Seniors Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby return, but they’ll be leading a group of relatively inexperienced wide receivers. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis talked about the position battle going on as young receivers establish their spots on the depth chart. Plus, notes from practice, including on the package of plays designed to get McCoy and Chiles on the field at the same time.
Option One and Option Two at wide receiver will be easy for Colt McCoy to pick out this season. Seniors Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby are the only two returning receivers to register a catch last year and will form the foundation of the Texas passing game.
But after that it gets very uncertain. The Longhorns’ base offense will remain the three-wide spread, meaning that a third starter needs to emerge before the start of the 2008 season. On Tuesday, Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis said there’s still a large group of players clustered behind Shipley and Cosby, fighting for that third spot.
“You’ve got Jordan and Quan, obviously, who’ve done a really good job, they both are playing at a very high level, and then you’ve got a group of guys,” said Davis. “Malcolm Williams made a great play yesterday in a team situation. You’ve got Brandon Collins, you’ve got James Kirkendoll, you’ve got Dan Buckner. So we’ve some really good competition going on there and I feel like by the time we break camp we’ll have five or six guys we’ll feel really good about.”
Davis said there’s currently no time table for making that decision, but did talk about each of the players who are fighting for position within that rotation.
Malcolm Williams: “He’s got really good size and really good strength and when you play people that press that becomes a bigger factor. I would say his size and strength are something that jumps out at you.”
Brandon Collins: “Brandon Collins is an extremely natural catcher and that’s the thing that you see when you watch him practice, just a very natural ball-catcher.”
James Kirkendoll:“James Kirkendoll is a guy that is going to be exactly where he’s supposed to be every play. His consistency is something that we look at. Sometimes we’ll leave the field and I will say to Coach (Bobby) Kennedy, ‘I didn’t notice James a whole lot,’ and then you go in and put the film on and he did everything exactly right.”
Dan Buckner: “Dan Buckner has natural ball skills and he is natural at taking the ball at the highest point. You hear, from little league all the way up to the pros, about receiving the ball at the highest point. Some guys do it more naturally than others and he has shown the ability to not be afraid to go up and use his hands as opposed to letting the ball come to him and catching it with his body.”
According to Davis, although the rotation is far from settled, Williams is leading right now for the third starting spot, followed by Buckner.
“Malcolm Williams would be ahead right now in terms of Malcolm and Dan because he’s been here a little bit longer and he’s redshirted and he’s got a better grasp of where he needs to be in the big picture,” said Davis.
Williams and Buckner are the two being considered because of what they bring to the table in terms of height. The set starters, Cosby and Shipley, are listed at 5-11 and 6-0, respectively. Kirkendoll and Collins are 5-11 and 6-0, respectively, and bring a similar style to the table.
Williams (6-3) and Buckner (6-4) are much more suited for the split end position and will compete with each other for the starting spot there, while Kirkendoll and Collins will most likely end up in the primary back-up spots behind Shipley and Cosby and flanker and Sub-B (slot).
Of course, those are not the only options at the position. Also in competition for playing time are redshirt freshmen Phillip Payne and Montre Webber and true freshmen Brock Fitzhenry, D.J. Grant, Desean Hales and D.J. Monroe. However, the Longhorns typically employ a standard rotation of six receivers and right now, according to Davis, that group is comprised of Jordan Shipley, Quan Cosby, Malcolm Williams, Dan Buckner, Brandon Collins and James Kirkendoll.
Other Notes From Davis on Tuesday Practice John Chiles has been all over the place.
While continuing to insist that Chiles is a quarterback, Davis said the ways in which Chiles has been used at quarterback have been quite numerous.
“I told John when he reported Sunday, ‘We’re going to see if you’re in shape or not,’ because he’s getting a bunch of reps in several different places,” said Davis.
Many times it’s been alongside McCoy in the backfield. It’s also not for a single trick play, but rather for a formation that is intended, at least at this point, to be regularly used in games.
“We’re working on a package that puts Colt and John in the game at the same time and, having said that, John is the No. 2 guy,” said Davis.
One of the reasons for this new package is the Texas coaching staff’s stated emphasis this season of getting the best players onto the field. According to Davis, back in spring Texas head coach Mack Brown asked the coaches to rank the players on offense and defense from top to bottom, regardless of position.
Davis wouldn’t divulge the exact ranks of players, but did say that Chiles was “very high” on the board and because of his abilities needed to be on the field on a regular basis.
“It’s obvious John is a play-maker and we need to find ways to get him the ball. We’ve spent a good part of summer expanding the package we just kind of toyed with last year,” said Davis.
Even with the inclusion of this new formation, though, Davis said the general style of the Texas offense will not radically change and that the zone will remain the primary blocking scheme.
“We’re going continue to feature the zone. I think over five years in a row we’ve run the zone over 225 times a season from various ways, under the center, one-back, two-back, zone read, open side, tight end side, and that will continue to be the feature of the offense,” said Davis.
Davis also said he’s expecting a significantly improved performance from the offensive line this season and gave the unit very high praise on Tuesday.
“I think we’ve got as deep of a line as I’ve ever been around,” said Davis.
The key difference between this year’s unit and last year’s is experience. He’s pleased with the talent that’s been there the past two seasons, but said that the top guys have really established themselves because of the valuable experience they gained last season. Last year the Horns had talent, but now they have both experience and talent.
Davis said he’s quite happy with the group of guys he and offensive line coach Mac McWhorter have to work with and should be able to build a full unit out of them.
“We are really pleased with our recruiting and the guys that we brought in,” said Davis. “We do feel like Chris Hall will not have to play five positions in one ballgame as he did last year. What we’ve tried to do is find two centers, three guards and three tackles. I think we’ll be able to do that.”
For now it looks like running back by committee for Texas.
Davis said it hasn’t been decided whether that will be the main strategy at the position or if the job will be given to one back that emerges, but it’s looking like it’s going to be a committee of three.
“By the time everything shakes down, we’ll probably have two with a third that can do a bunch of different things,” said Davis.
The first two are Vondrell McGee and Foswhitt Whittaker, while the third is Chris Ogbonnaya, who will likely maintain the role he had last season as third down back.
Davis said he would like to use both Whittaker and McGee at the position because each brings something different to the table.
“Fozzy has unbelievable lateral quickness. He would remind our fans somewhat of a Hodges Mitchell, where he’s got the ability to jump laterally and pick his speed up real quickly. Even though their size is similar, Vondrell is more of a downhill, move the pile kind of guy,” said Davis.
As for Ogbonnaya, Davis said he’s perfect for the third down role because of the variety of abilities he brings.
“He is tremendous in the blitz pick-up game. He’s got great hands. He’s got the ability, because of his high school training, to go outside and play some wide receiver,” said Davis.
Texas will hit the practice fields again on Wednesday and Thursday. Both evening practices will be open to the public and start at 6:45 p.m. at Frank Denius Fields (corner of 26th Street and Red River). All fall scrimmages will be closed, meaning Wednesday and Thursday will be the last time to see the team in action before the season-opener against FAU on August 30th.