Some of my unfiltered thoughts about the open practice:
- This is a teaching staff. Players have access to as much detailed knowledge as they can absorb. This is especially evident at offensive line and across the entire defense.
- It’s clear the offensive line is still in the early stages of the Wickline learning curve. When you are teaching, the less someone understands, the more demonstrative you have to be. As the person you are teaching develops more skill you are able to shift more toward a problem solving and refining role. Wickline is demonstrating a ton and he’s great at it. Today he went through outside zone reach technique, inside zone combos, pulling, and screen blocking. Wick seems to break each assignment down into phases. As he demonstrates a technique he overemphasizes the footwork, upper body leverage, and overall body balance. He also describes what you should be seeing: from the surrounding blocks, from the second level defender, and from the backfield. At one point after seeing the line attempt to execute a screen release, Wick ran the release of the running back on the screen and showed them why their release angle was wrong. You could watch Wick and think that there is nothing that the offensive line can do right in position drills. Guys try to line up and he’s moving them into the correct spacing. They go into their stance and he’s shifting them to get their weight on the right foot. They release and he’s walking them back through it showing them how to keep their hips under them as they move forward and how the defender will try to spin inside and how to use that against them. It’s an onslaught of corrections and information.
- After position drills, while the team is shifting to a new period and getting drinks an offensive lineman (freshman Elijah Rodriguez) runs after Wickline to ask him a question about technique. Wick jumps right back into teaching mode and grabs his pads and torques them demonstrating what he wants then slaps Rodriguez on the helmet and sends him on his way. Ever have a teacher who made you want to ask more questions after every class?
- In 7-on-7’s a deep ball sails and Mykkele Thompson gets a break on it from center field. Bedford is yelling "Ball! Ball!" but Thompson can’t come under control and get under the ball for the sideline interception. Bedford is there immediately - showing Thompson how he should have gathered his feet near the sideline. He walks off the field with Thompson and still talking to him about it through the next rep. Vance comes off as borderline obsessive about awareness from his defensive backs. Every time there was anything close to an interception opportunity he was yelling about it from the moment the ball left the QBs hand. It also demonstrates Vance’s level of awareness about the coverage and where the QB is throwing on a play to play basis.
- The eye awareness from the linebacker position in coverage has taken giant steps forward. Steve Edmond and Demarco Cobbs, in particular, are shifting their eyes and reacting with their footwork like veteran linebackers, dammit.
- Charlie Strong floats between the defensive position groups from drill to drill. He isn’t observing, he’s right in the middle of the drill usually focused on the initial footwork. It’s hard to take a rep off on the defensive line when Charlie is standing right in your grill.
- This offense is going to be more open than I originally thought. Watson ran a significant amount of no-huddle in practice today. The zone read as well as run pass reads were all over practice today with a large amount of shotgun and pistol alignments. The offensive playbook seems extensive but there is certainly a subset that lends itself to spread aggression if our QBs are up for it.
- Kennedy Estelle had a really strong showing at left tackle today. He shut down Shiro Davis multiple times in 1-on-1s and his overall fluidity at the position make me think that he may end up sticking around there. Wickline spent a significant amount of time working with him in the position drills as well. Estelle didn’t look uncomfortable or overextended to me today which bodes well for his progression.
- Sedrick Flowers is great in roles where he is running a track but he struggles in pass protection. His height and build (read narrower shoulders) make it easier for larger defensive linemen to control him when he’s not the aggressor.
- We predominantly played nickel 2-deep looks today with Diggs sliding inside as the nickel, Mykkele Thompson coming down as a corner and Adrian Colbert coming on as the left safety.
- Dylan Haines doesn’t have the change of direction that you ideally want at the position but his length and field awareness are significant assets. Whether or not he starts, expect him to play frequently.
- David Ash looks sharp and he’s throwing the ball accurately right now. He made a throw today to the slot on a quick slant that’s not a throw he’s typically made in the past. I still think he’s at the point where he’s seeing an opening then throwing. To take the next big step he’ll need to start anticipating opportunities. In the short term that means that we likely can exploit the openings underneath that we need to in order to keep the chains moving but we won’t have the quick timing routes to really open the offense up. If we get those going, the read game we saw so much of today becomes much more potent.
- In his second year Tyrone Swoopes is still significantly behind the speed of the action. He’s regularly low or behind with his passes and when the pocket gets at all congested, he shuts down and doesn’t see the field. Of course, in the preseason of his second year on campus Vince Young’s passing looked almost identical. Swoopes could develop significantly as a passer in the next few years. The problem for Swoopes is that Jerrod Heard already has better timing and mechanics and it’s likely that his development trajectory is steeper than Swoopes.
- Immediately following warmups the team ran the bull in the ring drill. Coach Strong runs this drill and he chooses the match-ups. Favorite of the day was 170lber Jacorey Warrick dominating freshman DB John Bonney. The drill is not about technique or size: most of the match ups today were between skill players. It’s about effort and aggression and you can tell that ultimately that’s what Strong is looking for the entire practice.
- While the attention to detail and teaching that are happening in practice are great, the pace of practice is not. The overall number of reps that are happening in practice are a limiting factor for how quickly this team achieves a high level of execution.
A parting thought
During practice this morning I found myself thinking about some of the darker seasons in the last five years. I remembered how Mack seemed to feel betrayed by his assistant coaches after giving them so much autonomy. How he had trusted them to do their jobs and then been shocked and let down by the results on the field. I think many of the observers at today’s practice probably came out hoping to see some dramatic shift in the program under Charlie Strong.
I’ve been attending practices for over a decade and the truth is that the format and contents of practice in 2014 are not all that different than practice in 2013, save one crucial detail. If you are reading this hoping for that glimpse of change it’s this: Charlie Strong at a football practice is nothing like Mack Brown at a football practice. Mack Brown was present, Charlie Strong is at home. Strong will not ever talk about trust with coaching staff or feel betrayed by the product on the field because it implies a hierarchy of communication and insulation that simply do not exist between him and any part of this team or staff. Autonomy on a coaching staff sounds silly in the face of unity.
Let me know if you have any questions about specific players or practice format. I will happily relate any details I remember, these were just the ones I thought were most relevant. If you're reading this and enjoy thinking about football, I highly recommend you check out the most comprehensive and insightful Texas football preview on the market:
The 2014 Longhorn Football Prospectus: Thinking Texas Football