The start of the 2010-11 season for the Texas Longhorns is less than a week away.
Mack Brown's Longhorns will travel to Houston on Saturday to play Rice, a typical warm-up game for the runners-up in last season's BCS National Championship Game.
But 2009 is long gone, and there are a handful of new headlines to follow going into the 2010 campaign.
The Colt McCoy Era is over, but the Texas program looks to be in good hands for the immediate future. Gilbert holds several Texas high-school football records, and he brings confidence and a great deal of talent to the position.
Gilbert’s skill set triggered offensive coordinator Greg Davis to switch from a spread-style offense used under McCoy—a short and efficient passing attack—to a more traditional pro-style offense that looks to take more snaps under center rather than from shotgun. This includes a downhill running game, a strategy that plays into 2011 commit Malcolm Brown’s abilities.
Many expect Gilbert to struggle in his first season as the Horns’ signal-caller, but his spring and summer workouts were fantastic. He can make some throws that McCoy couldn’t make, especially the deep ball, but he still is without the experience of a full season at the helm of the Texas offense.
With the speed to get behind the secondary in Malcolm Williams and Marquise Goodwin, Gilbert should be looking deep with frequency.
No Colt McCoy, no Jordan Shipley, no Sergio Kindle, no Earl Thomas
Those four headline the players who left for the NFL, and they are no slouches. Mack Brown and Will Muschamp will be hard pressed to find the replacements for each of them and at key positions.
An offense more under center should change how the Longhorns look in both the passing and running games. Dedication to running the ball whenever they want on whoever they want will lend a hand to play action.
The arm of Gilbert coupled with the speed of receivers like Marquise Goodwin getting behind the defense could turn into quick points on offense.
With a defense that some believe could be the best ever under Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas, good things are on the horizon for the Horns if true.
Since the departure of Jamaal Charles to the NFL, the Longhorns have lacked that home-run threat—the go-to option on first, second and even third down—in the backfield.
This season hardly looks to unfold otherwise, but good spring and summer workouts out of Fozzy Whittaker and Tre’ Newton are encouraging looking forward. Cody Johnson, previously labeled as the goal-line back, shed a few percentage points in body fat.
Mack Brown just released a two-deep depth chart for the upcoming Rice game, and Johnson is listed as the starter.
As much as some supporters wish there was a complete package feature back on the roster, they will have to wait another year for Malcolm Brown to arrive on campus and endure one more season of running back by committee.
This is Muschamp’s third year as the defensive genius on the Forty Acres.
His first year was nasty. The 2009 season gave a taste of a national-championship-caliber defense.
This 2010 unit looks to be better than last year, perhaps even better than the 2005 squad that won a title and maybe the best defense under Mack Brown.
Talent seeps out of every position and competition is thick for playing time.
If the defensive players hold up to the grind, they can carry the entire team should the offense sputter under Gilbert.
Though the Horns’ defense is stacked with top talent at nearly every position, defensive-tackle depth is still a cause for concern for some. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp came out and claimed it wasn’t as big of a deal as some interpret, especially with defensive end Sam Acho sliding over to the inside for situational plays.
Acho’s diversity may take away snaps for a young defensive tackle like Calvin Howell, Tyrell Higgins, or Tevin Mims. But it will open a spot for the young defensive ends in Austin. End rushers like Alex Okafor, freshmen Reggie Wilson, and Jackson Jeffcoat look to get those snaps when Acho moves inside.
Okafor is also getting some practice snaps at defensive tackle, a move that could redefine how to use defensive linemen.
Either way, the Horns will throw out some incredible talent in the trenches.
One area of the Texas defense that doesn’t generate as much concern is in the secondary, as the Longhorns return some of the best defensive backs in the nation in Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams, surely two more of Duane Akina’s pupils headed to the next level after the season.
Chykie Brown has the NFL body, but never consistently put the pieces together to fill out a solid season. This year appears to be different as things have clicked for the senior.
Blake Gideon is a general on the field going into his third year starting under Muschamp’s defense.
The loss of Earl Thomas to the NFL hurts, but junior Christian Scott and sophomore Kenny Vaccaro will provide the headhunter mentality that Thomas brought with such tenacity and ferocity.
Depth-building freshmen A.J. White, Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips should also see time on the field, as the future of the secondary looks very bright.
The true freshman is reportedly tearing things up at practice, including solidifying a small role amongst the first-team selections.
He runs good routes, catches everything, and can jump through the roof. He has the makings of something very special for Texas.
On the depth chart, he’s listed as a co-starter with John Chiles at flanker.
With the recruiting classes Mack Brown and his staff have collected in Austin, there is no questioning the talent assembled on campus.
Davis is already making his brand, and others like Wilson and Jeffcoat are on the cusp of great things.
Other freshmen to watch for this season: LB Jordan Hicks, DB Carrington Byndom, DB A.J. White, WR Darius White, DT Ashton Dorsey, and DB Adrian Phillips.
The Horns lost a place-kicker with nails in Hunter Lawrence, the man who knocked through the 46-yard field goal in the Big 12 Championship Game to send Texas to the BCS National Championship.
Justin Tucker and John Gold did some good things at place kicker and punter. Expect more of the same this year as both have shown strong legs during the offseason.
Texas has always had electric kick and punt returners in the past, and names like D.J. Monroe, Marquise Goodwin, Aaron Williams, and Curtis Brown are some to be added to that list.
Keep an eye on blocked punts, too.
The word on junior cornerback Aaron Williams is out, and it’s a good one.
At 6'1", 195 lbs., Williams is simply an elite playmaker. Considered by many to be one of the top two cornerbacks this season, he is set for a huge season for the Longhorns’ defense.
He may not have the stats to support the reputation, but it is hard to accumulate stats if the opposing quarterback doesn’t throw the ball his way.