Fozzy Whittaker

As we enter the fourth quarter of the NFL season, former Longhorns are still performing at high levels on the field. Here is how a few of them did this week.

Adrian Phillips

Phillips and the Chargers pulled out a win at home against the winless Cleveland Browns over the weekend. The former Longhorn safety only had two tackles, but came up with the game-clinching interception in the waning moments of the game. The third year man has played extremely well in the back end for Los Angeles this season. In five of his last eight games, he has recorded at least six tackles. All of this coming while still being listed as the backup at both safety positions.

Thanks in part to Phillips’ play, the Chargers are now 6–6 and in a three way tie for first place in the open AFC West. The Chargers will look to go for a fourth-straight win as they play a struggling Washington team on Sunday at home.

Marquise Goodwin

Goodwin helped the San Francisco 49ers earn their second win of the season on Sunday. The 27-year old had eight catches for 99 yards in legendary Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears. Goodwin is playing the best football of his career right now as he has surpassed the half-century mark five times in his last six games. He will look to build on his good rapport with young quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who targeted Goodwin eight times on Sunday.

Fozzy Whittaker

With the addition of Christian McCaffrey, Fozzy Whittaker has fallen out of the backfield rotation in Carolina. The now third-string running back has been nearly non-existent this season. He has only recorded four carries for 10 yards to go along with three receptions and 34 yards. This production is severely down from last season’s 82 touches for over 500 yards.

The Panthers have seen the speed and agility that Fozzy brings to the table and have decided to use him in a special teams capacity. In the past two games, Whittaker has accounted for 91 return yards. His new role as return man has given him a return to the field and a chance to help the 8–4 Panthers as they gear up for their
playoff run.

Former Texas running back Tre’ Newton chose to end his career early, fearing causing further damage to his brain. Newton suffered seven concussions, including three at UT. (Daily Texan file photo from November 6, 2010, Photo Credit: Caleb Bryant Miller)

Did you miss Part 1 of this story? Read it here.

Editor’s Note: This series explores personal and institutional responses to concussions, which have become an increasingly integral point of discussion surrounding football. Come back tomorrow for an in-depth look at the NCAA’s procedures in dealing with head injuries.

When the class of 2008 arrived at Texas, they were poked, prodded and measured at length by the Longhorn medical staff in an NFL combine-like atmosphere. Newton’s concussion history was no secret, and Texas’ doctors would handle him with care.

Still, Newton suffered his fifth concussion during a spring practice his freshman year, when he eventually redshirted.

His first year on the field was a culmination of everything he believed Texas football to be. He took the feature back role from Jamaal Charles, who left for the NFL as a junior, and helped lead the Longhorns to a 12-0 record, a Big 12 title and a national championship appearance. Newton rushed for 552 yards, six touchdowns and an average of 4.8 yards a carry.

But Newton suffered his sixth concussion in seven seasons during Texas’ fifth game of the year against Colorado University when Colt McCoy threw an interception. Newton raced back in pursuit of the ball carrier, but he was blindsided by a hit from a Buffalo blocker.

Newton’s symptoms following the hit were mild. Bright light, flashes on a television and loud noises bothered him. At times, his mind felt like it was stuck in quick sand. But the nausea and sharp headaches normally associated with concussions were absent. After missing one game, he played the remainder of the season without lingering issues. 

Newton opened his sophomore year with three touchdowns in a 34-17 win over Rice University. But after the victory, Newton, like the Longhorns, began to slip. He averaged less than four yards a carry while Texas lost four of its next seven contests.

The Longhorns traveled to Kansas State at 4-4 the next week, hoping to turn around a horrendous start to the season. But in the first quarter, Newton suddenly had no idea what the play call was.

When the Longhorns huddled with the coordinators on the sidelines afterward, Newton asked fellow running back Fozzy Whittaker what he later termed as “stupid questions” about the play calls. Whittaker, worried about his teammate, told the trainers about the incident.

A few minutes later, team trainers peppered Newton with questions about the game. But he had no recollection of the contest to that point. Moments later he sat on the bench alone, head in hand. 

Soon after, a trainer informed Newton of his concussion. Newton then ambled toward the locker room, oblivious to the 50,000 purple-clad fans yelling around him. 

The following Monday, Newton was directed to the medical training staff’s office for what he thought would be a routine status checkup.

Instead, he was greeted with an unexpected question.

“Have you thought about your future in football?”

Newton wanted to blow the query off. Of course he wanted to play football. He couldn’t imagine a scenario in which he didn’t, but the doctor’s tone was too serious to ignore. 

