These aren’t your 2009 Longhorns.
Towards the beginning of spring drills, Texas Longhorn coach Mack Brown declared that the 2010 version of the ‘Horns would look different offensively than seasons prior.
With four-year starter Colt McCoy departed from the 40 acres, it would most certainly have to.
We’ve heard this from Mack before, though. Despite piling up 10-win season after 10-win season, Brown has made a habit out of annually pledging that the upcoming offseason would be spent with a renewed commitment to the running game.
For whatever reason, though, the results haven’t been showing up on the football field.
Since the Longhorns will be breaking in a new quarterback for the first time since 2006, it will be especially vital to the success of the Texas offense to provide newcomer Garrett Gilbert with some help via the ground game.
A successful running game will draw extra defenders closer to the line of scrimmage and help open up the passing game for Gilbert and the Texas receivers. If the ‘Horns can’t improve their running ability, defenses will be able to drop extra defenders back in coverage and wait for Gilbert to make a mistake.
So now that the team has returned from its week-long spring break vacation, the ‘Horns find themselves at the halfway point of their spring football season. All but two of UT’s practices have been closed to the public, but in those two open practices, it does appear that the Texas offense has been trying to improve upon its running game.
In a sight that will be foreign to most Longhorn fans, Gilbert lined up directly under center for most of the 11-on-11 drills during the open practice. Sure, shotgun formations were mixed in during the two-minute drills. But the under-the-center, run-centric formations that dominated the practice are something that haven’t been seen regularly in Austin since the Chris Simms era.
“It gives us a whole different mentality knowing that we can come off and run the ball at people then mix it up with passing,” said offensive lineman Kyle Hix. “It makes it a lot easier on us because, one, they don't know what we're going to do every time, and it gives us a new attitude to just be physical.”
Make no mistake about it—Gilbert will still find himself lined up in the shotgun with four- or five-receiver sets in 2010. Gilbert ran a similar spread system in high school, where he led his Lake Travis high school team to back-to-back state titles.
Furthermore, the Longhorns have been wildly successful with their quarterback lined up in the shotgun since Vince Young roamed DKR, so they can’t scrap all of those old plays completely. It will just be a matter of how often Texas will line up in those old formations.
Early returns on the shift in offensive philosophy indicate that the Longhorns' running game will be much improved in 2010. The Texas running backs say that they can see the entire field much better from the I-formation and that spring practice has been successful so far. Everybody on the offensive side of the ball seems to be enjoying the new approach as well.
“I think they like it a lot,” said running back Fozzy Whittaker about the offensive line’s new attitude towards the new running scheme. “As much as I talk to them every day, they're always talking about getting downhill and just rolling people out and every time I say that, they get big smiles on their faces, so I think they're liking it as much as (the running backs) are.”
Texas will need all of those positive vibes and good feelings to turn into results in the upcoming season. The Longhorns' best chance at success in 2010 will coincide with their ability to find a reliable running game. If the early signs from Longhorn camp are any indication of what their offense might be capable of, the transition to the Garrett Gilbert era will be a smooth one.