January 5, 2010

Find out which young players have been shining

Here's the report everyone has been waiting for … the report on how the young players have been looking in BCS title game practices and who stands to make a big push coming into the spring.

After talking to coaches and players at the BCS Media Day, here are the names that were consensus among coaches and players as to who is making a strong push for playing time in 2010.

OFFENSE

QB Garrett Gilbert, So.

This is obvious, but just know the sky is the limit for him. He's picking up everything quickly and with confidence. The focus of the offense will shift next season to take pressure off of Gilbert, much like it did in 2006. That's why the running game, offensive line and some new playmakers at receiver will need to emerge.

But Gilbert has shown incredible aptitude for picking up protections and the nuances of the offense. Now, he just needs reps.

RB Chris Whaley, Fr.

He will be the new face in a crowded backfield. All four of this year's backs return (Tre' Newton, Vondrell McGee, Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson). Running backs coach Major Applewhite said the next "six to eight months are going to be vital for Chris."

Whaley spent the year as the scout team running back, and Applewhite said that was great for Whaley.

"I'll turn on the defensive scout tape and see him running with low pads, and that's the great thing about scout team," Applewhite said. "You take enough shots from Sergio (Kindle) and Rod (Muckelroy) and those guys, that's the best tool to get a back to play with low pads.

"I can run him through a gauntlet all day, but experience in getting your pads down is one of the biggest lessons a back has to learn.

"Then, these last three or four weeks we've had, we've been able to do some things with the younger guys, and he's done well in those drills. The next six to eight months are going to be vital for him and how he gets his body prepared.

"He's going to need a workman's attitude and put on his hardhat and get to work. He's going to have to get in the best shape he's ever been in. I told him, 'You're going to have to work harder than you ever worked at Madisonville. You're going to have to get after it.'

"This is the big stage and people will come along at this place year after year, and you have to fight to hold your spot here, and you have to keep climbing.

"The thing I've been pleasantly surprised with is you would think coming out of a 2A school, he wouldn't know schemes or pass protection because it would be Chris left and Chris right and let's go win as many as we can with that.

"But he stepped right into a West Coast passing attack, where there's 5, 6, 7, 8-man protections, multiple protections, multiple checks, multiple redirections and he's handled it fine.

"That's been a pleasant surprise. His football aptitude is off the charts as far as what he can learn. And he loves the game, so that's going to be good for us.

"It's great competition. That's the way you want it. This offense the last couple years has obviously centered on Colt (McCoy), Jordan (Shipley), Quan (Cosby), Malcolm (Williams).

"And we're going to have to shift focus and find some things to take pressure off a young quarterback. We're going to have to contribute at running back, fullback, tight end and offensive line.

"When you lose guys like Shipley and McCoy, you lose a large percentage of your offense. It's great that we have so much competition in that running back room right now, heading into this situation."

Chris Whaley, who is listed at 6-3, 235, said Tuesday he's ready for the challenge of trying to make a dent at running back … for now.

"This year has been a great experience," Whaley said at BCS Media Day. "Redshirting is a good thing. It's helped me improve my game running scout team against the best defense in the country.

"But watching all the other guys has made me anxious to get out there and be able to be a part of the team and help out and try to help the team win."

Asked what he showed this season, he said, "At my size, I can still move and have the versatility that a running back needs."

A lot of people have projected him to possibly follow in the path of Henry Melton and ultimately end up at defensive end.

"Right now, I'm just focusing on being a running back doing what I can to help the team," Whaley said. "But if I have to move to defense and that became the situation further down in the future, I wouldn't have a problem with it."

(By the way, the player Whaley says will surprise next season is WR Greg Timmons.)


OG Tray Allen

With Charlie Tanner, Chris Hall and Adam Ulatoski moving on after this season, the coaches and Allen appear to be ready for the ballyhooed offensive lineman out of Dallas to make his move.

"It's really time for him to step up," said offensive line coach Mac McWhorter. "He's played a fair amount, but not what we anticipated. He has a ton of ability and I'm really excited because I think he's trying to take the bit now."

Tray Allen said he's learned a lot from the ups and downs of his journey and believes the spring will be his time to shine.

"I'm going to have to take on the senior leadership role, and it's a role I love to play and welcome it," Allen said. "I think there's some freshmen who already look up to me. I can help make them a better player.

"It's been a journey, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I've had tremendous growth and faith in the experience I've had. I'm just ready to see what's going to happen. Senior year's coming. I'm supporting all the guys. I have nothing to hang my head about. I'm behind three really good players.

"Going into the spring, this is my time. I only get one more shot, and I've got to take advantage of it. I've learned patience. Patience in learning and patience in waiting my turn.

"It's just maturing. In three years, I've been maturing a lot. There were a lot of things I had to grow up about. Not being in the limelight is different. But it's just maturity. You've got to grow into a man, and I think I'm doing that. I think I've become a better teammate and a better leader."

Right now, the projected offensive line appears to look like this:

LT Kyle Hix, LG Michael Huey, C David Snow, RG Tray Allen, RT Britt Mitchell


Mitchell is ahead of Luke Poehlmann right now.

