2011 Texas Preview – Offense
Texas WR Malcolm Williams
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Texas Longhorn Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Major Applewhite can't get under center again, but the hotshot offensive coordinator will combine forces with Bryan Harsin, a co-coordinator and quarterback coach from Boise State, to try to get the offense working again. A disaster last season, the Longhorns averaged just 24 points per game and failed to score more than 24 against anyone in the Big 12. The big key will be to start getting something out of the quarterbacks. Garrett Gilbert has to be a better decision maker or he'll be replaced by one of the several decent options waiting for a shot – watch out for Case McCoy. The running backs are experienced, but mediocre. If true freshman Malcolm Brown doesn't rock right away, there might not be much happening again on the ground behind a rebuilding line that's athletic, but isn't full of blasters and doesn't have enough experience. The receiving corps has the talent and potential to be the best in the nation, but it had that last year, too, and was a disappointment. Enough pieces are there to be better in a hurry, but it's asking a lot for a night-and-day improvement if the quarterback play isn't better.
Star of the offense: Sophomore WR Mike Davis
Passing: Garrett Gilbert
280-441, 2,744 yds, 10 TD, 17 INT
Rushing: Cody Johnson
134 carries, 592 yds, 6 TD
Receiving: Mike Davis
47 catches, 478 yds, 2 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior QB Garrett Gilbert
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OG/OT Trey Hopkins
Best pro prospect: Davis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Davis, 2) C David Snow, 3) RB Malcolm Brown
Strength of the offense: Receiver Talent, Running Back Experience
Weakness of the offense: Run Blocking, Quarterback Efficiency
State of the Unit: Trying to be the next in the legacy of Chris Simms, Major Applewhite, Vince Young, and Colt McCoy is hard no matter what the prep résumé and no matter what the expectations, but 2010 was ugly by any standard. There's struggling to fill in legendary shoes, and there's what happened to the Texas quarterback situation last year. Now, after major issues, there's a wide open competition for a job that could be the key to the Big 12 season. The Longhorns threw for 232 yards per game but were 103rd in the nation in passing efficiency, and the position is seen as reason No. 1 for last year's offensive failings.
Let's start with what we know. Junior Garrett Gilbert is a big, strong, talented passer with all the tools to be phenomenal. At 6-4 and 218 pounds he has prototype size, enough mobility to get by, and a good arm that can push the ball all over the field. The former Gatorade National Player of the Year was one of the nation's top recruits after throwing for a Texas high school record 12,540 yards with 138 touchdown passes on the way to two state titles. He came to Austin as the quarterback of Texas quarterbacks with a better pro upside than Colt McCoy and the makeup to be the type of leader who could instantly get the program back to the national title game. And then it all went wrong.
A deer caught in the headlights when thrown into a tough situation against Alabama in the 2010 BCS Championship, Gilbert rallied back to get the team close down the stretch before failing late. He might have completed 15-of-40 passes with two touchdown passes and four picks, but he was able to get through the adversity and make the Tide sweat. Now he has to deal with far more of a fight just to keep his job after a miserable season. The offense was designed to give him help with more supposed to come from the running backs, but the ground game was awful and the receivers were mediocre. Mobile, but hardly the next VY, finished second on the team with 380 rushing yards and five touchdowns, doing what he could, but he only completed 59% of his throws for 2,744 yards and ten touchdowns with 17 picks. He always, always managed to make the wrong decision at the worst of times, but again, he didn't get any help whatsoever.
Gilbert's struggles opened the door for Case McCoy, who'd have pressure of dealing with the impossible task of trying to step into the legacy of his brother, Colt, if the passing game wasn't such a mess. The 6-2, 200-pound sophomore is a good athlete, extremely smart, and has good mobility to go along with a live, active arm. No, he's not Colt, but he has the same sort of moxie and fight to his game; he's a baller who looked just good enough at times this offseason to get the job.
Also in the hunt for the starting gig is Connor Wood , a 6-4, 220-pound redshirt freshman who has tremendous tools and a great arm. A great all-around athlete with the smarts to know what he's doing right away, he's a good decision maker who earned all-state honors three years in a row. After fighting for the backup job last year, he learned on the sidelines and is getting every shot to take over the No. 1 spot.
Watch Out For … McCoy. Yeah, Gilbert really is a great talent who simply needs the offense to work better – but McCoy might be the better option. Gilbert wasn't good enough this spring to take the job by the horns, and there's no way, no how the coaching staff is going to live through another 2010. Gilbert might win the job, but he'll be on a very, very short leash.
