Mack Brown Monday press conference: Aug. 27
General comments: We are excited about starting another season. I can remember a couple of years ago when Edith Royal said that this time of the year, just grab and hold on because the rollercoaster starts over. That is about what happens in our business. Opening games have so much excitement about them, anxiety, and anticipation. You look at the passion kids have because they have waited so long and there is still this element of unknown because we're still not sure about those positions that we still weren't sure about after spring practice. Until you get them out on the field against somebody else, you are never really sure how people will respond or react. We have talked to the kids about how they will start building memories this Saturday for this team, for the fan base, for our coaches and for the rest of their lives. Whatever you put on tape on Saturday sticks, it sure doesn't go away.
We also want to thank all the people who have worked on the stadium so hard for a full year to get it ready for Saturday night. It will probably be Saturday late before they get it ready for us, but it looks beautiful, and I can't imagine what it's going to look like next year when we have the upper deck on it. With all the rain this summer and with all the heat since that time, we talked to our players about them walking out onto the field and practicing so hard and then you think about those guys up there on top of the stadium with the heat banging down on the cement. They have done a tremendous job and we appreciate that.
The game plan for opening games are usually determined in the first quarter of the game because you are really not sure who you are playing against until you see them out there. You can look at last year's film and it helps you to a certain degree, and we will talk a little bit more about Arkansas State in a minute, but usually you go in with a basic plan and then you have to add or subtract from that plan as you go. The other thing is that opening ball games are usually determined by turnovers and the kicking game. The one game we lost here in the opener was because of the kicking game. We had the three blocked punts against N.C. State or we would have had an unblemished record in opening ball games.
We did feel like (Equipment Manager) Chip Robertson came up with an idea this summer that we talked to the players about last night and they were 100 percent with it. Because President Johnson has meant so much to our state, our country and our university, and Lady Bird is our First Lady who we just lost, and the Johnson family who has meant so much to all of us, we are going to put a wildflower in their honor on the back of our helmets for the full year. Because no one has done anymore for our country, our state, and loved Texas football - Coach Royal has talked to me about countless stories where he and President Johnson sat and talked about our team and our quarterbacks and all that it meant. Chip Robertson came up with it, obviously the influence that the First Lady had with wildflowers all across the country, so we thought it was a great idea. Obviously the President was very involved with civil rights back in the '60s. It was something that George Wynn presented to our team last night and our team was 100 percent unanimous that the Johnson's should have a place on the helmets.
Ken Rucker is in the hospital now. He will have his operation today for prostate cancer about 1:30 this afternoon. They expect him to be in there for about three hours and hopefully we will get a call from the field that everything has gone well and that he is doing fine and will have a full recovery. We are not sure in talking to people in how long it will be until he returns to at least our meeting room, so he can talk to his players. He did meet with them last night and he had a long meeting with them and assured them that he would be okay. I did ask him if he wanted to address the team last night and he said, "Nope, lets get ready to play." Ken is going in with a great attitude today and we wish him a full and speedy recovery and our prayers are with him as we said. He does want to be a role model for others who have the same disease and are scared and fighting, so good for him.
Steve Roberts is the head coach at Arkansas State. This is his sixth year and he has done a tremendous job there. Most of their staff has stayed. You look at what they do offensively and they use a lot of different formations and they run the ball very effectively. They have won 11 of the last 12 games when they have rushed for more than 200 yards. Last year in 11 of their 12 games, they had the ball more time of possession than the other team. They average more than 33 minutes per game. That is who they are, their staff hasn't changed and they are going to come in here and try to run the ball and hit some play action passes because they have a great quarterback. They will be very, very physical in their running game as they come in here so it will be a great challenge for us to start the season. They are also a team that kept the ball 33 minutes at Auburn last year so they have played at Auburn; they are playing at Tennessee this year. They play in a stadium like ours every year so they will not come in here intimidated. They know what it is like to be here. They will be excited about coming in.
They are basically a man-to-man defense. They have one great safety, but they feel like all four of their secondary players will be drafted. They have been a team that likes to play you man-to-man and stop the run and force you to throw and make you beat them in one-on-one situations. We feel like this will be a great challenge for us to get the season started. The guys are excited. We will have a full two-hour practice today and then we will back off as we get closer to game time. It looks like the weather is going to be great for Saturday.
