Mack Brown: What Ails You, Friend?

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By Ross Lucksinger, InsideTexas.com Editor
Posted Jun 13, 2012
Copyright © 2014 InsideTexas.com


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D.J. Monroe (Photo: Will Gallagher)

As the metaphorical Fisher King (with bum knees and all), Mack Brown is trying to avoid seeing his dominion turn into The Waste Land after back to back seasons with a losing record in Big 12 play. So what aspects of his kingdom – from off-season arrests and injuries to Ricky Seals-Jones' decommitment – concern him and which does he feel are well in hand?

Concerned: Injuries are already stacking up

Several key players are not participating in summer workouts. On top of freshman OL Camrhon Hughes' season-ending ACL tear, Quandre Diggs, Adrian Phillips, Greg Daniels, Jackson Jeffcoat, Bryant Jackson and Miles Onyegbule are all sidelined right now.

However, trainer Kenny Boyd is optimistic that Diggs, Phillips, Daniels and Jeffcoat will be ready for August camp.

“(Boyd) will watch them very carefully,” Brown said. “All of them except Bryant Jackson and Miles Onyegbule should be 100 percent when we start August 2nd. But they will be limited in the summer.”

Boyd will be present for 7 on 7s, but no other coaches are allowed to watch the team or even ask players about individual performances.

“I worry to death about their summer competitions without coaches and strength coaches around because there's nobody out there,” Brown said. “It scares me every time they go out there and they've just got to take care of each other.”

[Note for subscribers from Jesus Shuttlesworth: Jeffcoat and Phillips Update]

Not Concerned: Losses at offensive tackle

With Hughes' injury, the departure of Paden Kelley and the potential departure of another offensive tackle (see the June 4th edition of Inside the Humidor for more), Texas could suddenly find itself short on OTs. However, Brown showed little concern, noting that every Texas lineman knows how to play all five postions.

“One of the great things that (offensive line coach) Stacy Searels has brought to us is he moves those guys around,” Brown said. “They've been playing five different positions since they've been here. I walked in, talked to him right after Paden (Kelley) left. He said, 'Here's what we'll do.' You've got guys like Thomas Ashcraft who have been waiting to play for a long time. He's in great shape and had a really good spring. We're excited about him. You have Luke Poehlmann, who made so much progress after his knee operation. It's hard to come back in less than a year and be able to participate as Luke did last year. He can now actually help us and play tackle. We have all the young ones, too.”

Brown said no defensive players will be moved to the offensive side of the ball. In addition, Brown noted that Hughes would have redshirted even if he was healthy.

The injury itself occurred during a pick-up basketball game. A reporter asked Brown if he has any policy against players participating in such activities.

“I talked to my buddies across the country that are coaching. They want to all pull them off Twitter, Facebook, not let them play basketball, not let them do this, do that. They are human beings, and they're kids. I think Camrhon's dad said, 'A medicine ball is the only ball you'll be picking up in your future.' Parents usually handle that,” Brown replied.

Concerned: The passing game

Last season the Longhorns ranked 21st in the nation in rushing offense (202.62 ypg) and 86th throwing the ball (189.92 ypg). With Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray all potential starters at tailback, the Horns again look good on the ground. Passing remains a problem, one that could get worse with inconsistency and injury at wide receiver.

“Since we had receivers hurt and some leave, we've got to get better consistency and better timing with our passing game,” Brown said. “I think that will happen. It's hard with Marquise (Goodwin) because he's gone all the time...but (the quarterbacks) should be much more comfortable with the other receivers.”

If they don't get comfortable, Texas could again have an unbalanced offense. Brown values balance in the offense and he's made the passing game a priority.

“We need to throw it more often and we need to throw it better,” Brown said.

He is, however, seeing steady progress at quarterback and he's hopeful that it will translate into more explosive plays and fewer turnovers.

“The biggest thing they need to improve in is their leadership and confidence and I'm seeing it. I'm so impressed with those two (David Ash and Case McCoy) since summer. I walked by Case today and he said 'Everything's going great.'”

Not Concerned: What do we do with D.J. Monroe?

One of the most common complaints about the Texas offense in 2010, legitimately, was the lack of involvement for WR/RB D.J. Monroe. Despite averaging 8.5 yards per carry, Monroe only received 23 hand-offs. He saw that number more than double to 48 (plus eight catches) under Bryan Harsin, but finding the right place for him in the offense was still difficult.

Therefore, Brown announced Wednesday that the Horns were creating a new position specifically for Monroe and freshman speedster Daje Johnson.

“Bryan and (co-offensive coordinator) Major (Applewhite) and (wide receivers coach) Darrell (Wyatt) are calling it T 'n Z right now, which is part tailback, part Z receiver,” Brown said. “We feel those guys are speed guys and can get the ball in their hands and help us with explosive plays. They're working hard this summer on getting packages to get D.J. more involved and to get Daje involved early in the process because we think he has a chance to be a good player with his explosive speed.”

The announcement comes as little surprise to Inside Texas members, given the number of times Daje Johnson has been mentioned by Jesus Shuttlesworth's sources. [Subscribers, see Inside the Humidor entries from 4/2/125/29/12 and 6/4/12.]

The position itself will function like a wingback who frequently motions.

“They'll line up in the backfield some and they'll shift and motion to the Z, which is our flanker position,” said Brown.

When asked to give a comparison to the position, Brown said, “Reggie Bush.”

Concerned: Tight end

Having multiple effective tight ends is important to Bryan Harsin's offense. Redshirt freshman M.J. McFarland has shown flashes, but the position remains one of concern...so much so that Brown just added Geoff Swaim from Butte Community College (Oroville, Calif.).

