amateurism rules. While there may be tangible differences between Division I schools and other schools that participate in intercollegiate sports, these differences are financial, not philosophical. For this reason, the NCAA's assertion that schools would leave FBS and Division I for financial reasons if the challenged restraints were removed is not credible.


    So what did the O'Bannon case ruling tell us? The NCAA operating under the guise of amateurism is dead. Certain players will be compensated for their likeness.

    But other issues still remain. Should players receive a wage? Do all student athletes get a wage even if their sport doesn't produce a profit? What are the Title IX implications? How much is it going to cost the fans when average income in the USA has been stagnant since the 1980s? Those questions have yet to be answered but they will be in time.

    It's the dawn of a new era in college athletics and we must listen to the words of JFK and embrace change because it is the future.

    • A week ago
    • by Chris Flanagan
  8. Highlights from Texas media day

    On Friday, the Texas Longhorns held a media day. It was the last opportunity for media to interact with the coaching staff and team before the week of the North Texas game. Even though the season opener is only three weeks away, Charlie Strong, the entire coaching staff and several players talked to reporters over the course of 2.5 hours.

    Since his hire, much has been made about Strong's focus on toughness. Strong's belief in toughness extends well beyond the football field.

    Practicing in the Austin heat, waking up at 5AM to play football and playing through sore muscles, scrapes and bruises are only a small part of the toughness that Strong is preaching to his team. Going to class every day and always making smart choices, that is Charlie Strong's toughness. Having the self-motivation to make yourself a better person and player every single day - that is toughness in Strong's world.

    But make no mistake, toughness does find it's way out to the practice fields too. At today's media event Strong dropped a couple of gems that provide insight into how that mindset engulfs everything:

    Some guys think they're a lot better than they are.

    No one is ever gonna give you anything. We have to work for everything we get.


    According to Strong, it's much too early to talk about depth charts and individual performances. Today was the team's first day in full pads and the full team hasn't even practiced together for a week.

    Nevertheless, there were some clues given about how some of the important storylines of the season are shaping up.
    - At WR (where depth is razor thin), the coaches are focused on making sure all the wideouts know their routes and responsibilities on every play. All the receivers need to understand how to read the defense the same way the quarterback sees it, so that they run the correct route on any given play. Those skills must come before the coaches get concerned about who makes more plays after a catch.

    - The coaches do not have a set timetable for naming a second string quarterback. Strong's comment was, "At some point, they'll separate themselves."

    - When asked about winning the conference, Strong did not back down at all. In acknowledging the possibility, he said, "To win the Big 12 we have to play good football in all 3 phases. We need to come together more."

    - Strong confirmed that suspended players are still practicing with the team, adding, "they're working hard - just like everyone else."

    After the question and answer period with Strong concluded, reporters spent time with the offensive coaching staff followed by the defensive assistants.





    After the coaching staff was done, Texas also made several of the team's key players available. In addition to Jonathan Gray and Jordan Hicks confirming that their injuries are not limiting them in practice, Marcus Johnson was on-hand and told everyone how much the surgery to correct a deviated septum had helped him.

    One of the days memorable quotes came from Hicks, who said, "We just saw a great Senior class graduate and not one of them was drafted. That's scary. That's motivating."

    David Ash was, of course, a popular interview. He also cut loose a few interesting insights:



    Texas Fan Day is this Sunday, August 10. Following an open practice at DKR (9:30am), players and coaches will sign autographs at the Frank Erwin Center beginning at 1:30pm.

    • A week ago
    • by Matt Cotcher
  9. Chalk Talk

    Since the first day he stepped foot on campus, Charlie Strong set the tone for his Texas Longhorns. Strong neither compromises or makes concessions about how his team will operate.

    Strong's consistency and commitment to his approach has been clearly reinforced by the actions he has taken over the last few weeks. Football coaches do not tolerate anarchy - anything less than following their rules, and following them precisely, is considered as such.

    A hallmark at both of Coach Strong's head coaching stops are his five “Core Values”:

    · Honesty
    · Treat Women With Respect
    · No Drugs
    · No Stealing
    · No Weapons

    At Louisville these Core Values were painted on the locker room wall. Everyone entering or exiting the room could see the standard to which players were held.

    These five values not only hold football players to a higher standard than the rest of the student body, but shape them throughout their lives. Coach Strong has repeatedly told the Longhorns, “if [you don’t] want to be a part of this program… go and break a core value of this program.”

    When an athletic program decides it is time for a coaching change, the program isn’t going to hire a coach who’s just like the previous one. Change is essential to the improvement of a football team. Unfortunately, change does not come without a cost. Some players can’t change their habits and others just don’t want to change. “We’re not in the business of kicking young men out,” says Coach Strong...but rest assured, he’s not afraid to do it.

    Football players receive no special treatment and abide by the same rules as regular students. However, when examining the reality of a student athlete’s life, it's obvious that they are, in fact, not regular students. Football, especially at a major program like the University of Texas, is a HUGE business. With several websites dedicated to covering athletics, a full-time television network, and nationally televised games on every other sports station, Texas Football is a multi-million dollar corporation.

    The players or ‘employees’ for this company are viewed in a celebrity-like manner and this puts them under a non-stop spotlight. "News" nowadays is more focused on what a celebrity or an athlete does in his or her off-time instead of their on-field accomplishments. The cell phone culture of today has made everyone a paparazzo and, with that, every private conversation or picture can become public instantly.

    Students who make the same mistakes (and receive the same punishment) as student athletes receive little if any attention from the media. Whether this is fair or not is irrelevant.

    Coach Strong is now the face of this company. He will bear the responsibility for his staff and players.

    • A week ago
    • by Coleman Feeley
  10. The Rise of Dylan Haines

    When Charlie Strong was hired as the new head coach of the University of Texas, it signaled new beginnings for many people within the program. Everyone on the roster had to earn their spot and their snaps. Changes were made within the first few months, including suspensions and dismissals, which opened up opportunities for some athletes that hadn't taken a meaningful snap or even seen the field in a live game setting.

    When the safety position lost an incumbent starter, Josh Turner, to at least a one game suspension, it opened up the door for the second and third team backups to try to earn some playing time. Adrian Colbert, Edwin Freeman, Eric Huhn and Kevin Vacarro were names that immediately came to mind when thinking of possible replacements. While those names were being plugged in by prognosticators who hadn't even watched a single snap of practice, redshirt sophomore Dylan Haines was slowly working his way up the depth chart.

    An Austin native, Haines was a star on offense, defense, and special teams for the Lago Vista Eagles - a three year letterman who played safety, wide receiver and kicker. As a senior, Haines racked up awards for his outstanding play on the field, including first team all-district honors in all three positions that he played as well as Special Teams POY for his work as the kicker.

    Dylan's talent presumably stems from his bloodlines. His father, John Haines, was a defensive tackle for the Longhorns from 1980-1983. He continued his football career into the NFL, playing for the Colts and Vikings. Sandra, Dylan's mom, was also an athlete as she was a member of the Longhorn track and field team from 1976-1978.

    Now Haines follows in his parents' footsteps as he attempts to make his own mark on UT athletics. As a preferred walk-on, Dylan has the chance to become one of the very few non-scholarship athletes that not only make a spot on the roster, but actually take meaningful snaps for one of the top Universities in America.

    There are still plenty of practices and reps to be had by every potential defensive back on the practice field for fall camp. As Charlie Strong noted recently in regards to roster spots, it's still too early to tell how things will shake out.

    Turner will return from his suspension at some point and one or more of the scholarship safeties may move up on the depth chart. But don't count the 6'1", 195 lb defensive back out. If he's made it this far, who's to say he can't keep going?

    • A week ago
    • by Lukus Alderman
  11. Disguised blessings

    On Wednesday evening, Texas Head Coach Charlie Strong met with the media. The press conference was scheduled for 6:30pm and when 7:15 rolled around, reporters and TV crews were getting restless.



    When Coach Strong arrived, he seemed totally relaxed compared to the coach that was the premiere attraction at Big 12 media days. Less than a month ago in Dallas, Coach Strong had to entertain folks and be part of the media circus. On Wednesday, he entered the conference room in Moncrief-Neuhaus athletic center and was in-charge, confident and at ease.

    And why wouldn't he be? He was there to talk about football. More accurately, he was there to talk about his guys.

    While answering questions, Strong talked about the decision for coaches to move into Jester dormitory with the players, "Anytime you want to build a team you have to build togetherness. It's about teamwork and working together and just getting guys together where they can find out who one another really is, because we don't really get that opportunity. A lot of older guys don't get a chance to know who the freshmen are, and now the freshmen can feel comfortable where they can walk into an upperclassman's room and feel good about it."

    There you have it Texas fans - that is your football coach.

    Strong can don a suit and put on a show for the cameras like he did at media days. But that's not him....the football coach that walked in from practice with a spark in his eye and spoke about his team's unity...that is Charlie Strong.

    *****

    Jaxon Shipley tweaked his hamstring at the very first practice of Fall camp. On Wednesday, Texas released a statement confirming Shipley's pulled hamstring and said that there is no official timetable for his return.

    After dismissing receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrell Meander from the team, the depth at wideout was already meager. Add Shipley's absence and suddenly Texas is without three of it's top four receivers. The injury and suspensions have accelerated August 30 (when Texas plays their first game) from "weeks away" to "just around the corner".

    But here's the catch - Texas should beat UNT in their opening game with or without Jaxon Shipley. Two and a half weeks of practice plus the easiest game the Horns play in the first half of the season gives Shipley and the coaches plenty of time to let the hamstring heal completely. Hamstring injuries are notoriously nagging if they aren't allowed time to heal properly and that is precisely what the Horns should prescribe, time.


    There is another unanticipated benefit to Shipley's absence - the younger receivers get more repetitions with the first team. An increase in playing time equates to wide receivers coach Les Koenning getting an extensive look at the true freshmen and younger receivers.

    Jacorey Warrick was already slated for an increased role. Now he gets practice reps with the first team.

    Freshmen like Lorenzo Joe and Armanti Foreman go from an experiment straight to a contributor. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

    Strong talked about the freshmen, "They're doing a good job but it's still a process where we've got a lot of practice time left. I think by the time we get to game one I know that we'll have enough practices where I feel comfortable enough where they should be able to pick up our system."

