I’ve enjoyed Herman’s press conferences so far, it’s fairly easy to glean what’s going on in the program and in his mind when I watch them (combined with the inside scoops from Eric, Justin, and Joe). There were a few nuggets in there today and in the Scoop that are helping me to update my understanding of where the program’s at and what the main questions they’ll be looking to answer in the spring will be.
First some areas of apparent resolution:
1. I think Malik has found his home at the Rover spot
We’ll have to see how he plays this spring but it seems like there’s too much size and talent at the B-backer (B stands for boundary, it would appear) spot for him to really win that gig. Especially with Roach and Hager potentially moving back there pending how things go this spring. At the F-backer spot (which will probably be a nickel 50% of the time or more) we find P.J. Locke and John Bonney, the former of whom is apparently Tom Herman’s adopted son for how he’s paced the team this offseason.
Also noteworthy, Malik was starting to embrace the physicality needed to thrive playing in the box towards the end of last year and I’m very confident that Herman’s culture is going to increase, not decrease, the level of physicality we see from everyone on the roster. It’s a good spot for him that will allow the Predator to blitz a ton and also develop skills that will make him more appealing to NFL teams.
It’s possible he could fit over in the slot some but if he takes well to Rover there won’t really be any point.
2. I don’t think TE will be a featured position in 2017, but these WRs will be
There just aren’t the numbers or the talent here yet to justify keeping these talented receivers off the field. I’m sure we’ll see Beck out there fairly often but I don’t think he’ll be on the field 100% of the time and perhaps not even more than 50% of the snaps. Additionally, the WR room is loaded with talent and Herman’s comments indicate that there is a lot of buy-in and hard work going on there.
Incidentally, this helps Ehlinger in his battle against Buechele because without a TE to help block up front the option becomes a more important tool for creating numbers and leverage advantages in the run game. He’ll have to prove he can make the most of the WRs, of course, but if Herman wants this to be a physical running team then without a TE out there you need more running from the QB.
Here are the big questions as I see them this spring:
1. Is Chris Warren going to be a featured component of the offense?
The staff seems very pleased with what they’ve seen from Warren so far and we know that attacking the A/B gaps in the run game is a major priority for Herman. Also there’s the issue of that future 1st round LT and promising three interior OL that are begging for someone to be on the field that can blast through the holes they’re certain to blow open next season.
If Warren is that guy and he lives up to the promise of being one of the few RBs of his size, then that’ll define the Texas offense in 2017 much like Foreman defined it in 2016. This too would give Ehlinger an edge over Buechele as it would decrease the need for a QB with experience against Big 12 defenses.
The thing to watch here, besides whether or not Warren stays healthy or gets 1st team carries in the spring, is how well he takes to Herman’s advice about how much $ he can make for himself if he learns to run low and behind his pads. You can see that from a spring game.
2. Breckyn Hager at the Mac?
That’s where he’ll start so we’ll see what happens. I have a lot of doubts about this but Hager is a hard worker who I think we can count on to do whatever it takes in offseason conditioning and practice to improve his ability to read flow and move laterally. Perhaps he’ll be a role player that comes in on passing downs to get after the QB but if he could lock this position down before Gary Johnson arrives that’d sure be interesting.
This is something that we should get a very good look at in the spring game, you can’t hide how well someone is taking to the fundamentals of a position no matter how vanilla you get.
3. Ehlinger vs Buechele
Obviously. I know, I know, another freshman starter? After Buechele was so effective in his freshman year? But when you add up all of the factors that will play into what the offense needs from the position or you look at the pictures of these two guys standing next to each other it’s hard not to see this as a real competition with an uncertain ending.
I don’t know whether the spring game will tell us much about how they look in contrast to one another, unless Ehlinger is really struggling to beat college coverage or something, but it may tell us which skill players are going to be major features in the offense. Once you know which skill players are the key cogs it’s easier to discern which QB’s skill set will most easily unlock them.