After a week of deliberation, Newton, still undecided, met with his parents. 

“When is enough, enough?” his dad simply asked.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

He asked Newton to consider the minor concussions he had gotten away with. Those are the incidents that accumulate, building slowly and finally exploding to the surface — leaving him with holes in his memory and a dull headache that took days, even weeks, to shake.

Then his mom, who had wanted him to quit football for a while, asked him to consider all of the people his health would affect and the burden he would become if he lost his memory or ability to function. 

Many former collegiate and professional players suffer depression and, in serious cases, Alzheimer’s disease because of concussion-related symptoms. Other studies have shown that some former NFL players are left with symptoms of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease of the brain. 

A few hours later, Newton and his parents arrived at Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium for a scheduled meeting with a team of doctors who laid out the possibility of his future and the risks that came with concussions. 

Newton hesitated. He didn’t want to quit, but he knew himself better than anyone. If he didn’t quit now, he’d change his decision and play next season.

He decided to let go.

 

Newton answered questions from media members spinning his pronouncement as a positive, but he hated giving up the game.

His shocked teammates watched from across the room. Only a handful of players knew about Newton’s decision before the announcement.

Over the next two months, the Longhorns’ season spiraled toward a 5-7 finish, and Newton wanted no part. He missed football desperately, but being around the team resulted in a pain any number of concussions couldn’t have prepared him for. 

He avoided his former brothers at all costs. When his roommate Blake Gideon invited him to hang out with the team, he’d make up excuses. After the injury, the Longhorns’ coaching staff offered him a student coaching job, but he politely declined. He would make small talk in classes with members of the team, but he avoided football with the same maneuvering he used on the field.

The pain and symptoms from the concussion subsided after a few weeks, but Newton was left to deal with the mental backlash of quitting something that had organized every aspect of his life. 

Newton would go to class, do his homework and then stew, unaccustomed to free time. He filled the void with a video game binge. Marathon sessions of the NBA 2K basketball series served as an escape; his favorite game, Madden (NFL), was cast to the side.

The rebuilding process was slow. One morning early in the spring semester, Newton sought a routine and decided to begin working out once again, slogging with Longhorn trainers each day. But Newton scheduled his lifting sessions during practices and team meetings. He didn’t want to trick himself into believing football remained an option.

Newton eventually took up the student coaching position he had previously turned down. He didn’t start until the following fall, but he attacked the job with a renewed fervor. It wasn’t the same thrill as playing, but it was the closest he could find.

After the 2011 season, he graduated with a degree in corporate communication and decided to attend graduate school to pursue sports management. 

Now 24 years old, Newton pushed forward at UT with a new goal in mind — to become an athletic director. Football is a sport he just can’t shake.

He now works full time with the Longhorn Foundation, helping raise money for Texas Athletics after interning with Texas Sports Information, Longhorn Network and Texas Athletics’ compliance department. He’s motivated, charging at his new goal with the same zeal he had when running for the goal line.

Newton’s experience provided context for his former roommate Jackson Jeffcoat, a player with a very similar upbringing. Both had NFL dads, majored in corporate communication and always had football dreams. Jeffcoat is a likely first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft, but he faced a huge obstacle last season when he tore a pectoral muscle for the second-straight year. 

One day late in the fall semester, Jeffcoat complained about the long rehab process to Newton, a friend for more than a decade. 

Newton, as he’s done with other players, suggested Jeffcoat realize how lucky he was to still have football.

“Be happy you are playing football,” Jeffcoat said Newton told him. “Because anything can happen and it can be gone and taken away from me, the game I love, like it happened to him. He put it in perspective.”

Newton may not ever shed another block or quickly flip the ball to a referee after a touchdown, but he believes the qualities he’s gained fighting through adversity will serve him for decades.

Decades is the key word. There is no telling how Newton’s concussions will affect him in the future. For now, he’s symptom-free and living without the constant wooziness and confusion that shadowed him during his football career. The decision to quit early, foregoing further damage, limits the possibility that Newton will join the quickly expanding line of former collegiate and NFL players suffering from the long-term effects of concussions. 

“I know I made the right decision,” Newton said. “The rate I was having concussions and the ones I was able to hide, it was definitely time to stop playing.”

Doubts still occasionally creep into Newton’s mind. He records every Texas game instead of viewing it live, because — what he credits to the coach within him — he still loves breaking down the team’s plays. But turning on the TV on a Sunday afternoon is still occasionally a trial for Newton, even three years later. Newton knows if a few things broke differently, he’d be a Sunday gladiator, too.

