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LET’S GET DOWN AND DIRTY WITH UT'S NEW-LOOK O-LINE
This afternoon, sophomore LT Connor Williams tweeted this:
“A team will only go as far as the guys in the trenches can take them. It all starts up front. Get ready for a special season.”
It’s late June.
Fall camp doesn’t start until Aug. 5.
But let’s take a look at the reasons why Williams, one of the emerging leaders on the Texas offense, is feeling better about things:
Reasons No. 1 - 10 … Talent & Depth
For the first time in a long time - probably since 2006 - there’s legitimate and unmistakable talent and depth on the offensive line.
At OT, you’ve got Williams on the left side and Kent Perkins on the right side with two impact freshmen in Denzel Okafor and Jean Delance capable of pushing into the two-deep at left and right tackle, respectively, right away.
That means guys like Tristan Nickelson, Garrett Thomas, Buck Major, Elijah Rodriguez, Alex Anderson, Jake McMillon and Terrell Cuney just got the message that they’d better get the most out of their God-given talent - and quickly - or they’re going to be standing and cheering for their younger teammates on the field.
The addition of Patrick Hudson Wednesday morning could be enormous if Hudson comes into summer workouts next week ready to work and can get into playing shape - both mentally and physically - in 65 days.
The one thing Hudson has that no one can coach is his beyond-his-years size (6-5, 320) and strength. He’s already walking around in an NFL body - right now. Things just need to be molded and sculpted and technically trained into an NFL-type player.
I’ve had my doubts about how much Hudson truly loves football. But one high school coach who faced Hudson at Silsbee on a regular basis told me:
“I don’t know if he loves the game or not,” the high school coach said. “All I know is that when he gets his hands on you, you’re through. And he finishes guys on blocks.
“He’s not trying to hold ‘em up. He’s driving right through ‘em. I think he can play guard at Texas right now - on the side opposite Patrick Vahe - I mean as long as he’s in shape and all that. His feet are better than you think for a guy his size. Hudson could probably play center as well. But (Zach) Shackelford seems to be doing well there.”
So, here’s a look at the OL depth at Texas right now:
LT - Connor Williams, Denzel Okafor/Ronnie Major/J.P. Urquidez
LG - Brandon Hodges/Patrick Hudson, Jake McMillon
C - Zach Shackelford, Terrell Cuney
RG - Patrick Vahe, Elijah Rodriguez/Tope Imade
RT - Kent Perkins, Jean Delance/Tristan Nickelson, Garrett Thomas
The football coach I’ve quoted from time-to-time in HD ONLY who runs the Art Briles’ offense said the addition of Hudson on the offensive line and Devin Duvernay at receiver “were the last missing pieces.”
“The Texas offense is now set,” the coach said. “I think both Hudson and Duvernay are Day 1 starters and filled the only two holes Texas had remaining in its starting 11 on offense.
“It’s time for Charlie (Strong) to go get that defense figured out. If he does, Texas fans might actually have something to cheer about this season.”
PATRICK HUDSON, MARK HENRY - TWO SILSBEE KIDS
Austinite Mark Henry, the World’s Strongest Man and WWE star, is a Silsbee product - just like Patrick Hudson.
Hudson looks up to Henry, and the two have become friends.
“I like Patrick, because he’s not a kid who is going to be getting in trouble or someone you have to worry about,” Henry told me Wednesday.
“He’s got a lot of character, and he’s a hard worker. I’m cheering for him.”
And just like Henry, Hudson was blessed with hulking genes.
“He’s a big boy - like myself - and he’s using that size and strength to his advantage - like myself,” Henry said smiling.
‘MINDSET OF WHOLE TEXAS PROGRAM CHANGING’
I had a long conversation with a former Texas player Wednesday who stays close to the program about where things were and about where things are.
And fresh off the news of Patrick Hudson committing to Texas - pushing the Longhorns to Scout’s No. 3 recruiting class for 2016 (up from No. 8 on Signing Day) - the conversation started off like this:
“When I played, we didn’t have enough competition at each position to keep players on edge,” said the FTP (former Texas player), who lined up for the Longhorns within the last seven years.
“So you had guys who would cut corners and get away with things and still play - even start - because we didn’t have better options.
“It’s not like that anymore. I go into the weight room now or watch a workout, and it’s more like walking into an NFL facility in terms of the intensity and competition. I don’t know how good this team is going to be, but I just get a feeling the mindset of the whole program is changing.”
I said, “What do you mean? How?”
The FTP said, “Guys know if they don’t go all out in the weight room or during a workout or in practice, it’s going to catch up to them - either by being called out by a teammate or a coach.
