Don't Freak Out About the Quarterbacks
The immediate line that everyone homed in on following Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin's meeting with the media were four little words: "Yes, I think so." That those words immediately followed a question about whether both quarterbacks would play against Wyoming set off alarms that had everybody running to their quarterback bomb shelters.
The unfortunate thing is that that line was taken out of context. Read what Harsin said in answering the very next question about playing two quarterbacks (with the key parts bolded for emphasis):
"It's not a 50-50. It's not a 60-40," Harsin said. "It's not a back-and-forth. You're going to have your quarterback out there. He's going to be playing. And you're going to have an opportunity if things are right, or the situation comes up, that your second quarterback that is going to go in and have a chance to play well."
See, nothing about a quarterback fire drill, or pulling guys in and out. The Texas staff wants to get both quarterbacks work. That's not unusual. When Missouri had Brad Smith, he was obviously a fantastic quarterback and the no-doubt starter. Yet they played Chase Daniel every few series to get him ready. And they wound up needing him later that year, and Daniel led them to a victory.
That's more along the lines of what I'd expect to see. Is there good competition there? Absolutely. But if you think Texas just wants to shuffle two guys in and out, you've got another thing coming.
Greg Daniels is Coming On at Tight End
Daniels has been mentioned here as somebody who has been making the most of his opportunity at the new position, and Monday, Harsin reinforced that. After a few lines about D.J. Grant and M.J. McFarland, here were his comments on Daniels:
"I thought Greg Daniels did some things in the scrimmage that were pretty impressive in the run game," Harsin said. "Just his footwork, and for a guy that hasn't played the position very long. I thought he played with low pad level. I thought he showed some of his strength and his size out there in some of the run game stuff. And he's been impressive as well in the pass game. Some of the short throws and things like that. So he's a guy that's just starting to come on, and things are starting to click. And you can just feel like he's starting to understand what his role can be for us. I feel like that position is getting better and better."
Texas coach Mack Brown has said that Daniels is an upgrade schematically from Luke Poehlmann because the defense doesn't get to automatically assume that he's not going out for a pass. And while it might be too much to expect him to replicate Poehlmann's blocking ability — Poehlmann is an offensive tackle, after all — if he can do a reasonable enough job in that respect, Texas will be better off.
Turnovers: Causing and Preventing Them
Practice is always a zero-sum game. If your defense rules the day, it's easy to get pleased with your defense's performance while also being mad at your offense. And in no one stat is it easier to get fired up at one unit, while being upset at the other, it's turnovers.
Case in point: the offense took care of the football during the second scrimmage, not turning the ball over. A positive, right? Well, of course the flip side is that the first question asked of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is why the Longhorn defense failed to force turnovers.
Here's Harsin, talking about trying to prevent turnovers:
"Well I think now, from what we have talked about as far as turnovers, that's always something we're a little paranoid, as offensive coaches, about — turnovers," Harsin said. "So we've had a few practices and a scrimmage where we've been really, really good at that. Not letting up, being relentless when it comes to turnovers. And not letting up on the standard that we have set in practice and with ourselves. We've always got to take care of the ball."
And here's Diaz's answer about the defense not forcing any:
"Offense did a real good job of protecting it," Diaz said. "What we do is we actually chart strip attempts because sometimes it is the pursuit of the ball, which is important in getting the ball itself. We are still happy about the way we are getting after it.
"Usually what I have seen happen in fall camp is the defense gets really hungry for the ball early on. The offense has gone all summer without having people touching them because they are out there on their own. So you see more turnovers early in camp, then the offense gets aware of it, and the coaches make a big point of emphasis and it gets really hard," Diaz said. "That is really what you want. You want a team that is really hard to turnover in practice, but we are still relentless in our pursuit of getting turnovers."
Who Does Diaz Fear?
Brown said recently at a press conference that he was a fan of asking coaches on the other side of the ball which Longhorn players scared them from a matchup standpoint. So which Texas offensive players scare Diaz?
"The first thing as defensive coach is that you hate having the ball fed right down your throat," Diaz said. "So this is not a ranking thing but it is just as a defensive thing. What keeps you up at night is that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. When they hand the ball to the running backs we have, like Joe Bergeron, Malcolm Brown and some of the strides that Johnathan Gray has made in the last week and the guy that you can't even sleep on is Jeremy Hills, who is playing better than any point in his career. If you can't stop the running, you can't stop anything. If they can run when they want to, then they can throw it when they want to. So it all starts from there.
"I think that the football team believes in both quarterbacks," Diaz said. "They know that both those guys can make plays. On the outside, I think the receivers that we have and the improvements that Mike Davis has made and Jaxon Shipley, too and some of the young guys are also stepping up. I see things at every position in the offensive football team. You are starting to see their personalities come through, and it is exciting. The competition this past week has been back and forth, and that is what you want with a good football team."
Diaz Discusses Defensive Expectations
Coaches seem to have a love-hate relationship with expectations. There's always the worry that players are out reading their own press clippings. And on the other hand, the pressure of trying to live up to those expectations can often push and propel a player's performance upward.
But Diaz said external pressures weren't to be worried about.
"It causes no impact because, to be honest, we have expectations of ourselves," Diaz said. "Whether people think — and I have been on both sides of it — you have a good team coming back or you don't have a good team coming back, it doesn't matter. We still in our room, when we meet as a defense, we set our expectations for how we should perform. Our standard of performance is whether we have 10 starters back or no starters back, and is set by the people that are in our room."We value certain things that occur during a game that do not always show up because it is very hard sometimes to judge defensive performance by the stats that are available to the general public," Diaz said. "That is one big point we had to make with all the off-season attention that we got is that we will still value our opinion and the opinion of people we play against. That is how we will know whether we are playing well or not playing well."