Spring Primer - Offense

The Houston Cougars football team will begin spring practice on Monday (March 4th), at 4:30pm on the practice fields behind the Athletics/Alumni Center. Coming off of a less than inspiring 5-7 record under second year head coach Tony Levine, the Coogs have many areas of concern heading into their first of 15 practices over the next month,

concluding with the annual Spring Scrimmage to be held at Delmar Stadium on Friday April 12th at 7pm (admission is free for the scrimmage and all practices will be open to the public). This article will concentrate on the offense with the defense to follow tomorrow.

Anytime new assistant coaches are hired, the first order of business should include simple aspects, such as establishing good practice habits. While Doug Meacham was hired as co-offensive coordinator/QB Coach on January the 14th, and has been out on the road recruiting for most of his seven weeks on the job, this will be his first opportunity to actually coach the players on the field. The Arlington native had been the inside receivers/TE coach and passing game coordinator for Oklahoma State for the past eight seasons in leading some of the most prolific offenses in Cowboys history. Coaching alongside offensive guru’s Mike Gundy and Dana Holgorsen (whom brought the ‘Air Raid’ offense to UH from Texas Tech and is now head coach at West Virginia), Meacham also coached alongside Larry Fedora (whom is currently the head coach at North Carolina), who said the following about Meacham, via uhcougars.com, “He's a very innovative coach who understands how to scheme a defense and will generate a lot of excitement with his style of play.  He's always been a fantastic recruiter and he develops great relationships with his players throughout their careers.”

While the cupboard is not bare offensively (as the Coogs return 97.5 percent of its 1,814 rushing yards from 2012, 75.3 percent of its 3,936 passing yards and 89.2 percent of its receiving yards from last season via uhcougars.com), priority number one will most definitely include determining who the starting quarterback should be for the 2013 season. Although there are around 44 practices (including spring and summer) and about six months left in determining who the starter will actually be, there’s no time like the present as the saying goes in paring down the five QBs on the spring roster - junior David Piland, redshirt sophomore Bram Kohlhausen, redshirt freshman Rex Dausin, and walk-ons TJ Menning and Calvin Garrett (whom is the son of Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett). Both Menning and Garrett are listed as redshirt sophomores. Two more QBs will enroll in class during the summer to add to the already hot competition - JC transfer Billy Cosh along with true freshman John O’Korn (whom played at famed St. Thomas Aquinas out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida). With so many players vying for the starters spot, it is imperative that Meacham and his staff get down to business over these next 15 practices in trying in figuring out who will receive the majority of snaps for the final two weeks of summer practice, or the time frame in which the coaches begin game planning for their first opponent of the season. While many fans expect the true freshman, O’Korn, to at least contend for the starting spot, Cosh shouldn’t be overlooked, although he’s coming off of ACL surgery (performed in mid December), the 6-foot-2 220 pounder is the type of pocket QB who strives in the ‘Air Raid’ – he has a strong arm, is a good decision maker and is accurate. In 2008 for Arundel Senior High (in Gambrills, MD), Cosh broke Maryland state records in total yards offensively (4,074), passing yards (3,913), completions (292) and touchdown passes (56) and broke almost every state record for his career in passing 7,433 career yards along with 112 TDs on 599 completions. After transferring from Kansas State and James Madison Universities (due in his own words to coaches misleading him in telling him both offenses would throw the ball much more than they actually would) he led Butler County Junior College (out of El Dorado, Kansas) to an 11-0 record before losing their national championship game to Iowa Western. For the season he passed for over 255 yards per game along with 25 TDs (with the final three games being played on that knee with a torn ACL). One stat that impressed me the most was his 62 percent completion percentage, which along with his over 70 percent completion percentage in high school (for his senior season) shows me he’s a good decision maker and knows how to stand tall in the pocket.

All O’Korn accomplished his senior season in high school was to lead his team to a state championship in the highest classification in the football crazed state of Florida, leading the Raiders to the class 7A state championship. The 6-foot-4 205 pounder throws a great deep ball and can pull the ball down and run as well, averaging over six yards per carry while scoring 15 times on the ground. He also passed for over 2500 yards with 22 TDs through the air.

While the aforementioned Cosh and O’Korn won’t enroll until the summer, the spring battle at QB will commence between Piland, Kohlhausen and Dausin. Piland is the most familiar to Coogfans as well as the most scrutinized with only six wins in 19 career starts over the 2010 and 2012 seasons. The Cougars scored an NCAA division 1 leading average of 49.3 points per game in 2011 (Case Keenum’s final season), but plummeted to ‘only’ 32.4 points per game in 2012 under Piland, good for 38th nationally. Unfortunately whether it’s fair or not, the QB will always receive the brunt of the blame for an unsuccessful season and facts are Piland has been the starter for the only two losing seasons of the past eight. Although Piland has passed for nearly 300 yards per game over his career (293.9 to be exact), his career 57.6 career completion percentage and less than 2-to-1 TD:Int ratio (40 TDs to 26 Ints) is less than stellar for an ‘Air Raid’ QB. It will be up to Meacham in helping Piland with his mechanics (throwing off his back foot too often), pocket awareness (he often seems to ‘jittery’ in the pocket) and most importantly – his confidence.

