Feb. 26, 2009
Opening statement: The most obvious thing is that we start spring practice tomorrow. The first two practices will be in shorts, as mandated by the NCAA. You have to have three of your 15 practices in shorts. We start with the first two in shorts, because they ask us to, but after that, you can mix the other one in to really give the kids a break from hitting down the road. But, we also feel like it's a fun time for us, because this is the first time since 2000 that we haven't had a coaching change. So, we should have more continuity going into spring practice with our staff than just about any other time that we've been here. It was also interesting this morning, some of the coaches brought up the fact that some of the young men we're recruiting that are juniors were five years old when we got to Austin in 1998.
There will be a lot of great competition out on the field this spring. You start looking at the different positions, and a lot of guys played really well at times last year, but didn't get to start or step up, so we're going back to try to find the two-deep. We have a lot of great players to replace. You start looking at some of the seniors that left, and not only were some of them great players, but they were great leaders. You especially look at the defensive front with Henry Melton, Brian Orakpo and Roy Miller. Those guys were outstanding players for us last year and really helped us with our pass rush. Then, you start looking offensively at what Quan [Cosby] did for us, which was just amazing. The running game, we've talked about. We want to tighten it up some and not have as many zero or negative yardage gains or losses. We'd like to be able to sit there and be at second-and-six, second-and-five or second-and-four. So, we're looking to secure the line of scrimmage better. Who replaces Quan? Nobody can. He's just like the one of the great players that we've had. Somebody has to step up and be the next guy, but no one can take Quan's place, especially with his ability to lead since he was older.
Also, what do we do at tight end? That is something that is really important. We'll also look at the running backs and how to separate them a little bit better. As we start going into spring practice, Colt [McCoy] has established himself as a leader and he is our quarterback. But, you want to see John [Chiles] and Sherrod [Harris] continue to improve, get better and be able to take over if Colt needs to step out. We felt like we had some great kickoff returns, but we weren't consistently one of the best teams in the country in kickoff returns, so we want to be better there. We felt the same with kickoff coverage. We made some improvements.
You start to look at the attitude of the team, and it seems like at this time last year, people felt like this would not be a good team and it probably wouldn't be a team who could win 10 games and contend for possible awards at the end of the year, but they went to work, and the coaches went to work, and we overcame a lot of adversity. Guys stepped up, they got better and it ended up being one of the more fun years that we've had here in a long time. People thought the team overachieved. I don't know if teams can overachieve, but they definitely got to a different level than we expected across the board at that time.
This team is at a different place. This team is a team that is expected to contend and be a great team. What we've got to do is to make sure that the positive things that are being spoken about this team right now don't encourage them to be more complacent. They can't walk around and feel good about themselves. They have to go back to work. The attitude we've seen so far in the off-season hasn't been that way. They've gotten up every morning at 6:00, nobody has been late and nobody has missed. They're working really hard. I thought it was a great indicator that on Tuesday morning, they worked out at 6:00 and then lifted weights after they worked out. I walked out of the building for a while, and when I was coming back, it was 3:00 or 4:00, and Colt McCoy and probably 25 other guys were walking in the stadium to go out to try to throw some. It's amazing that they would run, they would lift and then they would go back out to work some more that afternoon. Those running workouts are really, really tough.
We're also trying to decide where the leadership comes from now. It's obvious with a guy like Colt that his leadership should continue, but who else steps up? We've challenged the guys that the hardest workers need to be the best players, and therefore, they become your best leaders. Usually, you've got that 10 percent that are born leaders, 10 percent that are strugglers that are trying to find their place and then there's about 80 percent that try to decide which guy to follow. That's where your leadership gets to be so important when you go through spring practice and the off-season, because that's what has to carry you through the summer. The summer may be the most important part of our process, because the coaches don't get to be involved. Your team has to be ready to lead in the summer without you being around.
The practice tomorrow will be at 3:30 p.m., we'll have stretch around during that time, they'll do kicking stuff and then the practice will actually start around 4 p.m. It will be open. The practice on Saturday morning will be at 9:05 a.m. We didn't want to go up against baseball tomorrow, but we have no choice. We would like to encourage everybody to come out and watch, and at the same time, we'd like to ask you all [the media] and the fans not to talk to the prospects that are there, because we're not supposed to have media set up to speak with them. So, please respect that with the NCAA and let them get out of there and get home before we start asking them questions so it doesn't put us in an uncomfortable spot with them. We'll try to keep them inside the ropes, because the fans aren't supposed to stand and talk to them either. That's the only thing about having a Junior Day and an open practice. It's a sensitive thing, so we'd like to encourage the fans not to speak with them.
