The Mack Brown era is over in Austin. Fare thee well Mack. You've been a lot of fun. Welcome Charlie Strong, maybe the polar opposite personality wise from good old Mack. Charlie gets the keys to the kingdom, for better or worse. How should the rebuild go in Austin? Let's sit up straight and find out.
Questions that need answering...
Is David Ash an option or not?
One of the more difficult questions entering the 2014 season is whether David Ash is able to continue his career given his concussion history plus his other nagging injuries. Ash missed all but three games in 2013 due to a concussion and he missed spring ball with a fractured foot.
When healthy, he gave the Longhorns the best chance of winning. When he's not the Longhorns had to trot out Case McCoy and his try hardness. The Horns' offense has vast potential, but it all hinges on a capable trigger-man.
Let's just say that Ash can't recover from the injury bug - what are the options? How about Tyrone Swopes. Swopes was a 4-star recruit out of high school and now enters his sophomore season with a fair amount on his shoulders. Results thus far have been, well, fairly awful. But he's real talented.
For that matter, so is true freshman Jerrod Heard. Heard is fresh off two state titles with Denton Guyer and he brings 4-stars as well. Strong hasn't been afraid to play a true freshman at quarterback. Now that true freshman was Teddy Bridgewater, but hey, he's done it before.
If Strong had his choice, I'm sure he would throw Ash out there, a proven commodity. If he's unable to go, then Strong's choices get way more interesting. Either way expect one of the backups to see significant action. Perhaps both. They'll benefit from three allegedly blue chip running backs. Strong preaches toughness and perhaps he'll be able to peel some toughness out of the backfield. That may be the best dose of medicine for Ash and the rest of the quarterbacks.
Will the offensive line be addition by subtraction?
We tipped UT's offensive line as the best in the Round-Up last season. We were wrong. We feel shame. Now only center Dominic Espinosa returns. There are a ton of stars associated with the replacements, now it's time for those guys to start to mesh and more importantly move people.
Start here, Offensive Line coach Joe Wickline has worked wonders before with his groups at Oklahoma State. He arrives with a great pedigree and breath of different air at least. Highly regarded as one of the best in the country it all comes down to talent. If the Horns have it great. He'll work wonders. If they don't, well then, maybe the last guy wasn't so bad.
Kennedy Estelle looks like a million bucks getting off the bus at 6-7 290 pounds. He'll get first shot at right tackle. The physical tools are there, it's just a matter of executing on Saturdays. Pencil that comment in down the line here. It'll save the Bud some typing. Desmond Harrison and Kent Perkins are fighting it out for the left tackle spot. Again, both are talented in theory. Harrison clocks in at 6-8 and holds the initial edge but right now it's a pick'em.
Sedrick Flowers has starting experience at one guard. Well, he has one start in his career, but hey, that's more than the rest of the options. Rammi Hammad and Darius James, both redshirt freshmen, are locked in a battle at the other guard position. Both are 4-star maulers who may just need a chance to get on the field.
Last year's offensive line underachieved given their pedigree. Perhaps the answer this season will be a little more convincing if all the new blood, including Wickline, can come together quickly.
Is Charlie up to it?
It's been a bumpy start for Charlie Strong. Apparently the biggest criticism most folks have is that he's not Mack, lacking media savvy. Fair enough. The problem with that line of thinking is that Texas, as a football program, is like most places, winning cures all. The Longhorn Network won't be an issue, neither will Strong's ability to give speeches to high school coaches if he can win. More importantly beat the Baylor's and Oklahoma's of the world.
Replacing a legend may be the hardest thing to do in sports. Just ask Fred Akers how life was after he took over for Darrell Royal. They named the stadium after Royal, Fred's name doesn't grace any buildings on the 40 acres. Make no mistake, Brown is a legend now at UT, he restored the order that had been pissed away by McWiliams and Mackovic. He brought hardware home including a title. Strong takes the reigns and he'll do well to guide the program from Mack's immense shadow.
My mother hates UT. She loves her some Mack Brown though. He worked the media and the living rooms like no one else this side of Steve Spurrier. He leaves behind the flagship program of a state with a network that demands content. Charlie Strong steps in with less polish. None of that will matter if he does the one thing that matters most: win.
Nick Saban isn't exactly the most media friendly guy at Alabama, that's the neighborhood UT is playing in. What he does, using the vast resources at his disposal, is win. Strong may lack media chops, but his track record on the field seems to speak volumes. He's made changes to the culture at UT already. The country club atmosphere, real or conjured, has been eliminated.
He's got to do a bit of Bear hunting first and foremost, but never forget, UT generates more revenue than any college football program by a long shot. Strong will get whatever he wants/needs to turn this around. If you're betting on where we'll be in five years, ALWAYS bet on resources and tradition. For every time Northwestern won the Big 10 or Wake Forest challenged in the ACC there have been three times as many titles by a Michigan, Ohio State, or Florida State. Texas will figure it out with Strong or the next guy. It might not be a bad idea to bet on Strong. He's proven folks wrong that don't bet on him more than a few times.
Who's that guy?
Hassan Ridgeway So. DT 6-4 309 Mansfield
The strength of the Longhorns defense could very well be up front, Malcolm Brown and Desmond Jackson join Cedric Reed to form a formidable front. Ridgeway will be in that rotation and will make an impact, probably in the opponents backfield. UT's defense may be an elite unit in 2014. starters return at all three levels and the Horns have quality depth as well.
Recruited as a defensive end, Ridgeway can move and create space, but he's also eaten his way inside or more likely just filled out his frame. The best part of Ridgeway's development may be Brown and Jackson playing in front of him. Those two give him the chance to develop his game to fit the rigors of inside tackle play.
The physical tools are there, the craft and nuance are not. If or when he figures those out, he may be the best of a very good bunch of defensive tackles.
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