On the quarterbacks: What we would do is plan on playing Colt [McCoy] as the quarterback and John [Chiles] would be in a back-up role. Unless some things changes between now and Saturday, we would not play him the third series in the game like we have in some other situations. We would just let Colt be the starting quarterback and John is the back-up quarterback. He would come in as needed.
On the receivers: Limas [Sweed] is probable, Jordan [Shipley] is doubtful, and Billy [Pittman] is out and you start looking at what you do and we may not know until Thursday. They haven't practiced a lot. What we are planning on doing is just playing the younger ones. We would start Nate [Jones] and Quan [Cosby] and they have had a great camp. They have been amazing. All three young guys have played well, but on the Z side you would play Brandon Collins and James Kirkendoll. So we plan on them playing this weekend. Then you have Montre Webber, you have the ability to move Tyrell Gatewood over because he has practiced some at receiver and then you have got also Malcolm Williams who we are planning on playing as well. Philip Payne still has a pull, so I wouldn't anticipate him playing. He is probable, but he hasn't practiced very much. The other thing we are doing with our two deep is that some of the freshmen, as they have gotten closer to game time, would rather red-shirt and that is fine. That is their prerogative. It was interesting last night in talking to a few of them that we thought might want to play. It is interesting that we have some real experienced guys that have played a lot and some really young guys who haven't played any. There is a lot of differential in age on this team. So we have asked our older guys to take over and help the young guys and help them grow, especially that back-up offensive line.
On Jamaal Charles' carries: I think it totally depends on what he can handle. Again you can't determine those things in a pre-season practice. He is 210 pounds, he is in great shape, and he has done everything he should do. And everybody wants him to carry it more and nobody wants him to carry it more than me and Greg Davis and him. Whatever he can handle, he will carry. If he can't handle that, then there is a point there, and you will probably know when we do, if he is not carrying anymore, then he has probably had enough. He has done everything right, he has prepared himself well and we are excited for him. He deserves to have a chance to have a great year because of the way he has worked. We have gone back and had studies of our teams the last nine years that we have been here. We have looked at every season; we have looked at basically every carry offensively. Jamaal has been a little better out of the shotgun than he has out of the eye. Part of that probably is Vince [Young] if you look at it. It is hard to tell. There really hasn't been that much difference. I think it has been 6.5 yards per carry out of shotgun and 6.0 yards per carry out of the eye, and those are both pretty good. He has had a great start over two years. Our expectations just got so high with him after his freshman year. We have gone back through every game and seen how many yards we passed it for, how many yards we ran it for, turnovers, how many yards passing we have given up, we have done that for each team and it is amazing the consistency. We have only been in the negative with turnover ratio one year and that was our first year, and we were minus three. Last year, we were plus nine. What we did find in looking at our team over nine years and looking at college football over nine years is pretty simplistic. The most important thing is either scoring offense or scoring defense, period. Our goal will be to score and to keep them from scoring. We are not going to concern ourselves as much about how many yards we get rushing or how many times anybody catches it we want to score. Then you get into rushing defense and total defense and turnovers being the other categories. As much as I have talked about running the ball and as important as it is, it is not as near important as stopping the run and making sure we force turnovers, we protect the ball and scoring on offense and making sure that we keep them from scoring.
On the defensive line: We are really excited. To just be around Roy Miller and Frank Okam and Derek Lokey is exciting for the passion and ability they bring to the game, the leadership they are showing. We have three starters and they will all three play interchangeably and it won't matter which one is out there. It is so great to have Derek back because we lost a lot when we lost him at Nebraska last year. Secondly, when you start looking at the defensive ends, [Brian Orakpo] played a lot last year. Aaron Lewis made some tremendous plays, so those guys have some experience. They are filling in for two great guys that played for us that are now in the NFL. We are seeing all the preseason games with Brian [Robison] and Tim [Crowder]. But we see Lamarr Houston and Eddie Jones who haven't played very much backing them up and it will be fun to watch them on Saturday.
On Arkansas State: Well their quarterback is very athletic and anytime you have a team that is rushing for over 200 yards per game, what you expect out of them is play-action deep. They will have double moves, they will block everybody and have one-on-one situations and especially with our inexperience in the secondary. It is time for Ryan Palmer and Brandon Foster to have their opportunity to play. They have played some for us, but they haven't been in a prominent role like they are now. You start looking at the safeties, those are older guys. Erick Jackson has played on special teams, but he hasn't had his opportunity and he has his opportunity Saturday. Marcus Griffin is back, he is the old head. Drew Kelson will be a rotating starter in that group. Then you have got Deon Beasley that is coming on, Chykie Brown and some of the freshmen and you will just have to determine when and how the freshmen play when we get there.
