Inside Texas Blog: Kickin' It

Is it triple duty in kicking game for Greg Johnson, or is Hunter Lawrence ready to step up on kickoffs or field goals? Plus, who's coverin', blockin' and returnin' it on special teams? IT's Clendon Ross reports.

IT's Ross Lucksinger reported after Saturday's scrimmage that Jamaal Charles worked in a surprising spot in the punt game. Not as a returner, but as a potential punt blocker.

Off the snap, the speedy running back knifed past his blocker and would have easily blocked the punt, but pulled up and let ball sail away to give Aaron Ross some reps returning the ball. Is this a position we'll see Charles at in the regular season?

"Duane (Akina) is the best in the country at blocking kicks and he just takes whoever he wants," said Brown. "He just gets a free hand."

The scrimmage also revealed what to expect in the kick game and in the return game, as well as the kick return and coverage units.

Greg Johnson is the definite starter at punter, backed by Trevor Gerland while Johnson and Hunter Lawrence continue to battle for both the kickoff and field goal kicking jobs. Mack Brown has said that he does not want Johnson in all three roles, so either the kickoff or the field goal job is likely to end up in true freshman Lawrence's hands, er, on his right foot. Lawrence line drived the opening kickoff for a touchback, but it was line drive of a 37-yard field goal attempt later in the scrimmage that a leaping Brian Robison swatted away that has to give the coaches a bit of pause inserting Lawrence into the potentially crucial field goal//PAT role. (Two field goals were also blocked in Wednesday's scrimmage, but Mack Brown did not reveal who kicked them.) Lawrence booted his other kickoff attempt Saturday to the goalline and connected on another 37-yard field goal and two PATs, but if he's indeed having a consistent problem with trajectory on field goals, kickoff duties seem more likely come the opener.

No real surprises in the return game. Tarell Brown and Selvin Young are the top kickoff return pair, backed by Aaron Ross and Quan Cosby while Ross is the top punt returner, backed by Young and possibly Cosby.

The first coverage team Saturday consisted of Ryan Palmer, Matt Melton, Marcus Griffin, Roddrick Muckelroy, Ishie Oduegwu, Marcus Myers, Jared Norton, Erick Jackson, Tyrell Gatewood and Nate Jones, while the first kick return team consisted of a front line of Tyrell Gatewood, Erick Jackson, Matt Melton, Robert Killebrew and Drew Kelson, plus Rashad Bobino and Brian Orakpo and then Henry Melton and Marcus Myers deep.

What do you think?

OL Combinations
Clendon Ross - Aug 23, 2006

Last Saturday's DKR scrimmage gave Longhorn fans a final look at the team before the season opener vs. North Texas, but it also gave the coaches the chance to audition several players for prominent back-up roles, and on the offensive line, for the start. That battle for the final starting spot on the line, which appears to still be undecided, is between Cedric Dockery and Adam Ulatoski.

Last week, we reported that, if the season started that day, Mack Brown and Mac McWhorter would give the starting nod to Ulatoski at right tackle, meaning Justin Blalock would slide to right guard and start in front of Dockery. But Saturday, the coaches worked Blalock at RT and Dockery at RG on the first offense's opening two possessions, both of which resulted in touchdowns. For three series later in the scrimmage, Blalock shifted to RG, giving Ulatoski work at RT along with the remainder of the first OL (LT Tony Hills, LG Kasey Studdard, C Lyle Sendlein), but with less success than those two early TD drives.

The switch on the right side of the line wasn't the only difference in the line-up: Colt McCoy, who emerged from the scrimmage as the obvious front-runner for the starting QB job, had the reins on those scoring drives, while Jevan Snead was under center for the other three (two three-and-outs, plus a two-play drive stopped by a Robert Joseph INT).

Ulatoski also worked two series at LT with J'Marcus Webb manning the right side tackle spot. And Dockery spent a couple of series at RG with the back-ups as well.

So, despite the pronouncements last week, it appears that the starter at right tackle on Sept. 2 is still not set. Blalock is capable of starting at right guard (the spot that most project him to play at the next level) or at right tackle. Because Blalock provides flexibility, the coaches would like to see at least a three-man championship-level rotation on the right side (similar to last season, with Blalock, Will Allen and Mike Garcia) with proven G/T Blalock plus two among Gs Dockery, Charlie Tanner and Chris Hall and/or Ts Ulatoski and Webb. The left side could use a four-man rotation, with proven T Hills and G Studdard plus one from among Gs Tanner and Hall and one from among Ts Ulatoski, Webb and Brett Valdez.