“It’s sad to say, but it wasn’t always like that when I was at UT. It wasn’t like that most of the time - especially on the offensive line. So when you see Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe and (Zach) Shackelford already starting - and then you bring in guys like (Denzel) Okafor, (Jean) Delance
and (Patrick) Hudson - there’s real competition.
“These guys will know if you don’t practice well, you’re not playing. The threat of taking away playing time from someone who is competitive is the most powerful motivator.”
The FTP said the most competitive and hard-driving position group on the team is running back.
“Everyone in that running back room is so focused and driven, including (Kyle) Porter, that group has a chance to be a real source of leadership.”
One thing became very clear to me after talking to the FTP - some of the best players on the team are the hardest workers on the team.
“There are guys in every position group who fit that category - every single position group,” the FTP said. “That’s big-time and hasn’t been the case around here for way too long.”
5 TRUE FRESHMEN STANDING OUT
After talking to several people with knowledge of UT’s summer workouts, here are the true freshmen whose names I heard the most in terms of making a positive impression and earning the respect of teammates and a quote about them:
OT Denzel Okafor -
“Carries himself like a senior - confident and oozes leadership. He’s probably not even 6-feet-4, so he lacks ideal offensive tackle height. But his arm length and wingspan and ability to move almost ensures he’ll play tackle. Reminds me a lot of Justin Blalock.”
DE Andrew Fitzgerald -
“I think this guy intimidates some of the veterans on the team, and he doesn’t really even say much. Fitz is just one of those guys who loves football, has great get-off and loves playing as physically as possible. He’s just a badass who makes everyone feel more confident walking onto the field with him.”
DT Jordan Elliott -
“A total freak athletically for his size. I mean a freak in terms of lower hip flexibility and the way he can move and contort his body while maintaining leverage. Gonna be an explosive three-technique on passing downs for sure.”
DT D’Andre Christmas-Giles -
“He gets off the ball. I mean he really gets off the ball - and he’s so explosive and uses his hands so well, I can’t help but see him being really disruptive.”
S Brandon Jones -
“Let’s see where he ends up. But he approaches the game with a maturity that reminds me of a young Earl Thomas.”
A KICKER ….?
I’m hearing Texas is trying to get a graduate transfer kicker into school.
Lots of fingers may need to be crossed to pull this one off.
UT football has gotten exactly one grad transfer into school, and it was a punter from Duke - Alex King.
Texas grad schools make no special exceptions for student-athletes. Football players have to qualify for grad school at Texas under the same admissions requirements as everyone else.
I’m told Texas basketball grad transfer Mariek Isom had an easier time getting into UT, because he was already in grad school at UALR and had different transfer requirements.
QUICK CHECK-IN WITH SHAKA SMART
Shaka Smart spoke to media members Wednesday morning for the annual Big 12 summer men's basketball teleconference.
Smart said the following about his team during the brief session:
What Does Jarrett Allen Bring?
“I think he’ll contribute right away. He already is contributing actually.
"He has been terrific in the workouts and getting to know our guys. He has a great way about him and a great teamship, as we say.
"He’ll add great length, size and athleticism. He runs the floor as well as anybody and is an unselfish player.
"I think he’s somebody that we can play through him by getting him the ball in different spots on the floor. And because of his unselfishness, he’s going to try to make the right play.
"Defensively, he’s someone who can help us with shot blocking and rebounding standpoint. I think he is going to be a very good pick and roll defender in time; he just needs reps and experience there.
"All in all, he’s a guy we are super excited about. It’s a position that we really have a strong need for, so he’s a guy that’s going to make a huge impact right away.”
“We need all four freshmen to make an impact on our program. These are guys that have very lofty aspirations in terms of what they want to do on the basketball court and we’re excited about that.
“There are going to be ups and downs as freshmen. I tell these guys all the time the key to your freshman year is how you respond when things don’t go your way.
“If the first few weeks are any indication, these four guys are highly competitive, they want to learn, they have a very good work ethic and are guys who will certainly be in the mix to make us strong and make an impact.
“How someone is going to respond to game competition and some of the pressure that comes with the regular season always remains to be seen, but I’m optimistic about those guys.”
Advice to Isaiah Taylor
“My advice is that this is just the beginning. This is the beginning of the next chapter in your basketball journey and it’s super exciting.
"There’s going to be twists and turns, and there’s going to be ups and downs. But Isaiah is very, very talented and is very driven. He is going to work. He’s going to surprise some people.
“There is absolutely no reason he should do anything but continue to follow the process that is going to go into his success.”