More Random Thoughts on the Season so Far

The turnaround the Texas Longhorns have made the last few weeks has been nothing short of remarkable. The team is player faster and stronger, and has the confidence that only comes from knowing what your job is, and that you can get it done.

Most of that credit should go to Greg Robinson. He’s simplified things for the defense, and is putting players where they can succeed. And all the sudden we seem to know how to tackle.

The offense seems to be feeding on this. The o-line has played lights out for the last two games and the rest of the offense is clicking as a result.

This turnaround is also incredibly frustrating. The team we’ve seen the last two games could beat anyone outside the top ten teams in the country easily. They certainly would have been able to beat BYU and Ole Miss by solid margins.

Instead, we were given a team that limped through the first four games with little effort, and less heart. Some of that blame falls on Manny Diaz and his Kabuki theatre defensive schemes, but the ultimate responsibility falls on Mack Brown

He chose to keep Diaz around after fielding the worst defense in Texas’ long history. It was a stick in the eye for the big money donors and the average fans alike.

Mack Brown’s time at Texas is done, and he will be forced to retire after this season, even if he should somehow win out.

Case McCoy is a study in contrasts. He seems to bring heart to the team, but he’s also guilty of partying in San Antonio two nights before a bowl game, and of telling everyone he was leaving the team the year before. That’s not even taking into consideration the reports that he refused to go into the OU game a couple of years ago (a rumor I’ve not been able to verify, but that I feel is likely true).

His passing is also erratic. The first quarter touchdown to Marcus Johnson against TCU was a thing of beauty. Then a bit later (well, a lot later after the weather delay), he hits Mike Davis with a pass off his back foot. If he’d stepped into the throw, it goes for six.

Even later, he makes two incredibly stupid throws that are intercepted, but don’t really hurt us. We got lucky on those.

He’s managed to develop something of a deep ball. Not consistent, but dangerous enough to force defenses to play us honest.

Yet, he’s passes to the flat are absolutely horrible. Did that somehow become the more difficult throw?

This weekend, we play Kansas. They’ve given us trouble in Lawrence, but we get them at home this year. Should be an easy win, even if the bad team shows up.

Then we get West Virginia in Morgantown. If the game is in Austin, it would be easy for us. Still, we should win, although it’ll probably be ugly.

Okie Lite and Texas Tech are both in Austin, and are both probably coin tosses. Don’t really see how we get by Baylor.

So, most likely outcome is two more losses, Baylor and one of either Okie Lite or Tech, giving us an 8-4 record, and a likely return to the Alamo Bowl.

In theory, we could win out and go to a BCS game. More likely is that we lose to Baylor, win the rest, and head to Cotton.

Or, the wheels could come off, and we end up in the toilet bowl. Just don’t know with this team.

Notes from the Austin Longhorn Club – Duane Akina

The Austin Longhorn Club had their pre-Red River Rivalry lunch today. The speaker was originally scheduled to be Major Applewhite, but he had filled in earlier in the year for Manny Diaz. As a result, Duane Akina spoke today.

As usual, opening statements were made by Bill Little. Remember, this should be considered a paraphrasing, not a direct quotation. The talk will be on the Longhorn Network at some point if you’d like to see the real thing.

Here’s what Bill had to say:

The Texas-Oklahoma series goes in streaks. Always has, always will. The streak ends when the other team gets too tired of it.

Givens: The game creates heroes. A game which creates memories. It is a kaledoscope of tastes, sights and sounds.

It doesn’t matter what the coaches, players or fans think, because it’s a game about passion.

And no one on the Texas staff reflects passion more than Duane Akina.

Coach Akina’s opening statement was along these lines:

If you ever have a self esteem problem, just have Bill introduce you to a crowd.

About last week’s game: It was a wonderful challenge for us, a tough challenge.

The build up to the game, the atmosphere was wonderful.

To overcome a homefield advantage like that, to overcome the adversity we faced, really showed the heart of our team. That feeling of exhaustion and elation at the end reminded me of 2005 at Ohio State.

To deal with the new targeting rules, we coach going after the belt of the ball carriers. If you go after the chest, you can easily slid up into the head, and we don’t want to teach our guys to go for the knees.

Oklahoma is one of the great games in college football. With Mack and Stoops, this game has returned to being a national game. There’s just something different about this game and this opponent. We’re excited about getting on the plane and heading up there.

Coach then opened up the floor to questions. As always, if I mangled something in my notes badly, please let me know in the comments.

On defense, there’s such an emphasis on turnovers and stripping the ball. There also seem to be a lot of missed tackles. How do you coach to go after the ball, but also make the tackle?
We coach that you don’t go after the ball unless it’s being held loosely. We teach that you have to swarm the ball. The first player to the ball has to know where his leverages are. A DB has leverage towards the middle of the field. The mike has leverage outside. Bounce the ball that direction.