The players behind that group who are making a move are:

Mason Walters - If they can get his foot (stress fracture) right, they will work Walters at guard and center until they feel like they have the best possible players on the field. While Walters is a little tall for center at 6-6, coaches want competition for David Snow at center because Snow seemed to struggle this season while juggling both center and guard.

In bowl practices, Snow has worked exclusively at center as coaches try to get that position figured out for the future.

Garrett Porter, Thomas Ashcraft and Paden Kelley - have all had great bowl practices. Porter is working at center and guard; Ashcraft is working at left guard and left tackle; and Kelley is working at tackle as well.

Ashcraft is getting raves about his wide base and good footwork. Porter has dropped his weight from 320 to 298 and has shown a nice burst off the ball. He is really rolling his hips well when he gets turned by a defensive end, he can move well.

(Tray Allen said the OL he thinks will surprise is Paden Kelley because he's so athletic and because he asks so many questions and appears to have the desire to be a great player.)


WR DeSean Hales

Bobby Kennedy singled him out as having especially good bowl practices. And Garrett Gilbert already trusts him implicitly, which will help.
This position is going to be so fun to watch next season, it's crazy.

You've got all the guys who are coming back (James Kirkendoll, Malcolm Williams, John Chiles, Marquise Goodwin, D.J. Monroe) and then throw in Greg Timmons and all the super studs coming in and hold on tight.


By the way, here's what Monroe said about his past month …

"It's been kind of rough," Monroe said. "But I've managed to get through it because my brother has been here. They all lifted me up and said everything will be OK. It's a stepping stone and something to learn from and that's how I took it.

Did he have to apologize to the team?

"I didn't get in front of the team, but everyone knew I was sorry," Monroe said. "I apologized to the team. It wasn't a problem. I went around to players, and they said don't let it happen again, it's something to grow from and something to learn from."

How have practices been?

"It's great to be back," Monroe said. "Everyone is happy and having a good time at practice. Playing time? I don't know where I'm at. Marquise (Goodwin) did a great job in my place. That's how it's supposed to be.

"If one guy goes down, another one has to step up. Marquise did a great job, and I was the first one to call him after the A&M game and tell him, 'You trusted your eyes and hit the hole.' That's what you do."


DEFENSE

As I said in my quickie notes earlier, Will Muschamp singled out DT Derek Johnson, LB Ryan Roberson, S Kenny Vaccaro, and he also mentioned DE/OLB Dravannti Johnson.

On Derek Johnson, Muschamp said, "Derek's an anchor. We like to play some 3-4, play some base front and he's a guy who can do that. He's really athletic. We just have to keep working on his endurance and stamina, and he's worked hard. We've come some miles. We've still got a ways to go."

Added Oscar Giles on Derek Johnson, "Everybody has one. Ben Alexander has had a great year for us. Now Derek is going to be in that position for us. Everyone has to have a zero shade. Alabama has one in Terrence Cody. We will count on Derek to play that role for us next season."

Ben Alexander said he likes Derek Johnson because Johnson has a mean streak.

"He's tenacious," Alexander said of Johnson. "He's got a mean streak. He's a competitor. He's going to be a great nose tackle here at Texas."


On Roberson, Muschamp said, "Very quick , athletic, explosive, got a lot of punch and power in a short area. He's going to be a really good player."

On Vaccaro, Muschamp said, "Lot of range, physical, tough, makes plays on the ball. The job description you want at safety, he's got it."

Muschamp said Dravannti Johnson, a redshirt freshman, is showing him a lot of want-to in the bowl practices that Muschamp says he can work with.

S Christian Scott

Duane Akina said Scott could see as many as "30 snaps on special teams" in the BCS title game. Coaches have loved his attitude all season despite his suspension for academic reasons.

"Sitting out can make you a better student of the game," Akina said of Scott. "Anytime you have a situation like that, down the road this may be as important as anything that's happened to him.

"He will be as important an addition in the spring as any player we have. Christian has tremendous upside. Tremendous."

(Akina also spoke as if Earl Thomas will be back next season. He said if Texas gets in a pinch at corner, Thomas could move out to CB because that's what he was initially projected to play. When I asked Akina if he thought Thomas would be back next season, he said, "Oh, I'm not going to touch that right now. We've got Alabama to worry about.")


Other players getting high praise from coaches and players on defense:


DE Alex Okafor - "Alex Okafor is going to be really, really good," said Kyle Hix. "He's got some long arms, and I think he could be an Orakpo. I have really long arms, and I can't reach him a lot of time, so that tells you something. We're going to have really good defensive ends the next few years."

DE Tevin Mims - Aside from receiving a lot of votes as one of the coolest guys on the team, Mims continues to get praise from coaches for his burst off the ball, his ability to close and his athleticism.

CB Eryon Barnett - Coaches have liked his bowl practices and love his size (6-2, 180) and range. Someone will need to come on strong to replace the void being left by Marcus Davis' transfer.

LB Tariq Allen - Has shown some nice flashes at linebacker in bowl practice. Hasn't gotten nearly the turns he will in the spring. But he's a name to put on the radar.

DE Dominique Jones - Oscar Giles likes what he's seen of Jones and said he reminds him of a young Tim Crowder. "Dominique is up to about 250 pounds and has great hip explosion and a quick first step," Giles said.

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