February 27, 2008

Inside the Locker Room

Q: (Duggan■) - Maybe this is a bit much for a LR, but I wish that you would look at all the QB prospects out there and give your evaluation, maybe who he compares to etc.

I think it would be cool to see this for the top players at all the positions even if they are headed elsewhere just to see what we are missing.

A: Obviously, we're not going to go through the top ten at each position in the Locker Room, but I think we can give a quick thumbnail sketch of the quarterback prospects and I'll make a point in the future to find a way to provide the in-depth analysis at each position that you're looking for. I think it's key that when looking at this year's crop of quarterbacks to understand that each guy is a little different and it's not easy to compare one guy with another. Seriously, how do you compare an apple to an orange? It's the same thing when trying to take a global view of the Garrett Gilbert/Russell Shepard debate. The quarterbacks in this class that ultimately have the most success are going to be the ones that find schools that offer the perfect offensive scheme to match that player's talent.

That being said, let's take a look at the elite-level quarterback prospects in-state this year.

Garrett Gilbert - If you're looking for a guy that can run a pass-first spread offense, this is your guy. He has great natural ability, but he possesses the intangibles that are hard to find in quarterbacks. Frankly, it's stunning to think he carried his team to a state title while playing with a torn labrum for most of the season. Assuming that he gets back to 100% health, there simply is not a better combination of throwing ability, presence in the pocket, the ability to throw on the move and a number of other qualities that this kid possesses. I've seen all of the top quarterbacks in person this year, with the exception of Shepard, and I haven't seen anyone that I think is in his zip code. The thing to understand with Gilbert is that he's going to need to play in a spread offense that focuses less on the ability of the quarterback to run the ball and more on the ability to sling the ball all over the field. If you need a comparison, I think the Matt Stafford one is a good one, although the current Georgia quarterback has a stronger arm, but when you look at their collective strengths and needs as a player, they are quite similar.

Russell Shepard - When we get into talking about Shepard, everyone needs to understand that he's the anti-Gilbert in a way because his number of reps as a passer is severely limited at this point because of the style of high school offense that he plays in. His arm strength is not an issue at all, but he's going to need some time to develop as a passer because he's just not getting a ton of passing reps and that won't change until he gets to college. The thing that Shepard brings to the table that Gilbert cannot is the ability to change the complexion of a game on a dime with his feet. I don't see how anyone could suggest that Shepard isn't the top offensive playmaker in the state when the ball is in his hands. He's a bigger version of Pat White in my mind.

Tyrik Rollison - After watching this kid in person in the state playoffs, I came away impressed with Rollison's natural ability, but I question whether or not he has the "it" factor. Like Gilbert, he's already taken a lot of quality reps as a passer and he's going to need to be featured in an offense that stresses his strengths as a passer. He's a good athlete and he can make plays with his feet, but he's not a guy that needs to be running the zone-read on a play-by-play basis. If I were going to compare Rollison to anyone, I'd say he reminds me a little of Colt McCoy. My only question with Rollison is whether he's special or just very good. In the game I was at, he made a number of second-half mistakes that helped contribute to his team blowing a big lead and he didn't quite live up to Gilbert's "it" factor, which I had seen on full display the week before. Also, it's going to take a little more work for Rollison to qualify. Overall, he's got an enormous ceiling, but probably a lower basement than some of the other players at this position this year

Shavodrick Beaver - This kid is kind of flying under the radar, but he offers a great combination of skills that the other guys don't have. He's not the runner that Shepard is and he's not as advanced in the passing game as either Gilbert or Rollison, but he might be the best candidate that offers some middle ground in those areas. When you add his passing skills, ability as a runner, his size and his leadership skills on the field, you've got a guy that has a chance to be a high-level player at the next level.

Richard Morrison - This kid is one of my guys. He reminds me some of a young Ell Roberson and I think the only thing keeping him back from being an elite prospect is his size. He's one of those borderline 6-0 guys that not every school is going to be excited about, but when you look at his film, there's nothing that he can't do.

Ryan Mossakowski - If there's a prototype pro-passer prospect in this class, it's Mossakowski. This guy has a big-time arm and he has the ability to make every single throw in the book with ease.

