Texas coach Mack Brown has repeatedly said this offseason that the Longhorn offensive line has been good … and needs to step up its play to be great. And perhaps no player is a better example of that than offensive guard Trey Hopkins.
A second-team All-Big 12'er a year ago, Hopkins has been the definition of steady, an athletic and intelligent presence on the Longhorn offensive line. But for a player who was compared at times to Justin Blalock early on in his career, is that enough?
Not for Hopkins, who said he feels like he can take that next step this year.
"My personal goals are to play consistently," Hopkins said. "I felt last year, that I had some games that I walked off the field and I was really proud of myself. I affected the game, I nailed my assignments, I was confident that the ball could be run behind me every time."
But Hopkins admitted that there were still other times that he struggled to dictate his will to the main across from him. He said that was especially frustrating given that, "I felt like it was just based on my consistency in playing. It was nothing really that the [other] guys did."
Now, Hawkins has one year left to make his mark. He said he's at his best when he can get out and pull in space, combining aggression with his ability to get a hat on mobile defenders in the Longhorns' fold, or pin-and-pull, blocking schemes. He said that he's put in quite a bit more work in pass protection, working on his feet and hand placement this offseason.
He's also worked on his snaps. While Hopkins started his career filling in at tackle on an injured offensive line and then moved in to guard, he's seen by many as the potential answer at center. And while Hawkins won't go that far, he admits that it's always good to cross-train. When Hawkins slides inside, the Longhorns either promote fellow guard Sedrick Flowers from the second team or — in an ideal situation that hasn't happened much at camp because of academic issues — move Desmond Harrison to left tackle and slide Donald Hawkins in at guard. Flowers said he has been impressed with both Harrison's ability and with the potential that Hawkins shows at guard.
"Donald has great feet," Hopkins said. "You could see that from him playing left tackle last year. That will be a great thing, especially for him if he has to pull."
The ability to be versatile helped Hopkins find his way onto the field early, and it's a message he said he's given to the Longhorns' four freshmen offensive linemen. He's really high on the group's potential, and noted that Kent Perkins was likely the strongest freshman linemen he had seen.
In fact, after a freshman year where the Longhorns lacked quality depth — and many would say a quality starting five — Hopkins said the offensive line group is on the upswing. And while he's enticed by the younger players, he was quick to note that there was no time like the present to take a big step toward dominance.
"I'm really excited about what we have going this year for us on the offensive line," Hopkins said. "Desmond's been doing the mental work regardless of whether he's out there with us physically. So we know that he's still focused on what he wants to accomplish this year. And I know the coaches are working with him to get his situation handled.
"But as far as the guys that are out there right now, we're all training at multiple positions because if anybody goes down for injury, or if anything happens in a game situation where we have to move guys around, everyone's able to do that," Hopkins said.
* For the past couple of years, it's been a pretty popular question: how can Texas get all its talented running backs the touches they need? And the answer this year, thanks to Texas running the pod formation — a three-back pistol with one running back on either side of the quarterback and one behind — and two-back pistol, is a smiling face from all three running backs. Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite has been able to keep all three backs happy by putting them all on the field at once. And while there are still only so many carries to go around, the number of TOUCHES should go up, thanks both to Texas's increased tempo offensively and the number of opportunities in the passing game out of formations like the pod.
* It's good to have Quandre Diggs back, according to Carrington Byndom. Both running mates snagged interceptions off Texas second-team quarterback Case McCoy in this weekend's scrimmage, with Diggs grabbing his interception off a pick. Diggs continues to work at the nickel back spot, while Byndom continues to cross train at safety. Byndom, of course, was a pretty stellar safety at Lufkin in high school before transitioning to cornerback at Texas.
Here it is, in its entirety thanks to Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express News (I was over interviewing another player when he said it).
"That's a tough question. But, you know, my answer is ‘By the grace of God.' I don't know Johnny Manziel personally, but I do know that college football players are regular people, and they have their problems, just like everybody else. And Johnny Manziel, he seems like a nice guy. There's a lot of pressure, a lot of things that can go wrong in your life. And probably not very many people are interested to know what that is, or what's going on. Johnny, I just wish him the best. He's a great football player.
"For me, it's only by the grace of God I haven't taken that path. I've been blessed with great parents. I've been blessed with a great community in Austin. I have my problems, just like Johnny Manziel. Somehow, I keep them from you guys."