There are a number of young people that will not participate some in spring practice. There's a release here about Jarvis Humphrey and his issues with the doctor. So, they're holding him and he will not participate in the spring at all. That's all we can say about it. It is a medical issue with the doctor. Ishie Oduegwu has had five operations and there's a release here about that, but he will go ahead and graduate. We're pleased for Ishie that he's done so well here. He's had a real tough run with his injuries and he just felt like it was time for him to move forward with his life. We're pulling for Jarvis at the same time.
The depth chart has been released. Again, it is one that is based on what we've seen in the off-season program. The coaches went over it. We don't have the deep snappers on there. Will Harvey is our deep snapper and Alex Zumberge had a shoulder operation, so we'll be looking at more snappers. We don't have the returners on there, because all of that will be worked on in the spring. We feel like if people are doing a better job returning kickoffs across the country, and therefore it's harder to cover them, then we should be getting more out of our kickoff returns. We'll really go back and study where Jordan [Shipley] should be in the return game and also, who should be back on the kickoffs and punts outside of Jordan. So, we have a lot of questions that we need to have answered.
On what he expects out of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp in his second year with the program: What me, Will and our defense wants are more turnovers. It's just amazing we couldn't get interceptions and the ball would be on the ground and we didn't get on it. It's probably as few turnovers as we've had since we've been here when we played such great defense. At the same time, I know Will is concerned with the fact that he left a league that runs the ball so much of the time, to go to a league that is throwing it a large majority of the time. It's one of the reasons why we want to get some power running back. If you're not running it as much yourself, then it's very tough for your defense to prepare for a team that runs it. We have to try to prepare to win all of the games, and you never know who you'll see outside of the conference and in a bowl game.
On if Will Muschamp will coach differently in his second year: I don't think so. Will is Will. I've spoken to Will, and I think our future coach concept is working really well. We think it's been a plus for recruiting and there is continuity. If he was gone and we had a different defensive coordinator, you just never know, and there would be a lot of question marks that might effect recruiting. I think we're both in great shape and the staff understands. We haven't changed anything. If anything, he'll know the players better. Especially with [defensive backs coach] Duane [Akina], because that time in the front and in the secondary together will become even more comfortable. They have really gotten close. Last year at this time, we didn't know where that would go. We've brought some guys in to help us with the pass rush again, so we're constantly looking at trying to upgrade our pass rush, because it is so important in this league. You go back to those numbers of 600 plus passes compared to 100 runs. I mean, it's just amazing what has changed in this league since we've been here the past 11 years. But, I don't see him changing anything. We'll still have energy, he'll still be getting after them, but I don't think he'll chest bump a guy like Brian Orakpo anymore. But he did say that he kept his feet, he kept moving and he did not get knocked down, so he's proud of that.
On his angle of motivation and games for this year: We usually try to come up with our angle after spring, because we want to see who they are, how they're working and to get their input. As a staff, we're actually planning on bringing in BCS gurus and computer guys and talking to them in seeing where we fell short in what areas last year. Is it margin of victory and not scoring more? Because if it doesn't matter to the computers, it does to the human vote, because they apparently like offense better than defense. We're looking at all of those things right now. But I think the kids have a self-motivation to know that they wanted to get to the conference championship last year. Starting out today, they think that is a viable chance for them if they go back and clean up in a few areas. That's why we want to clean up kickoff return and kickoff coverage. For us to be plus-two in turnover ratio as a team, and you have teams like Oklahoma that were plus-23 and Florida that was plus-22, it was amazing we did as well as we did. The defense is motivated by those numbers to come up with more turnovers, and we want to continue to take care of the ball on offense.
On the running backs: First, let me address Cody [Johnson]. We think, in trying to study and look at where he should be, that it's not his weight, it's body fat. He's worked really hard on that. He's dropped three or four percent of body fat this spring. He's going to be big. It's like Leonard Davis. We used to try to get him to 350 pounds when he was 383, but he was not going to get to 350 and stay alive, because he was just so big. We found the body fat thing, so that's what we're doing with Cody to make sure he is in great shape and taking care of the ball. But at the same time, we can't weigh him everyday and say, "Oh, you're up two pounds." We have to go with the body fat. We just have to make sure he's in shape because he is big. So that's what we want to do with him and see how much more he can get involved.
