The Key Questions Left From Spring Football

Will Harris be the back-up QB? (W.Gallagher/IT)

Who is Texas' backup QB, and how early-and-often should he play? Does a change at QB necessitate a change in scheme? Can RB Jamaal Charles handle up to 30 carries per game? Can Texas be two-deep in its young secondary? These are the primary unanswered questions lingering from spring football, said Longhorn coach Mack Brown.

Given the team's two-game tailspin following QB Colt McCoy's injury at Kansas State, given the variations in how Longhorn coaches have tried to manage dueling QBs during Brown's 10-year tenure and given the prominence of the position, one could argue that establishing a backup remains Texas' most impressing unsolved problem heading into August camp.

"It's Colt's team from a quarterback's position," Brown said during the annual Big 12 Spring Football Teleconfierence. "What you're doing is trying to figure out what offense fits him the best. What we had this spring, which is good and bad, is we have a guy that we know is our starter. He's proven to be really good. He's won on the road. He's won on the highest level. But he got hurt, so he's working really hard to get stronger and to be a better runner than he was last year. The question mark, now, is who is the backup? How do you separate those guys? Can you run the same type offense with the starter and the backup? And how much do you play the backup so we're not in a position where if Colt needs to come out, for whatever reason, the other guy won't be ready to play?"

Although Texas' offensive strength is expected to be its passing game -- the Horns return their top seven receivers -- coaches still want McCoy to be more of a running threat in 2007. Meanwhile, the rhetoric from spring football is that RS-freshman Sherrod Harris and true freshman John Chiles can run the Zone Read like they invented it, but that their passing skills require considerable polishing before each becomes a complete package. As expected, the (relatively) more experienced Harris opened with the second-team offense during the annual Orange-White Scrimmage on March 30. He would contribute the biggest play of the afternoon with a 75-yard TD run off the Zone Read. His quick-strike immediately followed Chiles' 25-yard razzle-dazzle TD run in which the early enrollee juked three defenders inside the 10. Add to the mix Gilmer QB G.J. Kinne, a two-time Texas 3A Offensive Player of the Year whose 11,695 yards ranks No. 3 and 130 TD passes ranks No. 2 in Texas high school football history. Kinne is expected to arrive in June.

"The old adage is if you have two (QBs) who are playing then you don't have a starter," Brown continued. "That's a difficult thing if they're getting equal snaps. You've got two backup quarterbacks, and you need somebody to step up because that position touches the ball every time…We do feel like it's critical for us during two-a-days to separate the young ones and to make sure they're doing things that Colt is doing with our offense and trying to get some of them in the game."

The Horns replace three starters from a secondary that was part of the statistically worst pass defense in school history. There is little question that the unit can only get better after yielding 236.2 passing ypg in 2006; the biggest question is whether Texas can be two-deep in its defensive backfield.

"The secondary has some experienced guys that have played a lot," Brown noted. "I think they're ready to step up and play really well. We've got some really talented young guys that are going to challenge (upperclassmen). What we're looking for is, for the first time since we've been here, possibly playing two-deep in the secondary. We've never done that to get more guys on the field and letting them grow up and figure out who plays the best out of that group in the non-conference season. We've played five during the past five years (Michael Huff, Michael Griffin, Cedric Griffin, Aaron Ross, Tarell Brown), and they're all going to be in the NFL. That's gotten us into some trouble with lack of experience. Duane Akina has done a great job of coaching our secondary, but his challenge right now is he has some inexperienced guys who are very talented, some experienced guys who have been around but haven't played as much and trying to figure out how to get the best five, six or eight on the field."

The starting DBs during the Orange-White Scrimmage were SS Marcus Griffin, FS Erick Jackson, RCB Ryan Palmer and LCB Brandon Foster. As the sole returning starter, Griffin will surely trot out onto the field with the Ones during Texas' home-opener against Arkansas State, but keep an erasure handy for the other three spots. CBs Deon Beasley and Chykie Brown have the raw talent to work their way into the starting rotation before season's end while up-and-coming FS Robert Joseph will certainly be listed on the initial two-deep chart.

For now, the most intriguing addition to the secondary is the return of journeyman Drew Kelson. The senior has spent the past two seasons at SLB and devoted the spring toward re-acclimating himself to the position that many considered him born to play. Kelson was considered a prototypical SS when signed out of Houston Lamar, but then worked exclusively at FS during the final two weeks of spring ball.

"It was a slower process for Drew than he thought it would be," Brown admitted. "He was heavier as a linebacker before he moved to safety. He really hasn't played back there very much. He played a little bit when he first got here. We moved him to tailback and then he played linebacker a couple of years. So, he's really moving back. He's like a rookie who's moved back there and he's learning again. He's so smart and he's so nice. He's one of those guys who has a lot of experience but who hasn't played a lot, like Brandon Foster or Erick Jackson. Marcus Griffin is the only guy who's played much in the secondary, so it will be interesting to watch the chemistry between the older and the younger."

Coaches are also interested to see if RB Jamaal Charles can remain injury-free for an entire season. The junior-to-be gave up indoor track to focus entirely on spring football. And even though Charles is now participating in outdoor track, he is expected to be The Man in what coaches hope is a rejuvenated running game.

"He's been tweaked by minor injuries throughout his first two years, whether it's a sprained ankle or a sore shoulder," Brown noted. "He hasn't been able to play each week, but we'd like for him to touch the ball 25-to-30 times a game, or 20-to-25 minimum. We'd like to have that in our backfield and, at the same time, you'd like to have 75 plays where another tailback or two could step up and have a lot of plays as well. Like your quarterback position, if Jamaal cannot play for some reason, you'd like to have an experienced guy in there."

Coaches have also said establishing a reliable backup RB remains a priority heading into the fall.

"Chris Ogbonnaya has the experience. James Henry and Vondrell McGee are coming on. This spring, Fozzy (Foswhitt Whitaker) did a good job for us as well."

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