[Subscribers: More on Swaim's commitment from recruiting editor Eric Nahlin – Longhorns Land Commit Number 15 (Again)]

Brown is unable to mention specific recruits in his press conferences, but he did explain his policy when it comes to JUCO players.

“What we've decided to do is take a junior college player if we feel like he can fit an immediate need,” Brown said. “We will not be a junior college recruiting group, but if we see a guy who can fill an immediate need we'll take him, and if he fits our program.”

Clearly he feels tight end is a position of “immediate need.” In addition to the surprise offer for Swaim, Texas moved freshman defensive end Caleb Bluiett to tight end, as we first reported last month in Mondays In The Humidor.

“He's a baseball player, a really good athlete,” Brown said. “He's tall, hasn't played much there before, but we think he's a guy that can help us because we need to be more productive and create depth in our receiver and tight end position.”

Last season Harsin used tight end and fullback interchangeably and fullback also remains a question mark for Texas coaches.

“We've got to get settled at fullback. Ryan Roberson, Alex De La Torre and Chet Moss will be the three guys playing that position to start with, Barrett Matthews has some H-back ability and then you've got to see where all the freshmen fit in.”

Not Concerned: The decommitment of Ricky Seals-Jones

Seals-Jones, considered by many to be the top wide receiver in the nation for 2013, withdrew his commitment to Texas and re-opened his recruitment.

Shuttlesworth noted Monday that the Texas coaches are not concerned about the decommitment (see the 6/11/12 edition of the Humidor) and Brown pointed out Wednesday that Texas has been fortunate down the stretch in recruiting.

“We're trying to finish the class as strong as we did last year,” Brown said. “Last year there were a number of guys that changed their minds and committed to us late. That can always happen. We just don't have as many spots this year.”

Seals-Jones publicly stated that basketball is now the driving force in his recruitment. Again, Brown was unable to mention specific players, but he did talk at length about the relationship between he and men's basketball coach Rick Barnes.

“Rick and I have talked about it (players in both sports). Jackson Jeffcoat talked to Rick and he just has not decided to play. But it would not be a problem at all...We had five guys play both at North Carolina. Three of them started and I signed one of them. Ronald Curry – he played for the Oakland Raiders. Greg Ellis played for the Cowboys. Julius Peppers played for Carolina; we redshirted him. But all of those came in knowing they were going to play both.”

But, what if a football player Brown wants is not good enough in basketball to make Barnes' team? Would Barnes still take him?

“I think Rick would do anything I asked him to do. I really do. And I would do that for Rick. I think we're that close,” Brown replied.

Concerned: Can anybody kick a field goal? Seriously, anybody?

The Longhorns are still a long way from selecting a kicker.

“We lost Justin Tucker, who did a lot of great things for us. I saw that kick against A&M again last night. Who's that guy? Who's the guy to step up and make that kick? Because we'll have that kick at some point next year. Is it Nick Jordan? Is it (Ben) Pruitt? Is it somebody already here? I hear Nick Rose is a great kickoff guy. He's in school. Will he do it?”

No answers yet.

Not Concerned: Three players arrested downtown last month

Alex Okafor, Kenny Vaccaro and Barrett Matthews were arrested following an altercation at a downtown pizza parlor, which started after the players refused to leave the establishment.

All three cases were dismissed and Brown announced there will be no suspensions. There will, however, be significant in-house “disciplinary punishment.” As the charges were dropped, the punishment is not about the arrest but rather the failure to obey an officer.

“They are paying hard for really being disrespectful to authority figures,” Brown said. “It's our job to make sure that we all keep the respect of the authority figures that we have. Our police department has a very, very difficult job. If they ask you to leave, you should leave, and you should leave quickly. Now everything has been dismissed in the case. But, again, I think all of us need to learn respect.”

Brown is not worried about the arrests affecting teammates and no punishment will extend into the season.

Concerned: Who are we?

In 2005 and 2009, the two seasons Mack Brown led the Longhorns to the BCS National Championship game, he knew exactly what he had.

“I knew in '05 we were going to be really good. We had everything,” Brown said.

It was the same in 2009. He knew his team could make it to Pasadena, and it did.

That is not the case this season.

“We've got to learn who we are,” Brown said. “We've got to play well. We've got to improve. Some young guys need to step up. We've got to be consistent at quarterback. We've got to protect the ball even better than we did last year and get more explosive plays on offense. We've got to be more balanced. We've got to throw it better.”

All that said, a successful season is still possible. Specifically the 2008 Texas Longhorns came to Brown's mind.

“In '08 I wasn't sure because we had those young safeties. Colt (McCoy) didn't have as good of a year the year before and in '08 he played remarkable. At the same time it was a year we stayed healthy...I was surprised we played as well as we did in '08. I was not surprised in '09...I think we're back more to '08.”

Not Concerned: Losing Marquise Goodwin to the Olympics

Last week Goodwin won his second national championship in the long jump, leaping 8.23 meters (27 feet). A jump of that length would be good enough for a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Goodwin will attempt to make the U.S. team for the 2012 London games.

However, even if he makes the Olympics, he would still be back in Austin well before the start of football season and Goodwin is looking forward it.

“When I texted him right after his win, he said, 'Now let's do it in football, Coach,'” Brown said. “He's been a guy that's handled both sports really well. That's a difficult thing to do. He will be competing in the Olympic Trials. We want to wish him and all the other Longhorns competing in those trials luck. His jump in the Olympics, if he gets that far, is August 4th. We report August 2nd. He could get back pretty soon and have some preseason work before we open up for the first ballgame.”

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