One of the first things I did after getting back from vacation was to read Longhorn Scott's archived open practice reports, check out our friends at BON, and then start calling and talking to the various people I know and respect who attended practice, have ins with staff or players, and generally have a pretty good pulse on what's going on. Add in my inquisitorial questioning style and some general skepticism and voila! - we have data. For what's it's worth. I'm basically reporting points of consensus, will minimize ass-covering, and marry it all to what I already know about this team.
There's spring in the air and in the coaching staff's steps. They think we'll be pretty good if we avoid injuries on the OL (specifically OT) and @ QB. Longer term - 2013, 2014 - serious MNC contention depends on some guys becoming special in addition to the infrastructure of classes 2010-2013 developing as anticipated.
You've already read about the repeated emphasis on pace in the Spring and everyone I talked to discussed it. We're not at maniacal Oregon levels, but the staff has made it clear that we're trying to maximize reps and once players cross the line (literally, there's a line) they're running from drill to drill. We no longer stop scrimmage situations for individual player instruction - the position coach is expected to take notes and bring it up later in film or in individual work. Or just remove the player and instruct while his replacement runs the next play.
Very good core group of character guys. Lack of seniors troubling. Feels defense has senior leadership in Vaccaro and Okafor, but offense has none and that there's no clear candidate in the lower classes.
Still some dead roster weight - some deficient in talent from the old recruiting days, some not wired for the devotion and repetitive monotony of high level FBS football. Not bad guys, just saw a scholarship to UT as their ultimate goal, rather than maximizing ability once here. Or general immaturity. No one is being trap-doored, but brutally honest conversations are happening and will culminate post-Spring game. The redshirt medical is college football's equivalent of an honorable discharge.
Wylie has a great work ethic. His eyes are everywhere. Aside: I personally don't think we're maximizing in terms of nutrition or pushing S&C boundaries, but we have a real, robust S&C program now and a solid B beats a F. The County Fair stuff wasn't about conditioning - in fact, it may even set some people back slightly with recovery times - it was about mental toughness, creating an edge, and letting the team create its own leaders and see who has been slacking. 5:30am wake up calls also do a solid job of keeping people off of Sixth Street.
The guys are much more comfortable doing different things now. Previously, when Diaz lined up people in ways they weren't used to, there was a hesitancy instead of just playing football. Not a problem now. "I love that you guys can think before the snap, but when the ball is snapped, play the game and trust yourself."
DT will be attacked as a committee. Brandon Moore is a force of nature - "a fucking load" - but can't maintain effort level and relies on strength over technique, which exhausts him even more quickly than his baseline cardio suggests. He'll be able to fight longer once he learns to use his body with more economy. Think of a boxer who only punches with his arms. Still think Whaley can be an every snap DT eventually. Dorsey and Jackson are reliable - Jackson is small and can be smothered, but he murders high pad levels (Mason Walters). Dorsey is our most complete dude at this juncture. Apparently, Bo Davis likes to use the prospect of Brenham's Brown as bogeyman to spur effort - "Sloppy. Can't win with that! I can't wait for that freshman to take your jobs!" It's done playfully. That's not a prediction.
Cedric Reed looks good and has put on 35 pounds of solid weight since reporting as a freshman. Wilson is "up and down." I consider Okafor a very good player, but not an elite pass rusher and was hoping we could develop a speed guy. Jeffcoat out, obviously. At least one true freshman will play right away situationally. I'll guess Ridgeway.
Steve Edmond is the truth. It's not about his size and physicality - it's that he has size and physicality paired with lateral movement, athleticism, and good instincts. Long arms and great hands - one hands interceptions in drills, scoops up balls on the bounce fluidly in fumble recovery drills. His hits disproportionately cause fumbles - strikes hard and then rakes his sasquatch hands across the ball. He's totally inexperienced, but once he sees some football, the coaches like his future. Important how he minds his body in offseason.
Jordan Hicks is continuing where he left off against Cal. Hard to find reps with Acho-Robinson in nickel and now he knows the job is his. Good blitzer and nice complement to Edmond. DeMarco Cobbs is a coach's favorite, but can't stay healthy. Great change of direction and you can line him up anywhere (including on the slot WR) and he's comfortable. Benson fading. Jackson, Thompson rising. Thompson "a football player" more than a pure LB. Jackson working on the mental part of the game.
Strongest unit on the team "by far." "Every starter is a team leader. The coaches want the team to emulate the DBs. They're talented, supportive of teammates, and work hard every day."
Adrian Phillips' absence has allowed some depth to build: specifically, Josh Turner, Mykkele Thompson, Duke Thomas. Coaches had big expectations for Sheroid Evans, but track + injury means everything is postponed. Think he's the fastest guy in pads on the team. AJ White is solid depth, but has been supplanted by more talented guys. Duke Thomas is undersized and weak, but his change of direction and ball skills "are off the charts." He will play now. Turner has good anticipation and scrappiness. All of our DBs "catch the ball well and can do something with it after they do."
Diggs vs. Byndom. Diggs is better when he's covered up with a safety so he can jump routes and disrupt. Byndom is superior on an island. You can throw over the top of Diggs. Both guys will pop you, but Little Giant brings 200 pounds with a low base. "Diggs loves football more than any player on the roster - it consumes him." Coaches hold them up as examples of passion for the game (Diggs) and focused attention to detail (Byndom). Aside: I think Byndom is the better talent, but Diggs can catalyze an entire team. Glad they're on our team.
Staff was terrified or philosophical, depending on who I listened to. Expect to hear "The Longhorns are going for it on 4th and 2" a lot next year. We have a lot of hopes pinned on Nick Jordan.
Like our kick returners, but they've decided that the lesson of Fozzy and the way we block our returns tells us that our kick returner must bring the ball up the field hard for the first fifteen yards before making a cut and that he has to be able to break a tackle. We're looking for guys who will do that. Punt returns - think we've got 3-4 good options.
Happy to answer any and all questions....