Texas needs more players to step up

AUSTIN, Texas -- Among the many new things Mack Brown has implemented at Texas this season is his method for criticism.

Now it is all about the silent treatment. During the Sunday film breakdown, rather than single out players for their mistakes, Brown and the staff are recognizing those players who played well. The theory is that players who don't get recognized ought to figure out why not and work hard to turn it around, or their starting jobs might be in jeopardy.

Brown carried the same philosophy into his midseason assessment of his players. On defense he singled out 10 players -- Alex Okafor, Kheeston Randall, Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho, Carrington Byndom, Quandre Diggs, Blake Gideon, Kenny Vaccaro, Adrian Phillips and Christian Scott.

"Those guys are making a lot of plays for us," Brown said.

Noticeably absent from the list are: Jackson Jeffcoat, who has started every game, and Jordan Hicks. Ashton Dorsey and Calvin Howell, two defensive tackles, who have shared the spot next to Randall, also didn't make the list. Dorsey has had a hip flexor issue. Howell has played well in spots, but not consistently.

On the offensive side of the ball, Brown praised all of his running backs, David Snow and Mason Walters on the line, as well as wide receivers Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis.

That left both quarterbacks, a center, two tackles and the rest of the wide receivers who have some things to figure out.

So when Brown makes the claim that there is a lot of room for improvement, it is easy to see from whom he expects that improvement to come.

First take the defense and Jeffcoat.

The sophomore defensive end was supposed to thrive this season in defensive coordinator Manny Diaz's new attacking defense. His freshman year was solid, especially considering he played with a high ankle sprain sustained in the Nebraska game.

So far this season, Jeffcoat has just four tackles for loss, three pressures, one pass breakup and no sacks. One of the reasons for the lack of pressure by Jeffcoat is that he is not able to utilize his speed on the outside.

Small for a defensive end, he looks more like a linebacker out there, even though he is listed at 6-foot--5 and 250 pounds. When you are that size, speed has to come into play. Jeffcoat is being pushed wide by the offense. He does not do well shooting a gap. And he has played against quarterbacks who are effective at quickly getting rid of the ball.

All those factors contribute to a defensive end who is not getting the production the teams feels he needs.

Hicks is another story. When 100 percent, he is the best athlete among Texas' front seven. So his issue is not about how he plays, it is about when he plays. Most of the offenses Texas has faced are pass first, run second. That has forced Texas to play nickel and dime for much of the game. Hicks is not in on those sets. That factors into Hicks having just 10 tackles in that last three games after having 11 tackles in the BYU game.

Unfortunately for Texas, the spread offenses are not going away. In fact, one of the most potent, Texas Tech's, is headed to Austin in two weeks. Diaz will be charged with figuring out how to get Hicks more involved in stopping Seth Doege, the inside screen passes and the Red Raiders.

On the offensive side of the ball, there is more room for growth. There are also a couple of things happening up front that could help further the production in the run game and at quarterback.

The first player to watch is tight end Barrett Matthews. The play at tight end has been extremely sporadic. One week, D.J. Grant catches three touchdowns. The next week the tight ends are shut out.

But it is more than just receptions with these players. One of the keys to co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin's scheme is the blocking ability of the tight end. Matthews, who had a knee injury and missed some crucial practices, could be that player.

"He's catching the ball well. He's a good blocker," Brown said." So hopefully in an offense that needs dominant tight ends, he will be able to step up and continue to play for the rest of the year like he did [against Oklahoma State]."

The other spot is at tackle. Clearly Texas is not too thrilled about the play of Hopkins and Allen, as Brown left both players off his praise list. Enter true freshman Josh Cochran.

Cochran had his first start against Oklahoma State, and helped Malcolm Brown rush for a career-high 135 yards.

"There were a few mistakes that you would figure with a freshman," Mack Brown said. "But Josh has played a lot more than we anticipated coming in. He even had a sore shoulder in the spring at his high school and we didn't know whether he'd be able to come through and play or not. He's done a really good job. So hopefully he'll be much better this week."

As for the quarterbacks, the only thing that will make either Ash or McCoy better is experience. Growing pains are a huge part of that position. What Brown wants is for those players around them to pick up the slack and help out the young signal-callers.

Despite the negatives, Brown is confident those players who are not holding their weight will not cave, as some did on last season's team.

"You go back and look at last year and I thought we came back from Nebraska thinking we were better than we were," he said. "This team right now isn't giving itself credit for anything.

"I think this team understands we have to fight for everything we get, and that is what a 5-7 season does to you. It gets you back down to earth. It will humble you really quickly at Texas. This bunch isn't taking anything for granted."

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation

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