But he’s not angry at the game, and he doesn’t blame Texas or what some label the ambivalent nature surrounding concussions in football. Newton knows the sport he grew up with is violent, and there’s no way to change that. 

A recent report from the Institute of Medicine on sport-related concussions in youth identified football’s “culture of resistance” as one of the biggest issues in addressing the issue of concussions in the sport. It’s a macho stigma that’s surrounded football from its roots. 

Newton agrees football isn’t perfect, but says there is no way to completely prevent consistent injuries like his. It’s up to the players to know when they must let go. 

 

Newton sits quietly in the Red McCombs Red Zone of DKR, only a few hundred yards away from the site of so many of his most memorable football moments.

He works, headphones in, on one of his final collegiate presentations, typing away, pushing through the bore for the reward of an “A,” just like he fought for tough yards and the satisfaction of a win. But in his quiet place, Newton is not left alone.

Every few minutes or so, a person strolls past him and waves. Newton responds in kind with an easy smile.

“Hey Tre’.”

“How’s it going Tre’?”

Almost everyone who ambled by, all Texas athletes far removed from Newton’s stint at running back, gave a friendly greeting. 

He even gets a “Happy Birthday,” which he plans on celebrating over a quiet dinner with a friend. He realizes now that his decision of three years ago likely buys him a number of healthy birthdays to come.

Each time, Newton responded to the greeter by name, memory as sharp as ever.   

Newton closes his laptop and walks away with sure strides. 

With age comes perspective — Newton becomes more sure of this each day.

This article has been updated since its original posting.

Sophomore running back Joe Bergeron has rushed for 207 yards and three touchdowns through three games, and is the Longhorns' second leading rusher. However, Bergeron left Saturday's game with a shoulder injury and will be limited in practice this week.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Although it may be an odd sight, don’t be surprised if you see running back Joe Bergeron rollerblading around campus one day.

He admits he’s “different,” but that comes with the position, Bergeron said.

“Running backs always have a weird personality that sets them apart from everybody else on the team," he said.

Like former Longhorn running back Fozzy Whittaker, Bergeron has taken a liking to exotic animals.

He currently owns a 4-foot-6-inch California king snake named Roxanne and feeds her two mice a week. His old snake wasn’t growing fast enough, so he upgraded and purchased Roxanne from an exotic-pet store. Whittaker used to own rabbits, a ferret, turtles and a pet catfish. Although Bergeron hasn’t acquired the small zoo that Whittaker had, he enjoys having a distinct pet.

Whether it’s the colored socks he always wears, his huge pet snake or his skills on rollerblades, Bergeron’s personality is pretty quirky. Although he’s a funny guy, his humor doesn’t seem so apparent on the field. Just ask all the defensive lines that he pounds through each week.

“He’s got great personality, especially for that position, and when it’s time to go, he can flip the switch and I really like that about him,” co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said.

Bergeron accumulated 110 yards and two touchdowns during the Longhorns’ first game of the season and has continued to be an important presence on the Longhorns’ stacked backfield.

Bergeron suffered a shoulder injury during the Longhorns’ matchup against Ole Miss Saturday and left during the second half. He will be limited in practices this week, but there’s no doubt that he will work through this injury with a smile on his face.

“He likes to laugh,” running back Malcolm Brown said. “He’s a silly guy. He loosens everybody up in the group. It’s just a fun thing having him in that running back room.” Brown considers himself one of the more quiet running backs, but Bergeron and the rest of the backs don’t give Brown a choice but to be less serious.

“If I’m around them you really can’t be quiet because they’re real fun to be around,” Brown said.

Now that Bergeron is a sophomore, he is more comfortable with the offense and it seems that he will only improve from here. Although the injury ended his game against Ole Miss, the Longhorns’ bye week has come at a good time for him.

Brown believes that the team has the ability to have more than one 1,000-yard rusher this “I think he’s running harder,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said.

“I think he’s running harder than when he first got here. I think he understands that he’s a big power back that can move the ball, and I think he’s running like that with an edge to him.”

Last year he helped the Longhorns finish the season ranked 21st in rushing offense with 202.62 yards per game. Now Bergeron and Brown have welcomed freshman Johnathan Gray to the team.

The three of them, along with Jeremy Hills, have the potential to be the most dominant running back group in the nation.

And with Bergeron around, they will certainly have some laughs along the way.

Printed on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 as: Bergeron's quirkiness helps him excel

Malcolm Brown is back for his sophomore season after leading the Longhorns in rushing as a freshman last year.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Last season Malcolm Brown stepped onto campus as a pupil under veteran running back Fozzy Whittaker.