Strength: Top high school talents. Gilbert, Wood, and McCoy are Texas high school superstars with all the talent and all the tools needed to carry the team to big things. They all have strong, accurate arms, they're all smart, and they can all move.
Weakness: Help. The talent in the stall is good enough to make the players around them better, but Gilbert got absolutely nothing from the rest of the parts. The running game was awful, the receivers were mediocre, and the line was fine, but hardly special. It also didn't help that …
Outlook: Texas has a NFL starting-caliber talent in Gilbert under center and has no earthly clue what to do with him. After Colt McCoy got knocked out in the loss to Alabama, Mack Brown seemed to realize what happens when the entire team is revolved around one key quarterback who takes lots of shots. The offense changed things up and was supposed to be more balanced with the running backs supposed to carry the load, and they didn't. Remember, the Texas offense worked at its best when Young and McCoy were taking off and running wild, and the receivers weren't there for Gilbert to work with like Applewhite and Simms enjoyed. Now there will be a fight for the starting gig with McCoy and Wood in the hunt, but it's Gilbert's gig to lose.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: You're Texas … how are you NOT stockpiled with NFL talents at running back?. (There's a school of thought that the University of Oregon might have something to do with this.) The biggest disappointment last year might have been Garrett Gilbert throwing the ball, but No. 1A was a running game that was supposed to balance out the offense and didn't. There were some decent performances here and there, and finishing 66th in the nation isn't totally miserable, but considering the coaching staff made a concerted effort to get more physical and start pounding the ball more, averaging 4.2 yards per carry with 19 scores wasn't a positive.
It's not fair or right to put pressure on a true freshman to be a savior, especially at a place like Texas, but that's too bad. All the woes and all the problems with the ground game are expected to go away the second that top recruit Malcolm Brown is ready. The 6-0, 215-pounder has it all with power up the middle, breakaway speed, and the type of wiggle and moves that make NFL scouts drool. It's an unquantifiable trait, but he has it, however you want to define it. He's the back the program has been waiting for, and while the Longhorns already have plenty of experience stockpiled, Brown has to take the ground game to another level.
While senior Cody Johnson wasn't expected to be the team's leading rusher, his thumping style and hard-charging ability got him 592 yards and six scores, which was good enough to be the most productive back by far. At 5-11 and 250 pounds, he's usually a goal line specialist who ran for 24 touchdowns in his first two years, and he proved last year he could do a little bit more running for 124 yards against Florida Atlantic and 107 against Texas A&M in the final two games of the year. He'll get some carries, but he's a fullback. Sophomore linebacker Ryan Roberson and true freshman Joe Bergeron will fight it out for the No. 2 fullback job, with Bergeron eventually expected to be the main man and more of a pass catcher.
Senior Foshwhitt "Fozzy" Whittaker was supposed to be the main man for the ground game, and he'll go into the season as a co-No. 1, at least, but he simply isn't all that productive when he gets his chances. He only ran for 351 yards and two scores last year and he has only run the ball ten times or more twice. The 5-10, 198-pounder was a Texas high school superstar, but he's always banged up and he has yet to show much of anything, even though he's been tremendous in practices.
6-0, 202-pound junior Jeremy Hills is an inside runner who redshirted last year but looked the part this spring as one of the team's best between-the-tackles options. He's not Cody Johnson when it comes to bringing the power, but he's tough and can catch the ball a bit. He'll work along with junior D.J. Monroe , a speedy 5-9, 175-pounder who tore off a 60-yarder against Oklahoma and finished the year with 195 yards and a score.
Redshirt freshman Traylon Shead has the ridiculous high school résumé finishing as the Texas all-time leading rusher, scoring 141 times with 10,290 yards including a 2,696-yard senior season. He's 6-2, 218 pounds and has the speed to go along with the power. Built a bit more like a big wide receiver than a running back, he's an interesting prospect, but he might get caught in the logjam.
Watch Out For … Brown. Welcome to the program. Now be the next great Longhorn running back. Here's the ball, run with it.
Strength: Experience and options. While there hasn't been too much production from all the running backs who have been around the program for years, there are plenty of runners to give it a shot. Whittaker, Johnson, and the rest might not be world-beaters, but they can combine for over 1,000 yards with or without Brown.
Weakness: Playing football. The line might not have done its job and the passing game didn't exactly help the cause, but the running backs were simply awful at times. There were a few good runs here and there, but Whittaker has never played up to his potential, Johnson is a fullback trying to be a tailback, and if the quarterback isn't running well, the ground game hasn't moved over the last few seasons.
