Normally you begin a puzzle by looking for the edge pieces, in football you begin with the pieces in the middle. Unless they want to go to Alabama or Baylor.
In his press conference introducing the 2013 class, Mack exhibited a decent command of the strategic trends in the game. His plan for the '13 Horns is basically to maintain much of the same offense but adapt it to the no-huddle tempo. Of particularly importance is Mack's plan to go no-huddle in practice, which helps the defense adjust and call their sets in a hurry while maximizing the number of reps your team gets in your base concepts.
That approach has been primary in Oregon's success under Chip Kelly.
This is where the game is going. Oklahoma has been demonstrating for several years now that a team with upper-tier talent and depth will absolutely wear out opponents by going up-tempo. Your talent and athletic advantages over the foe are mathematically maximized with repeated snaps while your depth has a chance to come into play.
Mack stated that they only had five or six plays they could run up-tempo against Oregon St and hoped to build on that number in the spring. Let's hope so.
He added that he was concerned that Harsin's packaging strategy allowed defenses to match personnel and stifle their plans. Now...I don't think Harsin's "total roster" strategy (my own term, for maximizing the whole roster with packages) is a flawed plan. However, I do think that it is a better fit for a program that can't necessarily recruit do-it-all athletic freaks. If you have someone like Trey Millard or Daje Johnson who can line up in a dozen different places it behooves you to keep them on the field and make the defense try to guess how they need to be stopped on a given play.
For instance: Muschamp once described the difficulties his 2010 defense had with OU in the Cotton Bowl when the Sooners burned them on some of their most basic concepts run out of new formations that caused matchup problems for the 'horns. Eventually Texas adjusted and clamped down (too late to secure victory), but the confusion and complexity afforded by moving quickly on offense is relatively cheap and very effective.
Now it's important that we find more players who can play multiple roles in base personnel to allow us to be flexible. Ricky Seals-Jones is such a player...we lost him. Durham Smythe could have probably brought a lot of flexibility, but we lost him as well. Nevertheless, I don't think we had a bad haul.
On defense it's the same story: simple schemes that can lend themselves to complexity but are easy for the defenders to adjust pre-snap.
The MOFC stuff is here to stay, it's how Diaz marries his own designs for his defensive front with Akina's insistence on being a DBU factory. The key is to feature defensive backs at all four positions who can play man coverage. Both safeties need to be able to both drop down and hang with a slot receiver OR drop into deep middle or 1/3 coverage.
Because the safeties take the no. 2 receiver, that means Texas can play less nickel personnel and employ a SAM linebacker near the box. The next domino is that Diaz can outnumber the run and bring wild pressures with seven terrifying pass-rushers in striking distance of the quarterback before the snap.
Of course this was true in 2012, and we squandered it due to the fact that playing an extra linebacker isn't an advantage if none of them are very good. Theoretically it's great stuff, we'll see if we can coach the linebackers to take advantage. I do think that no-huddle practices will go a long way towards helping our defenders master their roles and adjustments.
Before we tackle the individual pieces Mack has added, I'd like to address his re-emphasis on getting kids who "want to be at Texas." This idea further illustrates how out of touch Mack is with the process necessary to execute the theoretical strategies I've just outlined.
Most of us could name a handful of kids that really wanted to play at Texas, and did not make the most of their opportunity. Hell, I would have wanted to play at Texas more than anything...I wouldn't have recommended that Mack reward that loyalty. We could also name guys that had to be recruited to come here but possessed the competitive fire to refuse to be anything less than excellent. We won a national championship with such a player.
You go and recruit the competitive kids that refuse to be less than what they could be and you place them in a culture that's serious about realizing that goal. I'll take the three or even two star kid that burns with desire over the four or five star talent that can't wait to hit 6th street. The hyper-competitive kids will be plenty loyal once they are on campus and their success in football depends on getting the most out of themselves and their teammates.
Alrighty, let's review the additions:
Chevoski Collins: We have a strong track record of taking athletes like this and molding them into defensive backs here. He looks athletic enough but I don't know if he can turn his hips well enough to play on the outside at corner or not. If not, I think he'll be physical enough to play inside.
Antwuan Davis: One of the class's jewels, Davis is the real deal. He's physical and strong in press coverage or run support and he has the speed to turn and run with guys. I'll be surprised if he doesn't end up somewhere on the depth chart as an underclassman.