    On the depth at wideout, he added, "With Shipley being out, you look at the freshmen, they are in rotation as well. [Jacorey] Warrick is getting a lot of work and [John] Harris is getting a lot of work. Now we get Marcus back and get him back in the swing of things."

    My Google Translator tells me that what he's really saying is that Shipley's injury could not have come at a better time and that it may be a blessing in disguise.

    *****

    Coach Strong also talked about his offensive liineman and the need to build depth along the front, saying that, "our whole offensive line is doing a really good job." He specifically mentioned Kent Perkins and Jake Raulerson as two early standouts in camp.

    "[Kent] Perkins is so strong, I think in the weight room he's the strongest person we have. He's such a big body inside and he can engulf you. If a guy tries to run inside, he can latch on. If he ever latches on, the defensive linemen don't have a chance." On Raulerson, Strong added, "Jake is so versatile where he can play center, he can play any position, center, guard, tackle, so he's doing a really good job."

    Much has been said about Strong's addition of Joe Wickline to the coaching staff. Wickline earned a reputation, while coaching the offensive line at Oklahoma State, as one of the top teachers in all of college football.

    While Wickline is already a fan favorite, Strong hinted at a potential fan frustration while talking about the OL. Not only did Strong praise several player's versatility, he went so far as saying that the style of offense that Texas plays will change based on their opponent. According to Strong, that result will be that the offensive style dictates which guys play in each position along the offensive line.

    The potential for frustration stems from fans liking things to be packaged neatly. A prime example is fans' focus on which players are starters for their team. Based on what Coach Strong said on Wednesday evening those fans might be highly confused.

    At this point, it's likely that Texas has as many as eight different players start games on the OL. Not an 8-player rotation, mind you - eight players that could be called on to trot out with the first team offense.

    • 2 weeks ago
    • by Matt Cotcher
  12. Game 8: Kansas State Wildcats

    The Kansas State Wildcats, a team of futility and embarrassment for east-central Kansas for decades, have become a source of pride. That transformation is a credit to one man, Bill Snyder.

    Bill Snyder is not originally from Kansas but he is now a legend in the state. He will lead the Kansas State Wildcats for his 22nd season this fall.

    In 2013, KSU got off on the wrong foot, losing to FCS Champion North Dakota State 24-21 to begin the season. However, those who have followed Kansas State for years know that this is just part of the process. The Wildcats won six of seven games in the second half of the year, including a win over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and finished the season at 8-5. So what should Texas fans expect in this pivotal game in the Big 12?


    Offense
    Jake Waters, who won the starting job at the end of the 2013 season, returns as the starting quarterback for 2014. The key question in the offensive backfield is who will replace John Hubert at running back. Tim Fitzgerald, publisher of Powercat Illustrated and Gopowercat.com, says the starting job at running back is wide open.

    "Senior Demarcus Robinson was injured most of the spring, leading to more practice reps for sophomores Charles Jones and Jarvis Leveritt Jr. Freshman Dalvin Warmack may press for playing time when camp opens" said Fitzgerald. "There was no frontrunner coming out of spring football."

    With uncertainty at the running back position, Coach Snyder will likely need to rely heavily on Jake Waters in the beginning of the season. Waters runs well but he is a stronger passer than runner.

    In terms of passing targets, Waters should have plenty of options. Tyler Lockett returns (for what seems to be his 7th year of eligibility) and will be the main focus of the passing attack. However, who will be the go to guy if Tyler Lockett is, predictably, double covered?

    "Receiver is a position with decent depth for the Wildcats," Fitzgerald said. "Sure-handed senior Curry Sexton promises to be a usual target for quarterback Waters, but there's a slew of unfamiliar names that will start showing up on the stats sheet. Sophomore Deante Burton, a Manhattan (Kan.) High School product, offers Waters a bigger target, while redshirt freshman Judah Jones and junior college transfer Andre Davis are more out of the undersized but blazing fast mold of many K-State receivers."

    Defense
    The Wildcats had an outstanding defense in 2013, ranking 26th in total defense. The reason for that success? Their defensive line.

    I asked Fitzgerald about the Kansas State defensive line and he said that senior defensive end Ryan Mueller is the "anchor" of the highly touted defensive line. He also mentioned a few other names:

    "Junior Marquel Bryant came on strong at the end of the season and sophomore Jordan Willis and redshirt freshman Tanner Wood provide depth at end," said Fitzgerald. "It's at defensive tackle where the Wildcats find themselves with surprising depth. The starters are expected to be junior Travis Britz and senior Valentino Coleman, but there's a crowd of players behind them, including three newcomers. The headliner of that group is All-American juco transfer Terrell Clinkscales, and two redshirt freshmen from the state of Kansas, Conway Spring's Matt Seiwert and Topeka's Will Geary. Geary is a walk-on who has proven to be difficult to handle in practice."

    While the defensive line get lots of praise, KSU has to replace several of 2013's seniors at linebacker and in the secondary. The Wildcats only return 5 defensive starters from 2013. Expect teams, especially early in the season, to test the KSU's inexperience in the back seven.

    Kansas State will have a successful season if...
    Bill Snyder has been an innovator of college football for over two decades in Manhattan, and in-season improvement is a hallmark of his tenure. Bill Snyder turned 'Futility U' into a powerhouse by his method (Watch this video to understand the history of Kansas State football) and he isn't going to change it now. His method is developing players in-season so that the team playing in September is a totally different team by Thanksgiving. Tim Fitzgerald put it another way:

    "A hallmark of Bill Snyder teams is making steady progress throughout the season and that was certainly true last year. The Wildcats were completely rebuilding their defense and breaking in a new quarterback, which led to a 2-4 start, but they finished strong by going 6-1 (losing only to Oklahoma) and dominated Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to end [the 2013 season] 8-5."

    Quite simply, KSU will be successful this Fall if they stick to Snyder's tried and true recipe.

    The Key To The Texas Game Will Be...
    Getting the Wildcats at the right time.

    As mentioned in the previous section, the Wildcats get better as the season goes on. Last year, the Longhorns were benefactors of the Bill Snyder method, facing Kansas State in late September. In 2011 and 2012, Texas played the Wildcats in November and December respectively. Not surprisingly, the Horns lost both of those games. This season, the Longhorns face the Wildcats in late October. Will the Wildcats be hitting their groove or will they still be figuring things out? Only time will tell.

    When asked what the key for Kansas State will be in the Kansas State-Texas game, Fitzgerald offered, "K-State could be very good this season, but a trio of questions continue to pursue the Cats into fall camp. There's the running back uncertainty, but the biggest issue on offense is settling on a pair of tackles that can handle Big 12 athletes. Defensively, K-State is still trying to settle on new cornerbacks, which is another area in the Big 12 that puts plenty of pressure on defenders. Quickly sorting out answers to these questions will hold a key to many K-State games this season."

    Both teams should feel confident about their chances in this game. With several unknowns plaguing both squads, in August, this game is a virtual toss-up. The only sure thing about the game is that it will be a major determinant in whether Texas has a successful season or a mediocre one.

    • 2 weeks ago
    • by Chris Flanagan
  13. The Top 10

    The reigns of the Texas Longhorn football program have been handed over to Charlie Strong and he has undoubtedly been changing the program’s culture for the last several months. It’s been more than fifteen years since the beginning of the season brought so much excitement and anticipation. Now the moment that Texas fans have been waiting for is just around the corner.

    Along with that excitement, however, comes a lot of uncertainty. Will players respond to Charlie Strong’s different coaching style? Will they adapt to new offensive and defensive philosophies? Which players will step up this season under the new regime?

    Here are this season’s 10 most important players:

    10. 'Number 3 Receiver': With the dismissals of Kendall Sanders and Montrell Meander, Jaxon Shipley and Marcus Johnson are the only two receivers on the team with more than five catches last season. As a result, one of the young receivers needs to step up and be a solid third wideout in this offense. Will it be sophomore Jacorey Warrick, redshirt freshman Jake Oliver, or will the Longhorns have to rely on a true freshman such as Armanti Foreman or Lorenzo Joe? That remains to be seen, but whoever it is will be a key player on this year’s team.

    9. Jordan Hicks: We know that linebacker Jordan Hicks boasts loads of talent; nevertheless, he has been unable to make it out of the first month of the season the last two years. The Longhorns need him to stay healthy this year. Charlie Strong should work wonders for this group of linebackers, but Hicks needs to be the leader of this unit. If Hicks can stay healthy, he could prove to be a frightening centerpiece for opposing quarterbacks and coordinators.

    8. Geoff Swaim: It’s been a few years since the Longhorns have had a big-time receiving tight end, and with Joe Wickline and Watson bringing in a new offense, the tight end projects as a key cog in the system. Add in the team’s lack of depth among the receiving corps and tight end becomes even more crucial. If Swaim is able to consistently make plays, he could serve as a key outlet for David Ash, while taking the pressure off Shipley, Johnson, and the rest of the receivers. Better still if he is willing to mix up and help the offensive live generate holes for the running game, Swaim’s value skyrockets.

    7. Desmond Jackson: The defensive line, especially under Charlie Strong, is expected to be the Longhorns’ strength this season. While Cedric Reed and Malcom Brown are grabbing all the attention, it’s their teammate that is poised to have a breakout year. Jackson has shown potential throughout his first two seasons and is one of the strongest players on the team. Opposing lines are going to scheme for Reed and Brown – that should free up Jackson to make plays. Similarly if Jackson generates enough of a push to consistently be in opposing backfields, then he frees up Reed and Brown to remind coordinators why they planned for them.

    6. Placekicker & Punter (Nick Rose/Nick Jordan/William Russ): While kickers don’t get a lot of love from fans or the press, there’s no doubt that they play a critical role in a team’s success. Texas fans, who have been spoiled with outstanding kicking games, are facing some uncertainty at the position for the second year in a row. This will be a smash-mouth, ball control offense. That means the team is likely to find themselves in some close games – they can’t afford to leave points on the field, or give away field position. A weak kicking game would really hamstring the style of football Texas plans to play.

