We are barely a month removed from the 2010 Citi BCS National Championship game and already I am jonesing for some college football. And I am not alone. All around this nation there are fans, true fans, experiencing these same withdrawal symptoms.
Fear not, I pray ye, thou good and faithful servants, for this day I bring you good tidings of great joy! And you have to wait but less than a fortnight. That’s right, baby. Spring Practice begins in Austin, Texas on February 22. And like a child needing a candy fix, you can taste it. Can’t you?
Alas, 2009 has past. Colt McCoy has already taken up residence in California, and fellow ‘Horns stalwarts such as Jordan Shipley, Earl Thomas, Sergio Kindle, Roddrick Muckelroy, and Charlie Tanner will be playing on Sundays next fall.
So, given the loss of so many players from last year’s national runners-up squad, what will the Longhorns look like next season? I already reviewed the quarterbacks earlier this week, with Garret Gilbert clearly the No. 1, being backed up by Sherrod Harris.
Given that, and considering how the official depth chart, per head coach Mack Brown, currently shows “To be determined”, here is a look ahead at what I believe the Offensive Depth Chart will look like heading into Spring Practice in 12 days.
In UT’s last two games of the 2009 season, Texas rushed for a paltry 18 total yards versus Nebraska, and 81 total yards against Alabama.
What? Against the only two great defenses Texas played all season, the ‘Horns could only muster 99 yards rushing combined in those two games? Ridiculous.
As such, Brown stated during his Signing Day press conference that he and Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis were going to sit down immediately in the near future and work on improving that running game.
“The passing game has worked really well for us,” he said, “but we simply can’t put that kind of pressure on Garrett (Gilbert). We have got to find a way to get better.”
That said, there are a lot of choices to pick from at running back. In fact, Texas is loaded with four-star running backs, to include the only running back signed in this year’s recruiting class, Traylon Shead, a 6’2”, 215-pound bruising running back out of Cayuga, Texas.
Mr. Shead won’t be in Spring Practice, but Texas returns four running backs in Tre’Newton, Fozzy Whittaker, Vondrell McGee and Cody Johnson, each of whom averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry in 2009. If running back by committee is your game, you should have liked 2009.
However, look for Texas to solidify its running game this year. And by that I mean pick one guy as a “starter”, and have several others spell him when needed. As I see it, Tre’ Newton is that guy.
Despite missing the majority of the first month of the season with concussion issues, and being in a running back “by committee" scheme, in what amounts to a little more than a half-season of work, Newton led the team in rushing yards (552), and was named the team’s starter for the national championship game versus Alabama.
Who will be his “back-up” is up for grabs. With 12 TDs in 2009, Johnson should again be the short-yardage back. However, don’t count out Vondrell McGee, who led the team with a 5.4 yards/carry average last season, or even Whittaker, who came in and provided a much needed burst of energy on several occasions last season as well.
And all of them scored at least two touchdowns in 2009, which means they can each find the endzone.
My point? As I stated earlier, if you like running back by committee. This is your team.
Make no mistake about Mack Brown's intentions. He means what he says about shoring up the running attack in 2010.
But the receivers returning, combined with signing hands down the No. 1 rated WR recruiting class in the nation this year, leaves no doubt that Brown intends to have one of the best corps of receivers in the country for years to come.
The Longhorns loaded up on receiving talent this past National Signing Day, signing five 4-star WRs the likes of Mike Davis (Dallas, TX/Dallas Skyline), Darius White (Ft. Worth, TX/Dunbar), Chris Jones (Dangerfield, TX/Dangerfield), John Harris (Garland, TX/Naaman Forest), and Darius Terrell (DeSoto, TX/DeSoto), ranked the fourth, sixth, 11th, 31st, and 46th best wide receivers, respectively, in the nation coming out of high school this year.
Heading into Spring Practice, however, Texas will have to deal with the loss of Jordan Shipley, one of the best receivers ever to don a Longhorns uniform, and who had more receiving yards than the No.s 2, 3, and 4 receivers for Texas…combined. Texas also said goodbye to oft-troubled Dan Buckner in transferring to Arizona.
That said, the ‘Horns return rising Junior Malcolm Williams (pictured here), who was second on the teams with 39 receptions for 550 yards and had two TDs to go with that.
Williams is still smarting from dropping what would have been a touchdown pass from Garrett Gilbert in the national championship game, for which he took full responsibility, and will likely use that (and several other dropped passes throughout the 2009 season) as motivation to improve in 2010. Money says he doesn’t have any drops in Spring Practice.
In addition to outstanding sophomores Marquise Goodwin and DeSean Hales, Texas also returns to very important Senior Receivers in James Kirkendoll (461 yards, 6 TDs), and John Chiles (319 yards, 3 TDs), on whom Brown and Gilbert will rely heavily upon for their leadership and experience.
At 6'4", 267 pounds, Rising Senior Tight End Greg Smith has been a very consistent, if not under-appreciated and under-utilized, part of Greg Davis' offense. In fact, Smith caught only six passes for 48 yards in 2009, mainly because Shipley was streaking down the sidelines much of the season.
