For all the gut punches Mack Brown has taken of late, most of them well deserved, he landed two counterpunches of his own by hosting a Sophomore Day for the super crunko talented 2015 class, and then moving the spring game to the Saturday the Texas relays ended. Perhaps this is the work of Bama wunderkid Patrick Suddes. I'd like to think so, but let's just give Mack credit for something, shall we? It's been awhile. We're friends again!
This year's Orange & White game yielded a much bigger, more ... vibrant (?) crowd, cleverly drawing kids that were already here for track, hanging out at Highland Mall, or loitering on 6th Steet, but could also conveniently drop in on a football practice. I didn't get to see the game in person because I was dodging oil & gas semitrucks frackin their asses at 100 mph down route 80 on my way to the vibrant metropolis of Beeville, TX. Turning a naval base into a prison is never a good thing. beowulf would thrive there.
Rather than go through play-by-play highlights, which you read about a week ago and have been indulging in conference championship dreams ever since, here are some players that stood out after watching a recording of the game. The plays themselves haven't really changed all that much, considering we've embraced every en vogue offense played in college football since Mack arrived 15 years ago. Once you've seen a bubble screen / jet sweep / busted coverage fly pattern / broken pocket QB draw / poorly executed screen pass / halfback trap / inside zone / TE drag for an incompletion, you've seen them all. It's who's making those plays (and who's not) that we care about. The key takeaway: This is a more experienced, faster Texas team. There is speed to burn and they just need to get running in the same direction. Is it more talented? Across the two deep, yes. Are there individual players as elite as Okafor and Vaccaro? Not yet. We need some breakout stars to contend for a conference championship.
The longstanding tradition of playing 1's vs 2's and 3's, temporarily halted by Will Muschamp, has been gloriously restored and it guaranteed the standard 5.1 ypc for Texas, while the Longhorns averaged a lowly 3.3 ypc. Zero Sum Game sponsored by Pluckers - everyone gets 5 free wings! From this lopsided boxscore, we cannot take away how the unified Longhorns might fare against a conference opponent come October, but we can divine precise weight and height changes since January, appreciate what new hair styles are in fashion (I'm looking at you Marcus Johnson and I like what I see), and gain a sense of who was rewarded for being GKWG by looking at post-whistle clap distribution (Mack Brown loves Duke Thomas).
Johnathan Gray looks ready to ball. Against an NFL team. Right now. And this isn't spring football dreamwagon-powered hyperbole. If anything, we view things through Crimson colored glasses as a reminder of recent bloodbaths in Dallas. While JGray might not fare as well against Patrick Willis as he did last Saturday against Steve Edmond (Ole!), Gray has every tangible and intangible quality you want in a running back. In the first series of the game, he reeled off two runs where he ran through the hole like he was shot out of Brent Musburger's canon! The first one went off right tackle for 8 yards, the second was a perfectly executed trap to the left with Walters as a pulling guard with a great combo block by Hawkins and McFarland to seal off the edge. Having Ricky Williams in the booth improved the telecast, even if the 5 hour energy drink that is Lowell Galindo didn't do him any favors in the play-by-play discourse. Ricky looked and sounded very comfortable holding a mic, which is interesting for a guy that didn't give an interview with his helmet off for about eight years. He's been a nice addition to the LHN, I'd just wish he'd been paired with Kevin Dunn instead of the kid from Saved by the Bell. Galindo's job is definitely cooler than mine though.
Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron also looked lean, fast, and healthy. Of course they do, it's the offseason. Hopefully they can avoid another series of repetitive injuries, ranging from minor to slightly painful to goddamn aggravating, but even if B&B are healthy, Gray is your starter come September and rightfully so. Nick Saban looks at our RB depth chart and nods in approval. Now if we could just borrow his OL?
And if you're the type who's into depth charts, this post-spring game version one may be of interest to you. Mack Brown's two deeps are as relevant as my 9 month old's fuzzy caterpillar book collection, and far less illustrative. Let's turn the page!