Webb is a true freshman, Tanner and Hall are redshirt freshmen, Dockery is a redshirt sophomore, while Valdez is a versatile senior. Although Ulatoski is officially listed as a redshirt freshman, this fall will actually be his third season out of high school, just like Dockery. The Southlake Carroll star sat out the fall semester in 2004 while rehabbing a back injury, enrolling at Texas in spring of '05, so he's already been through two springs on the Forty Acres and is in his second two-a-days as well.

Here are the different OL combinations the coaches used Saturday:

LT Tony Hills, LG Kasey Studdard, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Cedric Dockery, RT Justin Blalock (two early touchdown drives)

LT Hills, LG Studdard, C Sendlein, RG Blalock, RT Adam Ulatoski (three series)

LT Ulatoski, LG Charlie Tanner, C Dallas Griffin, RG Chris Hall, RT J'Marcus Webb (two series)

LT Brett Valdez, LG Hall, C Griffin, RG Dockery, RT Webb (two series)

LT Greg Dolan, LG Tanner, C Buck Burnette, RG Steve Moore, RT Webb

LT Dolan, LG Tanner, C Burnette, RG Moore, RT Roy Watts

What do you think?

In Prime Position
Ross Lucksinger - Aug 21, 2006

The Associated Press Top 25 poll came out this past week and Texas sits at No. 3, but that's prime real estate for the Longhorns. The ranking ensures Texas will be heading back to the national title game if they take care of the opponents on their schedule.

No worrying about how the teams above them are doing. No worrying about strength of schedule. No worrying in the first week of December as the final BCS rankings are being tabulated. Don't believe me? Let me 'splain.

College football has had a nasty history of undefeated teams being on the outside looking in, even in the era of the Bowl Championship Series, when this was supposed to have been fixed. In 2004, with its stifling defense, Auburn capped off an amazing 12-0 regular season, going undefeated in the gauntlet that is the SEC. Yet, the Tigers did not earn a trip to the national title game.

The problem for Auburn was it began the 2004 campaign ranked 17th in the AP Poll, while USC and Oklahoma, who did go to the national title game, started 1 and 2, respectively. The 16-13 win in Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech did little to appease the Tiger faithful.

There was another team that went undefeated in '04. The Utes of Utah started 20th, went 12-0, wholuped Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl 35-7 and ended the season No. 4 for their trouble.

Oh, but there are more. In 1999, unranked Marshall went 13-0 but only finished 10th in the final poll. In 1998 Tulane went 12-0, but found themselves sitting 7th when the dust settled. The Green Wave began that season unranked as well.

In the 1997 season Nebraska went 13-0, but finished behind Michigan, who was also undefeated. The Wolverines began the year 14th and the Cornhuskers, well, they were unranked to start the '97 season and, despite not dropping a game, finished in the No. 2 spot with only 18.5 first place votes (one clever writer submitted a ballot giving a half vote to each Nebraska and Michigan).

Perhaps this simply was karma striking back at the Cornhuskers, who finished the 1994 season in the top spot ahead of undefeated Penn State, who could only manage 10.5 first place votes to Nebraska's 51.5 (again with the half vote). Of course, Nebraska started that season ranked 4th while Penn State was 9th. The Nittany Lions started in the top 10, but even that wasn't enough to guarantee success after an undefeated season.

The parade of woulda, shoulda, couldas keeps going. In 1993, Auburn was the only undefeated team in the entire country…yet finished 4th! (The poor Tigers can't catch a break can they?) Florida State, who was ranked No. 1 to begin the season, finished at the top, compared to Auburn which was, surprise, surprise, unranked at the beginning and were only able to crawl up to No. 4.

1990: Colorado finishes with a loss and a tie and Georgia Tech finishes with no losses and a tie, but Colorado is crowned the champion. Why? Preseason. Colorado was 5th. Georgia Tech was unranked.