    5. Quandre Diggs: Though the Longhorns have come to be known as DBU, this year’s squad is dangerously thin in the secondary. Diggs is one of the best cornerbacks in the conference, but he will be surrounded by question marks. Diggs has been an outspoken proponent of the culture change in the program and also about Strong’s roster moves. Whether it’s lining up the defensive backfield, locking down the other team’s top receiver or just being a vocal leader in the locker room, Diggs will have a major impact on this team. When thinking about how his play affects what the other 10 Longhorn defenders are trying to get done, a case could easily be made for Diggs to be even higher than fifth on this list.

    4. Marcus Johnson: While Jaxon Shipley is the unquestioned top receiver on this team, the Longhorns need Johnson, who showed signs of greatness last season, to fill the role of a consistent playmaker. Everything we’ve seen from his so far would indicate that the junior is ready and even though he’s being held back in the early part of Fall camp, reports are that Johnson had a very solid Summer Similar to Desmond Jackson, Johnson’s impact can go beyond his performance – the possibility to affect Shipley’s productivity, the running game and the quarterback play combine to vault Johnson into the Top 4.

    3. Malcolm Brown: With Johnathan Gray coming back from an Achilles injury and Joe Bergeron now off the team, the bulk of the rushing attack will be shouldered by Brown (at least early in the season). Brown should thrive in the new offensive system, which relies primarily on ball control and smash-mouth football, which fits his style perfectly. After an outstanding Summer in the weight room, Brown appears serious about being a Senior and having a “contract year”. If he stays healthy and focused, he will be one of the top running backs in the country. His impact extends directly to the quarterback also – the more successful he is in the run game, will, in turn, make Ash more effective in the passing game.

    2. Dom Espinosa: One of the biggest question marks for Texas in 2014 is the offensive line, but with Joe Wickline patrolling the sidelines this year, fans expect the line to make great strides. For that to happen, Dom Espinosa, as the anchor of the line and the one making the blocking calls, needs to have a great year. Espinosa figures to the constant in a revolving door of chaos as he is challenged by suspension and depth chart issues. The OL’s impact on the offense’s productivity is understood (yet overlooked) and Espinosa’s ability to affect the line’s play is critical.

    1. David Ash: There is no question that David Ash is the main key to this team’s success. Though he has shown promise, the often-injured quarterback has not been able to complete an entire season. News is that concussion symptoms and foot problems are in the past and Ash took advantage of the downtime from his foot rehab to do work in the weight room. How well will he relate to a third offensive coordinator? Will he stay healthy? Will he become a leader of the team both on and off the field? How those types of questions are answered is the difference between, fans having another frustrating season, and this Texas having an excitingly high ceiling.

    • 2 weeks ago
    • by Marian Hinton
  14. Questions Answered!

    Contributors: Sean Adams, Aaron Carrara, Matt Cotcher, Mike Garland

    (J.B. TexasEx) Any confirmation on the suspensions of Daje, Estelle, and Harrison? If so, for how long?
    There continues to be contradicting reports on these three. Even our folks close to the team have differing views. The majority of those folks seems to think that all three players are waiting on grades from the 2nd summer school session to be released. It's something we're tracking closely.

    (UTPhil2006) Percentage of landing Malik Jefferson?
    Honestly, this one is shaping up as a coin flip. It’s a three horse race between Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor (even though he tweeted earlier Thursday night that he plans on visiting Oklahoma this weekend). Jefferson has been hanging out with Gilmer CB Kris Boyd (part of the original Fab 5) a lot lately and both are “planning” on visiting Texas A&M together the second weekend of August. The longer his recruitment plays out the more it benefits the Horns.

    (UTPhil2006) Do we have even an outside shot at Kendall Sheffield?
    There is always a shot, especially when dealing with high school kids. That being said, the chance of getting Sheffield is slim...really slim. He’s been all A&M since the middle of May.

    (UTPhil2006) Why Florida and not LSU, Bama, or more specifically Auburn for Daylon Mack's 2nd (of 2) official visit?
    Because it’s Florida…what high school kid wouldn’t want to take a trip to Florida, on Florida’s dime? Despite being down recently, Florida has a lot of appeal and Muschamp connects with defensive recruits pretty well.

    (UTPhil2006) Main targets for the 2015 basketball recruiting class? How many spots will we have?
    The coaching staff is in a tough spot…they could have several guys leave after this season, or Holmes could be the only departure (graduation). The coaches are keyed in on three shooting guards (including Matt McQuaid who we mentioned last week), which is also curious considering the current log jam on the roster.

    The guess here is that they will prioritize those three guards over the next 30 days and only sign one this Fall. Whether they sign a second player will depend on some conversations with the current roster that will be happening before practices start.

    (PeteA422) After all the talk of the (alleged) suspensions, and the guys that were dismissed from the team, what is the take from the rest of the team regarding everything that is going on and how is everyone on the team responding? I think we all know Diggs is on board with all of this.
    The thing that everyone needs to understand is that the players have really bought into the team concept that the coaches have built. When you workout, run, sweat, lift and practice with the same guys, you start to feel a brotherhood together (instead of being an assembled group of talented athletes).

    This team is about winning. That is the goal. At this point anyone that is taking away from that goal needs to go. Most of the team is on board with this staff.

    (lsampson) Will Hornsports have an official tailgate this year for home games?
    In previous years Horn Sports helped sponsor an existing tailgate but it is time to take the next step. Horn Sports is working on putting together tailgates for home games this season. As soon as they’re arranged, our members will be the first to know!

    (UTPhil2006) Any rumors on who will replace Kaylee Hartung?
    ESPN has filled the position. All we can say at this point is that you won't be disappointed.

    (lsampson) Are there any mystery recruits out there that we're not hearing about now that may shoot up the rankings soon?
    Two 2016’s come to mind:
    - Carthage tight end Marquise Guinn (6-4, 225) is a physical blocker that has good hands. He has room to grow with his frame. Started for 3A state champion Carthage as a sophomore; is also a 160+’ thrower in the discus.
    - Corrigan-Camden linebacker La’Darius Hamilton (6-2, 220) doesn’t get a lot of love because he plays for a smaller school but he is as physical as they come in the middle. Even though he’s a middle linebacker he does a good job sideline-to-sideline.


    (MikeV73) Is Chris Warren just waiting for the right time? He seems to be very in tune with UT recruiting news with tweets. Hope he is just wasting other schools money taking recruiting trips with a plan to commit to Strong and Co.
    This is a case of a kid enjoying the recruiting process and taking his time making a decision that will be the biggest of his young life. Texas, along with Oregon, Virginia, Stanford and Wisconsin are his top five and when signing day comes he will sign with one of these schools. I’d say all five schools are about even with Texas holding the slight edge with it being the only in-state school. Warren has recently visited Stanford and Virginia and plans on taking a trip to Oregon in the near future.

    (SFlonghorngirl) Any other Louisiana recruits we're targeting besides Patterson?
    Patterson is obviously the big one out of Louisiana that Texas wants but Louisiana is loaded with talent that the Horns are targeting. 2015 OLB Bo Wallace from John Curtus has a Texas offer and his showing a ‘decent’ amount of interest (but that’s all it is right now). He visited Austin back in April. 2016 wide receiver Mykel Jones (Patterson, LA) joins Shea Patterson as two of 2016’s top targets from the Bayou State that are receiving interest from Texas. It’s early in the recruitment process for him but speculation is that Florida State and LSU lead and his home state is his top choice. And of course there’s commit Garrett Thomas from Many, LA.

    Another high school to keep an eye on is University Lab School (U-High) in Baton Rouge. It’s home to LSU commit Dylan Moses (2017 prospect that already has a Texas offer), Cornerbacks Malik Jefferson and Tre Jackson (2016) and RB Nick Brosette (2015). Reports are that Brosette has genuine interest in Texas, but LSU leads. Also keep an eye out for OT Adrian Ealy in the ’17 class at U-High. Coach Chad Mahaffey is doing some really good things at the program.

    (texasdobbs) Who is your projected defense, offense MVP's? Who will be a surprise dark horse player?
    For this team to achieve it's goals, Malcolm Brown (offense) and Malcom Brown (defense) need to be the MVP's on their respective sides. There aren't two other players with a bigger opportunity to impact the other 10 players on their unit. Other guys might have better stat lines, but it will be because of the job those two are doing.

    For our dark horse pick, we'll take tight end Geoff Swaim It's been years since Texas had an impact player at his position, but he's worked hard all Summer and is in position to make a contribution.

    (MikeV73) The Denton Guyer QB in class of 2017- hasn't played a down yet I think, is he wowing at camps to garner all of the positive mojo?
    Shawn Robinson has potential written all over him. He was impressive enough at the Under the Lights camp to pick up an offer from Strong.

    While it’s true that Robinson hasn’t taken a snap for Guyer yet, he did play as a freshman at his old school, Saginaw Chisholm Trail. Last season, Robinson threw for 1,123 yards and 11 touchdowns (7 int’s), and ran for 624 yards and 6 td’s.

    Robinson has to fill the void at Guyer left by Jerrod Heard. Guyer’s first game is against Allen – a team led by quarterback Kyler Murray, a Texas A&M commitment.

    (MikeV73) Is Dylan Mack playing possum or has written off UT, you make the call. Official visits to A&M and Florida? Florida, where did this come from? More wackiness from our esteemed DT recruit who seems to become more narcissistic as this process drags on.
    For our thoughts on the UF visit, read above. As far as his commitment to A&M, the narcissisitic thought is overboard. Think of Mack as an 18-year old without a filter – whatever is on his mind is what comes out of his mouth. And, although he’s verbally committed, a poor season in College Station and some key recruits pledging in Austin might be enough to sway his mind. Although he’s mentioned several SEC schools, we don’t think he’ll end up out of state.

    • 2 weeks ago
    • by Horn Sports
  15. Chalk Talk

    Every year the NCAA modifies the rules of the game to help increase player safety and the continued success of the sport. 2014’s rule changes are better categorized as “improvements/clarifications of existing rules” than “brand new rules”.

