Media Days: Big Changes for Some Big 12 Teams

KANSAS CITY – FB Jorvorskie Lane is still too heavy and Stephen McGee may not be the starting Aggie QB this season, first-year Texas A&M coach said Monday. Meanwhile, there is a reason why Texas Tech coach Mike Leach did not bring QB Graham Harrell and WR Michael Crabtree to the annual Big 12 Media Days. And can first-year Nebraska coach Bo Pelini restore the Husker program with defense?
TEXAS A&M NOTES The first time Aggie coach Mike Sherman laid eyes on senior Jorvorskie Lane, he knew there would be a position change for the big back who led the Big 12 last season with 16 rushing TDs.

“He came up to me shortly before my (introductory) press conference, introduced himself and at that time I told him he was going to be a fullback. There was no hemming or hawing about it. He didn’t seem totally pleased with it, but he didn’t balk at it necessarily.”

Lane’s girth would best help with Sherman’s offense that has jettisoned the option game and looks to lean heavier on the I-formation. Of course, this means Lane must develop an appetite for blocking.

“He’s not had to block very often,” Sherman acknowledged, “but, because of his size, he should be able to engulf people as well as just mass on mass.”

Lane is listed at 6-0, 285 in the current Aggie media guide, but how much is Lane actually tipping the scales these days?

“It depends on what time it is,” Sherman quipped. “That plays a part of it, too.”

Sherman wants Lane to shed at least 20 more pounds before the Aggies’ season-opener against Arkansas State on August 30.

“His weight is still an issue. It has been ever since we got here. He has lost some weight, but he still has a ways to go. Hopefully, he’ll be closer to his goal when we get to camp. During camp, that (weight) will be addressed continuously to get him down to the weight that I aspire to get him to and that we agreed to, which would be in the 260s. We have a ways to go.”

The position change should benefit Lane in the long run, Sherman believes.

“His best best chance of playing in the NFL is at that position,” said Sherman, the former Houston Texans offensive coordinator. “If you ask 20 NFL scouts, they’ll tell you the same thing.”

Sherman shuns the word “controversy” to describe A&M’s quarterback situation because, in his estimation, two-year starter Stephen McGee and sophomore Jerrod Johnson are both good enough to play. But it remains one of the few positions on the Aggie roster that Sherman opened at the onset of two-a-days.

“I think it would be unfair for me to have just walked in and handed Stephen the job, I’ve told him that. He’s going to have to earn it. In fairness to both Stephen and Jerrod, they’re both going to have to work to compete against each other to earn the job.”

McGee is poised to break every school passing record as well as rushing mark for an Aggie QB. He was the first Aggie QB to lead the team in rushing (899 yards) last season. McGee is the first Aggie QB to beat Texas in consecutive seasons in 15 years but is just 16-11 as a starter.

“Stephen is unfazed by it (open competition). He didn’t bat an eyelash when I told him it was ‘open competition’. I think it would be a disservice to our team if I had just said that he would be the starting quarterback. I think the biggest disservice would have been to Stephen. He wants to prove the people that, if he ends up being the guy, he had to earn it. It wasn’t just given to him.”

One thing is certain: A&M will not rotate quarterbacks under Sherman’s watch. “I’m not going to play with two quarterbacks. I know some coaches pull guys during college games. I would prefer to see a guy pull himself out if he can because I think it can be mentally damaging (to bench a QB). If we get to the point where it’s obvious where we need a kick in the butt, then maybe we’ll do that.”

TEXAS TECH NOTES Inquiring minds wanted to know — in fact, it was the first question posed to Texas Tech coach Mike Leach: why didn’t QB Graham Harrell and WR Michael Crabtree make an appearance at the Big 12 Conference Football Media Days?

Typically, the annual event is a command performance for a team’s most high-profile athletes. Last season, Harrell became just the sixth QB in NCAA history to throw for 5,000+ yards after posting for nation-leading 5,705 yards last year. And Crabtree won the Biletnikoff Award last season after leading the country — as a redshirt freshman — in receptions (10.3 per game) and receiving yards (150.9). The two record-setting hotshots will get plenty of props this season, Leach concluded, and that’s he brought emergent leaders S Daniel Charbonnet, DB Jamar Wall and IR Eric Morris instead.