Duke Thomas vaulted his way across the scary volcano called SOPHOMORE YEAR POSITION CHANGE and now carries three titles (WR/KR/DB). And that doesn't even include his vast land holdings. He showed a nice burst through traffic on the initial kickoff return, hauled in a tough catch on the crossing route to net a nice third down completion from Case McCoy, and seems to have earned the respect of his coaches for his willingness to ball in all facets of the game. I still think his upside is at DB but Copperas Cove does have some history in spitting out raw projects into future Heisman winners. Obviously, it's important we keep expectations in check for young Duke. Anything less than 800 receiving yards, 7 TDs, and 5 INTs will be a disappointment.
Cayleb Jones can grow up, become a man -OR- not return to the team. His absence from the depth chart is telling. I've wanted to punch many Australians in the jaw before but the Kiwis have made quite a fine existence by simply ignoring their pestulent neighbors to the West. He would be wise to adhere to the Maori proverb: "Let someone else acknowledge your virtues."
In Jones' absence, Kendall Sanders has made the most of his opportunity this spring. Near the end of the first quarter, he took a simple 25 yard hitch to the house, shedding a poor tackle from Leroy Scott while Bryson Echols got caught in no man's land. It should be a familiar play. Ryan Broyles torched us for about 300 yards with it throughout his career. Diggs would have made that tackle but Sanders showed how quickly he can get up to speed and do some damage after the catch. He should have plenty of single coverages with Davis and Shipley drawing most of the secondary's attention. McCoy looked for John Harris often, and in true #9 style, he caught some tough ones and dropped some easy ones. (Malcolm Williams Likes this). When Sanders logs five times as many receptions as Bryant Jackson and Harris this fall, don't blame this depth chart. It's fluid, and that's ...
FAIR WARNING! We still don't have a functional blocking surface known as a Tight End. We have some encouraging pieces, improving body parts, but not all belonging to one man. Geoff Swaim is not yet ready to log the lion's share of starter snaps and While M.J. McFarland is making long strides, he still needs work on blocking, which is the main job of a tight end when not volleyball setting a potential reception to the defense. Greg Daniels should have stayed on defense. Caleb Bluiett, all 220 lbs of him, created a lot of havoc off the edge for our young TEs, logging a 12 yard TFL and a sack. He's long and lean with a great first step. Which means we should naturally convert him to TE, right? I have no doubt Bruce Chambers will have this bunch playing like Gronkowski and Hernandez come the fall.
Each QB had his moments and a few they would like back. Major is right when he said that David Ash lost his mind for about five minutes of the game (11/15 2TD start, next three plays 0/3 2 INT). The pass to a wide open Davis down the sideline was perfectly in stride with the perfect amount of zip and arc, something Major has been working on with Ash since taking over as OC. The two INTs weren't the kind you worry too much about, unless you're the type who REALLY wants your team to win its Spring game. ColoradoAg is just competitive like that. Case McCoy was his usual self, scrambling out of a broken pocket to hit a streaking John Harris down the sideline, then lobbing a fly ball to Sheroid Evans on the next play, who nearly housed it from 60 yards out. Connor Brewer is looking a little transfery to me. Fourth on the depth chart behind an incoming freshmen and two veteran guys doesn't exactly foretell all conference honors, let alone snaps in garbage time, but he did have a nice scramble and completion to Bryant Jackson, the second team O's favorite 3rd & long safety valve along with John Harris. These two guys are more than capable at moving the sticks and offer big targets assuming Ash can get through his first two progressions.
Longhorn nation, meet Tyrone Swoopes. Happy feet? Check. Run for 30 yard to gain 15? Check. Fast and quirky release? Check. Remind you of a young VY? Check. More than his physical tangibles, you have to like Swoopes' confidence in adapting a completely new system and literally running with it when shit breaks down. He oozes swag and this is something our offense could use from the QB position, considering David Ash showers six times a day. I don't know this as fact but it seems like it could be true, an editorial credo which has worked very well for us in the past.
Malcom Brown DT needs to take over the position. We have pairings of DT's with different strengths and weaknesses but he's the only player on the depth chart capable of doing it all, Kheestoon Randall and Roy Miller-style. Tank Jackson is the young leader of this group but you'll be seeing a lot of #90 this fall and this is a good thing. For a guy as athletically gifted as Chris Whaley, he is wildly inconsistent. Is it an effort thing? Does he still fancy himself a 300 lb running back? He and Dorsey have the unique DT skillsets of being able to rush the passer, but only when they really want to or it's a highly favorable matchup. Bo Davis has to be frustrated that the collective play doesn't mirror the talent level. (Eventually, he'll learn from Mack Brown how to properly temper expectations for a potentially elite unit.) We're going to need these guys to win some games for us given the continued atrocities being committed by the Linebacker position. Can it be long before the UN gets involved?