On the linebackers: Well you have got four definitive starters. The three that you know, and then Roddrick Muckelroy. He has just had an outstanding camp and we are pleased with him and we just lost so much when we lost him last year with his torn ligaments in his finger, and now he has come back and playing as a starter. And then you would have either or Jared Norton in the middle who will play and then Dustin Earnest will play, and we will just have to decide whether Keenan Robinson will play or not. We don't want to play a freshman unless they are going to have a prominent role.
On kickoff returns: Quan [Cosby] right now would return kickoff and punt returns.
On the new kickoff rule: We are looking at the new kickoff rule like everybody else. We are very fortunate to have Larry Mac Duff who has been in a league where they kick it off further back than we do and very few people kick it out in the NFL. It is amazing how many times you watch an NFL game and everybody gets to return it. Larry brings a lot of expertise there for us. We are still not sure what we will see there on Saturday. We have worked on it a lot. We worked on it on Thursday hard, we worked on it on Friday just about the entire practice and we will go back and start working on it today. In fact, this morning Larry asked for more time. He and Mike Tolleson [asked for more time] for kickoff return and kickoff coverage. We had a long discussion this morning about whether you should defer now and take the ball to start the game and start the second half. The obvious game is that if you can stop them on the first drive, you would still rather have the ball. You would rather stop them, get the ball, score and start the second half with the ball. That hasn't changed. It will probably depend on wind and the strength of the opposing team's kicker.
On the mood change now that the team has had a few days off: They were so exhausted in talking to them last night that they slept and watched TV like I did. Watch film and watch TV all weekend. That little break gives them even more motivation to get started because they know when you are through with preseason and you put the little 'x' through it, especially seniors because they know it is their last college preseason ever, and now their work over a full year comes down to starting against a team they have no new film on. They aren't sure what they will do against them. It is a fun week for them. Then you go to the [typical] freshman, and he survived his first preseason. He starts school on Wednesday and will be in college for three days before he plays in his first game, if he plays. There are a lot of different emotions going through them this week. I ate dinner with Colt last night after the meeting and he just said, "I can't wait." His life is different than it was at this time last year. He has a lot more answers and there again with answers he feels more pressure to be a great leader out there instead of just being the starting quarterback.
On his birthday: My birthday has always been spent in two-a-days or in practice. I will probably get home at 8:30 or 9:00 and eat dinner with our children and that will be my birthday. I am just glad I made it to another one.
On the differences in managing the team with so many freshmen: Just making sure that we just try to get them to a point where they understand what is about to happen. You can tell them, and we have the older players talking to them this week, we try to go through enough of the routine schedule that will happen before they start Friday and Saturday. It is fun to watch them because it is a life's dream for them and everything is new and it is very exciting for them. It will be fun to watch them. We just have to make sure they grow fast with our team because we do not want the older guys that are playing really well to have some things happen in a game because inexperience is in there. We have asked these guys to grow up fast who are going to play.
On if he has more anxiety: No, I was thinking about that this weekend. I think it is the same. I really do. Last year, I didn't feel good. I was battling a bad knee and trying to prepare for a season. I really am excited about Saturday as I have ever been. It is like we have never won a game before and now it is starting over. That is thing we have sold to our team is, "Earn the Right ," and start back over and make sure this is the first year of Texas football. We told them last night that what you put on film on Saturday will be their for the rest of your lives and ours and your children will be able to pull it up and see it too. You need to play good. Our responsibility as a staff has not changed. We want to help this team be the best team it can be and we hope that it can be one of the best teams in Texas history if they play well.
On injuries: It is what it is and you're going to have injuries. When you don't have them, you look back and you see that you didn't do anything different. They are what they are we have no control over them. Doctors and trainers tell us exactly who is going to play and when they are going to play. A lot of times they don't know. They miss it too. We probably won't know until Thursday's practice, or in some cases, Friday's warm-ups with some guys in the past. I have learned that if a young man is injured, you plan on him not playing. Then if he does play it is a plus, but if they walk out there before the game and tell you that they can't play, then it is not disturbing for you and it doesn't set you back. What you need to do is always stay positive.