Big Cigar: From what the coaches are saying, I would describe it as a nervous confidence. Is that a thing? They know they have to have some breaks to have a really special season, namely with the injury bug, buy if things break the right way, this team has a chance to be pretty good. I guess to answer your question, they’re bullish on the defense and what it can do in the conference and they’ve got their fingers crossed on the other side.
Jesus Shuttlesworth: We’ll get to the defense in a moment because it’s my understanding that’s the good news. What’s the bad news?
Big Cigar: All along this staff has had a plan with respect to the offense and specifically the quarterback position. They were downright giddy to have an experienced guy like Ash at the quarterback position when they first took over in February, but they learned pretty quickly that David Ash is plagued by the injury bug so they’ve recalibrated expectations. I’m told you’ll see lots of run-centric game-planning which will be augmented by a slower tempo than most Big 12 teams run. Again, the goal is to keep David Ash healthy and upright. If Tyrone Swoopes has to be an option to eat up snaps in a specialty package, then so be it. The goal is to keep Ash healthy.
Jesus Shuttlesworth: Is that the extent of the plan at the quarterback position at this time? Slow things down and give Swoopes spot duty?
Big Cigar: No, it’s not. I’m told that Shawn Watson had a heart-to-heart with Jerrod Heard after last weeks’ debacle of a performance and basically told the young man, “You can’t continue to play like a freshman. We are going to need you to be ready to play.”
Jesus Shuttlesworth: Is this just lip service or are they serious about Heard playing? I’ve managed people before and this strikes me as a throw away comment to keep someone engaged.
Big Cigar: I don’t get that impression because I’m told they want to get Heard more snaps as August camp wears on. That has a lot to do with how Tyrone has underperformed. You’ll know more as practices wear on, however.
Jesus Shuttlesworth: It’s interesting you mention that because it sounds like Heard has closed the gap on Tyrone in the last two workouts. I’m sort of torn on whether or not to redshirt him, because healthy programs redshirt their QBs and OLs but maybe Texas doesn’t have that luxury — not with Red McCombs and all of the money not at the Vatican eyeing coach Strong’s performance. At that point I’m for Al Davis(ing) it and just win baby if Heard can help.
Big Cigar: Well, I know that Watson thinks he needs Heard so we’ll see.
Jesus Shuttlesworth: Okay, let’s talk about the good news. What’s going on with the other side of the ball?
Big Cigar: The coaches have watched every snap of every game the last two seasons multiple times and they came away with two conclusions I’m told. The first was what the hell was going on from an alignment standpoint. Texas simply wasn’t sound from the snap of the ball and although the kids made some bonehead reads in a lot of instances, they never really had a chance to be successful. The other conclusion was it was obvious the kids weren’t playing with emotion or having fun on that side of the ball. Coach Strong and coach Bedford have made it a point to change that.
Jesus Shuttlesworth: Our readership will get the Manny Diaz redux, but expound on the having fun part. What’s going on there?
Big Cigar: Yeah, I think Greg Robinson in a week’s time revamping the defensive unit answered the “being sound” questions. Coach Strong and Bedford have had months more prep time to install their scheme and they’re feeling really good about that aspect of the team. I mean Texas has great athletes especially on the defensive side of the ball…so why worry? What I find interesting is how the staff is doing things to foster emotion on the defensive side of the ball. I mean for a band of drill sergeants they’ve been pretty flexible in some respects.
Jesus Shuttlesworth: How so?
Big Cigar: Well first, they’re not really in all that big a hurry to break up fights and skirmishes here and there from what I gather. Yeah, if gets too heated coaches will jump in, but the impression I get and the impression others get is that they welcome that emotion and don’t want to tamp down on it.
Jesus Shuttlesworth: That’s very interesting because we’ve been told from the outset that coach Strong won’t tolerate boneheaded penalties that cost the team yards. Did something change when he came to Texas?