The first guy wraps up, then the second or third guy might try to strip the ball.

Run defense has not been a strength of this team. What are the causes of that, and what changes have you made?
The BYU game was the worst on this. Since then, we’ve began to gang up the front on the ball better.

We will take an aggressive approach to the game, but individuals need to win their battles. We’re working hard on rush lanes. We don’t want to let the QB off the hook on third down.

Last year, Vacarro never came off the field. Why do you keep pulling Diggs off the field for 4-3 sets?
Quandre went through surgery late in the summer. Conditioning is an issue, but he’s still averaging 70-80 snaps a game. As his conditioning improves, he’ll play more.

We work to rotate everyone in and out of the game. Have to keep players fresh.

With hurry up offense and special teams, some players are in for more than 100 snaps a game. You have to worry about players getting tired late in the game.

Last year, when Vaccaro was in on every defensive play, including nickel, he wasn’t playing special teams.

What advice to you give your players with regards to reading the local sports page?
Many of them are probably like me and just don’t read them.

There’s time when I thought I was doing a good job coaching, but you look at the tape, and you were more lucky than good. You have to trust the tape, not the numbers.

I’m more critical of myself than what anyone else says. I’m not that worried about what someone posts online with a fake name. (Editor’s Note: Nice shot! Wonder who he could be talking about? ;-) )

An NFL announcer who used to play defense in the NFL says that hurry up offense wore him out after 4 or 5 plays. How do you handle that?

Hurry up is changing things. Our conference went to an additional ref to handle it.

If the offense doesn’t substitute, they can play as soon as the ball is placed. A well coached team is running the ball back to the umpire at the line of scrimmage, rather than waiting for the refs to get it there.

Defenses have to get into that mind set. If the offense substitutes, you have to let the defense have time to naturally get on the field.

If you’re hurt as a defensive player, stay down. There’s no benefit to hobbling off the field on your own. You’re going to have to come out of the game anyways.

Talking about your linebackers, with the rearrangement of players, can you talk about their responsibilities?
Greg Robinson has done a good job with them. Manny Diaz is a good friend of mine, and a great coach, but I’ve known Coach Robinson since 1988. He’s very detail oriented and very fundamental.

He’s done a good job cleaning up some keys. You’ll see more improvement over time.

Can you give us a status about how your young guys are improving?
I’m really proud of our young players, and very sad for Sheroid. Iowa State was his best game.

It starts with AP and Carrington. They’re both having great years.

Mykkele is in line with the standards we’ve set. (Editor’s Note: I assume he means the standards of DBU.)

Antwuan Davis has some skills you can’t coach. I can’t teach someone to run like that. Some guys run a 4.3, but play a 4.8. He’s not one of these.

Colbert will be a great player. He’s a track guy like Huff.


I found Couch Akina’s answers to be refreshingly straight forward. Maybe we threw him some softer pitches than went to some of the others, but he didn’t seem to dodge any of them, except perhaps the one about linebacker responsibilities.

I fear DBU may be coming to an end, and Duane Akina will be missed.

Random Thoughts on the Longhorn Season Thus Far

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Four games into the season, Texas has beaten one bad team solidly, lost badly to two mediocre teams, and squeeked out a win against another bad team. What does that make the Texas Longhorns?

It makes them a bad team as well, although one with a bit more heart than I thought before yesterday.

The K State game was badly officiated from top to bottom, but the last few minutes were ridiculous. It really got the crowd fired up, however. I haven’t heard DKR-TMS that loud in a while.

Case McCoy did a reasonable job given his limited skills, but K State’s defense is bad. Even mediocre defenses will load the box to stop the run, and dare McCoy to beat them with his arm. That won’t likely end well.

Greg Robinson has done about as well as could be expected. He can’t put his own defense in during the season, so he’s mostly sat the defense in base and gotten then to play sound, fundamental football. That’s a big improvement over what we were seeing with Manny Diaz, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens against the strong offenses coming our way this season.

I don’t see any way Mack Brown survives this season as head coach. I’ve heard from multiple sources that Mack has been given two choices by Bill Powers:

  1. Retire gracefully after the season’s end.
  2. Be forced out.

It seems to me that Mack is making a play that if he wins out, or wins the conference, or some other metric, he can keep his job. I expect that by the by halftime of the OU game, reality will have settled in.

Of the games that are left, the only likely win is Kansas. Oklahoma, OSU, and Baylor look like sure losses, and TCU is a likely loss. Iowa State, Texas Tech and West Virginia are at best toss ups.

So, 5-7 looks like the most likely record, with a small chance of 6-6 and a real chance of 4-8.

