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Postcard from camp: Texas

Discussion in 'Sports Zone' started by Doomsday101, Aug 22, 2006.

  1. Doomsday101

    Doomsday101 Well-Known Member

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    AUSTIN, Texas -- Several thousand giddy (and bleary-eyed) burnt-orange crazies were already lined up in the dark when I arrived at Texas' Royal-Memorial Stadium at the ungodly hour of 6:45 a.m. on Saturday. They came to get their first glimpse of the defending national champions, and to see whether the Longhorns could still play football without the benefit of a certain freakish 6-foot-5 quarterback.

    What they saw during Texas' hour-long Fan Appreciation Day scrimmage -- moved to 7:30 a.m. due to the triple-digit temperatures in Austin -- must have looked awfully familiar: A quarterback lined up in the shotgun with three receivers, running that pesky zone-read play with which Vince Young used to wreak havoc. "We're doing basically the same thing that we've been doing," said offensive coordinator Greg Davis. "We're just featuring different things."
    What the 'Horns mostly featured Saturday was their quarterbacks' arms, and the results were surprisingly impressive. First-string QB Colt McCoy played only two series but produced touchdowns on both, going 5 for 6 for 68 yards. On his first series, the redshirt freshman recognized man coverage and threw over the top to receiver Limas Sweed for a 43-yard gain. "Colt has had the same scrimmage in both that we've had," said head coach Mack Brown. "He has come out and been very efficient."

    Barring something drastic, McCoy will be the starter when the Longhorns host top-ranked Ohio State in three weeks. While Texas' quarterback situation has long been portrayed as a two-man race between McCoy and true freshman Jevan Snead, the truth is McCoy began pulling away some time ago. He's been getting 60-70 percent of the first-team reps in practice. Snead has the stronger arm, which he demonstrated multiple times during Saturday's scrimmage, but McCoy, having had an extra year in the offense, is much farther along in his development. He looked extremely comfortable, while Snead looked a tad shaky and indecisive, going 4 for 8 for 24 yards and an interception. "Jevan is learning," acknowledged Brown.

    Both will play early on, said Brown, if for no other reason than to get Snead experience. But make no mistake, the 'Horns have a clear starter and a clear backup. Both are similarly mobile (4.7 in the 40) but are unlikely to break off 40-yard runs like their predecessor, which means Davis must look to the QBs' supporting cast to replace the explosiveness that Young generated with his feet. "We're still trying to figure out who we are on offense," said Brown. "We have to figure out what to feature. That's what keeps you up at night
    Three observations

    1. I know one thing Brown will feature: his tailbacks. 'Horns fans were already expecting big things from speed demon Jamaal Charles, last year's freshman sensation who ran for 878 yards and 11 touchdowns. But Saturday's biggest revelation was fifth-year senior Selvin Young, who has shed 16 pounds since last season and regained the speed he flashed as a freshman and sophomore before suffering multiple injuries.

    On Saturday, Young was practically unstoppable, breaking tackles, making sharp cuts and popping to the outside. He had four runs totaling 56 yards, and a 35-yard punt return. "Selvin is back," declared Brown. The presumption was that Charles would take over as the 'Horns' primary runner this season, but Young is too valuable to keep off the field. The coaches know he's dependable -- whereas they still worry about Charles' ability to protect the ball -- not to mention Selvin has emerged as the offense's most vocal leader post-Vince.

    2. Complacency is usually an issue the year after a team wins a championship, but I don't think that will be the case with the Longhorns, precisely because so few people believe they can do it again. Texas is still very much a veteran team -- 17 of the projected starters are juniors or seniors -- yet is being perceived as inexperienced because of the freshman quarterbacks. "Nothing against Vince," said senior center Lyle Sendlein, "but we want to prove to people that Vince wasn't our whole team."