Casey Pachall - This is a tough kid to grade for me because I've yet to see him perform well, but his talent is obvious. He might have the best live arm in the state and he's a good straight-line runner, but he often plays like a guy that's a step behind everyone and trying to play catch-up. He reminds of Colby Freeman, who is another Brownwood product.

Q: (Billpricetx■) - With the recent trend of early entries into the draft, how do you think it affects recruiting? For instance, people were freaking out about the number of defensive ends we brought in last weekend, considering the talented guys who still have outstanding offers. Is there a fear that a Lamarr Houston or Eddie Jones could have a breakout year and leave early, suddenly making that position thin? Do you think some people are over-emphasizing the star rankings of some of these recruits, especially when you consider how early it still is in the evaluation process? Do some of these guys fly under your staff's radar until they're identified by the coaching staffs?

A: First, good questions. There's no doubt in my mind that Mack Brown is starting to take the attitude that the floodgates have opened somewhat as it relates to players leaving early. Jermichael Finley's decision to leave after his redshirt sophomore season opened Brown's eyes and he's talking more and more about the need to not redshirt anyone because of the changing dynamic. As far as it relates to a recruiting strategy, each year you're trying to replace the juniors in your program. For instance, the defensive end position is a big need this year and that's because the players from that 2006 class are entering their third year in the program and will need to be replaced after next season. In the future if the staff believes they have a guy that is certain to declare early, his spot in the program will need to be accounted for while he's a sophomore and probably not as a junior. If none of that makes sense, think of it like this - the Longhorns would have been much better off looking to replace Jamaal Charles' speed and skill set in the 2007 class, rather than the 2008 class because the need to replace him is accelerated by one year.

As far as the evaluation process, I think our staff feels real good about the players that we've ranked early on. For instance, the top 20 guys are going to be in that league for most of the year. That being said, the state of Texas is unlike every state in the nation when it comes to the volume of players that it produces. There are going to be players every year that skip by people. Look at Desean Hales' last year. He was a nationally ranked prospect and it took the Longhorns a lot longer to dial in on his talents than most of the schools that competed with for his signature. On the other hand, they probably feel like they got the jump on everyone with a kid like Eryon Barnett. Everyone just needs to keep in mind that the process has evolved greatly in just the last five years, but it's still an evolving process. If you re-ask this question in five years we might have a totally different answer.

Q: (hookem75) - At what point do the coaches tell a player that he IS going to switch positions, not only to better the team, but also to better the chances of the player being able to play at the next level? I ask this because when will they tell John Chiles that he will not play QB at the next level and he needs to make a change?

A: Usually, the staff will give every player in the program as much time as they need to try and develop at their desired position. If, after two or three years, things still aren't working out, the staff will sometimes call a meeting to make some suggestions. However, if a player isn't comfortable with the move, it's a tough one to try to enforce because an unhappy player usually isn't a productive one. The Texas staff is likely much more patent than you are in trying to make their evaluations. Specifically, when you think about Chiles, keep in mind that Vince Young was throwing ground balls in practice for several years before the light went off for him. P-a-t-i-e-n-c-e, my friend.

Q: (Saturday) - Even after getting burned by Darrell Scott and after Mack's comments to the contrary at the recruiting day press conference, it looks like Texas is starting to pursue some elite out-of-state talent? Might this lead to UT scheduling some more elite level competition from teams in regions where these players are being recruited? Does up-coming schedule ever play a role in a recruit's decision to attend a school? Could the elite recruits currently on the radar for '09 be simply special circumstances kids given prior relationships with coaches? There are rumors Arkansas is opting out of their '09 game with us. I'm guessing that they were our "Top 25" caliber non-conference game for that year. Any idea who replaces them?

A: I don't think the road schedule plays a huge role in who the staff tries to recruit. The Longhorns play in so many high-profile games and are on television so much that the idea of scheduling games for recruiting hasn't been something that the Longhorns have needed. Honestly, I can't remember a single player ever mentioning the schedule when making his college decision. It's been a long time since Texas' quality of competition has come into question.

Overall, I think Texas is looking at more national kids right now because they suddenly have a younger staff that wants to get out on the road and force the issue. I'm not sure that the Longhorns have had those guys on the staff in the past. For example, was Larry MacDuff really going to hit the national highways in an effort to recruit after spending a decade in the NFL? That's not a knock on him, but that wasn't his strength coming into the program and it usually doesn't work that way. With coaches like Bobby Kennedy, Major Applewhite and Will Muschamp in the program, the Longhorns are much more viable in that area than they have been.