After Whittaker’s season-ending injury during Texas’ loss to Missouri, Brown and the rest of the running backs were forced to take over earlier than expected.

Now that Whittaker has graduated, it’s their turn to completely take the reins — both in terms of leadership and on-field performance.

“We had Fozzy Whittaker last year, and as an older guy he knew everything that we needed to know for us,” Brown said. “With him gone now, me and the other running backs need to step up and take over that role.”

Brown prefers to lead by example and does not consider himself a very talkative person.

Especially with freshman running back Johnathan Gray entering the mix, the running backs have the opportunity to become even more dominant. Gray, from Aledo, Texas, rushed for 3,886 yards and 65 touchdowns his senior season at Aledo High.

Just like Whittaker helped both Brown and Joe Bergeron, it’s their turn to help out the freshmen.

In recent years, the Longhorns have relied on passing more than running. But the Longhorns do not have Vince Young or Colt McCoy now.

What they do have is an offense that has struggled with the passing game. Head coach Mack Brown hopes to make the offense more balanced. But until that happens, Malcolm Brown will be there.

“I just contribute in any type of way I can,” Brown said. “Coach Mack Brown can throw me into any type of situation, and I will do what I can.”

Last season the team had an average of 202.6 rushing yards per game and 189.9 passing yards. Now that Brown is a sophomore, his role will continue to grow. Quarterback David Ash said the running backs’ experience from last year will help the offense.

“Experience, there’s no substitute for it,” Ash said.

Brown missed both the Missouri and Texas Tech games with a turf toe injury last season. But according to Bergeron, Brown has been working hard to avoid injuries.

“With him knowing how to take care of his body now, you see him doing a lot of stuff that he’s doing now that he didn’t do last year,” Bergeron said. “We cold tub more. We’re in the training room more. We’re hitting the weights a lot harder than we did last year.”

Brown was the first true freshman since Cedric Benson in 2001 to lead the team in rushing, with 742 yards. But he still sees room for improvement in himself, especially in pass protection.

“That is one thing that I wanted to focus on,” Brown said. “We all want to be complete backs and stay in on third downs when the blitzes are coming and we’re passing the ball.”

Picking up blitzes was one thing Whittaker was so good at.

“That is one thing that Fozzy brought to the table,” Brown said. “He was the older guy, he knew the protections, and he had been here for so long that he knew exactly what to do.”

Brown currently shares the top of the depth chart with Bergeron. Both players had five rushing touchdowns last season.

“Both guys, just from a year of experience, you can see how those guys have come back and understand the offensive line and understand the run game and understand we are trying to hit with the run,” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. “And so I’ve been pleased with both guys. I think they have been tremendous through camp. The other area, not just running the ball, but in protection, as well.”

With the words of Whittaker in his mind, Malcolm Brown is ready to continue his impressive career at Texas. If this season’s offense is similar to last season’s, he’ll need to.

Stat Guy: 10 telling numbers

Freshman tailback Malcolm Brown has been a huge part of a Texas running attack that has averged 210.42 rushing yards per game this season.
Freshman tailback Malcolm Brown has been a huge part of a Texas running attack that has averged 210.42 rushing yards per game this season.

There is no doubt the 2011 season has been a roller coaster for the Texas football team. It was equally dizzying for the Stat Guy, who began the year predicting a bounceback season for Garrett Gilbert and ended it looking at Case McCoy and David Ash, trying to determine the more efficient of the two. Without further ado, the most important statistics of Texas’ season.

10) Seven wins, five losses

Coming off the first losing season in the Mack Brown era in 2010, the Longhorns regrouped, flip-flopped their record and became bowl-eligible. The margin of victory was 22, the margin of defeat 18.

9) 1,206 kickoff return yards

Between running back Fozzy Whittaker and other return men, the Longhorns finished the regular season ranked 18th in the nation in kickoff return yards, averaging 24.12 yards per game. Whittaker took two returns back for touchdowns.

8) 17-for-20 on field goals

With senior kicker Justin Tucker most likely on his way to the NFL, the Longhorns have a big shoe to fill in the kicking department. Tucker became the latest to boot a big game-winner, hitting a 40-yarder to top Texas A&M as time expired. He also handled punting and kickoff duties.

7) 23 sacks

After a slow start to the season, the Texas defensive front came alive to pile up almost two sacks a game. Defensive ends Alex Okafor — providing he comes back for his senior year — and Jackson Jeffcoat will be major threats in 2012.

6) 103.67 rushing yards allowed per game

Texas has finished the regular season ranked No. 11 in the nation in rushing yards allowed. The defense will have to keep that up next year, despite losing front-seven stalwarts Kheeston Randall, Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson.