Outlook: It might be Brown or bust. The running backs have the high school résumés, and you don't run the ball for the Texas Longhorns without having some semblance of talent, but the production simply isn't there. It's inexcusable for the Texas leading rusher to have just 592 yards, and it's even more embarrassing to run for 1,806 yards as a team. The experience is there, but now there has to be more production and the new guy has to be the guy from the start.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: The Texas coaching staff did a tremendous job of bringing in top-shelf high school wide receivers over the last several years, but they've been underwhelming at best and non-existent at worst. Jordan Shipley shouldn't have been irreplaceable on a team with the talent and skill the UT receivers supposedly had, but the corps has the proverbial looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane issue. On the eye test, this is a devastating-looking group of receivers who come right out of central casting. Unfortunately, they've only looked the part over the last few seasons.
The sky is the limit for Mike Davis , who appears ready to rise above the fray and become the real, live, all-star receiver the Longhorn offense desperately missed last year. The 6-2, 186-pound sophomore was one of the team's top recruits last year with great hands, deep threat speed, and nice size, and he appeared to put it all together this offseason and showed enough to grow into the No. 1 target to work around. He finished second on the team with 47 catches for 478 yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by an 11-grab performance against Kansas State, but he didn't score over the final nine games. He'll be a scorer this year at flanker.
Is this the year Malcolm Williams becomes the main man? A huge receiver, listed at 6-3 and 228 pounds, the senior bulked up and is now around 240 to work as a possible H-Back as well as at split end. He has always had the prototype NFL size, the Texas high school state championship level speed, and all the skills to be special, but he only has 80 catches in three years and was non-existent at times last season making 24 grabs for 334 yards and two scores. He didn't grab more than two passes in any game over the second half of the year.
Junior slot receiver Marquise Goodwin is a 5-9, 177-pound speedster who had his moments last year catching 31 passes for 324 yards and a score, but he only averaged 10.5 yards per grab. Considering he has Olympic-level leaping ability and track star wheels, it's unforgiveable that his longest catch was just 32 yards. If he's not the fastest player in college football, he's in the 4x4 relay, but he needs to start making things happen with the ball in his hands.
It's going to be an ongoing fight for the starting tight end job. 6-3, 230-pound junior D.J. Grant was a tremendous recruit and had all the makings of a star, but he suffered a bad knee injury he hasn't been able to shake. After missing the last two seasons, he's back and ready to be a major factor, especially as a blocker, while redshirt freshman Darius Terrell is a 6-3, 238-pound wide receiver working as a tight end. He's a great target who came to UT as a Parade All-American. Now he needs to be a part of the passing game after sitting out last year, while 6-3, 240-pound sophomore Dominique Jones is extremely promising after working over the second half of last year and catching two passes for 14 yards and a score. He does a little of everything well.
Battling for the No. 2 flanker job behind Mike Davis is the combination of John Harris and DeSean Hales , two promising talents overdue to shine. The 6-3, 206-pound Harris was a good recruit who redshirted last year, but he has the athleticism and the size to quickly become a matchup nightmare. The 5-11, 175-pound Hales has the deep speed to be a field stretcher, but he only averaged 7.5 yards per grab catching ten passes for 75 yards. The junior was a superstar high school sprinter who has the quickness to be used as a return man if needed.
Working behind Malcolm Williams at split end will be rising talent Darius White , a 6-3, 200-pound leaper who spent most of last year on special teams and caught a pass for five yards as a true freshman. He has the skills to eventually be a breakout performer, while 6-0, 160-pound redshirt freshman Chris Jones had a tremendous spring with the quickness to work in the slot and make things happen on the move.
On the way is Jaxon Shipley, Jordan's brother, and he has all the talent to be a starter in the slot right away. At 6-1 and 183 pounds he isn't big, but like his brother he has the route running skills to always be open. Unstoppable in high school, he caught 203 passes over three years and he'll eventually be a key factor. It could be immediately.
Watch Out For … Davis. He showed a glimpse of what he could become in his first season, and he was unstoppable at times this offseason. He has No. 1 tools and talent, but so do most of the Longhorn targets. Davis has the skills and the mindset to become the star.
Strength: Talent. On pure skills, size, and athleticism, Texas has a peerless receiving corps full of depth and options. The new blood in the mix, namely Davis, White, and Shipley, should provide a big boost to push the veterans. Three stars should emerge, at least in theory.