    The NCAA adopted the ‘Targeting’ rule last year making a forceful tackle to the head or shoulder area of a ‘defenseless player’ a fifteen yard penalty. Before that, the NCAA adopted rules restricting the way in which an offensive player can block. Before that, they restricted the way a player can be tackled from behind. All of these rule changes facilitate the safety of the athletes and are enforced to help ensure the future of the sport. The NCAA and the NFL are burdened with the task of changing and modifying the game and when these two entities agree on rule changes, they are carried down from the top, all the way to pee-wee ‘B’ teams.

    Targeting is defined as the action in which tackler or blocker launches himself (leading with his helmet or shoulder) towards another player’s head or neck area. The ‘Target’ must qualify as a defenseless player and the tackle or block must show “an apparent intent that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball” (AFCA.com). For example, if a defensive lineman breaks through the line and destroys the running back by launching himself at him, it is not targeting (unless the end leads with the “crown of his helmet”). The running back in this situation is not considered ‘defenseless’ because he has had time to control the ball and assess the play. However, if the same scenario plays out but the running back catches a swing pass or screen, he would be considered ‘defenseless’ – when attempting to catch a ball (in other words, when your attention is on something other than advancing the ball) the player is considered defenseless.

    Targeting also applies to blocking, yet it is rarely enforced. The same rules apply as they do for a tackler but essentially they apply only to ‘crack blocks’. A ‘crack’ is a block on a defender who isn’t looking or prepared to take the hit. Most often a ‘crack’ is assigned to a wide receiver blocking a linebacker (fig 1).

    Posted Image

    However, the ‘crack’ was frequently utilized in special teams play and, hence, has made a particular style of punt return illegal (fig 2).

    Posted Image

    Several of the tweaks to the rules in 2014 concern the Targeting Rule. In the 2013 season, Targeting drew a fifteen yard penalty and ejection from the game. The Targeting call could be reviewed, but regardless if the ejection was overturned, the yardage penalty stood. This year, targeting will be a penalty that can be fully overturned. In other words, if a player is penalized for targeting, the officials in the booth will have the power to overturn the fifteen yards as well as the ejection.

    Most people don’t expect this to make a significant impact, however, one of the major criticisms of the Targeting Rule was that officials were too eager to throw the flag on a hard hit when, in fact, a Targeting penalty did not occur. Now NCAA officials are judged on the accuracy of their calls and the more penalties that are overturned, the worse grade the official will receive.

    Targeting isn’t the only adjusted rule that brings immediate change to the game. The NCAA created a rule making it illegal for any player “outside of the tackle box” to block a defender below the knees. The tackle box refers to the players centralized in an offense (fig 3). This new legislation also adjusted the rules applying to offensive players in motion. Any player in motion must first establish their position on the field before attempting to block below the knees.

    Posted Image

    Many teams often send tight-ends, wings, or slot receivers in motion and snap the ball while said player is still in motion. This motion during the snap is still legal but it forces that player to change the way he blocks. For example, the ‘Zone Cut’ is a popular play in today’s game, especially for teams that execute a majority of their running from shotgun formations. The new rule means that now the wing or ‘U-back’ that is in motion must stop moving before the ball is snapped.

    Before this rule change, the ‘Zone Cut’ took advantage of a defensive technique to stop the ‘Zone Read’ called the ‘chase and pop’. When a defensive end is unblocked, he will chase the running back down the line of scrimmage, attempting to make a TFL. The ‘Zone Cut’ sent the wing player to ‘Cut’ (block below the knees) the defensive end in pursuit, opening up a ‘cut back lane’ resulting in a big gain (fig. 4).

    Posted Image

    There are dozens of proposed rule changes in football every year, and every year some of those changes are passed by the Rules and Infractions committee, thereby changing the game. Currently there are several ‘tabled’ and proposed rule changes that could possibly come into effect within the next two seasons. The NCAA has tabled a rule change famously proposed by Nick Saban called the “10 second rule”. This rule change would force offenses to allow at least ten seconds to run on the forty second play clock before snapping the ball. Another proposal would outlaw use of the new larger facemasks that are becoming more popular (ex. Cedric Reed).

    The only thing these rules have in common is player safety. The “10 Second Rule” implies that ‘up-tempo’ offenses are resulting in more defensive injuries, and the new facemasks are causing more injuries due to the increased weight of the helmet. The NCAA and NFL enforce these changes for only one reason, player safety. The game will never die but it will undoubtedly continue to evolve.

    • 2 weeks ago
    • by Coleman Feeley
  16. Game 7: Iowa State Cyclones

    The Iowa State Cyclones had high hopes heading into the 2013 season. After a successful season that ended with a bid to play in the Liberty Bowl in 2012, Paul Rhoads had the program riding high in confidence as they seemed to carry momentum forward. Unfortunately the success was short lived as they dropped two of their first three games before hosting Texas in week four.

    Case McCoy and Texas played a very porous first half. However, in a play that some consider a turning point for Texas, McCoy threw up a prayer that landed in John Harris' hands for a hail-Mary touchdown as the first half expired. That play likely kept Case McCoy in the ball game and allowed Texas to remain close enough to eventually win on a quarterback sneak with little time remaining in the game.

    Iowa State's loss to Texas has been referred to by coach Paul Rhoads as a turning point in the Cyclones' season. Following the defeat, ISU dropped six consecutive games before beating Kansas and West Virginia (triple overtime win) in their final two games.

    The aftermath of the 3-9 season was a hole in the offensive coordinator position that would eventually be filled by former Oklahoma offensive coordinator and Kansas head coach, Mark Mangino. Conversely, Coach Rhoads decided to retain defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, despite having one of the worst defenses (statistically) in the nation last season.
    Iowa State hopes to improve on their disappointing 2013 season, but the Cyclones will have to play significantly more consistent on both sides of the ball to do so. Bobby La Gesse, the Sports Editor of the Ames Tribune, was kind enough to lend his time and expertise to assist HornSports in breaking down the upcoming football season.

    OFFENSE
    With the addition of Mangino as coordinator, there are high hopes for an unit that returns 11 starters from last year. Last season, Iowa State's offense ranked 89th in the nation at 24.8 points per game and 96th in total offense with 363 yards per game.

    The Cyclones featured a single back, three receiver set and that will likely remain with Mangino in charge. The main difference in offensive scheme, according to La Gesse, will be the focus of the offense's playcalling. Whereas Rhoads featured a run-first mentality over the past five years, Mangino's history shows a proclivity for the passing game. As an offensive playcaller, Mangino relies on the arm of his quarterback in order to find success.

    While ISU returns two players with starting experience, Mangino will likely stick with the quarterback who is most consistent moving the chains and limiting turnovers.

    "Look for the Cyclones to be a little more effective passing the ball this season. For that to happen, though, ISU must see improved play from its quarterbacks," says La Gesse. "There is an open competition under center between sophomore Grant Rohach, junior Sam Richardson and redshirt freshman Joel Lanning, but look for Rohach to win the job. He took control of the starting job late last season and no one passed him in spring practice."

    The offense is anchored by a strong offensive line, led by preseason All-Big 12 first team and member of the 2014 Remington Award watch list, Tom Farniok (6-4, 300). The key to the offense, however, may lie in the hands of senior TE, EJ Bibbs. As a preseason All-Big 12 pick by the coaches, Bibbs "is a legitimate threat in the passing game. He can catch the underneath passes that move the chains and stretch the field." In a Mangino offense that likes to throw the ball and spread the attack, Bibbs is likely to flourish.

    The skill positions also feature plenty of talent, including Quenton Bundrage (who burned Texas for a 97 yard TD) and senior RB Aaron Wimberly (5-9, 174). La Gesse believes that Bundrage has the potential to be an All-Big 12 receiver if he cuts down on mistakes, "Mangino will be sure to call plays to take advantage of Bundrage’s speed and playmaking ability." In regards to Wimberly, Le Gesse believes "he can be a dynamic runner and a factor in the passing game. But at 5-foot-9, 174-pounds, he’s not built to take a lot of punishment." Wimberly being a 1,000 yard rusher isn't out of the question, as long as he isn't overused.

    Other potential threats to keep an eye on are two 6' 5" receivers that are in their first year of the program: senior transfer (South Florida) D'Vario Montgomery and freshman high school All-American Allen Lazard. While La Gesse feels that Montgomery has the perfect size as a red-zone target, Lazard might just be the one starting on opening day. "At 6-foot-5, 215-pounds, Lazard is big enough to play from day one. ISU coaches expect him to contribute this fall. If things come together for him quickly he could be starting by the opener." For a in-depth look look at Allen Lazard, read La Gesse's close-up on ISU's potential star wideout.

    DEFENSE
    While the offense has potential to improve, the defense has almost no choice other than being better than it was last season. In 2013, the Cyclone defense was, statistically, one of the worst teams not only in the Big 12, but also in the country.
    The good news for ISU is that Cory Morrissey, a senior all-conference end, returns as does sophomore LB Nigel Tribune who, according to La Gesse, will lead the defense. But Iowa State has other newcomers who are expected to make an impact, "The Cyclones are turning to a slew of junior college transfers to help improve the defense. Safety Qujuan Floyd should start from day one. Middle linebacker Jordan Harris must contribute at linebacker."
    Another player La Gesse says to keep an eye on is sophomore LB Luke Knotts (the younger brother of former Iowa State standout, Jake Knotts). If Knotts lives up to the potential of his last name, the Cyclones will be set at that LB spot for the foreseeable future.

    Unfortunately for ISU, the defense lost its two best tackles - both were dismissed in the spring. The tackle position will be an area of weakness that can be exposed if youth at the position doesn't mature quickly.

    IOWA STATE WILL HAVE A SUCCESSFUL SEASON IF...
    The first thing that has to be done is to define what a successful season is, and according to La Gesse, the expectations aren't very high. "I look at ISU and see a three-win team as camp opens up. The offense looks poised to take a step forward, but there are a lot of questions on a defense that struggled a year ago. A reasonable expectation is for ISU to try to top the three-win mark from a year ago."

    If four or more wins is considered successful, then the best route to that success is to see basic, incremental improvements on both offense and defense. The addition of Mangino on offense and the infusion of junior college talent on defense are the two things that help Cyclone fans be optimistic.