5) 23.25 points allowed per game

The Longhorns finished 42nd in the nation in this category, a low-ranking compared to some of the defenses of the past. It probably didn’t help that so many offensive turnovers gave opposing teams a short field.

4) 28.67 points per game

A statistic that places the Longhorns No. 52 in the nation, unchartedly low water for a Bryan Harsin offense.

3) 210.42 rushing yards per game

The rushing offense came alive in 2011, with the emergence of freshman running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron.

2) Six games missed

Then, of course, Bergeron and Brown combined to miss six games, dramatically affecting the Texas offense down the final stretch of the year.

1) Five starts vs. five starts

Quarterbacks David Ash and Case McCoy each started five games, with mixed results. No matter what people say, the key to success in the future is finding a capable starter at quarterback.
 

Printed on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 as: Breaking down the 10 best stats of the 2011 season

Safety Christian Scott runs drills during Texas' annual pro day on Tuesday. Scott, along with 13 other Texas athletes, performed in front of 50 scouts, head coaches and general managers. Scott had an impressive workout and, if drafted, could be a sixth or seventh round pick.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

Fourteen Texas athletes showed what they have been working toward for the past four years at Texas’ pro day on Tuesday.

For Emmanuel Acho, Kheeston Randall and Keenan Robinson, the day was to improve their stock for the NFL Draft on April 26. They, along with injured running back Fozzy Whittaker, attended the NFL combine in February.

But this pro day was also vital for players who weren’t invited to the combine, especially safety Blake Gideon, tackle Tray Allen, safety Christian Scott, running back Cody Johnson, center David Snow and kicker Justin Tucker. John Chiles also came back to Austin for pro day. A former New Orleans Saint, he came back to show scouts his potential.

Pro day was especially important for Robinson. Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith and linebackers coach Bob Babich came to Austin to see his workouts. Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was also in attendance. Robinson performed better at pro day than in the combine and said he jumped an inch higher in the vertical jump and five inches farther in the broad jump.

Robinson isn’t sure what round he will be drafted in, but feels he deserves to be wherever he will be picked. He hopes that teams will see him as a big player with the ability to move well in space.

“For me, I think I am right where I need to be,” Robinson said. “I did what I did on the field and this offseason. So now we sit back and wait and hope that I get a good situation and a good team.”

Linebacker Emmanuel Acho partially tore his quad while running the 40-yard dash at the combine three weeks ago. Trainers told him it would take three to six weeks for him to recover.

“I told them I’ve got three weeks,” Acho said.

Acho, like Robinson, hopes that scouts will appreciate his versatility. Although Acho would be excited to be a part of any team, he would love to go to the Cardinals and join his brother, Sam. Acho was impressive in his position drills despite not being 100 percent. Sam was in attendance along with other Longhorn alumni like Jordan Shipley, Aaron Williams and David Thomas. Men’s basketball guard J’Covan Brown even came to watch fellow Texas athletes while they participated in position drills.

Blake Gideon, although he is not expected to be picked in the draft, had a strong performance. He said he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 and 4.56 seconds. Although he was hoping to finish better, he was happy with his overall performance and said it was a huge weight off his shoulders now that pro day is over.

“We train for two-and-a-half months for one day so it was good to see guys come out here and compete,” Gideon said. “That’s all it is, you come out here and you compete against numbers you already put up and you’re competing against each other.”

Fozzy Whittaker was very limited in his workouts due to his injury. But he increased his reps from 20 to 23.

“That’s the kind of guy he is,” Gideon said. “He was only limited to one thing and he still improved that.”

Although Whittaker’s injury has hurt his chances of being drafted, he never lost hope of being drafted. He is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and plans to be 100 percent by late summer.

“I’ve always kept the faith,” Whittaker said. “I’ve always had it in my mind that whatever my mind tells me to do, that’s what I can do.”

He hopes to impress scouts as a running back, kick returner and punt returner.

“However I can touch the field is how I’m selling myself,” Whittaker said.

Although most of the hopefuls on the field on Tuesday will never walk onto the field as NFL players, their time at Texas is coming to an end. At the end of last season, Texas led the NFL with 40 active players. Come April 29, these Longhorns will learn their fate.

Originally posted on Jan. 2, 2012

The Longhorns welcomed six new coaches in 2011 and they helped bring a three-win improvement to the program: from 5-7 to 8-5. Texas played some of its best ball in California--a 49-20 win over UCLA on Sept. 17 and a 21-10 win in the Holiday Bowl against Cal on Wednesday--and with that in mind, our season review of the Longhorns' coaching additions comes with the flavor of a Hollywood movie review. All reviews are out of five stars.