With the young backs, their biggest issues are usually with protection. It's because high school backs are by-in-large runners. They're going to catch the pitch and run off tackle, but they're not going to be protection guys, because they were the best players on the team. We feel like that's something Cody, Vondrell [McGee] and Fozzy [Whittaker] have got to continue to work on. Chris Ogbonnaya was so good at it, and it was just a pacifier for us, because we knew Chris would know who to block and we knew he'd block them, so we put him in there all of the time. You would like to have all of your guys be able to do that at the same level, and right now they're not. So that will be a project for them for the spring. Secondly, we weren't really disappointed in our running game. We would have rather run the ball better at Texas Tech that night, but we didn't play well offensively. We started slow and we came back and caught up in some areas. But, I think the biggest thing for us is that we try to evaluate what was good and what was bad, and like everybody else, you go in and say there were times where we ran the ball really well and we were excited about it. We count Colt's running yards, because they are real and they help us. That's one of the reasons you go to a one-back shotgun offense, because he's the other runner. If he's not running, and he wasn't running as much in 2006, then we didn't move the ball as well. So, if you're going to do that, he needs to be a factor in the running game.
What really hurt us were fourth-quarter yards when we wanted to kill the clock, didn't need to punt and needed to take the game over. That was something we didn't do very well. We didn't keep the ball. We had to punt it back to them and turned it over too much. I think that's the biggest thing. We thought we were good on the goal line and in short-yardage, but we weren't as good on first downs as we needed to be. You would like to come out and have that second-and-short and that second-and-medium, instead of a second-and-10. The other problem we've got is when Colt throws it as well as he does and the receivers are catching it as well as they do, and Colt is throwing it near 80 percent, then it's hard not to throw it. So that's what we've got to do. We have to figure out where the running game fits with a great passing attack.
On if there is a concern for Sergio Kindle playing out of a three-point stance: No, he'll still be doing both. Will and Sergio have talked about it. He's done so much at the linebacker, that they want to work on his pass rushing techniques, his flexibility, quickness off the ball and all that this spring. We feel like he showed all of that last year. He was an impact pass rusher last year. We think he can be one of the best in the country when he's doing that. So, we're really excited about watching him this spring. We've got two older tackles now, so it'll be really fun to watch them try to block him. There's going to be some fun battles out there.
On if being around Brian Orakpo helped Sergio Kindle with pass rushing last year: We thought it helped all of us. Brian Orakpo and Roy Miller were two of the best leaders I've ever seen, because they pushed the kids and they pushed them in a positive way. Watching Brian work and being excited about getting to the quarterback had to have really helped Sergio, Sam Acho and those young ends as they start preparing. You also have a couple more guys like Russell Carter, who hasn't played very much, and Alex Okafor coming in now. So, we've got some ends that need some work. But, at the same time, we're really thin at that position in the spring.
On if he is surprised that the 2010 recruiting class is already very promising: We're really not surprised, because we had a great year. Finishing is so important to the kids and they saw it. I think we have won our last game in seven out of the last eight years. It really helps us. Then, we start back early with recruiting, and people have kind of forced our hand because they have been offering scholarships so quickly. We don't have any other choice. Everybody else has Junior Days, and we didn't have them when we got here, so now we have to have them. If we have a young guy in for Junior Day, and we don't make an offer to him or give him some hope that we will offer him sometime down the road, then we're going to lose him. Everybody is kind of pushing us to go out there and offer them and see what we've got. From a good standpoint, it creates some urgency for the kids, because they know if they want to come here, they've got to come on. From a tough standpoint, you may miss somebody that pops up in the fall because it happens so quickly. It is what it is. I think we're working harder in recruiting right now than we have in our whole lives. It's all we do.
On if the way the college game is played right now changes the way he recruits: Yes, especially in our league. What we've got to do is be cautious like we were with Ohio State and really watch our schedule to see if we play a team that is going to be heavy with the run. We're not a soft team, but you're just not seeing hard downhill runs anymore. That's why we're looking to have some of that ourselves. We always run an option ourselves, because we're going to see an option during the season. If you don't work on it, it's going to get you beat. We want to always have a no-huddle offense and a one-minute offense, so if we get behind, we can catch up. But also, you're playing teams like (Texas) Tech and Missouri, and that's who they are now. So, we have to work on our pass rushing consistently, but there's no doubt that we have to look more at nickel and dime defenses.
