So, I went to the 2nd open practice Tuesday night and collected a few thoughts on the team to this point.
Mostly I just watched the offensive line to determine blocking schemes/plays that were being used in the shotgun, 11 personnel, and I-formation plays. There were quite a few if half of them stick the Texas running game will still be more diverse.
Over at BON InDKR's shadow was watching with a wider perspective and had these thoughts you might want to peruse.
I was able to notice the following things when I wasn't trying to work out if they were pulling linemen as part of an outside-zone run or a sweep/power play.
-Barrett Matthews is going to make this offense a lot better in a lot of ways. He flexes out as a receiver and is a reliable option on dump-off routes even if he isn't going to light the world on fire in the open field. His blocking is terrific and was generally never the weak point of attack. His versatility (along with Newtons) will enable Texas to use different formations in the hurry-up and split out 4 receivers and a tight end or be in the I-formation with the same personnel group.
-Pass protection isn't fantastic yet. I'm not in love with Britt Mitchell and while Kyle Hix could be an excellent Right tackle I'm not as confident in his ability to handle the speed-rush every down. If he gets in front it's all over because no one is knocking him back but sometimes his slide-step isn't getting him there quickly enough. For those reasons I'm not excited about the empty sets, although they will serve a function and can mix things up.
-I don't have any superman stories from Vaccaro or Scott but I can report that they started together and that Scott doesn't like plays to end without his involvement at the end. He's a physical brand of safety that I'm not sure Mack Brown has had. Sure Griffin and Huff were physical, but they weren't bringing the wood like this 215 pound evil. He flattened someone in the open field. I saw Blake Gideon afterwards at the Longhorn Po Po whatever that place is called eating with Huey. He generally always looks pretty serious but I'm not sure if he's keeping his job or not. It's possible that the green shirt is just keeping him out of the starting lineup or that the coaches just want to see what Vaccaro offers since Gideon is a known commodity. Don't rule out Muschamp pulling him though.
-John Chiles? He got moved to #5 because Gilbert owns him and 7 belongs to the boss. However, apparently Brandon Collins left his spirit in the number because John Chiles played like a man possessed. I've never seen him behave towards the game as anything other than a prima donna who thinks he can smoke everyone else on the field and that his involvement is tantamount to success on a given play. Well in practice he was making physical, finishing blocks, catching the ball over the middle on the run and generally wreaking havoc on the secondary. Kirkendoll was also making tough catches on slants and in traffic. Something lit a fire under these guys.
I think, due to their improvement that we may occasionally see glimpses back into the 2008 season when Colt would hit receivers on the run and consequently put them in position to continue accumulating yardage for the offense after the reception of the football. Also aiding this is that...well Gilbert may be more accurate than Colt McCoy. I know it's early to say that, and we may never see 80% completion percentage again, but Gilbert can hit some tight windows and put the ball where only his guy can go get it at more points on the field.
-Malcolm Williams looks the same as we left him. He pulled in a deep sideline fade that was thrown away from the defender (Gilbert) and dropped another ball in 7 on 7 drills. He's the most dangerous man on the field and I think he's mostly just a few big games away from having the every down confidence to become the monster we've seen grainy, possibly faked photos of.
-Do y'all recall one of Cody Johnson's runs at the end of the last Red River Shootout when he was carrying the Sooner defense? Or the Cedric Benson days when no run was complete before he fell forward for another few sneaky yards?
Well you can expect to see some of that when Chris Whaley hits the field. Reports of his demise as a running back were somewhat premature. He was cutting back on the zone-runs and following leads into holes and relishing any and all violence that took place at any point in the process. You could tell that his first priority was always to cut North and South and start punishing people in the open field. If the blocking and scheme keeps up from what I saw then hopefully that won't be beaten out of him.
-Texas ran some draws, running back draws. Apparently Greg Davis is familiar with the concepts of hesitation and ball fakes in the running game and had a draw out of the I with Matthews as a lead blocker that ate the defense's lunch when it was called. Most of the I-formation plays were set up with movement out of the backfield by Matthews and the worst looking runs generally ended up being play-action passes to a vacated open field. Last fall it was clear the defense was all over everything the offense wanted to do. Right now they looked a little less sure, perhaps by fall camp they'll be able to resume the savage beating of the basic plays. It would probably be a great sign if they did.
-Watched some of the one-on-one linemen pass-rush drills. I don't think Britt Mitchell's job is locked up at this point but I'm not sure who will replace him (how's that ankle Mr. Walters?). Snow and Huey were pretty solid in pass protection and Paden Kelly actually mauled someone as if he was defending his sister from Chaisson armed with a hammer. I know out of high school the concern was with base-strength for him and so far he's gained about 20 pounds and I think he's the best bet for future left tackle from what I saw on the practice field. I saw Luke Poehlmann get tossed like a rag doll at another point, will call him a less viable option at this point. Ashcraft looked good.
On the defensive side Russell Carter is playing like someone desperate to make an impression. Sam Acho led everyone in "the eyes of Texas" after the practice and along with Eddie Jones are the clear leaders on the team. I didn't catch much from Okafor but I know that when the defense brought pressure the tackles were generally pretty helpless. I didn't notice the defensive tackles much except for in the pass drills where I saw Kheeston Randall and Derek Johnson each bulldoze someone.
Overall the offense is making a few subtle changes. The empty set is still there but employs more versatile personnel to make it a strong no-huddle option. The 11 personnel is still more or less the base offense only with Gilbert under center (same with the empty set). I don't think the shotgun will be featured as much, it doesn't really offer anything this team is interested in since all the plays can still be run from under center and the play-fakes and running are better aided by the under center sets. After that the 2-back offense was used frequently and it's going to be effective because anything that involves Barrett Matthews will find success.
Scipio Tex writes about the stats obsession in sports and has some great thoughts on the Patriots 4rth and 2 call vs. Bill Simmons and the uneasy marriage of rationality with experiential knowledge in sports analysis. I actually root for the Patriots and began lashing out at the world after their lead in that game evaporated and for some reason ended up describing Barry Switzer as having "crawled out of Hitler's butt crack" amidst my ravings. I also believed that the 4th down call was the right one. The play-call wasn't as wise as it turned out the Colts defenders had been trained to expect Brady to look for Kevin Faulk underneath and were there to contest the play.
Even then only his bobbling of the ball prevented a first down and I still believe that an official review should have been in order because 1st and 10 for Indianapolis didn't look like a sure thing to me.
Situational stats in football is the next horizon and stuff I've seen like, "which running backs have the most YPC on well-blocked runs" could make for some fascinating reading. For instance, in that function Chris Johnson was the best running back in the league while contact-loving Marion Barber had unimpressive numbers when his way was paved for him.
Over at the new One Foot Down Whiskey has rated various national programs for their recruiting prowess in describing which teams have what levels of talent. Texas appears in "teams with elite talent" as I'm sure you would have guessed. It's worth taking a look at who's been keeping up with the Joneses as well as where other Big 12 programs stack up.
Texas draws Iowa State in round one today. I don't remember much about Iowa St. but evidently the previous encounter was a close call where a 24 point game from Bradley was required to put them away. Hopefully Texas can manage at least this first round of the tourney. Does everyone remember that Texas has never won this tournament? Just checking. Five time runner-up, the last 3 occasions vs. Kansas, I believe I watched all 5 of those games.