Right now, the only big money donor left in Mack’s corner is Joe Jamail. Maybe yesterday built some additional support for Mack, but it’ll evaporate after the next loss.

The ground work for a coaching search is already happening. When the time comes, the first thing we’ll do is make Saban say no. I expect he’ll stay at Alabama.

The next names I’m hearing include Muschamp, Strong, Shaw. I’d be happy with any of these three, but they’ll all be hard gets.

Beyond these four, there doesn’t seem to be any consensus at this time.

We’ll also be looking for a new athletic director, as DeLoss Dodds is expected to retire when the next round of Bev Kearney news comes out. I’m hearing the names Oliver Luck, Jeremy Foley and Tom Jurich. We’ll likely have a new AD in place before the end of the football season.

Does any of the coaching staff survive the turnover? That depends, of course, on who the new head coach is, but I don’t think we’ll see many of them back next year.

The most likely is Darryl Wyatt. His receivers have shown solid development, both in route running and in blocking.

Duane Akina might be offered a spot as DB coach, but there are lots of signs that he’s ready to move on, no matter what happens.

Major Applewhite has been a disappointment thus far. His play calling has been questionable at several points this season, and sending your banged up starting quarterback on designed runs is inexplicable.

Notes from the Austin Longhorn Club – Darrell Wyatt

The attendance was down a bit at today’s Austin Longhorn Club, but not as much as I had expected given the team’s showing (or lack thereof) the last two weeks. The featured speaker was wide receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator Darrell Wyatt.

Darrell Wyatt

Notable attendees included DeLoss Dodds and Ronnie Brown. I talked to Ronnie briefly afterwards, and he’s really slimmed down since his playing days. He’s working for the Longhorn Foundation now.

After the usual opening festivities (opening prayer, door prizes and the weekly winners of the Neighborhood Longhorns program, we were given a brief talk from one of the compliance officers in the athletic department. I did not catch her name.

She said the big change this year was the addition of new rules regarding Head Coach Control. Apparently, she expects we’ll hear more about this in the coming weeks.

In a nutshell, the head coach is now presumed to be responsible for the actions of all assistant coaches and administrators that report, directly or indirectly, to him or her. In addition, the head coach shall promote an atmosphere of compliance within his/her program and shall monitor the activities of all personnel involved with the program who report, directly or indirectly, to him/her.

In the most egregious cases, a head coach could be suspected for up to an entire season. I, for one, don’t see this happening unless the coach is heading out in any case (i.e. conveniently moves up to the NFL).

Bill Little came up to introduce Coach Wyatt. Before doing so, he let us know that this weekend’s game will include efforts towards cancer awareness. Players will be wearing ribbons that represent a cancer that has touched their lives, and they’ll probably be wearing some pink as well.

Coach Wyatt began with a statement about how excited they are to start conference play against Kansas State game. Clearly, Coach received the talking points that they can still win the conference.

Then, Coach Wyatt showed about five minutes of clips of highlights from the receiving corps. I’m not sure any other position coach could fill that much time with highlights.

Coach then opened up the floor to questions. As always, take this with a grain of salt. It’s not a transcript, although I was typing as fast as I could. The luncheon is supposed to be shown on the Longhorn Network later, so watch it there if you can.

And, if I misstate something too badly, please point it out in the comments.

Will David be able to play? Will we see Tyrone this season?
I cannot comment on injuries. Coach Brown should announce something, maybe today. Tyrone has a strong arm and they’re working to get him ready to play.

(Note: He mentioned Tyrone’s strong arm several times. That may be in comparison to the arm of our quarterback last weekend.)

After what happened to Texas Tech, do you caution the receivers about carrying the ball all the way into the end zone.
Yes, we coach ball security. It’s something we take pride in.

What do you think about the rule that says targeting didn’t occur, but there’s a penalty anyways.
Interesting question. I’m not on the rules committee, but I understand the intent of the rule and am all for protecting the players.

During the Ole Miss game, was there any thought about switching QBs in the second half?
Not during the half time. We had been moving the ball well.

(Note: I don’t know whether he didn’t really hear the question, or didn’t want to say whether they had thought about switching in the second half.)

The Eyes of Texas

We know that you’ve asked the players to be accountable. How do you keep the coaches doing the same thing?
Morale is a big part of this game. Our morale is good in getting ready for Kansas State. Our goal is to win the conference.

We’re excited and looking forward to the challenge.

Are we going to see anything different from Kansas State than what we’ve seen in past years? Can you talk about their starters?
They have a new QB who is more of a drop back passer, but otherwise they should be the same well-coached team.

Our job is to find a way to score points, to limit their scoring of points, and to get an advantage in special teams.

How are we going to stretch the field and loosen up the defense to get our running game going?
We always want to create explosive plays. We’ll take our shots over the top, and we have some playmakers that are great after they catch the ball.