Weakness: A proven No. 1, go-to guy. James Kirkendall led the team last year with 52 catches, but he's replaceable. There are several Longhorns who'd be the main man on other teams, but one has to rise up and be the guy that Garrett Gilbert, or one of the other quarterbacks, can rely on play after play after play.
Outlook: The Texas passing game should be unstoppable, and it's not. The quarterback play was poor, but the receivers did next to nothing to help out Gilbert. There's too much talent and too much skill to not be far better, and there's too much talent and too much skill not to spread the ball around. With everyone seeing single coverage, the passing game should be devastating instead of averaging a pedestrian 10.6 yards per catch.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: It might sound like a slap to be a finesse-blocking line, especially at Texas, but that doesn't have to be a negative. The Longhorn line did a decent job of giving Garrett Gilbert time and it should've been good in a wall-off blocking sort of way, but it didn't blast anyone off the ball and it couldn't provide any sort of a push for the ground game. Oddly enough, the line is thin – again, this is Texas – and needs to come up with decent depth with several banged up players out this offseason. There's talent, but the line is going to need a little bit of time.
Step One is to replace Kyle Hix, a decent but not dominant left tackle. 6-4, 290-pound sophomore Trey Hopkins isn't huge, and he'll only be a prospect for a zone-blocking scheme at the next level, but he's a tremendous blocker who might be an upgrade over Hix. He started four games as a freshman at left guard and has the strength to work in the interior, but he's extremely smart and just athletic enough to shine one step over at left tackle. Don't be shocked, though, it he ends up back at guard. He'll be backed up by 6-7, 285-pound junior Like Poehlmann , a swing tackle who could end up starting at either left or right tackle. He's tall and tough to get around, but he has spent most of his career as a special teamer.
If Hopkins doesn't start at left guard, it'll be Tray Allen , a versatile reserve who missed all of last year with a foot injury. The 6-4, 310-pounder can play either guard or tackle spot, but he's a better fit for the interior with tremendous size and strength. He came to UT with a ton of hype and promise, but he hasn't been able to grow into an elite blocker. The senior gets one more shot, while 6-5, 310-pound sophomore Thomas Ashcraft will get a shot after seeing a little bit of time as a reserve and a special teamer. A one-time superstar recruit, he's athletic and smart, and he'll get his chances.
Senior David Snow might not be the nation's best center, but he's close. The 6-4, 295-pound veteran is a smart, versatile all-around blocker who could play right guard if needed, but he has the smarts and experience to go along with his excellent athleticism. He's not going to push anyone into the tenth row, but he's a good technician. Sophomore Garret Porter will be a key backup at both guard and center, but at 6-6 and 305 pounds he's better suited for a guard spot, and he'll combine with 6-4, 295-pound redshirt freshman Dominic Espinosa , who's also a swing player for the interior. One of the two will take over for Snow in the middle next year.
6-6, 305-pound sophomore Mason Walters stepped in last year at right guard when injuries struck, and he never left getting the call in all 12 games. He missed a chunk of 2009 with a foot injury, but he's fine now and has the talent and versatility to work anywhere on the line. The one-time star center prospect appears to have found a home one spot over.
Sophomore Paden Kelly was rated as high as the No. 2 offensive tackle in the nation in 2009, and now the Austin native will get his chance to show why. He has left tackle ability and smarts, but he'll start out on the right side after seeing a little bit of time in the rotation last year and getting the call against Oklahoma State on the left side. At 6-7 and 305 pounds he has a great frame with the potential to handle more weight, but he should be fine as is.
Watch Out For … Hopkins. The only question is where he'll play. The most talented player on the line, with all due respect to Snow, he's a tremendous talent with the ability to play inside or out. He's not necessarily an anchor, but he's a top talent to work the line around.
Strength: Athleticism. This isn't a big, bulky, blasting line that you'd think Texas would have. UT has athletic linemen who can move and are good in pass protection, and they can fly around to open things up.
Weakness: Run blocking. The line couldn't pass protect two year ago and did a whole bunch of nothing for the ground game. The pass protection was better last year, but the ground game couldn't get going averaging a pedestrian 151 yards per game. The line has talent and athleticism, but it has to be able to start cranking out the hard yards.
Outlook: Injuries were an issue this offseason and finding cohesion was tough, but the starting five has a nice mix of good veterans and young, promising blockers. This might have been a relative weakness at times over the last few seasons, and it's not going to be a killer, but it'll be solid once the starting five is settled on. But make no mistake about it; this is a huge area of concern.
Unit Rating: 7
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