    If Mangino is able to implement his offensive system and find a quarterback that can play with a low turnover-to-touchdown ratio, ISU should be able to outscore North Dakota State, Toledo, and Kansas. Beyond those three teams, the Cyclones will need an upset against West Virginia or Oklahoma State, or a surprise against in-state rival Iowa. However, if the defense continues to slide, the offense will have a difficult time keeping pace against even bottom tier teams.

    THE KEY TO THE TEXAS GAME WILL BE...
    Turnovers. If Texas can play its game and avoid costly turnovers, there shouldn't be a question as to whether or not the Horns win. The Longhorns will most likely have an offense that matches up well against Iowa State's defense - Malcolm Brown and the Texas ground game will be called on to attack the inexperienced defensive front of the Cyclones. Avoiding penalties, injuries, and turnovers will most likely provide a relatively easy home win for the Longhorns.

    Considering the ISU game falls between two of the season's toughest match ups (Oklahoma and Kansas State), Texas must also avoid an emotional let down.

    • 2 weeks ago
    • by Lukus Alderman
  17. John Burt picks Texas

    Longhorns add talented receiver to 2015 class

    Charlie Strong’s reputation for recruiting the Florida area continues to grow, this time with the commitment of consensus 4-star wide receiver prospect John Burt (Lincoln High School - Tallahassee, FL).

    The Longhorns received the news on Sunday afternoon when Burt announced from his grandparents’ house in Florida that he would play college football for Charlie Strong. The 6-3, 185 lb. Burt selected Texas over Auburn and defending national champion Florida State.

    Burt received a Texas offer back in February and named the Longhorns his leader while at Nike’s “The Opening” in early July. He has family ties in Austin and was recruited by Charlie Strong’s staff at Louisville, which makes his commitment to the Longhorns not too surprising.

    Burt’s long reach and good size make him an ideal member of the Texas receiving corps which needs depth after recent suspensions to two players. Whether or not he projects as a starter as a freshman remains to be seen, but working with wide receivers coach Les Koenning on his route running and adding weight to his tall frame could easily escalate his playing time on the 40 Acres.

    In addition to the 3 schools he named as finalists, Burt's services were in high demand from most of the top programs in the country. He possessed offers from no fewer than 20 schools, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Nebraska, USC and Michigan.

    2013 Highlight Film:

    • 3 weeks ago
    • by Aaron Carrara
  18. Game 6: Oklahoma Sooners

    Oklahoma went 11-2 in 2013 and put an exclamation point on their season with a solid Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. Head Coach Bob Stoops became the winningest coach in school history last season, but the most interesting story to surface from 2013 is the recent verbal skirmish between Stoops and Nick Saban.

    Riding momentum from their bowl win, OU was picked 1st in the Big 12’s preseason poll and far outpaced the next closest team (Baylor – 9) with 41 first place votes. In other words, the Big 12 media is projecting “business as usual” for the conference and the Sooners.

    Stoops has eight conference titles in his 15 years as head coach in Norman. More impressive than that consistency, Stoops’ eight titles have come from six different quarterbacks. With things looking settled at quarterback (compared to 2013), Stoops and OU are looking to win 11 games in consecutive seasons for first time since 2008.

    Last season, Texas snapped OU’s 10-game conference win streak with a 36-20 win. After being soundly beaten in back-to-back years, the Longhorns racked up two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and scored a touchdown on an 85-yard punt return. That loss proved to be a back breaker in the Big 12 race after the Sooners lost to Baylor later in the season.

    Coaches and fans love to say that football games are won and lost by play along the line of scrimmage. If that’s true, then 2014 will be a very good year at OU where OL and DL are the team’s strengths and the question marks fall to the skill players.

    Offense
    Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell took over the OU offense as Co-coordinators in 2011 and have continued to field one of the more underappreciated units in the league (traditionally OU’s defense receives the publicity). At the end of last season, the Sooners scored 41.8 ppg and averaged 42% on 3rd down conversions, helping themselves to a 4-game win streak.

    Trevor Knight (rSo) ripped Alabama in the Sugar Bowl for 348 yards and 4 td’s. Looking to build off that performance, Knight enters as the unquestioned starter at quarterback.

    The backup to Knight will be an interesting story to track throughout Fall camp. Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen will compete for the job while Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield is forced to sit out.

    Beyond Knight, the key to Oklahoma’s 2014 offense could be their play up front. The offensive line will be anchored by two seniors at tackle, Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson. Williams should be one of Big 12’s best lineman and has an NFL future.

    At center, Ty Darlington is set to replace Gabe Ikard. There are five upper classmen at guard, so solid depth at both spots should allow for plenty of cross-training. There is a lack of depth behind Darlington which may be filled by a guard if Heupel and Norvell stick with rotating the best five players in at second string.

    The good news in Norman is that OU ran the ball better last year than they have in more than 20 seasons. The bad news is they lost three of their top four rushers from last season. Two sophomores, Keith Ford and Alex Ross, are first in line to start at running back. Ford is expected to be the starter but Ross performed better in spring ball. Look for two true freshman, super recruit Joe Mixon as well as highly touted Samaje Perine, to get opportunities early in the season. Both are expected to immediately contribute.

    Sterling Shepherd will be one of the Big 12’s best at wide receiver, but OU needs a youngster to fulfill their potential and take pressure off him. Candidates for the 2nd receiver spot include Derrick Woods (So.), Durron Neal (Jr.), a group of 3 redshirt freshman and blue-chipper Michiah Quick.

    Lending help in the pass catching department will be Blake Bell. The Sooners always have a FB/TE hybrid-type player that poses a threat and Bell will slide into that role after being a red zone quarterback. Along with Bell, there are several interesting, but unproven, candidates for the role.

    Key losses: Brennan Clay (RB), Trey Millard (FB), Gabe Ikard ©,
    Newcomers: Michiah Quick (WR), Justice Hansen (QB)

    Defense
    Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is entering his third season back at OU after a stint as Arizona’s Head Coach. After taking a year to settle into the role, Stoops led the Sooners to a No. 1 finish in the Big 12 in total defense last year (350.2 ypg).

    A hallmark of Stoops’ OU defenses is an aggressive style of play that creates turnovers. Last Fall, the Oklahoma defense forced 25 turnovers, and the offense scored on 21 of those opportunities. One of the keys to creating turnovers last year was a switch to a 3-4 alignment (30-front) to play to their roster’s strength.

    OU returns their entire front seven on defense and the unit will be led by Charles Tapper and Geneo Grissom. The tandem are the Big 12’s best pair of DE’s (Grissom technically plays LB in the 3-4) and Tapper will be on the postseason All-conference squad.

    At defensive tackle, Jordan Philips and Chuka Ndulue will eat up blockers in the middle of the 3-4. Philips missed most of 2013 (back) but is a considered a major talent when healthy.

    Moving to the ‘backers, OU has a virtual embarrassment of talent. Eric Striker and Dominique Alexander are All-Conference caliber athletes and the will likely be joined by Frank Shannon. Jordan Evans, Aaron Franklin and Devante Bond (JUCO) are some of the talented backups that will provide great depth and a steady rotation of players.

    Earlier this year, Shannon was investigated for sexual assault allegations, but the DA declined to prosecute. During the investigation, Shannon was held out for several practices and the spring game. OU says that a final determination on disciplinary action has not been made, but it is worth noting that Shannon is listed in the media guide.

    At cornerback, Zack Sanchez (So.) looks like the next player in a long line of strong OU defensive backs. Opposite Sanchez, Cortez Johnson, Stanvon Taylor and Dakota Austin will compete for a starting spot.
    The wildcard in the backfield is senior Julian Wilson, who started 11 games last season at nickelback. Stoops would prefer to keep Wilson at nickel, but has the luxury of sliding him into another position in the secondary if others are not developing.

    Quentin Hayes (Sr.) returns at strong safety. Early in the season, Hayes will be joined by Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd, as they battle for Gabe Lynn’s spot.

    Key losses: Aaron Colvin (CB), Corey Nelson (LB), Gabe Lynn (S)
    Newcomers: Devante Bond (LB), Steven Parker (S)

    Team will have a successful season if…
    If Nick Saban is correct and Alabama wasn’t motivated to win the Sugar Bowl, then you could justifiably argue that OU lost their two toughest games and their 11-2 record was somewhat pedestrian. On the other hand, Stoops might be right and OU’s win over Alabama was an exclamation point on an 11-win season. Either way, the Sooners are looking to build off that success and have the personnel to do so.

    This is a team that is expected to do no less than compete for the Big 12 championship. If the Sugar Bowl was “real”, then this team has a legitimate shot at being one of the four playoff teams this season.

    The key to the Texas game will be…
    You’ll hear me say this often…this is a game where the Texas defensive line needs to step up and play like one of the best units on this Longhorn squad. OU’s line is weaker on the interior, so Malcom Brown and Dez Jackson need to play at an All-Conference level. By disrupting plays and penetrating into the Oklahoma backfield, the Sooners will have trouble running the football. About the time that OU slides a double team in to help on the interior, Cedric Reed, Shiro Davis and Caleb Bluiett need to make Trevor Knight uneasy. The back 7 on defense for the Horns will look much better in the Cotton Bowl if the front 4 have an outstanding day.

    • 3 weeks ago
    • by Matt Cotcher
  19. Everything's bigger

    When you're the head football coach at the University of Texas, everything about your job is super-sized. Among the gargantuan items, fan interest and media scrutiny are perpetually present. Like the never-ending interstate stretching across West Texas, those two constants are both underfoot and always stretching to the horizon.

    That's a large part of the reason that the Big 12 holds it's annual Media Days function - the event serves as a way to connect the league's coaches with the media, who, in turn, relay information to fans that are starved for football. This year, for the first time in 16 seasons, the University of Texas sent a head coach other than Mack Brown.

    Since being hired by UT six months ago, Charlie Strong has heard about the passion between Texans and football. Coming from a basketball-crazed state and university, Strong undoubtedly thought he he was prepared for the scrutiny. At least, hopefully he was ready, because this is the scene that awaited him at Media Days:



    That's what it looked like in front of Strong's table...at his second press conference of the day...30 minutes before his arrival.

    Undaunted by the throng of media, Strong seemed comfortable at the event. He was there to do what he does best - talk football. Why shouldn't he be at ease?