Notes from the Austin Longhorn Club – Major Applewhite

The mood was a bit grim walking into the Frank Erwin Center today, after the embarrassment in Provo. Hook ‘Em worked the crowd, trying to discourage negativity, but he didn’t have a whole lot of success.

The scheduled speaker was originally to be Manny Diaz, but he obviously had to be replaced. While we would have received very interesting answers to our questions from Coach Diaz, they sent Major Applewhite instead.

I anticipated lots of hard questions for Coach Applewhite. Most of the focus since the BYU game has been on the shake-up on the defensive side of the ball, but the reality is that the offense left a lot to be desired as well.

The biggest problem on that side was the offensive line’s inability to block anyone or get any sort of push, and at times to even try to do so. But many of Applewhite’s play calls were definite head scratchers.

In any case, Major’s opening statement was short and sweet. He said that last week wasn’t what anyone wanted, but that they don’t have the luxury of focusing on the past. They have to look forward to this weekend.

He also said that they have to get more continuity on offense. There were a couple of stretches during the BYU game where things worked well, but that they have to do it for the entire game.

The whole statement lasted maybe two minutes. Then he opened the floor to questions.

Unfortunately, he didn’t really open himself up to answers. He dodged and weaved, and answered very little.

Like the lunch two weeks ago, I’m paraphrasing both the questions and the answers. Many of the questions were asked, at least partially, without the benefit of a microphone. And Applewhite’s answers were hard to follow at time.

So, take this all with a grain of salt. It’s not a transcript. The luncheon is supposed to be shown on the Longhorn Network later, so watch it there if you can.

And, if I misstate something too badly, please point it out in the comments.

The first question was regarding Daje Johnson. We had been hearing all week about how the plan was to get him into space. Why did you call a run up the middle?
Daje can do all sorts of things, including getting a yard and a half up the middle. But we have to execute the play.

The next question was about the offensive line not being able to hold their blocks very long.
The deeper you go in down and distance, the more options the defense has. As a result, sometimes the QB needs to get rid of the ball faster. Or just get out of the pocket. Sometimes the line needs to block longer. There’s not just one reason that things fail.

We were running an up tempo offense. We would run up to the line and then look to the sideline for the play. Meanwhile, the defense had time to get set. Why weren’t we snapping faster?
We had a number of communication issues. We’ve got to operate more effectively.

What do you expect from Ole Miss’s defense?
They’re bigger and better at their front seven then they were last year. The back four are also tied together better.

We’ve got to take care of the ball and stay out of third and long.

I’m an old guy, but when we learned to tackle, we were taught to wrap our arms around the guy and keep our legs moving. It just seems like we need to block and tackle better.
It usually is your fundamentals. It’s usually not the scheme.

We hear a lot about the clock in the quarterback’s head after the snap. How do you get them to speed up that clock, or be more cognizant of it?
Just coach them. Teach them to anticipate. Read the coverage pre and post snap.

There were plenty of times early in the game when it worked. But as the game wore on, we had issues with protection, third and long, and timing.

We teach timing, spacing and anticipation throughout.

You’re giving us a lot of individual things that weren’t going correctly. Why were we messing up on all these little things?
When you lose a game, it’s usually a team effort. There’s a lot of different things.

Sometimes it has to do with mental focus and a player’s responsibility to get things done. Sometimes a coach hasn’t gotten a player into the right place. Sometimes you face adversity and you have to fight through it. Sometimes it’s about your mental strength.

Can you talk about WR and TE and their play.
I thought our WR did a great job. There’s always things you want to get better at, but they did a great job. But Coach Wyatt won’t ever be satisfied.

TE did some good things, but weren’t called on as much. Late in the game, we ran some two TE and were able to run the ball.

Do you want to give priority to the run or the pass?
We just want to score points. We want to take whatever the other team gives us. We don’t want to be one-dimensional.

Let’s talk about this weekend’s game, especially quarterback.
David is great at preparation. He’s tough, physically, and getting tougher mentally.

Case is the classic coach’s son. Asks all the right questions. Doesn’t have the physical skills of David.

Tyrone has all the physical skills. He just needs to stay with it.

When do we redshirt someone? How do we make that decision?
We’ve been behind the 8-ball the last few years due to injuries and transfers. If David can’t play, we might have to play a true freshman in Tyrone.

We’d certainly like to redshirt our freshman quarterbacks, but we haven’t had that luxury lately.

Lately, it seems that the teams we’re playing are more ready than we are. It looks like our team is still at the Friday night movie in some games.
We have to have our guys ready to play.

The last couple of years, Malcom Brown has been nursing injuries almost constantly. When are we going to see a healthy Malcolm Brown?
Yes, I think we saw that last week. He was running well, but we were getting behind so we had to throw the ball. Maybe in retrospect, we should have stuck with the slower game.

