Q: With all the injuries to our tight ends and the failure of others to adequately develop in the spring, how reasonable is it to expect any now to develop into weapons of any significance this fall?
Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis probably asks that same question. Prior to spring practice, Davis said, "I would say it (tight end) is as big of a concern we have offensively. I am concerned about it." Davis added, "I don't know if we'll be able to find a complete tight end, the Jermichael Finley, the Bo Scaife, the David Thomas."
The converted wide receiver D.J. Grant out of Austin L.B.J. really started to show that he can be a special pass catching tight end for the Longhorns at the first half of spring ball before he injured his ankle. Obviously since he came to campus as a wide receiver, he has the ability to make a difference in the passing game and by stretching the field vertically. His injury, although initially feared to be a broken bone, was not severe and he is not expected to miss any voluntary workouts this summer, so I expect that Grant can certainly play a factor this season.
By the end of spring, Davis seemed to develop a level of comfort with Grant. He said, "It's a shame that D.J. Grant got hurt early in spring because he was doing some really good things. He kind of brought to that position what we've been use to, a guy who can stretch the field and not have to substitute and play four wide receivers as much."
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the tight end position is the comfort level with senior quarterback Colt McCoy. Grant will have to work hard in the summer to develop the kind of trust with McCoy that you could find, for example, in David Thomas and Vince Young's relationship.
Injured junior tight end Blaine Irby has shown flashes of the ability to be a weapon for the ‘Horns in his first two seasons, but his impact on the 2009 season is still in doubt with his rehabilitation.
Other than those two, my expectations are pretty low from an offensive weapon perspective. Clearly, a setback or another injury to either of those guys would greatly diminish the tight end role in the offense unless Dominique Jones (may get a look at TE), Barrett Matthews, or Trey Graham are ready to contribute big minutes as true freshmen, and I just don't see that happening.
Q: Do you expect us to try and run out of the I formation even if it yields no results or just go back to what works with the spread?
Early in the season, I do expect the I formation to get a fair number of opportunities irrespective of results as it was a clear area of emphasis throughout spring ball. Additionally, it seems as though the coaches have developed a level of comfort with Antwan Cobb at fullback, so the power running game is going to get some looks. Ryan Roberson's move to fullback also indicates that the staff wants to ensure a viable fullback option is on the roster. It is also important that the franchise, Colt McCoy, is protected and the I formation (and any under center running formation) gives Colt a few less snaps to take shots from defenders.
It is human nature to return to things that have worked before, so later in the year or in a close ball game late, I think the I formation gives way to the spread.
Q: Which two freshman not yet on campus do you expect to get significant time on offense and defense?
On offense, the two freshman have to be Garrett Gilbert and Barrett Matthews. In my opinion, Gilbert will be the back-up quarterback this season. It will be interesting to see how much time he does get as Texas should post some big numbers on opponents but McCoy is a Heisman candidate so his numbers are important.
Barrett Matthews could be factor in special teams play from the day one, and as mentioned above, with the uncertainty at tight end, he has an opportunity to play. Matthews is a versatile player where he can contribute as an H-back too, so his options, coupled with his ability, provide for the most likely option to get significant playing time. His ability to block is very advanced coupled with his aggressiveness.
I do not think either offensive linemen will be ready to contribute and I think the rotations at receiver and running back are too deep for Timmons and Whaley to get significant playing time. Whaley will get a look if he is in shape.
At the end of spring practice defensive coordinator Will Muschamp may have said it best, "We need to get better up front, that's the bottom line. We need to have more effective rushers other than Sergio (Kindle), and we need to get better inside up front. We've got to continue to build depth, which is going to have to be with some freshmen next fall so they need to get ready."
Of those three, Derek Johnson will likely have the biggest obstacles to overcome since he played stand-up defensive end at a small Arkansas school, so his transition to big-time college football may take the longest. Therefore, Mims and Howell are your answer.
Q: Who is your breakout player on offense, defense, and special teams?
On offense, Malcolm Williams will be the breakout player. Williams had a very good spring that built off the potential shown in his four catch, 182 yard, and two touchdown performance at Texas Tech. If there is one thing that might limit Williams next season is his propensity to drop some catchable balls.
Davis commenting at the end of spring, "Malcolm Williams brings that (vertical) threat. We saw spurts of it last year. He's a big guy, got great speed and he's been more consistent this spring catching the ball. Because we play a lot of man-to-man, we've gotten a lot of work on different things against tight coverage. So I've been encouraged by him. Malcolm is a tremendous worker. He really studies the game. He just needs to be consistent in catching the ball."
Defensively, now that Aaron Williams is starting, he is likely to be the breakout player. Williams has the ball skills to go with the coverage skills that Texas desperately needs at the corner position. For a more off-the-radar guy, defensive end Sam Acho has a chance to breakout. He will get virtually no attention from offenses with Sergio Kindle on the other side and he has shown flashes in his first two seasons to really get after the quarterback.
On special teams, either Williams could be the guy returning kicks that breaks out. Perhaps it is Justin Tucker's left footed-rugby style punt?