However, Smith brings a toughness and grit to this team that Coach Brown readily admit. “He’ll do anything you ask him to, anything that needs doing,” said Brown. “I can tell you, though, we have to find him some help next year. We have to. We can’t keep asking him to sacrifice like that and then not get him some help.”
Backing Smith up will likely be a tandem effort including Junior Ahmard Howard, and Sophomore Barrett Matthews, who is widely thought to be the heir apparent to Smith.
With the immense talent at both WR and at RB, don’t expect anything more from the TE position in 2010 than what their collective duty is in this offense: blocking and slipping behind the linebackers for a occasional dump pass.
Losing three-year starter Chris Hall to graduation is bittersweet, but, in reality, Garrett Gilbert will be learning with another first-time starter at the center position.
And it will be one of two people, either 6’4, 300-pound rising junior David Snow (pictured here), or incoming freshman phenom center Dominic Espinoza (Cedar Park, TX/Cedar Park), the No. 1 ranked center in the country coming out of high school this year.
Snow is entering his third year at UT and has appeared in all 27 games in his career, which includes seven starts (five at right guard, two at center). More importantly, he appeared in every game in 2009 at center.
After losing four offensive linemen to graduation and the draft, Texas needs stability at this, the most important position on the O-line.
All indications are that Espinoza is going to be a great one. And I do mean a great one. In the meantime, however, based solely on having experienced Conference play, as well as a conference championship game and national championship game experience under his belt, the nod here must go to Snow...at least for Spring Practice (see summer camp and opening day rosters).
Losing both starting guards to graduation after the 2009 season would be catastrophic for most teams (see Oklahoma 2009). However, there is a reason the coaches at Texas are paid as handsomely as they are: they plan ahead.
Come opening day next fall, both starting guards for the Longhorns will have had game experience. The aforementioned No. 1 center on the depth chart, David Snow, will likely be the starting right guard, with rising redshirt sophomore Mark Buchanan (6’6”, 310), likely getting the nod on the left.
Remember the beginning of this column I stated that this is the pre-spring practice depth chart because most of the signees will not be enrolled until classes begin in June.
We have already discussed Snow, so let’s get into Buchanan. Buchanan graduated high school early and enrolled in classes at UT in January 2008. As such, he was redshirted that year and played on the scout team the entire 2008 season, which always helps with the learning curve.
Not that he would need help with learning, since he has been in school for two seasons and has made the second-team Academic All-Big XII Team both seasons.
Buchanan played in every game for the ‘Horns this past season, both on special teams and on the O-line, and you know what they say: “There ‘aint nothing like experience.”
Buchanan's back-up this season will likely be the No. 1 offensive guard recruit in America in 2009, Trey Hopkins (Galena Park, TX/North Shore). At 6’4, 275 pounds, Hopkins needs to fill in some, but he’ll get there.
The other back-up will likely be Red-shirt Freshman Mason Walters (Wolfforth, TX/Frenship). At 6’6, 300 pounds, and after red-shirting in 2009 and playing on the scout team, he has learned quite a bit.
And that’s a good thing because Texas likes to sub out linemen throughout the game for two reasons: to keep them from getting exhausted, and to get them real game time experience.
Here again, I am finding that, although Texas lost a lot of experience off the offensive line, there are definitely some experienced linemen returning to Austin as well.
They will be led by rising senior Tray Allen (Grand Prairie, TX/South Grand Prairie). And at 6’5”, 315 pounds, he won’t be hard to find or to follow.
Allen has played in 30 career games, at both the tackle and the guard positions, appearing at guard and on special teams in 10 games in 2009. Bottom line is, he will not be gun shy, as he has already been in the pit and fought the battles. Now, as a senior, this is his line.
The right tackle will be 6’7-1/2”, 320-ppound Kyle Hix, hailing from Aledo High School in Aledo, TX. Kyle will also be a senior and also has 38 games of experience under his belt.
Backing up/subbing in and out for these two tackles will be 6’5”. 310-pound Rising Senior Britt Mitchell (Kilgore, TX/Kilgore), who has also played in 38 career games, and 6’7”, 267-pound Red-shirt Sophomore Luke Poehlmann (Brenham, TX/Brenham).
So, as you can see, Texas fans should feel somewhat more secure now after seeing the depth chart and experience coming back on offensive line. Having not one, not two, but three seniors at tackle definitely helps shore up any offensive line.
Well, there you have it. The 2010 pre-spring practice offensive depth chart for your defending Big XII champion Texas Longhorns.
You know, I have spent a lot of time considering all Texas has lost from last season’s team (and that is without even mentioning Colt McCoy), and read all the bloggers’ diatribes describing how the student body in Austin would be walking in a fog with out McCoy.
But, after studying all the new and returning players’ BIOs, and after considering all the 'Horns have returning from this past season's No. 2 ranked team, I must admit it would not surprise me at all to see Texas headed for another Big XII Championship.
Hey, would someone please hand me a Dr. Pepper and some peanuts? Thanks. See you in Dallas next December.