Texas offensive line
I was asked this weekend about the ceiling for Texas's offensive line this season. And I have to say, I think it could be fairly high. I don't think the Longhorns will trot out the Big 12's best offensive line this year, but if you look at it from a position-by-position basis, there's a lot to get excited about.
The No. 1 thing would have to be Trey Hopkins. He made his impact felt immediately as a true freshman, and will start off his sophomore season as the heir apparent at left tackle. That's a scary position to be in, but Hopkins, who combines absurdly quick feet with an even quicker mind, appears to be up to the task. I have a hard time seeing him as anything less than steady, and he could range to excellent.
The No. 2 thing is another year of experience for guys like Paden Kelley and Mason Walters. Walters was a steadying influence at guard after Tray Allen went down, and got better as the year went on. Kelley, at times, appears to have big-time potential at tackle. He's one of the more inconsistent guys returning, but the ability is all there.
And finally, you have a pair of seniors in Allen and David Snow trying to turn things around from where they were a year ago. Snow was one of the team's better linemen last year, and he should be a rock on this year's unit. Allen appeared to be ready to finally meet his potential as a starter last year, only to suffer a season-ending injury. When healthy, he has the mobility to do a lot of different things.
So I like that starting five. There might not be a so-called elite player in the bunch, but there don't appear to be weak spots either. And the future is definitely bright when you add in guys like Sedrick Flowers, Josh Cochran and Garrett Greenlea. The main question at this point is depth, and the Longhorns' ability to stay healthy could be the deciding factor on the line's performance.
Texas commitments at The Opening
Four Texas commitments were singled out for their strong play at The Opening, a national combine and 7-on-7 event held on the Nike Campus in Oregon. Quarterback Connor Brewer showed surprising athleticism, running a 4.8 40-yard dash, a 4.31 shuttle and a 31-inch vertical leap. For reference, Brewer is faster than the NFL average time for a quarterback (4.9), and a player is considered to have excellent acceleration if their short shuttle time is 0.5 seconds faster than their 40-yard dash.
Johnathan Gray earned mention for his soft hands out of the backfield and his ability to make things happen on flare passes. He was named to the All-Tournament team. At the same time, Cayleb Jones drew rave reviews for his ability to snatch passes out of the air and his smooth body control.
But arguably the best performance report came after watching DeSoto guard Curtis Riser, who might have been the best offensive lineman in attendance, at least in the 1-on-1 sessions. He went 6-0 against some of the better defensive line players from across the nation, showing great athleticism and a strong punch.
Also, from the opening
Geismer (La.) Dutchtown safety Landon Collins revealed that the Texas Longhorns are on his list of potential schools. Collins, Scout.com's No. 6 safety in the 2012 class, actually listed the Longhorns first (as in order, not in ranking) in a video interview with Scout's Inna Lazarev.
Collins was The Opening's overall MVP, as well as the SPARQ champion. The SPARQ — so named because it tests speed, power, agility, resistance and quickness — is a battery of tests designed to get the best overall athlete. And it's no surprise that the 6-foot, 205-pound safety was the overall winner with the numbers he put up.
Collins had the best vertical leap of the day at 43.7 inches (no, that's not a misprint), and he clocked 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He also showed stunning power, taking second out of the final 10 participants in the powerball, with a 43-foot throw.
Oh, and Collins can play football as well. He had 102 tackles and four interceptions last season, and regularly terrorized quarterbacks in The Opening's 7-on-7 play. He's even better when he straps on the pads, as his film shows a cornucopia of big hits.
Transfers, but not at Texas
Later today, I'll take a look at impact transfers in the Big 12. More specifically, the story will look at players transferring in from other FBS schools, but it's worth noting that we'll do a junior college story later this week … and neither story will focus on the Longhorns.
That's because Texas coach Mack Brown has typically frowned on taking transfers in part, he says, because of the problems with adjusting a prospect to Texas's rigid academic standards. That's all well and good, but every other Big 12 team (and seemingly every other nationally ranked team not named Stanford) has used transfers to fill in the gaps.
Baylor had Phil Taylor, a Penn State transfer, a year ago. Texas A&M has Coryell Judie, a transfer from Fort Scott Community College. And both teams were markedly improved by those transfers, though they came from different sources.
At Texas, it's tempting to avoid junior college players because it seems like it would just be easier to land an impact high schooler. But often, junior college players, or transfers from other schools, are just more physically or mentally ready to contribute immediately. And if nothing else, they can be taken to add depth at positions needing it.
That's why a junior college player, or two, could have been useful for this upcoming season. On a team Brown says lacks the depth of previous Longhorn units, Texas could have desperately used a JUCO defensive tackle, like A&M signee LaMarc Strahan, or an early enrollee on the offensive line.
Early indications are, from the Longhorns' interest in Quay Evans, and through their sticking with Quincy Russell, that Texas will look a little more closely at junior college transfers in the future.
Time for Augie to get a new approach?
With the new Moneyball movie coming out, I thought it might be time to dust off the book and re-read. And one of the parts that I forgot about was the abhorrence of "small-ball" tactics by the Oakland Athletics' statistical measures.
Obviously, college baseball is played somewhat differently. The new bats drastically reduced offensive pop. But I still think the premise — which came even before the Athletics honed in their philosophy — holds true: that outs are just too valuable to give away.
More specifically, A's management made the tangible decision not to sacrifice bunt and not to steal. At the 160-game point, the A's had stolen just 25 bases. But even that number is somewhat deceptive. Ten of those stolen bases came on 3-2 counts, when you're running anyway. Eight came when runners went out and stole the base themselves. On only seven occasions did the runner steal a base after the manager gave them a green light.
The A's were also totally against sacrifice bunting, believing that it was more beneficial for every player to try to get on base. After all, the most pure statistic in terms of run generation is on-base percentage. If your team's on-base percentage is 1.000, you're not making any outs at the plate.
In fact, at one point, A's GM Billy Beane prints out the numbers for the Oakland A's and the Minnesota Twins. The Twins' team batting average was 11 points higher, and their slugging percentage was five points higher. But the A's scored 32 more runs. The Twins had a slightly lower on-base percentage, they'd been caught stealing 62 times to Oakland's 20, and they had twice as many sacrifice bunts as Oakland.
"They were trying to manipulate the game instead of letting the game come to them," Beane says in the book. "The math works."
How does that relate to Texas? The Longhorns were strong base runners, but still took a lot of risk on the basepaths, attempting 96 steals in 68 games. Beane would call that suicidal. And the Longhorns led the country in sacrifice bunts, which is a fancy way of saying that Texas traded an out for a base more times than anybody else. Beane would call that counterproductive, if not stupid.
With the build of Disch-Falk, there's no way to build a team around a power-hitting lineup. But it is certainly possible, especially with the way Texas recruits, to land a team capable of getting on base, playing it safe on the basepaths while not taking the bat out of hitters' hands with runners on base.