Manny Diaz--defensive coordinator: 4 1/2 stars
Previous school: Mississippi State

Diaz was a blockbuster hit for Texas in his first season in Austin. He was the architect of the Big 12 Conference's No. 1 defense, getting the most out of a unit that failed to live up to expectations under Will Muschamp. Diaz integrated his new schemes quickly and garnered a lot of praise from head coach Mack Brown for his strong communication skills with the players. The Longhorns raved about Diaz and relished playing in his defense. Texas forced a season-high five turnovers in the Holiday Bowl to end the season in impressive fashion, and the defense will only improve as the Longhorns become more comfortable with Diaz's philosophies. He inherited a defense with an unproven secondary and a thin defensive line, but that didn't stop UT from ranking No. 11 nationally in total defense (315.33 yards per game) and No. 8 against the run (103.67 ypg). Still, the only thing holding Diaz back from a 5-star rating was his squad's penchant for giving up the big play (long scoring plays doomed the Longhorns in each of their five losses).

Bryan Harsin--offensive coordinator: 3 stars
Previous school: Boise State

Harsin resembled a big-budget, 3-D film: flashy, fun, but lacking in substance. The more you examined him, the more flaws you found. For every brilliant gadget play that resulted in a touchdown, there was a head-scratching call and a trend of going away from the running game too early. Granted, it's not easy for a team to fully grasp a new offensive scheme and playbook, and Harsin wasn't blessed with Vince Young or Colt McCoy under center. He made the most of what he inherited from Greg Davis for the most part, and UT put up a modest 404 yards per game. Still, Harsin abandoned the Longhorns No. 19 rushing attack (210.42 ypg) far too often. Injuries to Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron, Fozzy Whittaker and Jaxon Shipley limited his play calls, but when his playmakers were in the game they were often overlooked. The quarterback situation was a mess and Harsin never settled on David Ash or Case McCoy as the starter, though neither player ever separated himself and entered the season with one career pass attempt between them. But Harsin's trick plays were a joy to watch and his creativity was a welcome sight. He wasn't a box-office flop, but the sequel should yield better results as the Longhorns grow in his system.

Stacy Searels--offensive line: 3 1/2 stars
Previous school: Georgia

Searels was like a new director overseeing a successful movie franchise: putting his own twist on a formula that worked for years. Searels, though, toughened Texas in the trenches and brought a mean streak to the men up front. After years of zone blocking, the Longhorns reverted to a downhill blocking scheme similar to the unit's Searels coached with and against in the Southeaster Conference. He developed redshirt freshman Dominic Espinosa into a reliable starter and found a star in the making in rookie tackle Josh Cochran. Searles inherited a relatively soft line and morphed them into a mean bunch, though they didn't bring that mentality to all 13 games. It will take more than just one season to change the culture up front, but Searels has Texas headed in the right direction.

Darrell Wyatt--wide receivers: 3 stars
Previous school: Kansas

Wyatt compared to a low-budget, independent film in his first season with UT: trying to get the most out of an inexperienced group while trying to keep up with the high-powered passing attacks of the Big 12. Wyatt inherited a young receiving corps and didn't get a chance to work with junior Marquise Goodwin until after the season-opener. Shipley missed time with a knee injury and sophomore Mike Davis also vanished at times, though it wasn't because of injuries. The constant shuffling made it tougher on Wyatt and Texas never established a reliable passing game--you can blame poor QB play for that as well. While the receivers didn't have the best hands, they were an excellent blocking group and assisted the running game more than in previous years. Still, Wyatt couldn't get promising sophomore Darius White to the next level, and he left the program before the bowl game. If Wyatt can continue to get his players to block downfield, the passing game will come around with Austin High product Cayleb Jones coming next season.

Bo Davis--defensive tackles: 3 1/2 stars
Previous school: Auburn

Davis was a solid addition to the Texas staff in 2011, similar to a good movie that would be a good rental if you didn't catch it in theaters. Davis won't win any awards for his work, but the defensive line improved under him. He found reliable backups to Kheeston Randall in Calvin Howell and Ashton Dorsey: a pair that will only improve over the next few seasons. Davis' tackles were solid in the middle and controlled the line of scrimmage. He also did wonders with Chris Whaley, who moved to tackle after beginning his career as a running back. Davis' group was above average, though they were gashed for a few big runs. He has room to improve, but Davis proved to be a smart hire.

