Texas Fullback Analysis

Last season marked the Longhorns' first Ricky-free backfield since 1994. In the five years prior to the '00 season, <B>Ricky</B> <B>Williams</B>, <B>Ricky</B> <B>Brown</B>, or both, lined up in the Texas backfield. And the Rickys owned the UT fullback job for those five years (Williams in '95 and '96 and Brown in '97, '98 and '99).

In '00, the inexperienced trio of Matt Trissel, Chad Stevens and Brett Robin took over, resulting in a drop off not only in numerical production but in lead blocking and pass protection as well. The coaches hoped for off-season improvement from the fullback group in all those areas. Did they get it? Well, according to Mack Brown, the answer is yes. During spring, Brown said both Trissel and Stevens improved in their lead blocking and in their protections, and the staff believes it has a future standout in Will Matthews. But with a pass-centric offense, a return to the fullback position's Ricky-filled glory days seems a long shot (although the coaches have said the fullback will be more involved in the passing game this fall).

First team: Matt Trissel, Junior

Strengths: No player on the UT squad looks the part of fullback like Trissel. Matter of fact, the conservatively listed 6-0, 235-pound battering ram would have fit right in with the football played almost half a century ago on the Forty Acres. As I described him last summer, he's "a throwback out of the 1960's when football players ate nails and washed 'em down with anti-freeze. In other words, he's one tough hombre, exactly the trait needed to play some smash-mouth fullback."

Weaknesses: The Texas offense is anything but a throwback to the '60s when in Austin the running game reigned supreme. Instead, the UT offense more closely resembles the Dan Fouts-led San Diego Chargers than the James Street-led Texas Longhorns. What does that have to do with Trissel, you ask? Well, in the UT offense of the 21st century, you're not gonna see many handoffs where the fullback blazes the path for the tailback and you're certainly not gonna see many, if any, handoffs to the fullback. If this were Darrell Royal's Wishbone or Fred Akers' power I, maybe, but as evidenced by the last season, Trissel is simply not a threat to run the ball and is not much of a threat to catch it, either. He did not carry the ball once and he caught just five balls for 43 yards in 12 games in '00. In reality, that's not a knock on him, but rather a product of the Texas offensive scheme.

Analysis: With game-breakers at least three-deep at wideout and two-deep at tight end, it really doesn't make a lot of sense to showcase a converted linebacker with limited offensive capability at fullback. Trissel (and Stevens and Matthews) will be counted on to protect Chris Simms or Major Applewhite, occasionally lead the way for one of the Texas tailbacks (particularly in short-yardage situations), and even less frequently sneak out of the backfield for a pass. But he'll also spend a good deal of time on the bench as the Horns use more four-wide sets than ever before and feature the talents of tight ends Bo Scaife and Brock Edwards along with those of the bevy of blazing wideouts.

Second team: Chad Stevens, Junior

Strengths: Stevens is B-I-G big, at a listed 6-4, 245 the biggest of the guys competing for the fullback spot. Also, with the new emphasis on pass catching at the spot, former tight end Stevens should be a natural. During recruiting his dad had a classic line about his son's pass catching ability: "His hands are like big ol' chicken fried steaks."

Weaknesses: Like Trissel, Stevens did not tally even one carry last fall and he totaled just one reception (a 20-yarder vs. Oklahoma). Again, not necessarily his fault, but a concern nonetheless from a production standpoint. More importantly given the Horns' offensive scheme, Stevens needs to improve his protection skills. Late in spring ball, he seemed to be on track to doing just that, when in a scrimmage situation he picked up a blitzing Marcus Wilkins to give Simms the extra second or so to find B.J. Johnson streaking open downfield. Those are the types of plays that will earn Stevens more PT.

Analysis: During much of spring, Trissel and Stevens alternated with the first-team O. Trissel will probably be the guy on the field during the first series vs. New Mexico State, but Stevens should see substantial playing time as well. And if Stevens can demonstrate a bit more consistent blocking ability and can not only catch the ball, but make yards after the catch (a coaching staff priority at every pass catching position heading into this season), the depth chart order could eventually be reversed.

Third team: Will Matthews, Redshirt freshman

Strengths: Athleticism. Matthews is by far the most athletic of the three fullback contenders. Coming out of high school, the Texas coaches loved both his blocking and receiving ability, so he would seem to be the ideal fullback in Greg Davis' offense.

Weaknesses: Experience. Despite no experience at the college level, though, Matthews spent his days at Westwood as a blocking back (who also carried the ball extremely well). With that background and after a year of practice on the Forty Acres, Matthews' learning curve should be surmountable.

Analysis: At one point during spring, Mack Brown said Matthews was "coming on like gangbusters." Whether that means he sees action in a three-man fullback rotation or simply as the mop-up duty fullback we probably won't know until September. What we do know is at least one of the fullbacks will get a few carries. Last year, that fullback was Brett Robin, the No. 3 man on the depth chart, who registered the position's only totes (seven, to be exact, for 33 yards). This year, it could be Matthews.

Probable redshirts: True freshman Eric Hall

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