    Since his hiring, fans have read stories about UT's new head coach being a straight-shooting, no-bull kind of man. What the media got at Media Days, was precisely that. In fact, the one thing that is capable of matching those enormous expectations mentioned in the opening is Strong's character.

    The new Longhorn coach is direct, genuine and truthful-to-a-fault.

    Coaches across the country talk about the importance of academics. When Strong says, "We will make sure we graduate our young men," there is no doubt that he means it.

    Taking it a step further, Strong ventured, "We want to make sure we go compete for championships, but we want to make sure they [players] become a better person than they were when they came to the program." And when he says something of that nature, it's as much how he says it, as it is what he says. Even though he was talking to reporters, Strong issues those statements like a father that is daring his child to challenge him.

    A big sign that these mannerisms are a glimpse into the actual man and not superficial coach-speak, is that when he talks football, the Texas head coach has the exact same style. And, fortunately for football-starved fans, Strong talked a lot about football today:

    On Mack Brown...

    I know this, I followed an icon in Coach Brown. 16 seasons at University of Texas and [he] did an unbelievable job, won a national championship. The foundation has been laid. Now it's up to us to continue this foundation.


    On Tyrone Swoopes...

    There's going to be competition in that position. He [Tyrone] understands he's just got to get better and better.


    On winning a national championship...

    Now, we're not as bad as we used to be. I'll tell you this: We still have a lot of work to do.


    On Joe Bergeron...

    When you take something away from a player sometimes and when you take something away that they really enjoy doing, then you can see a lot of change, and that changes very quickly if it's important to them.


    When Texas fans read comments like those, they sound unfiltered. For 16 seasons, Mack Brown said the right thing, the right way, at the right time. That's an inescapable part of the reason that Strong sounds so direct - he has none of polish that Brown had in spades. Strong sounds genuinely raw because that is exactly what he is.

    If you were to ask him why he is so blunt, I expect Strong would level his piercing glare at you, blink and say, "Why would you say anything other than exactly what you mean to say?"

    His football players - and make no mistake, they are his players - are going to embody the character of their leader, or else look for an environment where they're more comfortable. Moncrief Neuhaus Athletic Center is not going to be a place to relax, Strong's persona will make sure of that.

    When asked about needing to erase the "soft" label after he took the Texas job, Strong said:

    It's a toughness. A lot of times when people talk about toughness, it's not physically where you're always trying to just beat them down. It's a toughness to just go do the right thing. Go to class. Just go do the little things. It's having that type of toughness.

    Within our program, we know this: That we have to continue to get better - some areas we have to improve on. And you look at just overall how hard our guys work. And what we really see here in another week or so if this team is going to be one of those teams that is just going to respond.

    I just know this: Just from their attitude right now, I think that we're going to find us a different football team.


    If Strong carried a pistol, he'd carry a Walker Colt. After all, everything's bigger in Texas.

    • 3 weeks ago
    • by Matt Cotcher
  20. Big 12 Media Days: Day 2 Recap

    Day 2 of the Big 12 media days saw the heavyweights of the league take the stage. In addition to veteran coaches Bob Stoops and Bill Snyder (OU and KSU were picked 1st and 3rd respectively in the preseason media poll), Charlie Strong made his debut at the league’s annual event.

    While it is inaccurate to categorize Charlie Strong as a “Big 12 heavyweight” in his first year as the Longhorns head coach, he represents Texas and UT is still the single-most dominant force in the conference. That sphere of influence engulfed the new Texas coach, and Strong had a front row seat to witness the media’s verification that Texas football is still a premiere brand in the Big 12.

    The second day in Dallas, TX got underway with Walt Anderson, Supervisor of Big 12 Officiating, presenting the rule changes for 2014. Fans won’t have to learn many new rules - most of the changes being implemented are tweaks to existing rules.

    Following Anderson was Bill Hancock, the Executive Director of the National College Football Playoff. Anderson’s presentation was basically College Playoff 101. The key takeaway being:

    The committee will choose the best four teams, period. When teams look equal, there are four broad criteria they use: strength of schedule, head-to-head results, results against common opponents, and whether the team won the conference championship.


    Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops was the first coach to take the stage and it was less than two minutes before the media was firing questions about the Sooners’ newest addition, Dorial Green-Beckham. Stoops largely ignored the wideout’s transgressions at Missouri, saying, “We felt the person that he is, the potential he has as a young man and as an individual, that we felt the opportunity to give him a second chance at our place could serve him well and be great for his future. We believe in him as a young man and what he’s able to maybe continue to become.”



    Following Stoops was Paul Rhoads of Iowa State. Rhoads talked a lot about hiring Mark Mangino as Offensive Coordinator. The expectation for the Cyclones new spread offense is that it will be a no-huddle, 3-wide, 1-back base system. Rhoads also made a specific effort on multiple occasions to praise the simplicity of Mangino’s offense.

    Amidst the discussion of ISU's new offense, a reporter brought up the Cyclones' “heartbreaking” loss to Texas in 2013. Rhoads said that he couldn’t talk about the loss, “without getting in trouble,” adding that, “there’s no question that devastating loss affected our football team.”

    After ISU was Dana Holgorson of West Virginia. The Mountaineers’ head coach spent quite a bit of his time admitting that the Big 12 represented a major step up from the Big East:

    Well the days of rolling through the Big East and being able to play in a BCS game are long gone.

    Probably the biggest difference in the conference we used to be in and the conference we’re in now is that [building roster depth] needs to happen if you want to win.


    Last up before Strong was the Wizard of Manhattan, Bill Snyder. Among several zen-like references, Snyder focused on his team learning from a difficult first half of the 2013 season, “I can probably reference everyone in our program…is not taking our performance level, our talent level for granted. Not taking the preparation for our opponents for granted. Not taking our workouts during the course of the summer for granted. Trying to find a way to get better every single day.”

    The final speaker of the day was the Horns’ new head coach. With a palpable buzz in the ballroom, Charlie Strong matched the scrutiny of the media with his no-nonsense attitude.

    The newest coach in the conference did not disappoint, rather he confirmed rumors of his personality by unleashing quotes like, “We will graduate our young men. We want to make sure we go compete for championships, but we want to make sure they become a better person than they were when they came into the program.”

    • 4 weeks ago
    • by Matt Cotcher
  21. Game 5: Baylor Bears

    Under Head Coach Art Briles, the Baylor Bears steadily improved in his first five seasons. Then, in 2013, the Bears finished the job by going 8-1 in conference play and winning the Big 12 title.

    The task is different in 2014 – the Bears have everyone’s attention and will not be taken lightly. One of the most difficult things in sport is to win consecutive championships…and now Waco, the national media and the boosters that financed Baylor’s new stadium are all expecting the Bears to do just that.

    And Briles isn’t flinching at that challenge of staying on top, ““What we’re trying to do is establish a program that is a dominant football team, where every year we’re a team that must be reckoned with if you’re going to win the Big 12 title.”

    The Bears have reason to believe that Briles is up to the task of repeating as conference champs. The team returns some key players, has a solid mix of veterans throughout the depth chart, and, better still, has the same coaching staff in place that they’ve had for the prior three seasons. Many pundits will point to the return of Bryce Petty at quarterback (and rightfully so, it’s the first time BU has a returning quarterback in three years) but that kind of continuity in a coaching staff is a major advantage.

    Baylor’s quest to repeat as conference champions will take place in a new stadium. On August 31, the Bears will open their season against SMU in McLane Stadium – their new, on-campus home that is on the Brazos River.

    On the new stadium, Briles said, “It’s going to be as great a gameday atmosphere, I think, as you’ll find in the United States of America. It’s going to be a very unique experience. It’d be tough to mimic what we’re going to be able to do with the boats and the water and the sailgating.”

    Offense

    In 2013 the Baylor offense set an all-time NCAA record by scoring 52.4 points per game. The quarterback that orchestrated that mind boggling level of production, Bryce Petty, is returning. Most expect Petty to improve this Fall, but considering he is the second place Heisman vote getter (of returning players), that is a tall order.
    While the Bears sort out running backs look for Petty to carry more of the rushing load than he did last year. In fact, Petty’s rushing (he led the Big 12 with 14 TD’s on the ground) is an area that Briles has said he plans to expand in 2014.

    While the Baylor passing attack gets most of the media and fan attention, the Bears’ ground game has led the conference for three straight years. Gone to the Washington Redskins is Lache Seastrunk, but sophomore Shock Linwood looked ready for primetime as a freshman averaging almost 7 yards/carry. Two more underclassmen, Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson are expected to see plenty of carries, especially early in the season.

    Briles and his offense owe much of their success to an offensive line that quietly has been one of the best groups in the Big 12. Unfortunately for the rest of the conference, the Bears’ starting five in 2014 will challenge to be the best unit in the league. Replacing All-American Cyril Richardson will be super-sized LaQuan McGowan (6’7”, 385).

    Keep an eye on Spencer Drango at left tackle – he missed the final games in 2013 with a back injury. Although he’s expected back at 100%, Drango is tasked with protecting Petty’s blind side – if he’s not fully recovered (or able to remain healthy), Baylor’s offense could look significantly different.

    Similar to the story at OL, the Baylor receiving corps is replacing a huge talent, but has plenty of options. Replacing Tevin Reese’s production will be a multi-player job, but Antwan Goodley (1st team preseason All-Big 12) is ready for the spotlight.

    Reese is the only player among Baylor’s seven top pass catchers that does not return this Fall. Among the mix of veterans and talented underclassmen, true freshman KD Cannon is good enough to see the field.
    Briles gushes about the talent on the roster, “This is unquestionably one of the top receiving crews in America.”

    Key losses: Lache Seastrunk (RB); Cyril Richardson (G); Tevin Reese (WR)
    Newcomers: KD Cannon (WR); Johnny Jefferson (RB)

    Defense
    While the Baylor offense gets most of the credit for the Bears’ conference title, the defense was an overlooked component of the title. Defensive Coordinator Phil Bennett has built a speedy and opportunistic unit and in 2013’s title run, the defense ranked in the Top 10 nationally in yards per play allowed and was No. 1 in the country in three-and-outs.

    It all starts up-front for Baylor’s defense. Briles, Bennett and the local media have not been shy about heaping expectation on the D-Line. Briles even went so far as saying, “I think our D-line up front will be as stout as any D-line in America with the talent and depth that we possess there.”

