Quick thoughts on the UT Spring game

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By Ian Boyd, Inside Texas Special Contributor
Posted Apr 21, 2014
Copyright © 2014 InsideTexas.com


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Malcom Brown at UT Spring game. (Will Gallagher/IT)

I've had a chance to re-watch much of the game live and have a few insights for y'all insiders before breaking down the game for real and giving you some more in-depth thoughts in the future.

Let's start with the side of the football that is looking stronger right now:

Defense:

The scheme is more or less exactly what we told you it would be. We've settled on the 4-3 Under defense with Cedric Reed playing the strongside, Tank Jackson at nose, and Malcom Brown and Shiro Davis isolated on the weakside where they'll be very hard for offenses to handle.

Our players showed the ability to get lined up against different formations, demonstrating mostly Charlie Strong's different iterations of Cover-3 with pattern matching, and had a few different disguises already in place. The ability to disguise whether we're coming on a 5-man blitz, playing Cover-2, or playing one of our Cover-3 schemes will allow us to maintain simplicity in assignments while confusing offenses and preventing them from teeing off on our basic stuff with precise play calls to attack our structural or personnel weaknesses.

This defensive line is going to be very difficult for opposing offenses to handle unless they have a center that can handle Tank without a double team or we are unable to clean up our backside play against cutbacks (we're looking at you Shiro).

Caleb Bluiett made a case to start in place of Shiro with a performance in which he totally obliterated the 1st team offensive tackles for Texas. However it doesn't particularly matter as there will be endless snaps available for pass-rushers in conference play. Baylor's Shawn Oakman was in the league's top 10 in tackles for loss in 2013 despite playing as a 2nd string DE...look out for him next year, btw. Terrifying player at 6-9, 280. He's one guy (perhaps the only one) Desmond Harrison won't be able to out-athlete.

Alex Norman showed some things in the spring game while Boyette showed that he might be one of the attrition candidates. Norman did a very credible job filling gaps inside and could be a contributor in 2014 and possibly the starting nose tackle in 2015. His emergence is key for a team without obvious candidates at the nose position for the future.

The Jackson and Brown combo is going to shred all but the very best OL's in the conference next year. If you don't have an interior OL who can handle one of these guys 1-on-1 or a very good Power pull scheme in place they will eat your lunch and ruin your run game.

The linebacker corp still has some work to do, but we're approaching competence here and there's still Jordan Hicks' return to be excited about.

On the negative side: Steve Edmond is still putting things together in the new scheme, Peter Jinkens may not be powerful enough to play inside and offer an interior pass-rush in our Fire Zone blitzes, and Tim Cole is not a B12-caliber LB.

I have no idea why Cole was earning 1st team snaps, I can only assume it's related to his work ethic and master of the system in the spring. He lacks the knee bend, flexibility, or explosiveness to get out on the edge and beat blocks and will be eaten alive if we play him against an offense like West Virginia's (tests you horizontally) or OU's.

On the bright side, Dalton Santos' is learning to combine his ability to get DEEP drops in coverage with greater awareness of how to match routes in the new defense, Jinkens has a role in this system as a Sam linebacker who is an absolute terror on the edge against TE sets, and then there's DeMarco Cobbs...

Who knew? Cobbs has retained all of the athleticism that always made him one of the most tantalizing talents on the roster. He played Will linebacker for the 2nd team and made the weakside impossible to get outside against for the offense. He's essentially the anti-Cole and I expect him to start unless Hicks returns.

Naashon Hughes was an intriguing player out at Sam linebacker behind Jinkens and had enough athleticism to be credible out there but weakside DE is in his future as he continues to grow.

In the secondary there was a lot to be excited about. The corners played reasonably well, although there were some struggles with Jaxon Shipley. These guys can play press, press-bail, or off coverage which will give DC Vance Bedford flexibility in handling different types of B12 receivers.

Quandre Diggs looked better playing the edge at nickel but it's clear that the staff will protect the edge with a 3rd linebacker (Sam) unless the offense is in a spread, passing set.

At safety, Mykelle Thompson and Josh Turner showed more than I would have dared to hope. Both made some physical tackles, both played with great leverage against the run and pass, and their pre-existing coverage abilities are going to make Texas very difficult to throw the ball against in 2014.

Dylan Haines also played very well and is a Blake Gideon redux in terms of know-how and level of athleticism. I'm not sure he offers the same flexibility of the starters in terms of defending a slot receiver but if paired with a versatile safety who can play closer to the line of scrimmage he could be a really solid deep safety in this scheme.

At the least he gives us a nickel/dime option until Adrian Colbert and Chevoski Collins figure things out, which won't be tomorrow but might happen in fall camp or during the season.

Offense:

We're mostly running a Shawn Watson offense here, with Louisville's formations and schemes combined with Wickline's OL techniques and protections.

Whether because it's a big part of Watson's offense or because we're not bad at it, Power is a bigger part of the Texas playbook than it was at OSU. It's a good fit for this personnel as it allows our smaller and quicker OL to block at angles and allows us to pull a guy like Sedrick Flowers who's better on the move than trying to overwhelm a defensive tackle with length.