Bennie Wylie--strength and conditioning: 4 stars
Previous School: Tennessee

Wylie's first year on the 40 Acres was like a critically acclaimed foreign film: hard to judge by most, but impressive nonetheless. Wylie got the Longhorns back into shape after they slacked off in the 2010 offseason following a National Championship loss. Texas was stronger, faster and better conditioned this year, and Wylie was a player favorite. Fozzy Whittaker was in the best shape of his career before a knee injury ended his senior season, and Wylie played a big role in Whittaker's impressive season. He didn’t directly contribute to any wins, but Texas was a good fourth quarter team thanks to Wylie's offseason conditioning and weight training programs.

Addie running back Christine Michael is tackled by OU's Travis Lewis (28). Michael tore his ACL this game.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Last week, after Texas’ loss to Missouri, head coach Mack Brown said, “We’ve got us a mess right now.”

Injuries to Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Fozzy Whittaker hurt the Longhorns in their losses to Missouri and Kansas State. Texas A&M can relate.

At the beginning of the season, the Aggies thought they had great depth when it came to running backs.

But that changed when the Aggies fell to Oklahoma 25-41 on November 5th.

Junior running back Christine Michael tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee — ending his season and requiring surgery.

Michael had rushed for 899 yards this season and he averages just less than a hundred a game.

On October 11 of last season, he broke his leg and missed the rest of the season. When Michael was out last year, running back Cyrus Gray stepped up and finished the season with seven straight games of at least 100 rushing yards.

After having two season-ending injuries in a row, head coach Mike Sherman said Michael handled the news of his injury well.

“It’s certainly a disappointment to him and to us,” Sherman said. “He’s in a positive state of mind, at least he was last time I saw him; it’s just part of the game.”

Sherman also said that Gray would have to step up, just as he did in the 2010 season.

Gray, who has 1,045 rushing this season, is currently day-to-day after getting a stress fracture during A&M’s 61-7 rout over Kansas last week. This season is Gray’s second season in a row with 1,000 or more rushing yards.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill said Gray is important to the Aggies and he gets a lot of carries. Ben Malena is also an option at running back.

“He’s a big player for us,” Tannehill said. “We’ll see how it goes. But Malena is a big player as well. He hasn’t seen the reps but he’s a solid running back. We see what he can do in practice every day. I think either way we have confidence.”

Head coach Mike Sherman said he may be able to play on Thursday, even if he doesn’t practice this week. But, he hopes he will be back for Thursday’s game against Texas.

“We need everybody,” Sherman said. “I think that goes without saying. It will be a great ball game and I would like to get everybody out there.”

After Gray left the game on Saturday, Sherman was forced to pull the redshirt off true freshman Will Randolf. He had 37 yards on 10 carries.

“It’s always difficult when you do that, but we talk to those guys every week and talk every morning before the ball game of potentials (redshirts) if certain situations arise,” Tannehill said. “Without knowing Cyrus’ status for the last week, I thought it was important he got reps in this ballgame. That’s just part of it. That’s what we had to do.”

In addition to Cyrus and Michael’s injuries, starting defensive end Jonathan Mathis’ season ended because of a knee injury he incurred during A&M’s game against Oklahoma State. Defensive backs Steven Campbell and Coryell Judie have missed multiple games because of leg injuries.

Both teams have been limping through this season, but how both rally on Thursday will be pivotal in determining the winner of the last Texas and Texas A&M rivalry game.

Published on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 as: Injuries to Texas A&M running backs plaguing team
 

Joe Bergeron looks to the sky as he celebrates a touchdown. Bergeron is one of the many young players that will benefit from the senior leaders.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

Over the course of nine games, we’ve seen three or four incarnations of this Texas football team.

It all started where it left off in 2010, with Garrett Gilbert at the helm and a team that knew it would have to heavily rely on the defense to win games. Two games later, the Longhorns experimented with the sometimes-hot, sometimes-cold dual-quarterback system. It worked against BYU and was blown up against Oklahoma. Then the team reinvented itself again by giving Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Fozzy Whittaker the ball and cramming it down opponent’s throats, until injury to all three derailed that version.

So now we are here with Version 4.0 of the team unveiling itself in game 10 of the season, Senior Night, and some may ask what role the seniors have had in all this transition. After all, they were playing for a National Championship two years ago, but when it was their turn to take over the squad as upperclassmen, the team went 5-7 in their junior year and has been on a roller coaster of up and downs this season. As freshmen, the were brought up in a culture of winning by their elder peers, but didn’t quite fully get how to win on their own at first.

But look closer and you’ll see that this senior class has led the team in ways that work beyond immediate output on the field. They learned an entirely new defense and offense than the one they knew for three years and have worked to not only perfect it on the field, but teach it to their eventual replacements. And the best part about it is that they are more than happy to do it.

