Saturday morning’s scrimmage at DKR gave the Texas coaches a better idea of where players’ stand on the depth chart and, perhaps even more importantly, a better grasp of the identity of this football team as the offense and defense went head-to-head once again. Get the report inside…
Well, there was one area where the defense definitely improved on Saturday.
“No 70-yarders,” said quarterback Colt McCoy with a smile, referring to his 70-yard touchdown gallop in the Longhorns’ first August scrimmage.
It wasn’t just McCoy that the defense kept contained, though. There were very few big yardage plays in Saturday morning’s Texas scrimmage at Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium and coordinator Will Muschamp considers that a win for his defense.
“We didn’t have many explosive plays today and that’s an improvement from the first scrimmage,” said Muschamp. “You’re always looking for a step forward and I think we did today.”
The offense was relatively contained, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any highlights. The two most notable were a pair of long bombs from McCoy to senior wide receiver Jordan Shipley, who beat his man down the field on deep passes.
“It’s nice when I can single up Shipley on a corner and have the safety bite down,” said McCoy.
According to Shipley, he should have more time this season to get open on deep routes because of the improved offensive line, which he says played very well on Saturday.
“The offensive line has come a million miles and they’re definitely going to help us out a lot,” said Shipley.
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis agrees. Davis is pleased with the progress his line has made and said that the problems along the offensive line last year were his main inspiration for running an offense that relied heavily on short passes.
“We were playing with a really young offensive line (last season), so we felt like early in the year that we had to throw a lot of quick gain passes to use our experienced receivers in more of a run-game mentality. This group has more guys back,” said Davis.
The more time a quarterback has, the more successful deep passes will be and McCoy said he’s getting to throw more deep balls in practice.
“I think we’re executing (the deep passing game) better,” said McCoy. “We focused on throwing deep ball in two-a-days and we hit a couple of those today.”
The Horns have the pecking order — with Shipley, Quan Cosby, Malcolm Williams, James Kirkendoll, Brandon Collins and Dan Buckner currently working as the main six receivers in rotation — and the identity generally figured out in the passing game, but things are a lot murkier when it comes to the running game.
“I think we have a handle right now at every spot other than running back, and that’s pretty important,” said Davis. “Last year we knew Jamaal Charles was going to be the guy, we knew what he brought to the table.”
Chris Ogbonnaya, Vondrell McGee and Foswhitt Whittaker are all fighting for playing time and the issue is that each one brings something different to the table in terms of style and skill, meaning the chosen identity of the running game could go a long way in determining who gets the most carries this season. But whoever gets the most, McCoy said he still expects to be handing off to all three quite frequently.
“They all do certain things better than each other and whichever one is in the game we’re going to play to their strengths…Chris and Fozzy run great routes in the flat. Vondrell’s great in the I-formation. We’re going to use them all,” said McCoy.
McCoy also wanted to point out that a lack of separation at running back doesn’t directly correlate to a lack of performance.
“Individually they’re playing really well,” said McCoy. “The last two scrimmages, all of them, every time the touch the ball they’ve made positive yards. We haven’t been tackled behind the line.”
Whittaker left Saturday’s scrimmage with a knee injury, but a team source told Inside Texas it is not thought to be serious and characterized Whittaker as simply “dinged up”.
Whittaker missing practice time is a setback at the position and there are some kinks to work out in the running game, but Davis said he still expects the Horns to have a good handle on their overall offensive identity, something they were criticized for last season.
“Overall, philosophically, we’ll open the season with a bit better handle than we did last season,” assured Davis.
On the defensive side of the ball there’s very little question about identity. All Muschamp has to work out is personnel. The tightest battle remains at strong safety, where Blake Gideon, Ben Wells and Christian Scott are still locking horns. It’s a competition Muschamp said he’s paying very close attention to, but he’s not just looking at who the best individual players are in the defensive backfield, but also at which groups work together the best.
“We’ll start narrowing it down after today’s scrimmage, look at some things and get the right combination. Playing defensive back’s a lot like offensive line. Those guys have got to be in sync with what we’re doing and they’ve got to feel comfortable with who’s out there and who’s with them. That’s what we’re looking for right now,” said Muschamp.
At the start of August camp, Muschamp targeted Saturday’s scrimmage as when he was going to have an initial two-deep set. He said he’s got an idea of who he wants where, but that it’s always fluid and he’s been letting his players know so those who haven’t been performing as well get their act together.
“We chart it every day and we post it every day. So they see who’s playing well and who’s not playing well and they see where everybody is,” said Muschamp.
Saturday’s scrimmage was not just an opportunity to further determine the starting lineup, but also how the depth chart will look from top to bottom. While Wednesday’s scrimmage was much closer to a full game, on Saturday the starters were removed after a couple series so that the younger guys could get more playing time and show what they are capable of.
McCoy didn’t get a whole lot of time with the ones, but he did come back onto the field frequently because Davis wanted to get a lot of work in on the package that includes both McCoy and backup quarterback John Chiles. Davis was pleased with the results.
“We had three real productive plays today out of that group of people,” said Davis.
Davis said he’s fully convinced that the McCoy-Chiles package will work and that a variety of plays will be used out of that formation, including ones that don’t go to Chiles so that the sophomore backup can be used as a decoy as well.
The different packages that will be used on offense, such as the McCoy-Chiles combination, and on defense are starting to take shape and come together as the Horns approach the start of the 2008 season.
One thing is certain, though. The Horns are ready to stop scrimmaging and start playing some real football.
“We’re ready to play someone else,” said McCoy.