Big Cigar: Yeah, I think so. Coach Strong isn’t stupid, he’s probably the most intelligent football coach the Horns have had since Fred Akers. He has a pulse on his football team and he’ll try to push all of the right buttons. I love that he’s not married to some dogmatic philosophy on how to run a team. He’s actually showed some nuance and flexibility. Sure he’s a hard ass, who took away smoothies and logos on helmets, but he wants the kids to be emotional. Case in point goes like this. Quandre Diggs has a great interception early in August camp and then in a fit of emotion, gets up and PUNTS the ball about 50 yards. The coaches went wild and in every practice since then the player who made a pick has done the same with no repercussions. I’m told the understanding is that they don’t do this in the game otherwise they have to run gassers until they puke. But there’s nothing wrong with playing fast and emotional to coach Strong.
Jesus Shuttlesworth: That’s fantastic. So it sounds like the QB’s will be treated with kid gloves while the defense is the standard bearer. Any units getting honorable mention?
Big Cigar: Yeah, the defense is solid and the staff will lean on them but I’m told there’s a friendly bet between coach Watson and coach Wickline about the respective units. Wick says his group will be ready come conference play. It’s all talk until the lights come on, but you have to love the confidence.
Jesus Shuttlesworth: Speaking of Wickline, what’s going on with Hammad? Is the transfer talk something to worry about?
Big Cigar: Sure it is, but you have to remember something. A lot of these kids committed to Mack Brown and his country club. Sure Hammad’s dad is close with Wickline, but this is Charlie Strong’s ball game. He’s not going to put up with kids, especially young players, not buying in totally with the program and why would Wickline go along with that line of thinking. Hell, Wick is telling each kid in his unit that he has a 3-year guaranteed contract, so why would he risk his deal on a player that doesn’t give it his all just to win a couple of games in Year 1. Wickline is projecting that he’s in it for the long haul and everyone else can pound sand including Hammad, who appears to be weak-minded. Is the thing over? No, but it’s trending that way. It’s a shame because Hammad has the talent to be an NFL guard.
Jesus Shuttlesworth: Great stuff. So there’s some competition at OL and at QB, but who are the coaches really worried about?
Big Cigar: Outside the health of David Ash and overall the QB position, you have to point to the wide receiver position as a place that causes coaches to lose the most sleep. If Shipley was healthy maybe that’s not the case, but as of now look for Foreman, Leonard, and Joe to get real looks at significant snaps.
Jesus Shuttlesworth: Thanks.
Big Cigar: You bet.
Offense- the offense struggle today. At one point during 7-on-7, Watson restarted the whole team drill while reading the first team offense the riot act. That’s totally out of character for Coach Watson who’s usually reserved.
As a whole, it was everyone to blame. QBs were missing balls and WR were running the wrong routes and not catching balls. The play of the day was made my Armanti Foreman, making a great catch over John Bonney on a deep ball from Swoopes. Not much to report on this side of the ball however other than that.
Defense- Diggs continues to be the leader, intercepting two balls today. On 1-on-1, Diggs ran with Marcus Johnson and made a great high point on the ball for an interception. In team, Diggs fooled David Ash and jumped the outside receivers slant from his slot position.
Antwuan Davis also intercepted a ball that got Strong involved in the defensive celebration. The kids went nuts. It seemed to be part of the Charlie Strong fostering emotion meme on that side of the ball.
In other interesting news, Edwin Freeman has been moved to LB with Beck going to TE. The word is that Freeman is raising eye brows and guys like Tevin Jackson and Tim Cole should be worried.
Depth Chart 1’s and 2’s
QB- Ash, Swoopes/Heard
RB- Gray, Brown
WR- Marcus Johnson, Jacorey Warrick, John Harris, Ty Templin, Lorenzo Joe, Armanti Foreman
RT- Harrison, James
RG- Perkins, Riser
C- Espinosa, Raulerson
LG- Flowers, Doyle
LT- Hutchins, Estelle (Wow)
DT- Brown, Jackson, Ridgeway, Norman
DE- Reed, Davis, Bluiett, Cottrell
LB- Jinkens, Hicks, Edmond are 1st team. Cobbs, Santos, Jackson are 2nd.
CB- Diggs, Thomas, Bonney, Roberts
S- Thompson, Hall, Haines, Colbert