    I'll tell you this much: The 'Horns definitely lead the nation in "guys who seem like they've been in college forever" -- Selvin Young, offensive lineman Justin Blalock, defensive ends Tim Crowder and Brian Robison, guard Kasey Studdard. The good news is, they know what it takes to play at a championship level and can instill it in the younger players. The bad news is, much like USC last year, you have to worry about their focus shifting to the next level as the season wears on.

    3. I think it's going to be awfully interesting to see how the 'Horns' quarterback situation plays out over the next several years. Brown acknowledges it's going to be tough to keep both McCoy and Snead for four years. If McCoy has a huge season and firmly establishes himself as the guy, Snead, who originally committed to Florida, will inevitably look elsewhere. And if Snead ultimately passes him, either this year or next, it's assumed McCoy would do the same.

    Furthermore, neither guy's job will be safe beyond this season if stud recruit John Brantley of Ocala, Fla., sticks to his recent commitment and signs with Texas in February. If Brantley, the MVP of last month's Elite 11 camp, is as good as advertised, he's unlikely to want to wait three years for his shot, and some around the program fear he'll get scared off if McCoy or Snead has a huge season. Get ready for a multiyear soap opera.

    X-factor
    Junior safeties Marcus Griffin and Erick Jackson. On a loaded 'Horns defense, including a secondary manned by preseason All-America strong safety Michael Griffin and veteran cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Tarell Brown, the lone question mark is at free safety, where career backups Griffin (Michael's twin) and Jackson are competing. Marcus Griffin saw significant action as a reserve last season, making 32 tackles, and his coverage skills are improving. Jackson has all the physical talent but lacks consistency.
    Keep an eye on . . .

    Redshirt freshman tight end JerMichael Finley. Much like Jermaine Gresham at Oklahoma, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Finley has been the talk of camp. "I swear," said Michael Griffin, "y'all are going to hear his name a lot." The 'Horns lost one of the nation's top pass-catching tight ends of the past few seasons in David Thomas, but they feel they won't miss a beat with Finley, who, like Thomas, can both block and get downfield. Apparently, even Thomas agreed. "When we were out in L.A. [for Rose Bowl practices] last year, I happened to be standing next to David, watching when Finley made one of his unbelievable catches," said Davis. "David grabs me and goes, 'Coach, you're going to forget all about me, aren't you?'"

    Factoid that may interest only me
    Brown befriended golfer Phil Mickelson several years ago when both were being tagged with the "can't win the big one" rep and, just prior to the 2003 Holiday Bowl, Mickelson proposed a pact. "I'm going to go win a major next year, and you're going to win a championship," he said, "and after it happens, we'll take 25 of our best friends and go to Cabo for the weekend." The next spring, Mickelson won the Masters. Brown has a flag from the tournament in his office, on which Mickelson signed these words, "Mack: You know our deal. See you in Cabo." After Brown lived up to his end of the bargain last January, the two did, indeed, hit Cabo last spring -- though without the 25 hangers-on.

    Camp confidential
    Brown, recovering from knee-joint replacement surgery in May, watched Saturday's scrimmage from a golf cart. He vows to stand on the sideline come the opening game against North Texas, even though doing so the first two days of practice ("I was trying to be macho," he said) caused extreme pain.... Meanwhile, the coach has also been dieting and has lost about 30 pounds. "I don't eat anything white or yellow," he said.... Blalock, who has started 38 straight games at right tackle, may be moved to guard at times this season depending on the other personnel. "I don't really have a preference," said the 6-4 329-pounder. "I'll play anything -- fullback, tight end, whatever they need." ... The 'Horns should be much deeper at receiver this season. Last year's breakout performers -- Sweed, Billy Pittman and Quan Cosby -- return, and Davis said he considers junior Nate Jones and sophomores Jordan Shipley and Myron Hardy to be at the same level.... Texas has installed the biggest video screen known to man in Royal-Memorial's south end zone. Measuring 55 feet high and 134 wide, the mammoth, high-def ProStar screen spans about two thirds of the end zone. Texas' players have already inquired as to whether they can hold their annual Madden tournament on it.

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/writers/stewart_mandel/08/21/texas.postcard/index.html

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