April 14, 2009

The top five answered and unanswered questions


As the football team prepares for its summer workouts, let's take a look at five questions that were answered in the spring and five questions that still remain:


ANSWERED

1. The secondary is deep and talented -
Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon were every-day starters on a 12-1 team last season. But the emergence of Christian Scott, Nolan Brewster and Ben Wells at safety as well as Aaron Williams at cornerback gives Will Muschamp and Duane Akina a lot to work with at defensive back. Williams, Chykie Brown and Earl Thomas are on their way to being special players.

2. Colt McCoy is as focused as ever - McCoy has spent countless hours of his own time working with young receivers like Malcolm Williams, Brandon Collins and James Kirkendoll. He's a leader by example in the weight room and film room. He's put on 10 pounds of muscle and gotten stronger. Any thought of the small-town kid from Tuscola letting his rock star status get to his head can be forgotten.

3. McCoy has options at receiver - People get confused when I've said Malcolm Williams is not a natural pass catcher and may be like Terrell Owens in that way. But Williams struggled to catch the ball at the end of last year. He said so. It's why he wasn't much of a factor after his big game against Texas Tech. Williams spent time on his own working with a JUGS ball delivery machine, catching pass after pass so it becomes more natural. The work has paid off as Williams, who like Owens is a big, strong, fast, tackle-breaking player with the ball in his hands, figures to be one of the success stories of 2009. Add Brandon Collins and James Kirkendoll in the mix with Jordan Shipley and receiver is not a concern at Texas like it is at places like Oklahoma.

4. Sergio Kindle can rush the passer - Coaches are confident Kindle will be a menacing force with his hand on the ground this season in replacing Brian Orakpo. Kindle is certainly confident. He told Orangebloods.com he wants to lead the nation in sacks. Those aren't the words of someone who has any doubt about his ability to get to the quarterback. That Kindle seems committed to technique - even taking up boxing to work on his hands - is a great sign for a guy who could rest on his physical ability. He's buying into what Will Muschamp is selling.

5. Confidence on defense is way up - Anyone who saw the spring game knows this is true. Only six interceptions all of last season, and the defense comes up with two in the spring game. The swagger this group has - from that explosive secondary - to Sergio Kindle, Lamarr Houston, Sam Acho and Alex Okafor up front - this group appears ready to become a dominant unit in Will Muschamp's second year of coaching. Players aren't slowed anymore by having to think their way through a play. They are playing faster because they're just reacting. A defense that struggled to create turnovers last season (+2) shouldn't have the same problem this season.


UNANSWERED


1. Will Texas control the line of scrimmage on offense? - Everyone saw Alex Okafor pushing Adam Ulatoski backward during the spring game. While this is great news for Will Muschamp and Oscar Giles, it's frightening for Greg Davis and Mac McWhorter. Texas wanted to run the ball twice last year early in games - against Texas Tech and Ohio State - and couldn't do it. UT couldn't run the ball in the spring game, either. Not one back averaged even 4 yards per carry. The offense averaged 2.6 yards per carry. Florida returns nearly its entire defense. If UT found itself playing for the national title against the Gators, could the Longhorns even think of running the ball to create play-action? Or will Texas be a pass-first offense again that mixes in the run? Texas nearly went undefeated as a pass-first team last year. But the onus is on the big guys up front - and on the coaches to make sure the right big guys are on the field and blocking with an attitude - to start pushing people around in the running game the way Lyle Sendlein, Kasey Studdard and Just Blalock did in 2005.

2. Who is the lead back? - Quick, name the starting tailback last year on Florida's national championship team. Probably can't do it (Jeffery Demps). The point is we don't want to make too much of UT's uncertainty at tailback at this moment. But at a school in which running back has been a premier position, it's easy to ask, "Why don't the Longhorns have a clear No. 1?" Coaches have suggested they don't want Colt McCoy running as much as he did last year. They want that responsibility to go to a back. So who's it going to be? Cody Johnson? Vondrell McGee? Foswhitt Whittaker? Chris Whaley? We don't know.

3. How will Texas run the ball? - The first two questions feed into this one. If coaches are serious about reducing some of the running of Colt McCoy and plan to shift those yards on the ground to a back, everyone should probably be a little nervous. Texas hasn't been a conventional running team with a fullback since Chris Simms was taking snaps. Now, coaches are flirting with going back to that. Quite honestly, I'm not sure Texas can run the football without McCoy being a leading contributor with his legs. The key to Jamaal Charles' 1,600-yard rushing season in 2007 was McCoy being able to run and freeing up Charles to bounce plays outside. These first two questions will have a huge impact on the confidence of the offense and its ability to confuse defenses. If defenses know McCoy is going to throw it every down, they can come after him. If the running game is gashing the defense, McCoy's laser-precision arm becomes that much more of a weapon. But Texas hasn't gashed anyone consistently on the ground since Vince Young left.

4. Will Texas use a tight end? - Greg Davis likes to be multiple on offense. He also likes to be able to line up in different formations with the same personnel and take advantage of mismatches. If the Longhorns don't have a tight end that can flex out, the offense becomes limited. Coaches say [db]Blaine Irby's rebuilt knee will be checked by doctors again in a week or two. If Irby struggles to come back, could the answer by Josh Marshall, D.J. Grant or even Dan Buckner. We don't know.

5. Where's the depth on the defensive line? - One of the best stories of the spring was the emergence of DT Ben Alexander, who is pushing himself to be a factor against spread teams - even though he's very much a traditional, run-stuffing nose tackle. Well, thank goodness Alexander came on because Texas is dangerously thin up front. The rotation at tackle right now would be Lamarr Houston, Alexander and Kheeston Randall with Alexander being more of an early-down player. Coaches need more players to come on - whether it's Michael Wilcoxon, Calvin Howell, Derek Johnson or Tevin Mims. Until reinforcements arrive for fall camp, we won't know.


Honorable Mention: Some might say there is still a question about if the team will have a deep threat on offense. I think we saw from Malcolm Williams last season against Texas Tech that he can do the job. It's just going to take Colt McCoy getting more comfortable with Williams being out there. The two have put in a lot of time together to develop chemistry and that unspoken communication. I think Williams is already y becoming the answer.

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