Senior running back Fozzy Whittaker, the heartbeat of the Longhorn team, said he was embarrassed by how he and his team played last season and wanted to help right the wrongs that Texas faced.

“The senior leaders of this team were going to make sure that we didn’t let that happen again, and we were going to find a way, brick-by-brick, build a new foundation to build up this team so that we’re stronger than ever,” Whittaker said.

He will continue to lead players such as Bergeron and Brown from the sidelines, and surely the lessons he’s taught them will impact the youngsters throughout their Longhorn careers.

Between the barrage of injuries, the shuffling of quarterbacks, and the youth of the team, Texas has conducted one of the most comprehensive trial-and-error system’s in the country this year. But the one constant variable in this experiment of a year was the senior class and its mission to lay the foundation for future Longhorn teams, rather than feeling the self-entitlement that many criticize Texas players for.

Unlike past senior classes, this one will not go out as consummate winners. They will go out as the squad that ushered in a new era of Texas football. One defined by their willingness to accept that success is a process.

No matter how the season ends up for them, the senior class has done it’s fair share of heavy lifting this year and have built a legacy that will last for seasons to come.
 

Center Dominic Espinosa (55) opens a hole for running back Joe Bergeron (24) to run through. Espinosa has started every game this year.

Photo Credit: Tamir Kalifa | Daily Texan Staff

In one short year, the Longhorns’ offensive line has gone from a glaring weakness to a
definitive strength.

Like most of the team, it went through many changes. Texas hired Georgia’s Stacy Searels to coach the offensive line this January. True freshman Dominic Espinosa has started at center since the first snap of the season opener. Senior David Snow, who started all 12 games at center last year, moved over to left guard.

Another freshman, Josh Cochran, replaced senior Tray Allen as the Longhorns’ starting left tackle and backup guard Luke Poehlmann has made his presence felt at tight end. So far, the moves have paid off.

“We’ve got the right five guys,” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. “Running the football builds confidence for the O-line, the tight ends, the running backs and the receivers. Everybody’s doing their job.”

The offensive line was highly criticized last year as Texas averaged just 23.8 points per game and Garrett Gilbert threw more interceptions than touchdown passes. No Longhorns running back topped 600 yards rushing in 2010 but they have three — Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Fozzy Whittaker — on pace to do that this year.

“Last year, we never got good at anything,” said head coach Mack Brown. “So we said let’s do something we can identify with. That was let’s get better in the running game and play action because we weren’t protecting very well.”

One of the biggest reasons for the transformation up front has been the new leadership Searels has provided. Like Texas’ last three defensive coordinators, Searels, a two-time All-SEC selection at Auburn, came from the SEC to Austin. Searels, who coached at Georgia for three years and was in charge of LSU’s offensive line when the Tigers captured the 2004 national title, has worked wonders with Texas’ offensive line this season.

“Coach Searels has done a great job with those guys,” Harsin said. “He’s a technician with those guys and done a good job drilling them with what they’re trying to do, drilling them in their techniques and what they’re going to see. He’s constantly critiquing and coaching.”

Like Searels, Malcolm Brown and Bergeron weren’t a part of the Longhorns program last year when Texas tried and failed to install an effective rushing attack. But the freshman tailbacks have resurrected the dormant running game this year, already combining to run for more than 1,000 yards.

“Good backs help,” said Mack Brown. “One obvious advantage to [the offensive line] is Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown are good players. Fozzy’s a better player than he’s been and he’s been able to stay healthy.”

Brown and Bergeron are not the only first-year players making contributions to the drastically improved run game. Cochran, whose Hallsville team went 4-6 in his senior year of high school last season, has done his part to make sure Texas doesn’t have a similar year again.

“Josh is really smart,” said Mack Brown. “He’s moving his feet. He’s gotten more comfortable. He can really run. He’s athletic. So Stacy and Major [Applewhite] and Bryan are using him on sweeps.”

Poehlmann, a fourth-year junior, is a seasoned veteran compared to players like Cochran but is helping the Texas offense in new ways, too. The junior offensive guard moved over to tight end against Kansas and it hasn’t been a coincidence that the Longhorns’ two most productive offensive outings have come with Poehlmann opening up holes on the edge of the offensive line.

“The O-line is doing a great job,” Whittaker said. “When you look into their eyes, you can tell that they’re focused and ready to push them off the ball no matter what kind of play it is.

When Whittaker is asked something, he almost always finds a way to work in the phrase “got to give credit to the offensive line” into his response. Not bad for a group that was considered a liability a year ago.