Manny Diaz is not a linebackers coach. He is a defensive coordinator, theoretically, that got tasked with the extra assignment of coaching linebackers. While schemes have been simplified from the manic pre-snap slanting, shifting, teammate humping, and gap guessing we saw last year; this group still tends to gang tackle running the wrong direction down the field while the first down marker dude resets his number from 3 to 1. This group needed Jordan Hicks back in a big way and while he got lucky with the deflected shovel pass INT on Ash, his presence in the middle makes us a better defense. He finished just behind leading tackler Adrian Phillips (7) with 6 tackles. As usual, Peter Jinkens was all over the place, flying at full speed, often at an undesirable angle and while he missed a few chances to tackle Tyrone Swoopes behind the line of scrimmage, that won't be an exclusive club. Edmond's upside will be limited until he can pick up the more mental aspects of the linebacking position, which requires an understandable scheme, a ton of reps, and actual coaching. Given that he's already losing reps to an emerging Dalton Santos isn't an encouraging sign for the big cat in the middle.
We have a lot of young talent in the secondary. This isn't anything new but we have a lot of different bodies and traits that Duane Akina can hopefully piece together. We're not asking for a Belichik-level zone, just responsible defense. Mykelle Thompson is more of a gazelle and will never be a physical safety, but that 60 yard kickoff return was nice. However, he thumbed his nose at another longstanding spring game tradition by failing to take it to the house. I like Adrian Colbert's mindset and build. He and Vaccaro bring a physical edge to a group that's been lacking it other than the recently departed Machete. Echols will be be a great cover corner for us some day. He's got great make up speed, which is nice considering he still gets beat a lot. Leroy Scott is underrated. He's a special teams baller that probably deserves more PT ahead of Josh Turner, who got pinballed by at least three different ballcarriers. I'm sorry, that's not what a safety looks like. It's like wanting Desean Hales to be a tight end.
Adrian Phillips is probably wondering what the hell happened last year, but we're glad he reinhabited his own body, which has been reattached to his brain and showing some nice new bulk. We need a great year from #17 to anchor centerfield.
I really like the potential from this group of DEs, particularly Cedric Reed. He blew past Kennedy Estelle and Donald Hawkins a few times for would be sacks that weren't blown dead, and has a knack for sniffing out play direction. Shiro Davis, Bryce Cottrell, and Bluiett all flashed their potential and will be called on early and often as we work Jeffcoat back into full strength. Is there an Okafor in the bunch? No. But Ced Reed is going to live in the backfield and should eclipse Jeffcoat in sack totals and TFLs.
The first team OL executed well on power and zone runs, as you'd expect them to against a second team DL, but they also seemed to flash a little extra cohesion we haven't seen from a Texas OL in a while. Pulling guards were more in synch with second level blocking. Espinosa actually made it to the second level. Once we plug in a healthy Sedrick Flowers, Josh Cochran, and Desmond Harrison into this unit, Searels finally has some talent, depth, and experience to work with. Curtis Riser and Kennedy Estelle have already shown big upside as long as they keep working in the weight room. Will they all pucker against OU? Probably.
Searels still has his work cut out for him, but at least you know the conditioning has improved by going up tempo. And when we say UP TEMPO, we're still a long way from Oregon. it's more like Moab. Some snaps come off in 13 seconds (fast), some are still around 22. Whether we're actually up tempo or not doesn't matter as long as WE HAVE ANNOUNCED OUR INTENTIONS. Hear that, Stoops? Yeah. Better start preparing now. Oh, nevermind, you already are. WELL BE READY ANYWAY, FUCKHEAD.
Texas has already won the conference blind taste test heading into summer camp. We average a conference championship about once every seven or eight years, so while sligthly ahead of schedule, it's not too early to start imagining a world where Texas football is not only watchable again, but competitive, consistent, and dominant. The way it should be.
If you watched the game and still remember anything about it, share your thoughts.
Only 147 days until kickoff.