We didn't get a ton of movement on inside zone, much like the last several years, but Texas' ability to get creases on outside zone was fantastic. You can expect that play to be a staple.

When some of the bigger cats like Rami Hammad get in on the action in the future you can expect to see inside zone and draw plays become more the identity of the run game. Hopefully Hammad makes the starting lineup by the fall, and from what I've seen that's not unlikely. We'll breakdown the OL more after a chance to re-watch with a rewind feature.

Malcolm Brown looks better than he did last season with more quickness and more ferocity at the 2nd level. I'm not sure he'll be able to run over people as much when opposing DB's are encouraged to take him low rather than bouncing off his shoulder pads but he looks every bit the workhorse we expected. 

His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is tremendous and you can't help but be encouraged by how Watson's version of the multiple West Coast offense has a FAR better sense of when and how to run a screen than the Davis/Applewhite version. Gray will thrive in this system when he's healthy.

Throwing the RB screen was one of the strengths of Tyrone Swoopes that stood out on film. His height, arm strength, and comfort throwing on the run made it easy for him to see the play develop and get the ball into the hands of the back.

Overall, Swoopes didn't look that much further along than what we saw against Oregon. Whether that's because of the new system or a reflection of how unnatural a QB he is can't really be discerned by what we've seen in the last year but it doesn't bode well for his future at the position.

He can throw an accurate ball to any part of the field provided he knows where the ball should go and can get his feet set properly. He can also throw on the run and is of course a bull to bring down when he has momentum. Honestly he'd be much better suited to a spread attack like Baylor's where he throws to spots based on the coverage rather than in the timing-based system Texas has. If he masters the playbook he'll at least do well in the rollout game.

This coaching change was terrible for Swoopes' future at QB despite Watson's teaching prowess. The quick reads and throws required of the QB in this system are very much beyond where Swoopes is at this point in his development.

Texas was only able to move the ball against a 2nd team defense and only after the coaches stopped disguising and blitzing aggressively. Had it been a real game and the other team had possessed Texas' 2nd unit with Bedford calling it they could have easily shut Texas out and caused multiple turnovers.

From what I've seen, Jerrod Heard and Max Wittek are already much further along than Swoopes, which raises obvious questions about his future.

In certain departments, Swoopes is in the 75th percentile of college QB's but his mastery of the overall system and timing mean that Texas would have to carry gameplans into big contests that are about 1/4 the size of what Major Applewhite had with Case McCoy.

Unless he finally makes a huge leap over the summer, you're looking at a long-term project at QB who probably wouldn't be ready to compete for a starting job until 2015 at the earliest. Would Swoopes then be able to beat out Ash or possibly Wittek in 2015? That seems very doubtful.

Then you look to 2016, now Heard's been in the program for two years. Is Swoopes going to beat out Heard? How much better will he even be then the 2015 QB commits? Good enough to find a role as a career back-up QB?

In my view, unless Swoopes shows big improvement over the summer and can beat out Wittek? or Heard for 2nd string you redshirt him and consider other options. The chances of him being able to handle a B12 defense in 2014 as the starting QB and giving you a good chance to win are pretty poor. Texas would have virtually zero chance to beat Baylor, OU, UCLA, BYU, KSU, or OSU with him at QB.

While we're still seeing uncertainty with Swoopes' potential and tools at QB, his slow developmental curve combined with the Texas depth chart over the next few years suggests that time is not on his side and he simply may not have enough of it to realize whatever potential he may have at the position. If that makes you angry you can blame Mack for burning his shirt and mucking up what should have been an obvious educational process for the talented sophomore.

Let's finish on a bright note, besides the fact is that the 2014 Texas offense will be FAR better than what we watched in the spring game because the QB will be staffed differently.

Other than that glaring difference, the reason it will be far better is the play of our TE's and WR's. We told you this was secretly a strength of the team and now we've seen why.

Most teams can't guard Shipley with anything less than their best corner if they don't want the Texas QB to have a safety valve and easy path to first downs. That leaves your 2nd best coverage defender on Marcus Johnson, which we've already seen is a big play waiting to happen.

Daje Johnson's usage in the spring game was frankly a little baffling. Are we keeping an ace up our sleeve or is his play entirely dependent on learning how to be a slot receiver and Texas getting a QB who can execute the quick game? I really don't know but I'd love to see some spread sets that get him isolated on a safety or linebacker.

Geoff Swaim looked more than competent as a receiver, which should bring joy to the hearts of burnt orange faithful everywhere. He's already one of the best blockers at his position in the league and having the ability to run bootleg routes, quick routes, or maybe something up the seam makes our offense much more multi-faceted.

Overall we have the tools at the skill positions to be a competent ball-control offense and enough tools on defense to at least shut down any single-dimensional offenses in the league.

Becoming a consistent ball-control offense with big play ability will require Ash's health, some incorporation of Daje, or Gray's health. Becoming a defense that can dominate ANY Big 12 attack will require Hick's return, some more growth at LB, return to health by Evans, and a tad more from the veteran safeties.

The glass was only half-full for the spring game but I can see Strong reaching for a pitcher this fall.

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