How does the loss of Daje affect the game?
We had a package of plays for Daje, but we discussed what we would do if we lost him.

Once we lost him, we had to throw some of the plays out, but it’s not like we lost our entire gameplan.

Could you comment on the altitude/oxygen issues?
I didn’t hear anyone comment on that, but I didn’t ask the players. I didn’t see it with any players.

It was a huge effect in Wyoming, but not in this game.

It appeared that the BYU DBs were playing way off our receivers. Why didn’t we play the short pass game more?
We did, but there were times we didn’t execute.

Do you prefer coaching from box or the field?
There’s benefit to both. Being in the box means less distraction. Sometimes on the sideline a player will try to tell you something you already know. Maybe he’ll come up to you and say, “Coach, I can’t block that guy.” And you’re thinking, “Yes, I can see that.”

On the sideline, you can’t see the far side of the field.

The advantage of being on the sideline is being able to communicate with your entire team at one time.
Sometimes, when communicating through another person like another coach, not everything comes across.

I’ve liked each at times, and I’ve not liked each at times.

What about Overstreet?
I don’t really want to talk about individual players. Sometimes we have information that other people don’t have.

Notes from the Austin Longhorn Club – Mack Brown

I attended my first Austin Longhorn Club lunch today. It’s held the Thursday before every Texas Longhorn home game, and features a speaker from the coaching staff. This week, it was Coach Mack Brown.

The event is held at the Erwin Center. On the way in, I asked how many people were expected.

The man at the name tag table hemmed and hawed a bit. He said that it’s usually 250 to 300 people, and usually about 500 when Coach Brown is the speaker.

My guess is that the head count was closer to 300. There were definitely empty tables.

VIPs in attendance included Edith Royal (Coach Royal’s widow), DeLoss Dodds, a couple celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary (I missed the names), David Walters (former UT swimmer and Olympic gold medalist in 2008), and about five other UT letter winners from various sports.

The opening prayer was given by Reverend Holly Hoppe of Hope Presbyterian Church.

Bill Little gave a few remarks before introducing Coach Brown. He said that there will be a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 National Championship team at 6:40pm before Saturday’s game. David McWilliams and Tommy Ford will be taking part in the coin toss. He also mentioned that the GPA for this team is the highest it has ever been.

Mack then took the stage. I was taking notes while he spoke, but it would be best to view everything below as paraphrasing. I believe I got the spirit of each statement correct, but they certainly aren’t quotes. And there were statements that I missed, so they’re not complete.

Mack said that the Spirit Stampede (when the team walks from the buses to the stadium) will happen at 4:45pm, rather than 5:00pm (two hours before game time) as it has in years past.

Next, Mack brought up the team motto for the season, “For The Man On My Right and Left”, which was suggested by team deep snapper and former Green Beret Nate Boyer. Apparently, Nate texted Mack recently to let him know that the man in the middle is important too.

Saturday will be about up tempo offense. When moving quickly, they will snap the ball after 10-15 seconds. The team is in better shape with the up tempo practice.

The two deep on offense and defense will play in the first half. Defense will substitute after a long play, or any time where there’s a short break. Defense staff and team are much better prepared.

Anthony Fera is well, and doing a good job punting and kicking. Mykkele Thompson and Duke Thomas will return the first kickoff. Jacorey Warrick will play, but may be the only freshman to play. It’s a junior/senior team, and the leadership has showed up.

New Mexico has changed everything regarding staff and scheme, so we have no idea what they’re going to do. We’ll have to adjust in the first quarter. Good test for coaches.

Mack then opened the floor up to questions. Remember, I’m paraphrasing.

With Major moving down to the sideline, who will be in the press box?
Oscar Giles and Daryl Wyatt with some of the younger guys.

Having Major on the field will take less time to get the plays in. If he’s not comfortable after a couple of games, he may move back upstairs.

Daryl Wyatt has a great offensive mind and he and Major have a great relationship.

Having Vince and Colt tutoring David Ash over the spring and summer has made a huge difference.

Is the Johnny Manziel story over?
I can’t comment. Don’t know the details. Many things said publicly are not factual. Not trying to avoid the question, but not in a position to answer.

Tell us about new rule changes.
Head to head intentional penalty can cause suspension for that game and the next, without an appeal process.
Coaches aren’t happy. We want the players safe, but its been too inconsistant.

Kickoff has moved back to 40. Should be fewer returns. Halo rule has returned. 15 yard penalty within 1 yard of return man.

When you bring a recruit in, who determines whether he has the “it” factor? Who gives the final thumbs up or down?
We don’t ever give thumbs up. We give the Hook ‘em, Horns. I made that mistake 16 years ago.