To find the last time a team began the season unranked and ended up in the Associated Press' top spot, you have to go back the mid-80's, when it happened in consecutive years. The 1984 BYU Cougars and the 1983 Miami Hurricanes both won the AP Title after starting the year unranked. Coincidentally, the '83 'Canes were also the last team to win the national title with a freshman under center. Redshirt freshman Bernie Kosar stepped in and completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 2,328 yards and 15 touchdowns on route to a 11-1 regular season and a 31-30 upset win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, clinching Miami's first national title.

Something that can obviously be gathered from this whole mess is that, right or wrong, preseason polls matter. The pollsters almost universally will not move a team down unless they've been beaten, regardless if there are other no-loss teams behind them. As a result, the No. 3 spot would normally leave Texas in the on-deck circle, waiting for one of the top two teams to lose before they could jump up into contention. But, with one of the teams in front of them on the schedule (No. 1 Ohio State…as if you didn't already know), the Longhorns have nothing to worry about but beating the teams in front of them. No team has begun the season ranked in the top three, won every game and not won the AP title. The closest is the '91 Washington Huskies, who started the year No. 4 and ended up No. 2 behind Miami by a mere three votes. With the Buckeyes on the schedule, Texas won't have that problem.

Many proponents of the current system argue that the BCS is still far superior to the old system, but it really isn't. Now, instead of every team clawing to be standing in the top spot at the end of the season, every team is clawing to be in the top two spots.

That's it. That's all they've done. They've added just one more spot. Fortunately for the Longhorns, they're in prime position to be there at the end.

The Last 57 AP National Champions and Their Preseason Rank (The Associated Press started doing a preseason poll in 1949. Before then, the first poll came out in mid-October)

2005 Texas (2)
04 USC (1)
03 USC (8)
02 Ohio State (13)
01 Miami (2)
00 Oklahoma (19)
1999 Florida State (1)
98 Tennessee (10)
97 Michigan (14)
96 Florida (4)
95 Nebraska (2)
94 Nebraska (4)
93 Florida State (1)
92 Alabama (9)
91 Miami (3)
90 Colorado (5)
89 Miami (4)
88 Notre Dame (13)
87 Miami (10)
86 Penn State (6)
85 Oklahoma (1)
84 BYU (NR)
83 Miami (NR)
82 Penn State (8)
81 Clemson (NR)
80 Georgia (16)
79 Alabama (2)
78 Alabama (1)
77 Notre Dame (3)
76 Pittsburgh (9)
75 Oklahoma (1)
74 Oklahoma (1)
73 Notre Dame (8)
72 USC (8)
71 Nebraska (2)
70 Nebraska (9)
69 Texas (4)
68 Ohio State (11)
67 USC (7)
66 Notre Dame (6)
65 Alabama (5)
64 Alabama (6)
63 Texas (5)
62 USC (NR - note: From 1961-1967, the AP only had a Top 10)
61 Alabama (3)
60 Minnesota (NR)
59 Syracuse (20)
58 LSU (NR)
57 Auburn (15)
56 Oklahoma (1)
55 Oklahoma (2)
54 Ohio State (NR)
53 Maryland (9)
52 Michigan State (1)
51 Tennessee (1)
50 Oklahoma (6)
49 Notre Dame (2)

2006 AP Top 25 (First Place Votes)

1. Ohio State (35) 1,558
2. Notre Dame (10) 1,470
3. Texas (8) 1,411
4. Auburn (3) 1,395
5. West Virginia (6) 1,354
6. USC (3) 1,345
7. Florida 1,178
8. LSU 1,144
9. California 975
10. Oklahoma 960
11. Florida State 949
12. Miami (FL) 893
13. Louisville 844
14. Michigan 824
15. Georgia 743
16. Iowa 720
17. Virginia Tech 614
18. Clemson 479
19. Penn State 386
20. Nebraska 332
21. Oregon 324
22. TCU 257
23. Tennessee 215
24. Arizona State 182
25. Texas Tech 181

Alabama 141, Utah 52, Boston College 41, Georgia Tech 39, Boise State 23, Arkansas 18, Wisconsin 18, South Carolina 15, Tulsa 11, Texas A&M 10, UTEP 4, Brigham Young 4, Purdue 4, Iowa State 3, Northern Illinois 3, OLE MISS 3, Michigan State 2, Arizona 1.

What do you think?

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