Erik Huhn: Very interesting take. Huhn was a cover-2 safety in high school, which is not the direction we're going in as a program. However, his track times are very good and Akina was impressed with how he handled man-coverage in his camp.
Another possibility for the big, 206 pound freshman is that he grows into a SAM linebacker for Diaz. He's definitely quick enough to handle the coverage roles of that position and he has the physicality and tackling form to play near the box and blitz off the edge. Having a linebacker who understands how to play zone would be another big plus but if nothing else, at least he's not heading to a Cover-2 team to play against us.
Deoundrei Davis: My 2nd favorite defensive player in the class. His high school lined him up as a SAM and asked him to do old school SAM jobs like forcing the run and taking on pullers and lead blocks as well as new school SAM jobs like covering slot receivers. He was better in the former, which makes me think he'll end up inside in college.
This is what a Big 12 linebacker should look like, rangy yet physical.
Naashon Hughes: Pretty athletic and very tall, 6-4 currently. I don't know what to make of him but I'd be curious to see what a redshirt and S&C makes of him. He could end up anywhere between SAM and DT and none of it would surprise me.
Defensive lineman: Oops, we neglected the position that's notorious for being the most difficult to evaluate. You always want numbers at defensive tackle. Fortunately we redshirted three defensive tackles from 2012 but I'd still want more. You never know what athletes or three star players may end up making a difference here so I wish the staff had done some homework and had more prospects in mind. Or been better situated with Billings, who might have been the best in the state.
Losing him to Baylor to play with Javonta McGee is going to come back to burn us very badly. He could be as good as anyone we've signed at DT in the last few years.
Jake Raulerson: I start with Raulerson because I still think he could be the defensive lineman of the class. His defensive tape is excellent and his high-motor, quick feet, and great technique fuel him into the backfield from the nose-tackle position over and over again.
To me, he looks like a 3-4 defensive end who can generate an interior pass rush.
However, it looks like he'll end up on OL. I understand he's been projected at Center by people wiser than myself but I don't get it. Someone who's 6-5 and likely to end up around 290-300 with that kind of athleticism should be at tackle, imo. Possibly the first two OT's taken in the next draft, Luke Joeckel and Lane Jonson, run about 310 and 303 respectively. As long as he develops thickness and weight in the right places I think he can be really special.
This is one of those hyper-competitive guys that you know will find a way to excel somewhere.
Darius James: Initially I was confused when Mack said that James would probably play guard at Texas.
If you watched Alabama's line this year, you'll notice that by moving Barrett Jones to Center they were able to skip out on combo blocks on their Inside Zone and Power runs and allow Chance Warmack to seek and destroy at the 2nd level from the snap. It takes a powerful and skilled man to snap the ball and then single block a nose-tackle and Jones did it against some big time players. Why not do the same with James?
However, watching his tape you see his team repeatedly run a play in which he snaps the ball and pulls around the edge, usually pancaking the DE or OLB and then perhaps another fellow. This is your Chance Warmack, use a slower mauler to man the Center position.
Rami Hammad: Maybe Hammad can be your center. He's quick and powerful, like James, but he's not the same level of athlete. You get a bunch of guys like this leaning on a defense on downhill runs and you have a recipe for success in this league. Teams don't have the physicality at linebacker or the depth on the DL to hold up to punishment from 300+ pound interior OL. Ask Art Briles, who thought he had Hammad in his fold for exactly that purpose. Spread them out into nickel and dime package, and then run inside behind massive people.
Kent Perkins: Prototypical tackle prospect. Tall, athletic. Give him a shirt and some reps in pass protection and let's see what comes out in a few years. Colt had maybe one or two guys this physically talented at Tackle in his time here. Thank God for Stacy Searels.
Desmond Harrison: I have no idea how ready Harrison is to hold up against the likes of Maponga or Fields but he has the raw physical tools you crave at OT. 6'8", long powerful arms, very fast and quick with his feet, etc. Hopefully he's not an infant in technique and maybe he can show up on the depth chart soon.
We're going for Inside Zone and Power-O here, that much is obvious. You could probably run any offense with young men this big and athletic but we clearly emphasized power in this class. The kind of power that gets "vertical displacement" on Inside Zone and can move aside the Mountain West's more imposing defensive tackle tandems before the 4th quarter. I'm not sure if Major will still emphasize Pin'n'pull or Outside Zone in the future or not.
I imagine Searels will have a lot to say in that discussion and it looks like he's thinking inside running.
