Note: this is copied from our manuscript - the e-version would have the vital statistics in pretty boxes, everything would be flawlessly formatted, and you'd be looking at a kick-ass picture of Mike D doing work. We just wanted to give you a taste here. If it looks spare or unsightly, don't be prejudiced against the e-pub. The current readers will vouch for it.
If you already bought the preview, skip down to the bottom where I offer some DVD-style director's commentary. ;)
Mike Davis 6-2 193 SR WR
57-939-7 tds, 16.5 ypc, 7th all-time leading Longhorn WR
Jaxon Shipley 6-1 192 Jr. WR
59-737-6 tds, 12.5 ypc, has thrown 3 career TD passes
Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley enter 2013 with two seasons of starting experience alongside David Ash. Davis and Shipley have accounted for the bulk of receiving production in those two seasons: leading the team in receptions and yards. Although the conference has changed significantly since 2008, two other crafty receivers, Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley, built off of two years of experience with Colt McCoy to produce a shocking spike in passing game efficiency. Can Davis and Shipley establish a similar rhythm with David Ash in 2013 and elevate the entire offense?
Texas has two reliable commodities in Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis. But on the whole, the wide receiver portfolio lacks diversity and will struggle to provide balanced production.
Mike Davis is a slippery receiver who is particularly dangerous as a vertical threat despite not having top shelf speed or dominating size. He has superior body control and the ability to win position battles with defenders. On quick passes and screens, he shows good awareness of the first down marker. Davis is a liability at times due to inconsistency catching the ball and he is undersized as an outside receiving threat. As a blocker, Davis has become high effort and mediocre execution. Unfortunately this makes him one of the better blocking receivers on the team. On an elite offense, Davis would be a dangerous number two receiver, good for a few big plays a game.
Jaxon Shipley is an athletic, skillful receiver with elite hands. He has good top end speed, but creates most of his separation out of his breaks. Shipley recognizes defensive positioning and can adjust his routes on the fly - rare at the college level. This allows him to consistently create opportunities for the offense, even when the defense has the proper coverage. His additional competencies as a speed sweeper and trick play passer make him a catalyst for big, game-changing plays. He is a willing, but subpar blocker.
Cayleb Jones would have been poised for a breakout season. Jones' size, leaping ability, and superior hands would have made him a valuable tool in the red zone as well as presenting a difficult physical matchup for small cornerbacks. As a freshman he also flashed high upside as a perimeter blocker in his limited action. Unfortunately, his repeated bad decisions forced his removal from the team.
Kendall Sanders is a dangerous playmaker with the ball in his hands. He is a small-frame receiver who recovers to the ball quickly, easily changes direction, has good top end speed, and stresses the defense's ability to tackle in space. Most of the other areas of his game - route running, catching consistency, and situational awareness - are largely untested. In the 2013 Spring game, Sanders was routinely dominated as a blocker.
Marcus Johnson is a long striding runner who has the top end speed to stress the defense deep. At this stage he doesn't have the acceleration, control, and footwork to make defenders miss or create separation with his route breaks. Nor does Johnson have the upper body strength to claim a jump ball or break tackles afterward. Consequently, corners without deep help can handle him by giving him a cushion which largely mitigates his speed. When they do have deep help, Johnson is susceptible to press coverage and has to rely on diverting his routes around contact: again pruning much of his threat to the defense. If/when Johnson complements his speed with either more strength or technical skill, he may develop into a primary receiving option.
Bryant Jackson doesn't have the physical tools to impose his will on the defense. He is, however, a reliable receiving threat that has the skill to run a lot of different routes and can be trusted to make decisions on the field. He's at his best working quick breaking routes that exploit defensive spacing.
The Cayleb Jones transfer could pave the way for snaps for one of junior John Harris or true freshman Jake Oliver in order to get a physical presence on the outside, particularly if none of Sanders, Johnson, or Jackson show a significant improvement as blockers. Montrel Meander is a high-upside talent who played safety in high school. His combination of athleticism, strength, and affinity for contact project well in this system but it's unlikely he will contribute anything more than depth this season.
To better understand roles in the offense and some of the challenges the 2013 Longhorns will face, it's worth making the high level distinction between an inside receiver and outside receiver:
- Inside receivers in this system should be laterally quick athletes that are dangerous with the ball in their hands. They must have command of a wide variety of routes and be able to separate from coverage with stop/starts and precise breaks. They need to be reliable outlets for the quarterback by maintaining consistent timing and avoiding drops. They should also have good recognition of defenses allowing the offense adaptive variation in the passing game with option routes.
- Outside receivers should be able to punish single coverage with top end speed or physical size. Ideally, both. Yards after the catch is less important to an outside receiver than the ability to win jump balls and/or screen defenders with their body. The outside receivers must be good open field blockers who are capable of attacking a linebacker on a short side run or dominating a defensive back on a quick screen or speed sweep.
Texas lacks outside receivers. Overall, Texas' emphasis on 3 and 4 receiver sets with a slimmed down playbook will put a very high premium on timing, effort, and execution in the short and intermediate passing game.
Mike Davis will be Texas' primary outside receiving threat. Although not physically ideal for this role, Davis repeatedly demonstrated in 2012 that he can punish solo coverage and take over football games. Davis will significantly boost the effectiveness of the offense if he can become more proficient as a blocker and more consistent as a pass catcher.
Jaxon Shipley would be best utilized as the primary slot receiver exploiting spacing in between the underneath and deep coverage, threatening the vertical seam, and giving the quarterback a reliable hot target against the blitz. He's everything you want in that role.
Kendall Sanders' ability to create with ball in his hands make him the next best option in the slot. He and Shipley will see the field together often in four wide receiver sets. In order to translate his upside in this offense, Sanders will need to demonstrate versatility as route runner and create big play opportunities on short passes. He must improve as a blocker.
Overall the wide receiver group is not a strong match for the scheme shift of the offense. The unit lacks depth and is significantly unbalanced toward inside receiving threats. The inside-outside leverage concepts that the offense is embracing are most successful when the outside receiving threats demand extra attention from the defense and open up opportunities in the middle of the field for the inside receivers and the running game.
Three of the top receiving options: Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley, and Kendall Sanders are largely duplicative assets. They will need to compensate by parlaying their experience and quickness into a highly efficient quick passing game.
Success for the wide receivers will be defined by whether they 1) garner sufficient attention on the outside to complement the inside running game and 2) aggressively capitalize on defenses that offer them vertical opportunities.
Some Director's cut commentary:
This WR positional analysis is then further integrated, along with all of the other positions breakdowns, into a larger essay dealing with the offense as a whole, the move to up-tempo, and in our conclusions about the season.
You may think we're bearish on the WR group as a whole, but remember that there are two competing 2013 determinants at play:
1). the WR personnel are not a good fit for the system based on skill set, physical type, or depth - primarily in the lack of a classic outside receiving threats...
2). highly experienced, clever WRs in combination with accurate, mature QBs are deadly college passing combinations (Texas, 2008) and college defenses can rarely execute the disciplined game plan necessary to stop them.
Which will win out? And what will certain opponents with the right Defensive Coordinator and personnel do to thwart us? Read the preview and you'll see.
You may also note that we chose not to write about personnel in a vacuum as a series of heights, weights, and 40 times, with exclamation-filled proclamations about individual athleticism. We examine them as pieces in a greater whole, in how they fulfill the system requirements, their best intended use, and offer a candid explanation of strengths or weaknesses.
We do the same thing with every position group. And I think it creates a structure for thinking about the team - and football in general - that's helpful. It helped me, at least.
If you liked this small taste (about 3%) of the preview, you know what to do.