A lot of the pro teams miss on draft choices. Recruiting isn’t as simply as it seems.

Mack discussed review process and how it works up the chain. Territory coach to position coach to coordinator. Transcript is reviewed, then if everything has passed, it’s taken to Mack.

Specifically looking for players above a 3.0 helps. Leaders in school and community. Looking for one that wins.

In the end, you don’t know until they get here to play.

Please discuss player development staff.
The staff has improved our recruiting process. Will impact more in future years. Latest class was mostly done when they came on board.

The development staff do nothing but this. The staff is letting him know which players and recruits have major events so Mack can tweet them.

Have some younger staff members working Facebook and Twitter. They’re also good at video.

Greg Robinson is watching during practice to see what his eyes see, but he’s also evaluating film.

How has the harder line about decommitting been received by recruits?
I’d like to continue to preach integrity. Young guys need to learn the truth, and coaches need to speak the truth. We had five recruits back out, which is too many. It forces us to go make other kids change their minds.

If you’re engaged to Texas, I don’t want you dating around.

Can you elaborate on this year’s team motto?
Its from Nate Boyer. He’s a hero and role model for our players. I don’t care about themes, but we tell the players it needs to be thought out.

Nate says that football and military training are similar. It’s tough and rigorous.

It’s a theme that this team needs to play as one.

When I took over, Royal said the team was like a box of BBs spread all over the floor. The last couple of years we’ve been scattered as a team. We’re trying to get everyone together.

Could you talk about the WR and TE in the up tempo offense.
We averaged 69 plays a game last year. Oregon had like 83.

We’ve had a lot of guys at WR injured. It could be a strong point of the team if everyone gets healthy.
Daje is greatly improved. Jaxon had a good practice yesterday and is not sore today.

Jacorey Warrick will play as a freshman. Bryant Jackson is out. Kendall Sanders is out.

Swaim or Daniels will start at TE. Both have had good camps. McFarland is not as good a blocker, but will have a place.

Can you talk about our running game? How many will play the position?

We’re trying to play two deep in the first half.

He’s told the players that everyone is going to get their chance. If you want to play more, play good.
We need to stay fresh. This league is the best offense league in the country.

Can you comment on Desmond Harrison?
6’10” and 310. Great feet. Been in pads twice since last season. Hasn’t played since November. Not in great shape, but he’ll play early.

How’s the defense look?</strong>
I’ve seen ‘em for 29 days, but I don’t know how they’re going to play. We lost two great players on defense, but the rest are back, and they’re tired of the question. Everyone is more mature.

There were a lot of bad defenses in this league last year, but we got the most attention.

I thought they were pretty good last year in camp, but then they stunk. I think we’ll be much better than we were last year in the first six games. I’m going to show them the 4th quarter of Oregon State in the afternoon meeting. That’s who we want to be.

I’ll see you Saturday night!

Sieges at Raby Castle

Raby Castle

One of my favorite castles is Raby Castle in County Durham, England. Raby is a reinforced manor house from the 13th Century. It was the ancestral home of the Neville family, to whom I have relations through my Conyers line.

I’ve been reading a book on the design and technology of castles, and I wondered if Raby had every been under siege. Naturally, the first place I looked was Google.

I found references to a siege at Raby in 1648, but I was unable to find any details on this event. So, I fired off an email to them via their website.

Clare Owen, the curator at Raby Castle, got back to me with the following:

The Castle was actually besieged 5 times during the Civil War – In 1645 on June 29th and 30th, July 1st and August 1st and then as you say in 1648.

In 1648 the Castle was besieged by the Royalists and the Parish Register of Staindrop records that on August 29th a “William Joplin, a soldier slaine at the siege of Raby Castle, was buried in the Church”. A memo from the time states “Many soldiers slaine before Raby Castle, which were buried in the Parke and not registered”.

It is believed that the skeletons of these men were found in 1775 when workmen were digging a ‘ha ha’, or sunk fence adjoining Slaughter Close, which is in the South West corner of the Park, about two miles from the Castle.

Ms. Owen said that she got this information from an old Guidebook for Raby and this is literally all that it says. She does not know of a source that says more.

So, I’ll put it out to the internet: Do you know where I can find more on sieges at Raby Castle? If so, please either contact me or comment on this post.

Sorry Texas A&M – Johnny Football Is Just Not That Into You

Here’s a little something I’ve been working on for the last week or two:

He's Just Not That Into You

I’ve been trying to decide when to put this out there, but with today’s news that Johnny Manziel is under investigation for signing autographs for a fee, I realized that now was the time. It’s possible that JF won’t be an Aggie too much longer.

On the other hand, it could all blow over. Perhaps Manziel is innocent, or perhaps he’ll return the money he was paid and get a slap on the wrist.

