Priority one for Mack this fall is obviously determining the Quarterback to hold the reins for the dream wagon. I have an opinion or two on that front but it's important to note that the horses that will drag the wagon to 8 wins and Top 25 relevance will not include a QB this year unless we get some unexpected production at that position.
The Elusive Shadow over at Burntorangenation wrote a post about upholding objective historical fact vs. the new myth of the Gilbert era. Unfortunately the Shadow had neither the means nor the inclination to review the 2010 game tapes to defend Gilbert's performances over the course of the season and implores us to believe in his own memory over the prevailing myth.
Heading into the season, we knew there weren't any dominant pieces to the Longhorn offense. The hope, which I articulated and which you could hear Geoff Ketchum promulgating on the radio, was that Gilbert's arm strength and accuracy combined with a running game that could punish 2 deep safeties would turn an offense of solid starters into a capable unit as a whole. Gilbert was supposed to be THE PLAYMAKER for the offense who needed to make things happen by putting the ball where it needed to be move the chains and put receivers in position to gain yards after the catch.
Additionally, because of Gilbert's admirable second half performance in the National Championship game and solid reps during the offseason, it was believed that he had the experience to enable his talent. Did the Texas offensive line play as well in pass protection as we might have hoped? No. Did Greg Davis abandon the running game at curious times and put all the weight on Gilbert's shoulders? Yes. Did we run an incoherent scheme? Yes.
But in light of our season's expectation of Gilbert and what we thought he would be capable of, we must conclude that his season displayed less ability than we initially believed him to possess. Scipio's description of him as a "system QB without a system" proved to be perfectly accurate.
My fear for Gilbert is that his arm strength and accuracy downfield is only enabled through simple reads or staring down targets and that he can't wind up and deliver the goods without unrealistic amounts of time (or elite receivers) to read the coverage and fire. Even without zoomed out angles or an understanding of the proper reads and checks, this interpretation of Gilbert's struggles certainly matches the available data.
As far as who will drive the wagon this season, I'm torn. What has some Texas fans nervous is the early non-conference schedules that hits us with both a potent passing attack (BYU) and a credible ground game (UCLA). If we give Gilbert a second chance and he maintains a high turnover rate, we could run out of mulligans as four of our first six opponents have a reasonable chance of defeating us.
Case McCoy's weak arm doesn't actually scare me as much as it does others when I review them on tape because he seems to possess the same sense of timing as Colt, who made a habit of throwing slower balls at defensive backs' heads, trusting that his receiver was going to be in the best position to catch the ball. Case's inability to make all the throws can be schemed around since Harsin's offense primary requirement is accuracy. We aren't going to ask him to make too many difficult throws to be successful. But he has to hit the deep post and fly patterns and make the big play when it's needed.
I've never seen Ash save for scanty practice tape and high school highlights (which are impressive). If he's as good as Shuttlesworth's Asset says he is then it makes sense to get him involved early and see if he can win the job outright. Worst case scenario -- Wood, Gilbert, and McCoy all transfer next season and we have Ash, Brewer and another freshman we make room for. The only way that happens is if Ash has a season that would convince everyone that they had no future as a starting QB at Texas. That said, I'm not ready to anoint someone I've never seen in a college game or even practice.
What's important to note is that none of these guys are pulling the wagon. On offense we're building around the running game and attacking space that it affords us while on defense, it's all about the front 7. The cart horses are as follows...
Trey Hopkins-David Snow-Mason Walters. I like the more recent reported lineup that goes left to right: Allen-Snow-Espinosa-Walters-Hopkins. I was a fan of Walters to Right Tackle and not remotely disturbed by the news that he couldn't handle Okafor in pass protection, although Oak is far from being the only good strongside rusher in this conference. Hopkins' reported comfort within that assignment changes the formula though, and a right side with Walters and Hopkins together presents some exciting possibilities.
This RB unit is doing the real work on this offense. Unless Malcolm Brown seizes the starting role for a 1000 yard season or Fozzy finally drops a 1500 all purpose yard season, the real playmakers are the ones whose names are in bold above. I expect something like in 2006 when we had a couple of guys who approached 1k yards (Charles and Selvin Young).
Mike Davis, because we need to scheme for someone on the outside and Davis' open field moves, route running potential, and hands make him the guy that we'll scheme for. He's had a rough August with too many dropped balls but he may just be ready to see some live action at this point. Mike brings it on game day.
Whoever emerges at TE...maybe DJ Grant. Harsin knows how to do damage with these guys and everyone on our schedule has become used to using this position against us in the past few years. I really liked Grant in practice in 2009 before we lost him to injury, along with every other viable pass catching TE. In our Red Zone packages we are going to finally make some use out of these Flex TE's that we have stockpiled like Gold bullion.
Fullback. Stoops got himself a fullback last year and actually had a fairly versatile one on the 2008 team that could play HB/TE/FB, it really helped them be multiple in the no-huddle. In this league, when you can send a guy out of the backfield to chip a Brad Madison, run over a Shaun Lewis, or catch the ball out of the backfield you have a rare weapon. Looks like they want to use Cody Johnson here and if he's a real blocker we're going to hurt teams with him and Mean Joe. You may not see big numbers here in terms of yardage but you will see the lead blocks, seals, kick-outs, and occasional runs or catches that will break a defense down.
Kheeston Randall and Alex Okafor are going to play on the same side quite a bit if Diaz is anything like Muschamp. Manny's predecessor placed extreme importance on shifting his fronts around to create optimal matchups because our secondary was playing a lot of man and the DL had long grocery lists. He played Kindle and Houston together in Over fronts and really wrecked the zone running games in this conference.
I'm betting Oak isn't going to get to play much 9-tech in space and he's stunting inside frequently on blitzes anyways. He and Randall have to get push in the pass-rush and hold up their side in the running game because the Jeffcoat-Howell/Daniels/Dorsey/Bible? side isn't going to be able to carry the water for anyone else just yet. This is where our mismatches are in the trenches.
Watch Randall's draft eval tape from last year and notice the plays where he gets penetration into the B-gap or he stands up to a double team and then notice the shots on the RB's that he sets up for our LB corp. Expect more of that this year and more media attention and appreciation. Good video to watch to build hope for stuffing A&M and OU -- their centers couldn't handle him.
The Linebackers are all going to have strong seasons. If I were the defensive coordinator I would play Hicks at MLB and if it became apparent that Robinson lacked the mentality of a Mike or struggled to fill gaps, move him back to the weakside and play Acho on the strongside and possibly as a 9-tech in nickel situations. However, that's not really how the Diaz defense works and I'm pretty sure Robinson is up to the task of "making the DL right" as he can play downhill with speed and at least match what Chris White did at this position for Miss. St. last year.
That's all scarcely relevant though as this team will survive lacking elite, between the tackles, run-stuffing personnel at linebacker and settle for demolishing the passing game as blitzers and zone defenders.
Kenny Vaccaro is your other impact player for the 2011 squad since he gives us at least one starting safety with coverage abilities and a possible 100-tackle eraser against the run/screen game of the Big 12.