As for Kohlhausen and Dausin, they are the two wildcards in the mix. Kohlhausen came out of Houston’s Lamar high school as the 43rd ranked ‘pro style’ QB in the nation during the 2011 recruiting class. The three star recruit redshirted his true freshman season and played in only three games last season, completing less than half his passes (4 out of 9 for 31 yards). Hopefully he will be managed better than last season when he quickly entered, and just as quickly exited a game versus SMU after throwing two second half pick-sixes in his only appearance of the game. It was rumored he played much of last season with an injured shoulder which should explain his inconsistency last season. He excelled last spring as Levine mentioned several times that while senior Crawford Jones had the experience edge in the battle for the backup spot, Kohlhausen had a much stronger arm. Dausin redshirted last season, his true freshman season and since practices were closed last season little is known about the San Antonio (Earl Warren HS) native. The 6-foot-2, 195 pounder was rated a two star prospect and is said to have a big arm capable of deep passes but gambles a bit on passes down the middle, via Scout.com’s recruiting section.

One of the factors that will either help or hurt a QB is how effective his wide receivers are, and while the Cougars receivers showed flashes of brilliance, there were far too many inconsistencies such as dropped passes or routes that were either run wrong or weren’t timed right. Getting these fundamentals back on track will be up to second year coaches Brandon Middleton (outside receivers) and Jamie Christian (inside receivers/ special teams). Besides offensive line, wide receiver is probably the position that returns as much experience as any unit on the team, including Dewayne Peace (Sr), Deontay Greenberry (So) and Xavier Maxwell (Sr) at the outside receiver spots (X and Z) with Daniel Spencer (Jr) , Larry McDuffy (So) and Shane Ros (Sr) playing the inside slot positions (H and Y). Peace led the team in both receptions (54) and yards (603) in only 9 games. Greenberry, the five star true freshman out of Fresno, California made a nice accounting of himself as he second amongst the receivers in receptions (47), and TDs (3) and third in yards (569). Spencer was second in yards with 584 as nobody else accounted for more than McDuffey’s 382 (in 9 games) as injuries also played a large roll in the inconsistencies of the receiver core as a whole. Ros, along with the aforementioned McDuffey and true freshman Andrew Rodriquez (before he was injured in his only game of the season) all showed flashes of brilliance from the slot. Mark Roberts (Jr) and Xavier Maxwell (Sr) also showed glimpses of their breakaway speed as Maxwell averaged over 18 yards per reception on only 10 catches on the season. Aaron Johnson didn’t play last season due to injuries but had a nice spring in 2012 as his athleticism adds to an already abundance of talent at receiver. Devin Parks is a redshirt freshman to look out for this spring as he’s yet another burner from the slot as well.

A QB’s best friend can be said to be an effective running game, something the offense sorely lacked last season, even though they averaged a yard more in 2012 than in 2011 (150 to 149). The 2011 offense was particularly more effective in the red zone, rushing for 33 TDs to only 18 last season. After the second leading rusher in school history graduated (Bryce “Brick” Beall) along with fellow bruiser Michael Hayes, the burden of the running game fell on the sturdy shoulders of Charles Sims. In his third season, the redshirt junior added almost 30 pounds in muscle from his freshman season (from 185 to his current 213), hoping the added muscle would help him hold up over the course of the season as he became more of a between the tackles runner under last season’s offensive coordinator, Travis Bush (who moves back to RB’s this season from his QB coach spot of last season allowing Ken McClintock to move back to his Director of Player Personnel position in which he was originally hired for). Sims rushed for a career best 851 yards last season (for a career total of 2,370) with 11 TDs in 9 games while averaging 6 yards each time he carried the rock. What I’m hoping to see is more of the outside zone stretch play which allows Sims to run more off-tackle, or gives him the option to cut back to the weakside (if the gap is there), while allowing Kenneth Farrow to carry the ball more on 3rd and short opportunities. The 205 redshirt sophomore rushed for almost 500 yards last season and was surprisingly effective receiving out of the backfield. Speaking of receiving out of the backfield, hopefully Meacham will continue to find effective ways to get Sims the ball on the various swing routes while also allowing Sims to motion out of the backfield to a slot receiver position as he has averaged more than a first down each time he’s caught the ball out of the backfield and has a career total of over 1,700 receiving yards. The third cog in the Cougars rushing game last season was true freshman Ryan Jackson. The diminutive (5-foot-10, 175 pound) Jackson excelled as the season progressed after struggling to begin his career, especially in terms of holding onto the ball. In the season finale against Tulane he rushed for 136 yards on only 16 carries and added another 45 on 3 receptions (and should have had a 70 yard TD off of a swing route which was brought back by a holding penalty). Redshirt freshman Brandon Wilson (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) is a scat back type who ran for over 1,800 yards his senior season (with 21 TDs) at Calvary Baptist Academy out of Shreveport, Louisiana while adding over 500 more receiving (with 8 more scores). Walk-ons Randall Hollimon, Brandon Ellison and Justin Hicks fill out the roster at the running back position. Hollimon has played effectively on special teams throughout his career.

