I'm a fan of apologetics with CS Lewis and GK Chesterton numbering amongst my favorite writers, and with that in mind I'd like to make an Apologia for my continued faith in Garrett Gilbert.
I left the spring game wondering if perhaps Case McCoy gave the team a better chance to win as a game manager who could use the talent around him and minimize mistakes while the running game and speedier receivers did the heavy lifting on screens and in yards after catch. Gilbert I was almost ready to abandon after remembering him miss a throw to an open Hales, fail to convert in the Red Zone (we've seen that too many times) and throw that atrocious pick to Jackson when he had a receiver past the defense if he had moved his eyes around.
Then I watched the replay on ESPN3 a few times and things changed. McCoy became more the benefactor of luck and Gilbert a steady talent with an early, glaring error. Case's mistakes were greater and more frequent but he was bailed out on his deep throw by Darius White and made other errant throws where a defender could not catch it.
The Harsin offense does not seem to place a high priority on accuracy and making difficult "NFL" throws. Instead, it's about making reads and calls that will result in tosses to open receivers. With that in mind, what we want is someone who will grasp the reads of the offense and thus not place the ball in bad locations. Gilbert's interception clearly demonstrates that he is not there yet.
Assuming we had more than 1 guy who could handle the mental aspects of the offense, then accuracy downfield becomes a weapon. Sam Bradford, particularly in his freshman year, wasn't asked to demonstrate the high caliber of his arm but it showed up in how he led receivers and hit guys in stride. He was a weapon in his ability to perfectly execute simpler assignments. That's what we want this year. I think Gilbert gets there before anyone else and am not sure Case ever gets there. Anyone remember if Colt had such poor throwing mechanics as a freshman?
In the Trenches:
Hopkins may have the feet and athleticism to play outside at tackle but I'd rather we leave him inside where he belongs and take advantage of his ability to pull and get to the 2nd level with Snow and Walters. Having such a strong interior OL can potentially create far more time for the quarterback to throw than making Hopkins try to master the tackle position over the summer and fall.
Instead, I'd rather see what what Wylie makes of that summer and fall with Poehlmann, Kelly, Porter, Allen, Buchanan and Greenlea.
Tray Allen couldn't really handle Reggie Wilson in the spring game and Buchanan was absolutely abused by Alex Okafor. Wilson is the most "Buck" looking defensive end on the roster currently as he is an absolute terror in space. He reminds me of young Sam Acho in the way he manages sacks and pressures with a high motor and renewed acceleration when the initial burst fails. Everyonce in a while the tackle will guess the move correctly and be there, if an end can still make something happen when his move fails that is a better recipe for sustained success.
I'm betting Jeffcoat still starts though because his ability to use his hands will be useful in managing the stunts of the Diaz packages.
Okafor is starting to look like potentially the best player on the defense, although he perhaps drew an easier matchup in public than other stars. Still, he's been sold as a run defender who gained serious toughness playing inside but he is clearly licking his chops at the opportunities offered by taking on tackles in space.
Randall hasn't done much yet but it's worth nothing that he's been asked for the last 2 years to read and plug the playside A gap, often holding it against double teams. Now he's just getting a gap assignment and trying to take it. New technique, literally in his stance, and new aims. We know he can destroy most of the centers in this league one on one so I'm not too worried about Kheeston taking to this job. At the other spot it seems a safe bet that Howell, Dorsey and even Bible are starting to round, or unround, into form. I like Dorsey best for his speed.
Our linebacker corp is a team strength and amongst the deepest in the nation. They are also essentially all the same player. While the spread offense of the Big 12 has limited the need for a big, thumping Mike linebacker recent bowl games and defeats have emphasized that you do want someone there who can fill against the run.
Assuming Hicks plays the field side Sam role that Cobbs served in the spring game we have 3 guys whom in this league would probably excel best as weakside linebackers. Instead, for the 3rd year running, we are relocating an outside linebacker to the middle and hoping that our inexperience in blowing up blocks inside doesn't burn us.
Diaz is helping the crew by lining them up 8 yards back, rather than the 3-5 yards Muschamp positioned them in. Against the cutback of the Inside-Zone, which demolished our 50 fronts when Keenan and Emmanuel got caught filling other gaps, this will help tremendously as it provides them time to fill the worst creases and to take advantage of their greatest attribute, speed.
Cobbs, and likely Hicks, will have to zone-cover the flats or slot receivers and then explode onto the scene against screens and runs. I'm guessing Hicks will be the more skilled in this task, not being new to linebacker, but Cobbs has the better speed for this role in the future. When Acho and Robinson are gone expect to see Hicks at Will and Cobbs take over this role. In the meantime, Hicks needs to see the field and playing him out away from the line is going to be worth it for what he offers.
We have a few stars, believe it or not, who could surprise some people in the fall.
10). Justin Tucker: He's good at a great many things, including making touchdown saving tackles in the return game. Appreciate this guy, even if Will Russ easily replaces him upon his graduation, he may make a famous kick of his own before it's all said and done.
9). Mason Walters: Hopkins looks great, comparable to Walters, but the doubt in whether or not he stays at guard forces me to regard Walters higher.
8). Alex Okafor: I'm hoping he's from the Houston/Miller/Orakpo school of team leadership. That is, "show up to offseason drills or I will feed you to Mad Dog."
7). Kenny Vaccaro: Kenny the Maccabee, he'll get to do much more of what he excelled at in the Muschamp defense. Find the ball, hurt the ballcarrier.
6). Keenan Robinson: I'm not sure he leads the team in tackles again with Vaccaro regularly on the field and having vacated his Weakside spot that spared him facing a few blockers in the run game. On the other hand, he's going to get a running start this year and he's going to get to stunt a lot more. Also, his tremendous skill in making drops will be well utilized in the zone coverages.
5). Jordan Hicks: The fact that we moved around guys' positions and are making it a point to get him on the field in some capacity tells me that he is ready to do some exceptional things.
4). Emmanuel Acho: The best blitzer of the three and the one whom the position changes seem most likely to benefit.
3). David Snow: Hop aboard the bandwagon.
2). Kheeston Randall: Too good not to have a big impact this season in a simplified role.
1). Mike Davis: We have lots of guys on offense who are fantastic with the ball in their hands, have skills running routes or going up for the ball, etc. Mike Davis is the complete package, you could theoretically get him the ball in the short game, going deep, over the middle, or in the run/screen game. He goes for 1,000 all purpose yards or we are in trouble. Thank God we signed him last year.