In any case, we all know College Station isn’t where he wants to be.

With today’s news, here are the best new nicknames for Manziel that I’ve heard so far:

  • Johnny Cash
  • Johnny Dropout
  • Johnny Sharpie
  • Johnny Paycheck (thanks Chris)
  • Johnny Hancock
  • The Money Badger

These were from Twitter and various forums I read. I expect I’ll grow the list over time…

Thoughts on Vancouver, BC

We decided to stay in Vancouver, British Columbia a night before and a night after our Alaskan cruise. Traveling from Austin, Texas to Vancouver and rushing to get on a boat in the same day didn’t sound like much fun. Neither did doing the opposite on the home.

And a delay in a flight out could mean missing the boat.

As it happens, the airlines know which days are departures and arrivals for the cruises, so the flights were much cheaper on the other day. So much so, that it more than paid for the two nights in a hotel.

We stayed at the Sutton Place Hotel, which was just a few blocks from the Port of Vancouver. It was just far enough away that we didn’t feel guilty taking a taxi.

Vancouver from our Cruise Ship

Vancouver was a beautiful city. Perhaps the greenest central business district I’ve ever seen, with mountains visible in most directions.

The jewel of the city is Stanley Park, a 1,000 acre forested preserve at the north west tip of downtown. It’s surrounded by a paved seawall, making for a beautiful stroll.

There is also Vancouver Aquarium. Aubrey usually loves aquariums, but didn’t seem to be too into this one. It’s possible that this is due to spending too much time on a plane earlier in the day.

We actually ended going to Stanley Park both before and after the cruise. It’s that nice.

The morning after the cruise, we took Aubrey down to the splash zone in Stanley Park. It’s fairly large, and wasn’t too crowded that morning. Aubrey loved it.

View from Stanley Park

Later in the day, we visited Granville Island. This is a neighborhood located beneath the Granville Street Bridge on the south side of False Creek. It is a collection of artisans, markets, boutique shops and restaurants, with a cool and hip, yet friendly vibe.

The Wife ended up falling in love with, and purchasing, a silk wrap with wool roses. We also, of course, bought a few t-shirts.

We had a snack of donuts fried in duck fat at the stand outside Edible Canada in Granville. It was every bit as weird as it sounds, but was also a wonderful combination of sweet and savory. I usually don’t like these mixed, but I’d eat there again.

Then we strolled through the Granville Island Public Market. It was five or six buildings worth of stalls for local vendors of produce, meats, cheeses and more. The selection of fruits alone was amazing.

If I lived in Vancouver, I could easily by my groceries here two or three times a week.

We had dinner at The Sandbar, a seafood restaurant on Granville Island. It was fairly good, but overpriced as you would expect in a touristy area like this.

I’m not sure when we’ll return to Vancouver, but I’m certainly looking forward to it.

Thoughts on the Disney Wonder

Port of Vancouver

As you can tell from my last few posts, the Wife, my 20-month-old daughter and I went on an Alaskan cruise with Disney last month. The seven night cruise started and ended in Vancouver, British Columbia, and included a day sailing through Tracy Arm Fjord and stops in Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan.

This was my second cruise, having been on a short Bahamas cruise with the Wife on Carnival. She has been on several other cruises, and it was Aubrey’s first, naturally. It was the first time on Disney for all of us.

Overall, the experience was very positive. The cruise is very well organized, which it has to be will all the children on board. Even so, it was not the terrifying chaos I experienced on Carnival.

We stayed in Vancouver the night before, so we wouldn’t be in a rush from the airport. After taking Aubrey to play in a park near our hotel, we loaded our bags in a taxi for the short ride to the Port of Vancouver.

The bags we were checking were taken at the curbside drop off, meaning we didn’t have to drag them through customs ourselves. That was a pleasant, but unexpected surprise.

We loaded Aubrey in a stroller, which I highly recommend. Trying to corral a toddler as we waited in the line for customs would not have been fun.

We brought a small stroller that folded up to about the size of a large umbrella. After we got to our room, it went into the closet and only came out for excursions.

Skagway, Alaska

In any case, waiting in the line for customs took about an hour, as there were one or two other boats loading that day. The time was passed pleasantly enough talking to the other cruisers about where they were from.

After a few questions from US Customs (we were technically passing from Canadian territory to US soil at that point), we were through, and separated from the pack to head to our boat.

There was no line to talk to the Disney representative. He asked a few questions, had me sign a few places, and handed us our key cards. These are used for entry and exit of the boat, the door to our cabin, and for purchasing anything on board.

We walked down a hallway, had a quick picture taken (like all cruises do), and rolled up the gangway to the boat. Again, we were glad to have the stroller.