“Harrell and Crabtree get a lot of attention, deserve a lot of attention and will continue to get a lot of attention,” Leach said. “The important thing to our football team is the fact that football is the ultimate team game. Our effort this year is going to be how every member does as far as fulfilling his role on the team and, that being the case, I’ve got three guys that I think are team leaders that are emerging…Our team is far more than a couple of individuals who play really well. Anybody who wants to talk to Graham or Michael, you can do it in their natural habitat in Lubbock, Texas.”

Leach is often questioned about whether his team’s stratospheric offensive numbers have more to do with scheme than personnel. However, the Mad Scientist said there actually isn’t “much science” to fielding a great quarterback.

“You put five guys out there and you play the best one. Or, you put five bad ones out there and you play the best ‘bad one.'”

At the same time, an intangible by which Leach defines a great ‘one’ is his ability to elevate the play of those around him.

“The biggest compliment a quarterback can have is how good he is in making the players around him better. Graham is really good at that. One of his strengths is he really doesn’t have any weaknesses. Initially, we had to kick him out of the (football) office because the building was going to close. Now that we trust him and know him pretty well, we just leave him there. For all we know, he lives there.”

Yet, when the west Texas sun set on the 2007 season, it was Missouri QB Chase Daniel honored as not only the league’s top signal-caller but also the Big 12’s Offensive Player of the Year. A Heisman Trophy semifinalist, Daniel is the preseason choice to repeat as the conference’s top offensive player.

“I guess leading the nation is not everything it’s cracked up to be,” commented Leach.

But the fact that Graham enters his senior season with the luxury of throwing to the nation’s top wideout, and combined with the expectation that the beleaguered Red Raider defense will be much improved this year, is part of the reason why many pigskin pundits project that this is year Tech finishes with a Top 10 national ranking for the first time in school history. The Red Raiders are also ranked higher than Texas in several preseason polls (including Fox Sports Net and Yet, Leach is determined not to allow preseason hype to go to his team’s head. It was recalled that four years ago Leach imposed a gag order on his team after Texas out-gunned his boys in Lubbock, 52-17. It seemed the Red Raiders had egos more inflated than the 70-10 outcome against Nebraska the previous week.

“When somebody keeps telling you that you’re good,” Leach said, “you have to look out for it.”

Then again, Leach expects to win every time his team steps on the field.

“I’ve never coached a game in the Big 12 that, before the game started, I didn’t think we were going to win. Our expectations are already high. What that means to me is we just need to ignore expectations and everybody just needs to do their jobs. If we don’t, then we’re going to fall short. The biggest thing we can control is improving every day, and that’s what we need to do.”

NEBRASKA NOTES Nebraska’s trial by error — and it was mostly error — with former coach Bill Callahan’s West Coast offense is over in Lincoln. Now, first-year head coach and defensive guru Bo Poleni wants to restore the program’s fortunes with an attacking defense.

Last year’s numbers were almost unimaginable — and uncertainly unforgivable — to a program that gave college football the once-dominating Black Shirt defense: 49 points surrendered in a loss to USC, 41 against Missouri, 45 against Oklahoma State, 65 against Colorado and a who’d-a-thunk-it 76 points allowed against Kansas.

“We try very hard to have an offensive mentality on defense,” Pelini said. “We want to dictate to the offense as much as they’re trying to dictate to us. If you’re always in a reactive mode, you’re going to get beat. You’re going to have problems at the end of the game. Defensively, we try to be on the cutting edge…The key to playing good defense is evaluating what exactly an offense is trying to accomplish and what their strengths are.”

Husker fans savaged Callahan for dumping the program’s vaunting power-running game, but Nebraska’s woes last years were clearly defensive. The program ranked last in the Big 12, and No. 112 nationally, surrendering 476.8 ypg.

“Defensively, it’s not just what you do. It’s not all about scheme. Every coach out there wants to have the pencil last. On Saturday, you don’t have that luxury. You can’t get wrapped-up in out-scheming an opponent. If you do, you forget about how you do it and you forget about techniques. Technique and fundamentals are essential. If you are sound technique-wise and if you have good fundamentals, and if your guys understand the scheme, your guys can match up and deal with any problems that offenses are going to make you deal with on any particular Saturday.”