    At defensive end Shawn Oakman is the top player in a solid four-man rotation. The highly touted offensive line had trouble with Oakman throughout Spring practices. At tackle, Javonte Magee returns from a year away (personal reasons) and will form a three-man rotation with Beau Blackshear and Andrew Billings.

    Bennett employs a 4-2-5 look most of the time and Bryce Hager should serve as the defense’s leader from his middle linebacker position. Hager missed time at the end of 2013 and Spring practice (groin), but he’s been an All-Conference caliber player when healthy. Aiavion Edward played in the middle this Spring in Hager’s absence, but he’s expected to get the nod at outside ‘backer.

    The biggest question marks on defense come in the backfield. In addition to a rash of injuries that kept multiple players out of Spring practices, Bennett has to replace All-American Ahmad Dixon. Because of all the injuries, Bennett will likely be moving players around throughout Fall camp as he tries to find the best five players.

    Orion Stewart and Terrell Burt are the seemingly obvious choices at safety. Burt is the only returning starter in the backfield and Stewart, who inherits Dixon’s spot, saw plenty of time last year.

    The real questions are at corner and nickelback, where the top five players have no starting experience. Terrance Singleton and Xavien Howard will probably start the season opener, but keep an eye on JUCO transfer Chris Sanders as the season progresses. At nickel, walk-on Collin Brence was a major surprise throughout Spring practice and is in position to earn a starting job.

    Key losses: Ahmad Dixon (S), Eddie Lackey (LB)
    Newcomers: Chris Sanders (CB), Javonte Magee (DT)

    Team will have a successful season if…
    The bar has been set, the new stadium is built, offensive records are waiting to be broke…expectations are high in Waco. In the 12 seasons before Briles was hired, Baylor won a combined total of 11 conference games. Using that for perspective makes it difficult to say that winning anything less than the Big 12 title is a failure. Regardless, Briles and the Bears are embracing the lofty expectations and were the only team other than Oklahoma to receive first place votes in the conference preseason media poll (9).

    The key to the Texas game will be…
    The Horns play Baylor, in Austin, the weekend before the OU game. Not only does that make for a rough two-game stretch on the schedule, it also means that Texas only has four games before facing the Bears – that is not a lot of time to work out the kinks associated with having an entirely new coaching staff.

    The Bears and Horns match up very well against each other’s strengths. Going in to OU week, the Baylor game will give fans a good look at Charlie Strong’s purported ability to maximize talent on a roster. This game will be a major opportunity for Malcom Brown and Dez Jackson to wreak enough havoc in Baylor’s run game to give Cedric Reed a chance to pressure Petty in obvious passing situations.

    • 4 weeks ago
    • by Matt Cotcher
  22. Questions Answered! (7-18)

    (J.B. Texas Ex) Who are the candidates to replace Kaylee Hartung on LHN?
    When ESPN announced Hartung’s move to the SEC Network on Monday, they (and LHN) had already interviewed several candidates to fill the vacated position. Sources aren’t naming names yet, but it sounds like, since then, they’ve whittled their list down to two finalists.

    (J.B. Texas Ex) Any surprise additions or subtractions from "Camp Longhorn: Under the Lights" this week?

    • Malik Jefferson will not be able to attend – but that doesn’t really qualify as a surprise.
    • Deontay Anderson (2016 Safety from Manvel) was a late confirmation. Anderson already has an impressive offer list and is considered to be a top national prospect (No. 12 on 247's early national composite).
    • Shea Patterson (2016 QB from Shreveport) is one of the few players that had to cancel plans to attend.
    (texasdobbs) Any new information on Ash?
    All our sources say that Ash looks increasingly good as Summer practices progress. Despite being fully cleared earlier this week, we’re hearing the coaching staff plans to limit contact once the pads come on.

    (MikeV73) Any word on if Nick Jordan has improved (hopefully) his leg strength and accuracy as our incumbent returning placekicker? It seems we don't have any scholarship kickers in the fold other than him currently?
    Word is that the coaches intend to let Nick Rose and Nick Jordan compete at PK all the way through Fall camp. It’s difficult to put kickers in game-like situations during Summer practices and that’s what the coaches need to see.

    (Sirhornsalot) Who's the hot name(s) emerging from the 7 on 7s?
    To no surprise, all three quarterbacks tend to be the guys that sources mention the most. At WR, Jaxon Shipley and Marcus Johnson have gotten the most praise. Two names that are mentioned consistently are Jacorey Warrick and MJ McFarland – both will be interesting names to track during Fall camp.

    On defense, the mix of names is wide and varied from practice to practice. The only name consistently mentioned in a positive way is Quandre Diggs. That’s not to say that others are not performing, but everyone else has had at least a couple of hard days.

    (Sirhornsalot) Do you expect improved play in our LB - as a result of our coaching - this year? If so, how much on a scale from 1 to 100, 1 being last year's D.
    Good question – especially after this week’s news about the two linebackers having dinner with an agent. One point to consider on UT’s LB play is that the starting DL is very, very good. If Bedford and Strong turn those four guys loose to make plays, then expectations for the LB’s need to be adjusted. Regardless, we think you’ll see a 50’ish point improvement from the ‘backers.

    (Sirhornsalot) I have my own idea on this, but at the end of the season who do you see being the MVP of the staff? (excluding Strong)
    The hope is that Joe Wickline’s coaching returns immediate results in OL play and that he would get the award. The more realistic candidate is Pat Moorer – this team is already seeing the benefits of his program. When the season starts and players are feeling fast and confident, a lot of credit will be given to X’s, O’s and scheme, but it all starts in the weight room.

    (Sirhornsalot) I know it's early to ask, but what decisive advantages and disadvantages do you see us having against OU?
    Two of the most unproven positions on OU’s roster are OL and RB. That matches up very well against a DL that is expected to be one of Texas’ strongest units. The Sooners certainly have talent in both of those position groups, the question is whether or not that talent is ready to face the Texas DL in early October.

    (killrjoe) What's your take on Patterson's future? Does he play nice with the BMDs or continue to go it alone and if so, for how long?
    The so-called BMD’s need to realize that Steve Patterson is not DeLoss Dodds, nor is Charlie Strong, Mack Brown. Having said that, Patterson’s future will be tied to Strong’s. Wins and losses on the field will be the ultimate arbiter in their UT careers.

    (doc longhorn) Is anyone from Horn Sports going to cover this Friday’s events?
    Yes, HornSports will have eyes and ears in attendance. Check the board throughout the afternoon for updates on the site’s plans to cover the camp.

    (doc longhorn) Are the events closed to the media?
    No. In a surprise of sorts, UT chose to open this camp to media. There are a lot of specific rules (ex: if camp is moved into The Bubble due to weather, the media can not be inside), but media will be allowed to attend.

    (doc longhorn) Are the events closed to the public?
    Yes.

    (doc longhorn) Will there be an orange UT Harrier Jet parked on the field?
    No. Charlie Strong is going to ride in on a unicorn. Bare back.

    (lsampson) How much time does Charlie Strong have to turn the program around? What constitutes a "turn around"? Ten win seasons? Playoffs? National Title?
    Strong’s progress will be measured in Bellmont by wins, losses, conference championships, recruiting, and less quantifiable things like “progress”. Fans are going to have their own measurements for success like playoff berths and BCS bowl appearances, but all of that is secondary to Bellmont’s metrics.

    • 4 weeks ago
    • by Horn Sports
  23. Game 4: Kansas Jayhawks

    With a lone win over West Virginia, the Kansas Jayhawks limped to a 1-8 record in the Big 12 last Fall. With a loss at Rice, the nonconference slate was not much kinder. The “good news” is that 2013’s 3-9 record represented improvement over the previous year...when the team went 1-11.

    In December 2011, University of Kansas named Charlie Weiss as their Head Football Coach. When he accepted the role, Weiss took on a major rebuilding effort that is compounded by the fact that his new football program is one of a handful in the entire country that doesn’t dominate the university’s culture (and budget) – Bill Self’s basketball team is top dog in Lawrence.

    Before worrying over wins and losses, first Weiss needed to increase KU’s talent level and build some depth. Considering that the entire roster needed improvement, it is difficult to gauge the progress of Weiss. KU's head coach quickly points to metrics such as “only playing two true freshman in 2013” as evidence that the roster is being steadily improved.

    Notably, there are now 16 Texans on the KU roster. That number is second only to in-state kids (22), and the percentage will increase in August. Weiss and staff added 11 more kids from Texas in February, including Corey Avery and Jacob Bragg.

    John Reagan joined the KU staff last December as Offensive Coordinator and OL Coach. Reagan was a former KU assistant before coaching at Rice for the past four years. In addition to relieving himself of OC duties, Weiss shuffled most of his offensive coaching staff. After making the changes, Reagan and Weiss decided that Weiss should also be the WR Coach.

    Offense

    After spring practice, Weiss and Reagan named Montell Cozart starting quarterback. Cozart is a true sophomore that saw action in seven games last Fall and even started three contests over Jake Heap. For a team that struggled to move the ball through the air last season, naming Cozart is a risk since his passing is best described as a “work in progress”. On the other hand, Reagan is excited about the dimension that Cozart adds to the Jayhawks’ rushing attack.

    Speaking of the ground game, it will need to find a new identity. Not only is Reagan implementing a new offensive scheme (up tempo), KU is also faced with the departure of four-year player James Sims. Senior Brandon Bourbon looked good in the Spring game and has performed better than the competition in Reagan’s new offense. KU will have quality depth at running back as Bourbon is joined by two talented freshman (Corey Avery and Traevohn Wrench) and a transfer player De’Andre Mann. As the highest ranked player in the Jayhawks’ 2014 class and one of the best players in Kansas, Wrench is the player fans are excited to see.

    In 2013, an inconsistent group of wideouts contributed as much to the passing game woes as quarterback play. This Fall, Reagan expects a more experienced group of players to build off the successes they had in Spring practice. Senior Nick Harwell is expected to take the proverbial next step and needs to be a consistent threat this season.