The last key in helping to assure a confident (and more importantly) healthy QB is an effective offensive line. Last season’s O-line coach, Lee Hays, left to work for new Texas Tech head man Kliff Kingsbury leaving Levine to hire Glen Elarbee out of Middle Tennessee State. Elarbee played in 35 games at his alma mater, starting the final 23 over his final two seasons (he graduated in 2002). Among his various coaching stops he was a graduate assistant for two seasons at Oklahoma State (in 2008 and 09) after coaching on LSU’s 07 national championship squad. Hays, in my opinion, made many peculiar moves upon being hired last season, such as using less of the zone blocking scheme that had been effective the previous few seasons while using more man blocking, which led to breakdowns especially in the red zone offense. Another questionable move was moving Jacolby Ashworth from left tackle (where he had started 28 games over three seasons) to right guard. The saving grace of this move was that the student-athlete who started all 12 games at left tackle last season, Rowdy Harper, is back for his redshirt junior season with two full seasons of starting under his belt (as he started all 14 games in 2011 at right tackle) and is listed at 6-foot-6, 299 pounds. Ty Cloud has established himself at Left Guard starting 26 consecutive games over the past two seasons. The redshirt senior is a whopping 335 pounds. Bryce Redman will probably begin spring as the starting Center as he started the final six games last season to replace injured starter Kevin Forsch, starting 8 total. At 6-foot-1, 285 pounds, Redman would be considered the “runt” of the litter along the line but has shown the leverage needed in order to be an effective center. The redshirt junior has played in 26 games over his career, lining up in many ‘jumbo’ packages as an extra blocking tight end. Forsch will probably end up moving over to the Right Guard spot, taking over for the departed Ashworth. The 6-foot-3, 308 pound senior started all 14 games at right guard during the 2011 season before moving to center last season. Right Tackle will be occupied by second year starter Ralph Oragwu. The 6-foot-3, 318 pound redshirt senior has played in 31 games over the course of his career, starting 10 at right tackle.

Spring is also a nice time to vet out the depth chart in regards to future seasons which applies along the line as Cloud, Forsch and Oragwu are all entering their final season of eligibility. Backups who may see a lot of playing time this spring include; DeAnthony Sims (6’3, 322), Josh McNeil (6’5, 318), Emeka Okafor (6’5, 330) and Austin Lunsford (6’1, 285) – all of whom have played extensively in reserve roles in the past, with Sims starting two games at right tackle last season after moving over from the defensive line in 2011. McNeil has seen action at both guard spots in 31 games over two seasons after transferring from Blinn JC while Okafor almost won the right guard spot last season over Oragwu before it was determined to move Ashworth over from left tackle before summer practices began. Lunsford has played 26 games over his three seasons as the redshirt junior has played mainly on the various special teams units. Of the aforementioned group only Sims and McNeil are entering their final seasons of eligibility. Three redshirt freshman to keep an eye on are Jacob Abels (6’5, 311), Blake Herman (6’7, 293) and Mac Long (6’3, 282).

Alex Cooper is rumored to be moving to tight end after moving to the O-line last season (his redshirt freshman season) after starting his career along the d-line in 2011. The athletic 6-foot-4, 280 pounder played some TE at Second Baptist in Bellaire. Two incoming freshman that could really provide some excitement at this position are Deondre Skinner and Chauntez Jackson. Unfortunately neither will be enrolled until the summer. Skinner (out of Inglewood, Calif.) was ranked as the 19th best prospect at TE by Scout with Jackson (Patterson, La.) the 37th. Skinner decommitted from Arkansas with Skinner doing the same to Tennessee once Meacham was hired. Both true freshmen are big - 6-foot-3 235 pounds and 6-foot-4, 235 respectively, and athletic enough to cause major mismatch problems as a TE that’s connected to the line or spread out in the slot. Meacham was quoted at National Signing Day as saying that he liked attaching a TE to the line in order to create an extra gap in the running game in which the defense had to account for.

In conclusion, the spring roster looks great on paper (but last season’s did as well). The proof will be in the pudding (or the record at the end of the season). All the talent and depth in the world won’t accomplish a thing, win wise, unless these student-athletes get ‘coached up’ and spring ball is where this process begins.