Geoff Swaim: It's obvious what Harsin was going for here. At either fullback or tight end, Swaim brings the physicality that we've desperately needed for the last two seasons. Is he versatile enough as a receiver to stay on the field in a base up-tempo personnel package? I'm not sure.
If he can catch better than Peter Ullman he probably shouldn't leave the field to often. This is one of the best ancillary blocking players Mack has signed at Texas.
Jake Oliver: Mack repeatedly emphasized how Texas wanted to get faster with this recruiting class. This may reflect Applewhite's desire going forward but it's not what was going on here. Harsin was going after Power. Size and strength to bully the rest of the league.
Jake Oliver is a great route runner, physical blocker, a weapon in the end zone, blah blah. I'm not sure if he's quick enough to get open on the outside against better defensive backs. However, I do think he's a candidate to excel in the "flex TE" position that John Harris will occupy next season.
We had a terrible time with Flex TE's in the Greg Davis era but I think it's a fine concept in theory. You just need to find the players who will actually grow into it. Oliver would be a weapon in the middle against safeties and linebackers and he relishes the contact necessary to survive in there. He's at 205 currently, keep an eye on future rosters.
Jacorey Warrick: His 40 time is listed at 4.6 but he breaks in and out of routes exceptionally well. My guess is that Applewhite brings back some of Old Greg's West Coast timing concepts in which the receiver makes his break on the route based on the coverage. The Quarterback reads the coverage as well and delivers the ball where he knows the receiver will be. It's difficult stuff but tremendously effective if your receiver can be trusted to get open on his breaks and make the right reads with the QB.
I think Warrick has the talent to be good there.
Montrel Meander: Our attempt to get some speed to offset the losses of Monroe and Goodwin. We landed another burner already for 2014 so this is clearly a priority for Major. Meander looks fast and dangerous in a straight line so he could be dangerous outside. I'm not sure if he has the quicks to get open in other fashions but there is always a need in a Power-run offense for guys who need extra attention going deep down the sidelines.
Tyrone Swoopes: John Kocurek wrote a great article extolling the virtues of Tyrone Swoopes some time ago here.
When I look at Swoopes I think of my favorite scene in Moneyball:
"If he's a good hitter why doesn't he hit good?"
Billy Bean's scouts are speaking of this brilliant young hitter in their farm system and fawning over his "tools" and potential. However, the kid can't hit. He's going to start hitting well when he faces big league pitching? Bean asks.
Of course not! The audience chuckles at the silly scouts.
Generally, evidence of this variety is a better predictor of future success than listening to the sound the bat makes when it hits the ball...but there are exceptions.
Andre Drummond wasn't that breathtaking at UCONN, but he exhibited some skills that are very rare in a seven footer who weighs 270 pounds. Detroit took a chance and now he's steadily becoming a player that may dominate the league before the 2010's are up.
And of course, high school football is not the minor leagues.
Watching my alma mater Cedar Park Timberwolves take down Daeshon Hall and Lancaster in the 4A state title I was struck by the fact that none of Cedar Park's skill players, or perhaps any of their players, were going to be Big 12 starters in the future. But they controlled the football game. Overall team quality matters a great deal, even in high school where demigods roam the fields.
However...2A football is not a high level of play, and Tyrone Swoopes' senior team went 1-9. One victory for a team with a 6-5 230 pound kid who can change directions and run through traffic. Swoopes' top end speed isn't good, maybe a 4.7, but it seems inconceivable that someone like that wouldn't impose his will on every game.
I was curious to determine how this catastrophe occurred and examined his game logs as a junior and senior. As a junior he ran far more often, and slightly more effectively. He compiled 500 rushing yards against one hapless foe. As a senior, nursing a bad hammy, he ran less. That seemed to make the difference. As a passer he minimized his interceptions but also rarely completed a pass to his own teammates either. He finished his senior year averaging about four yards per pass attempt. A dismal number.
But he can throw the football a mile! Swoopes is comfortable on the run, he has power, he can throw with touch. It's easy to conceive of a Power/Zone-read offense in which Swoopes is distributing the ball and powering up the middle when not handing off to Daje or Gray or shaking off a hapless DL before flinging it downfield to Shipley alone in the end zone.
I see the physical tools of a kid who could become Daunte Culpepper or Ben Roethlisberger, or he could end up moving to tight end before his time here is done. It's like the athletic seven footer in basketball, you have to take him and see what happens.
But you make sure you land Jerrod Heard the following season.