As for the question about replacing Arkansas on the schedule, the Longhorns have some options, but they aren't great because of the timing. Texas could find a home game to replace the game and the odds are that it won't be a quality opponent. The Longhorns might have to give something up if they want a quality opponent and it might come in the form of a road game in 2009 with the promise that a return Texas home game will occur later down the road. Another option would be to take a road game against a decent opponent like Central Florida with the assurance that they'll come to Austin twice later in the decade. It's still too early to know which direction DeLoss Dodds will take.

Q: (texaztom) - When Mack Brown first arrived at Texas, DB's cross-trained at safety and CB. It was not uncommon for younger players to start out at safety, then rotate to CB as they gained experience. In recent years, it seems like Texas has actually recruited players for the safety position. MB mentioned going back to more cross-training at his pre-Spring presser. Do you see Texas going back to the old approach of recruiting CB's and starting them at safety?

A: Yes, I think the staff wants to get their four best guys on the field and if that means cross-training guys so that they can get the right combination on the field, so be it. Part of Texas' problem in recent years has been the constant turnover at defensive coordinator, which has hurt Texas when it comes to identifying kids in recruiting and developing them once they are in the program. Bull Reese, Greg Robinson, Gene Chizik, Duane Akina and Will Muchamp all look for and like different types of players and it created a bit if a mess that is just now starting to get cleaned up because of the recruiting efforts in 2006 and 2007. Those defensive back classes from 2003-05, when Texas had three different coordinators, helped create some of the problems on the field we've seen the last two years. I think the staff finally is on the same page and the talent base in place to succeed at a high level.

Q: (BuschLeague) - Some people (namely Scout88) say that Mason Walters projects as a Center since that's where he plays now - could you comment on your thoughts related to that?
Rank your top 5 in-state OL prospects since you started covering recruiting - (Tray Allen, Reggie Youngblood, Justin Blalock, Ofa Mohetau, Blake Brockermeyer, Leonard Davis, Stephen Good, etc come to mind …and where does Walters fit?)

A: I cannot remember the last time I've seen a prospect like Walters, who projects as a possible left tackle prospect, but plays inside for his high school team. His versatility is obviously a strength and the fact that he could play possibly all five positions on the field makes him a more valuable commodity, but he's a tackle prospect all the way right now because of his size and athleticism. He needs more reps, but he has the physical tools to play on the perimeter and that's worth his weight in gold.

As far as my top five offensive line prospects in the last ten years, I'd probably go with (in no order) Leonard Davis, Justin Blalock, Tony Hills, Tray Allen and Antwan Kirk-Hughes. There have been so many great prospects at that position that you could make a case for a lot of players. Jonathan Scott, Reggie Youngblood and Stephen Good would rank very high as well and I think Walters is the one guy in this class that has a chance to join that group.

Q: (Whitepants) - Can you provide a scouting report on Fozzy Whittaker? You seem to have been impressed with him in the first couple practices. Does he have home run potential out of the backfield? What would you say his top end speed is compared to other speed backs? Do you think DeSean Hales a potential option at this position to provide the home run punch if Fozzy isn't the answer?

A: Whittaker isn't a 4.4 guy, but he is incredibly quick and the game seems to have slowed down some for him, which is allowing the physical tools that he does have to take over. The thing that he showed in the first two days or practice (without pads) is the ability to accelerate quickly out of his first cut. His burst out of his first cut is as explosive as any on the team and makes him a potential big-play guy. It's not top-end speed that Whittaker brings to the table. Instead, his big plays are going to come from his ability to crate separation in his first 10-15 yards.

I think Hales is a guy that the staff is going to need some time to figure out because of his versatility. Will they use him like they used Ramonce Taylor or is he a pure slot/return guy? That has yet to be determined, but he's a guy that needs to be on the field this year.

Q: (texas8891) - It's still early, but if you had to say right now, what would you figure would have to be the maximum average points per game that our defense could give up for us to be in the thick of the national championship race? This assumes that our offense isn't as prolific as the past couple of years, at least early on.