    Along the line, the Jayhawks will benefit from Reagan’s double duty as coordinator and OL coach. Reagan spent the Spring shuffling players around in an attempt to learn which five guys are the best, regardless of position. Senior Ngalu Fusimalohi is the line’s most talented player, but is best suited at Guard. Alongside Fusimalohi, Reagan will mix in some veteran players and a pair of redshirt freshmen (Joe Gibson and Joey Bloomfield) throughout Fall camp and possibly even the early part of the schedule.

    Key losses: James Sims (RB)
    Newcomers: Traevohn Wrench (RB), Corey Avery (RB)

    Defense
    There are some individual stars sprinkled throughout the defensive unit, but the position group with the highest potential is the defensive backfield. KU’s 3-3-5 sets up nicely with JaCorey Shepherd, Dexter McDonald and Kevin Short all possessing the ability to cover receivers on their own. After a great Spring practice, Short will line up as the Jayhawk’s nickelback and be all over the field from play to play.
    The secondary’s strength extends to safety where Isaiah Johnson and Cassius Sendish return. Johnson was voted as Defensive Newcomer of the Year in the Big 12 and adds a physical presence to the unit.

    At linebacker, KU has solid depth and a variety of good players. The leader of the pack is Senior Ben Heeney who finished fourth in the conference with nearly 9 tackles per game and fifth in tackles for loss/game (1.15). Heeney was just voted to the All Big 12 Preseason first team. Alongside Heeney, Jake Love notched a team-best in tackles in KU’s Spring game.

    The situation on the defensive line isn’t quite as strong as it is in the back 7. There is a pair of capable players up front, but the Jayhawks don’t have depth on the DL like they do elsewhere on defense. Ben Goodman (BUCK) and Keon Stowers (DT) both started 12 games in 2013. Goodman, from Beaumont (Westbrook HS), finished second on the team in sacks.

    Key losses: Keba Agostinho (DL), Kevin Young (DL)
    Newcomers: Kapil Fletcher (JUCO – DL)

    Team will have a successful season if…
    Realistically, Kansas would be thrilled to go 6-6 after only winning a total of four games over the last two seasons. That looks like a tall order with the Jayhawks playing Duke, Baylor, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Kansas State all on the road (games they would be much more likely to win at home). But this is a veteran squad and playing away from Lawrence shouldn’t automatically result in six losses.

    The important thing is for Charlie Weiss to be able to look at recruits and legitimately be able to show them how the team is continuing to improve. This should easily be Weiss’ best team at KU, so that should be the minimum goal in 2014.

    The key to the Texas game will be…
    On paper, the Texas versus Kansas game is one that the Longhorns should win. For KU, the challenge is to play their best and keep the loss respectable. In order to show recruits a season-to-season improvement, the Jayhawks need to eliminate the four and five touchdown losses.

    Since this game falls relatively early in the season, expect Kansas to still be finding their way on offense – specifically establishing a replacement for Sims. To keep the Texas game competitive, the Jayhawks will need a solid defensive performance and for Cozart to throw the ball accurately from outside the pocket.

    • 4 weeks ago
    • by Matt Cotcher
  24. Game 3: UCLA Bruins

    The Longhorns will face a tough test early in the season when they face the Bruins of UCLA at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. This matchup marks the first return to the stadium since Hunter Lawrence’s last second field goal clinched the 2009 Big 12 Championship for Texas. The Bruins have been fast risers on the national scene the last few seasons. In 2014, they projected to take the next step as a program, and are one of the favorites to win the Pac 12.

    In 2013, UCLA went 10-3 and capped off their season with a Sun Bowl win over Virginia Tech. Third year coach Jim Mora Jr. looks to take the next step in an ambitious re-building project with an eye on the 4-team playoff. With the success he’s had in LA, Mora has reportedly turned down several offers to move to other schools. One of the keys to UCLA’s rise has been Mora delivering three straight top twenty recruiting classes.

    Offense:
    The Bruins are led once again by Brett Hundley who was projected as a high NFL draft pick, but turned down first round money to play one more year in college. Hundley’s 2013 season saw him pass for 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also contributed 750 yards and 11 touchdowns with his legs. Hundley’s athleticism, accuracy, and knowledge of the offense combine to make a dangerous trigger man for Mora’s pro style system.

    Posted Image
    Brett Hundley hopes to build of 2013's success.
    photo credit: USA Today

    Inexperienced play along the offensive line in 2013 will pay dividends this Fall, as plenty of young players are now experienced. Katy native Caleb Benenoch (Soph) will anchor the Bruins line at left tackle, while Alex Redmond (Soph) and Poasi Moala (RSFR) are favorites to win starting jobs.

    Shaq Evans departure means that the Bruins will have to find a new leading receiver, and while there are many candidates for the job, the majority of them are young and inexperienced. Devin Fuller and Jordan Payton both have experience and production at wideout and both will help fill the void left by Evans. Thomas Duarte and Devin Lucien need to progress into a larger role this season to help pick up the slack.
    UCLA operates as a pass first offense and tends to generate their rushing yards from Hundley. Jordon James and Paul Perkins figure to get the lion share of carries from the running back position, while true freshman Nathan Starks will work to break his way into the Bruins backfield.

    Key Losses: Shaquelle Evans (WR), Darius Bell (WR), Xavier Su’a-Filo (OL)
    Newcomers: Eldridge Massington (WR), Nathan Starks (RB), Poasi Moala (OL)

    Defense:
    Even with the loss of their defensive talisman Anthony Barr, the Bruins return four of their top five leading tacklers from last season. Myles Jack will slide into Barr’s position at outside linebacker. With an explosive combination of size and speed, Jack was named to the Freshman All-American team and was also picked as the PAC 12’s defensive freshman of the year. Jack’s 2013 campaign resulted in 76 total tackles, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble. He’s joined at linebacker by leading tackler Eric Kendricks. Newcomer Zach Whitley benefitted from being a spring enrollee and should be one to watch at the other inside linebacker position.

    The entire secondary returns following a season where they finished third in the conference against the pass. Safeties Anthony Jefferson and Randall Goforth lead an aggressive attack that totaled 14 interceptions last season.

    The biggest question for UCLA on defense will be in the trenches. Eddie Vanderdoes could land a starting position at end and will be heavily relied upon to continue and deliver on his potential as one of the top recruits in the nation.

    Key Losses: Anthony Barr (LB), Jordan Zumwalt (LB), Cassius Marsh (DE), Brandon Sermons (DB)
    Newcomers: Zach Whitley (LB), Deon Hollins (LB), Tyler Foreman (DB), Jayon Brown (LB)

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    Jim Mora Jr.'s Bruins have placed a lot of emphasis on the Texas game.
    photo credit: USA Today

    UCLA will beat Texas if...
    On paper, the Bruins are the more talented and experienced team. Their key to this game will be avoiding costly mistakes and letting the Longhorns hang around. Brett Hundley commands an offense that can strike quickly, and the defense returns a wealth of experienced playmakers. Facing a first year head coach breaking in a new systems on both sides of the ball, the Bruins can win by executing the gameplan, taking advantage of scoring chances, and limiting turnovers.

    UCLA will have a successful season if…
    The bar has been set at “playoffs or bust.” To be assured of a playoff berth, the Bruins will most likely have to win the Pac 12 but they have an excellent chance to do so in what is a bit of a re-building year for the conference.

    The key obstacles in PAC 12 play will be the familiar faces of Oregon and Stanford along with a re-energized USC team under Steve Sarkisian. As we’ve seen the past few seasons, quarterback play is huge and luckily for the Bruins they have one of the best in the nation. If Hundley can elevate his game and get significant contributions from his new group of receivers, the sky is the limit for the offense. For the defense it is simply a question of if the young players will take the next step. There is a large amount of talent and athleticism assembled on that side of the ball, and if UCLA plays up to that talent they could be a very dangerous team.

    • Jul 13 2014 09:27 AM
    • by Mike Roach
  25. Commitment focus: Garrett Thomas

    The Longhorns lit up the recruiting scoreboard with the commitment of Louisiana offensive lineman Garrett Thomas. Thomas is the fourth offensive lineman committed to the Horns in this cycle, and the third out of state prospect the Horns have grabbed as they broaden their national recruiting profile.

    Despite being a composite three star (247sports.com ), Thomas boasts an impressive offer list. Texas won his commitment over competition from Michigan, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Auburn, South Carolina, and Oklahoma State. Credit goes once again to Joe Wickline who has clearly defined his preferred type of prospect and prevailed in yet another recruitment.

    The Longhorns landed their tackle prospects early in the recruiting class with the commitments of Ronnie Major and Toby Weathersby. Thomas profiles as an interior player at the next level, joining early commit Patrick Vahe in the mix at guard or center. But Thomas is an intriguing prospect anywhere along the line, giving Wickline the flexibility needed to pursue any final difference makers that are interested in joining the Longhorns.

    With this commitment it would seem that the offensive line class is close to being full. There is still a possibility Texas could accept one or two more pledges before closing up shop.

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    photo credit: louisianastate.scout.com

    Film Analysis:
    Thomas has a large, developed frame at 6’5, 310 lbs. While he shows the ability to move well in space, Thomas really shines as an in-line blocker. His strong lower half allows him to excel at run blocking. On film, Thomas shows the ability to lock on and drive his man down the field before finishing him off. He also shows an ability to get to the second level and contribute to a play by blocking multiple defenders.

    In pass blocking, Thomas plays a bit on his heels and is inconsistent with his hands. Thomas is not as much a technician as he is a mauler. If played at tackle, he looks like he could have some problems with speed rushers off the edge. While Thomas can play a bit high at times, he shows some real flexibility that allows for him to recover when initially beat off the line. Thomas also displays the physical mentality Wickline seems to value in his players. The biggest thing that stands out on film is his work rate. Thomas is a high motor player who is always looking to finish the play.

    Final Verdict:
    There are definitely some rough edges for Thomas and Wickline to polish in the young man’s overall game, but Thomas has all the necessary tools to be successful at the collegiate level. Thomas will require some coaching to clean up his technique, but his projectable frame and football mentality will help him in that growth. At this point, Thomas is a ball of clay with loads of potential, and could blossom into a multi-year starter under Wickline if he reaches that potential.

    • Jul 09 2014 09:01 PM
    • by Mike Roach