On how he positions his players to foster their leadership abilities within themselves: It's one of the long and hard discussions we have every year. Do you recruit leaders? Do you develop leaders? Are they born? Who are they? Does your leader have to be your best player? Those are just hard questions to answer. What we've told the players is that we're going to look and see who are the hardest workers in every group. We're going to promote those guys as leaders. If you're in the back of the line or in the middle of the line, that's fine, you can be a good player, but you're not going to be a leader. That's why they have the guys up front. They have to understand that they're determining who our leaders are by the way they work. We don't care if you speak. Roy Miller used to threaten them and I thought he would whip them if they didn't play well. Brian (Orakpo) would talk to them. It didn't matter, because they were both very effective. Before the Ohio State game, I was sitting back in the coaches' dressing area, and I hear Roy screaming at them. It's effective because they trusted Roy, they liked Roy and they knew he was very emotional because that was who he was. There are different leaders out there right now and that is part of the process of the off-season and spring practice. We want to see who gets the attention of the other kids. Colt has been doing that for the whole year. His leadership has grown much further past the offense right now. It's in the kicking game and in the defense, and he feels very comfortable with them. As they were throwing the other day, there were offensive and defensive players out there with him, and I'm sure he organized that on his own.
On the younger receivers getting more reps this spring due to Jordan Shipley being out and Quan Cosby having graduated: When they told us that Jordan would have his operation, we were disappointed for him because he had to have it. But at the same time, he doesn't need the spring. He can be out there running and as soon as he gets his brace off, he can get in great shape. With all of the pounding his body has taken, we thought it was probably a real plus that he gets to rest his body this spring, and it also forces us into looking at some of the younger guys that haven't been out there as much. So players like Dan Buckner, who have played only a little, will really become a factor now. We are going to get really good looks at DeSean Hales, Brock Fitzhenry, D.J. Monroe and those guys. They are going to have to be out there when it matters, so the pace is going to pick up for them. Six of the eight new enrollees will be practicing for the first time in college football tomorrow afternoon. The other two are hurt. So, their hearts are pumping pretty fast right now as well, knowing that this will be their first practice in their college careers when they are only high school seniors. So, there are a lot of fun things that will come out. It's also the reason why we divide the spring up. There are three or four reasons why we want to go early, and one of them is to keep the momentum we built up during the bowl game. If we get someone hurt with a sprained ankle or a tweaked shoulder in the first seven or eight practices, you get 10 days off where you might get them back. If you were to go straight through, you would not. At the same time, we can look at personnel in the first eight practices, take our break, and then really look at our schemes more in the second half. So, we'll get a better idea of where everybody fits going into the summer. We also feel like it motivates them more to act right and make sure they stay in shape over spring break, because they have to come back and run for another seven days.
On the depth of the defensive line: I think our depth at defensive line and at linebacker are our two biggest questions that need to get answered on defense. There are enough players in the secondary that it needs to be answered, but they will answer it because they're there. We've got to find some guys in the other areas that can play. If you play a team like Missouri or Texas Tech, big guys are the ones who will get tired the quickest in a pass rushing situation and chasing the ball. If you don't have enough of them, you'll wear out and get in trouble. So, we've got to have enough pass rushers. Again, I brag on Will, because he tries to get every linebacker to be a pass rusher as well, so we can keep fresh legs and not be worn out in the end. You've got a guy like Ben Alexander, who is a great run stopper and he helped us against Ohio State, but he's not going to be a guy who plays a lot of snaps in the Tech game because they are spread out all over the field and he's more of a run guy. So, we've got to find some of the guys who can pass rush.
On if they are going to try to find more players who can play multiple positions: No, I don't think so, to be fair. What we'll probably do with D.J. [Grant] to start with is to start him where Jordan played last year in the Oklahoma game in the inside slot. He can still play receiver some, but we will want him to work into the area of blocking well enough to where he can play a tight, tight end. He gives you a lot of flexibility. He can give you a five wide-out flex tight end or a two-type tight, tight end who blocks. We think D.J. is really good and we're excited about seeing him. At the same time, we feel like he's bigger than David Thomas and Bo Scaife when they started at that position their first year. When we signed Bo Scaife, he was 205 pounds out of high school. I'll never forget the day David Thomas reported, he was 211 pounds, and I'm sitting there thinking we have to be crazy. We were signing a skinny little receiver from Frenship [High School], and he ended up being 240 pounds and did really well. It'll be really fun to watch D.J. during the spring. We are trying to be able to interchange our ends and tackles. You can have guys like Aaron Lewis and Lamarr [Houston] who can play both of those, and that is how you build depth. But, it still lets you have the ability to rush the passer, but have really strong guys in there. Another guy you all have seen some is Aaron Smith. He is a young man who has done really well on kickoff coverage and special teams, and we've moved him over to fullback because he is so aggressive. We felt like it would be fun to watch him. With Antwan Cobb hurt, Cody has been playing tailback more and we've kind of lost our fullbacks. Those are two positions that are really hard to find anymore.