When we got to the entrance to the boat, we checked in using the key cards, and saw a number of Disney employees standing in the large open area just inside. One of the employee’s asked Aubrey her name. The Wife answered, and she announced over a loud speaker:

Disney Cruises would like to welcome Princess Aubrey aboard the Disney Wonder!

Then all the other employees there cheered and applauded. I’m sure if Aubrey were a bit older, she would have gotten a real kick out of it.

We headed up to our room (6th deck, port side) to drop off our bags. We choose a room with a verandah, so that we could sit on the deck as Aubrey napped every day in the early afternoon.

The rail on the verandah had plexiglass in front of it, so there was no way the Aubrey could either slip through or climb over. So, when we were in the room, we would just open the sliding door to the deck, and let Aubrey run.

Sea Lions in Juneau

Other than keeping the bathroom door closed so Aubrey couldn’t play in the toilet, the only real issue is that we had to unplug the phone before Aubrey accidentally called Kazakhstan or something. There were no plugs that she could reach.

In fact, the only plugs were two plugs on top of the desk. The Wife and I each had an iPhone and an iPad. Granted, we weren’t using the iPhones, but wanted to keep them charged. And the iPads were being used as e-readers, so needed to be charged.

Plus, we needed to charge our camera batteries on occasion. There was also a walkie talkie system in the room that needed to be kept charged.

C’mon, it’s the Twenty-Teens! Give us a few more plugs! I left the laptop at home. I’ve sacrificed enough!

We changed into swimsuits and went out to explore the boat. We wanted to take Aubrey to the splash zone. As she’s still in diapers, she’s not allowed in the pools. Apparently, this is a restriction on all cruise ships, and makes sense to me.

We opted for the 5:45pm dinner seating, rather than the 8:00pm. Dinner rotated among three restaurants, but our serving team rotated with us, allowing us to get to know them.

The three of us were seated at our own table. I don’t know if they ever seat different groups at the same table, but this didn’t seem to be the case with anyone near us.

The food was good to very good, depending upon the night. No, you’re not dining at a five star restaurant, but I really had no complaints. Portions are certainly not Texas large, so feel free to order an appetizer, an entree and dessert.

Pluto and Aubrey.

One morning was the designated “Character Breakfast” for our rotation. We showed up at one of the restaurants, and were served by our usual crew. Then, during the meal, the various Disney characters came around to each of the tables to meet the children and pose for pictures.

Aubrey’s favorite was Pluto.

The other set breakfast was on the last morning. Again, it was with our usual serving crew, and the goal was clearly to get us fed and off the boat.

Other than this, the eating choices were the buffet, various “stands” around the pools for hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza, fruit and more, the restaurants in the rotation (for meals other than dinner), and Palo.

Palo is their fine dining experience. It costs extra, requires reservations, and doesn’t allow kids.

Salmon Falls in Juneau

One morning, we checked Aubrey into child care, and went to have brunch at Palo. It was extremely tasty. The quality reminded me of the brunch buffet in the Wynn in Las Vegas, but not as large, of course.

The main buffet was decent, but a bit repetitive. After a couple of mornings, we were looking for some variety. The couple of lunches we had there were underwhelming.

The food by the pools was about what you would expect. Ok, but nothing to write home about.

One of the ways to survive a cruise with a toddler is to take advantage of the child care services in the Flounder’s Reef Nursery. We typically checked Aubrey in for about two hours on non-excursion days.

All indications are that she loved it. By the third day, she had figured out what it looked like and would pull us towards it when she realized where we were going.

So, in general, would I recommend a Disney Cruise for a family with a toddler? Absolutely, but with some caveats.

I’d certainly wait until your child can walk and run well on his or her own. Frankly, until they’re out of diapers, your only real option to get away from them is Flounder’s Reef. If they can’t run around in there, they might get bored.

As the kiddos get older, there are lots of options, up to and including night clubs for teenagers.

So, will we go on another Disney cruise? I expect so.

The one we’re looking at right now is a 15-night cruise that sails between San Diego, California and Miami, Florida via the Panama Canal. It’s available in the shoulder season as the Disney Wonder transfers from Alaska cruises to Caribbean cruises (and back again).

Surprisingly, it’s actually a bit cheaper than the Alaska cruise we took, even though it’s twice as long. I suspect that’s a combination of being during the shoulder season, having limited ports of call (Cozumel, Cartagena, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas), and having a bit less interest.

Sailing the Panama Canal is something I’ve always wanted to do, and it allows me to check off a currently unvisited continent (South America), so we’re going to take a serious look at it.

We’ll probably wait at least two years, because once Aubrey is out of diapers, the options for activities on the boat open up considerably. And given the number of “At Sea” days (eight, if I’m counting correctly), she could get very tired of Flounder’s Reef.