A: If Texas is going to have an elite defense that is capable of helping lead this program back to national prominence, they are probably going to need to be in the 13.0-14.0 range in scoring defense.

Q: (Downtown Bobcat) - When Mack gets verbal commitments from the kids he got this weekend, do you start to question his talent evaluation or yours somewhat? I heard you on the radio today saying you had not heard of Barnett and were surprised that Kriegel was offered?

A: Everyone has opinions and that goes for our staff as well as the coaching staff . With a guy like Barnett, who we haven't seen, you're right that I'm going to give Mack Brown and his staff the benefit of the doubt. In other cases, we might disagree with them and over the years I think both sides have won some of those disagreements. I think the area that we disagree on the most and you can call it questioning them if you like, but I just don't understand the need to offer some of these second-tier prospects at this stage of the process. I suppose I just don't understand the rush to offer anyone other than the Chris Whaley's, Garrett Gilbert's and Jamarkus McFarland's or the world. If a guy is rated as the top guy on your board, you offer him. If he's down the list a little, what's the rush?

Q: (licheb) - With all the talk about the positives of o-o-s recruiting, should we fear any backlash from Texas HS coaches for ignoring their 3 star prospects to go o-o-s for a 4 or 5 star prospect? It seems that the in-state-first recruiting philosophy espoused by DKR and Mack was designed (in part) to shore us up with Texas HS coaches. By altering it do we put any pipelines at risk?

A: I think this Texas staff has bent over backwards more than any school in the country to appease the in-state high school coaches. You can't take them all and there are always going to be a few coaches that get their feelings hurt because Texas doesn't recruit their kid, but that's the nature of the beast. Overall, Mack has more street cred with the Texas high school coaches than anyone could possible have. He's earned that over ten years and I wouldn't anticipate any real backlash.

Q: (40acrefanatic) - I know you guys are getting tons of emails about this, and I don't envy the amount of time you guys spend working round the clock...but at the same time I'm very appreciative...I have two questions about Gilbert...

Is he a ringleader type who will draw the line and say "I'm with Texas so all you other guys get on board now". Or is he more of a quiet kid?

How does he compare to pro style quarterbacks from the past like Jimmy Clausen, Matt Barkley, John Brantley, and Matt Stafford...is this guy a game changing player in any system or does he have to play in that LT system to be successful?

A: I'm really not sure that Gilbert is going to the ringleader in recruiting that some hope he will be. I'm not sure it's in his personality to get on the phone and enter the hustle game that takes place in recruiting. I think the bigger question is whether Gilbert is the type of guy that players in the program will rally around once he arrives at Texas and I think the answer to that is an emphatic yes.

As I said earlier in this Locker Room, I think most quarterbacks need to be put in a system that equates well with their skills. How do you think Clausen or Stafford would have fared in the Texas offense in 2005 or 2006 or 2007? The answer is probably not as well as they would with an offense that best suits their skills. Yes, Gilbert needs to be in a pass-first spread offense. You just can't have a square peg and a round hole.

Q: (2002_Horn) - Are Greg Timmons, Chris Whaley and Thomas Ashcroft soft commitments? It seemed as if these guys are keeping their options open, and in the past, the staff's response to that has always been quick (ie, pulling the ship of the RB who visited Arizona). What is your perspective on the situation?

After Gilbert led his team to the state championship, I remember you playing him up to the subscribers (rightfully so). Is the current situation something you saw coming, and if so, how do you see it playing out?

Mack has (according to some) reached on the latest offers and commitments. What is your current perspective on the last four commitments? Do you expect them to move in or move up the LSR 100? Also, if you had to handicap the remaining recruits, who would you say commits and who do you think goes elsewhere? How does Sheppard's potential commitment change the landscape?

A: First, I think everyone needs to keep an eye on Timmons, but I think Whaley and Ashcraft are strong commitments. I would imagine they'll all leave the door open if something drastic occurs, but I wouldn't stay up all night worrying about the majority of players in the first 11 commitments.

Second, I think I've probably felt like Gilbert was going to end up at Texas for more than a year, but my playing him up to subscribers has to do with his talent level and his talent level alone. I felt like after watching him in his second game as a sophomore that I was looking at a player that had a chance to be the best at his position in the entire nation. In fact, I called Bobby Burton that night and told him exactly that.

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