Michael Huey

John Chiles, who spent the latter half of his college career as a receiver, will have a chance to join New Orleans' squad. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Derek Stout | Daily Texan Staff

This summer’s NFL Lockout created an interesting situation that disallowed contact between players and teams for nearly four months. While there were stipulations that allowed for a normal draft, it didn’t help the undrafted free agents in any sense. For a group of former Longhorns, all that could be done was to stay in shape, and hope for a phone call when the lockout was over. For most of them, that call finally came.

John Chiles
Chiles had an interesting career as a Longhorn to say the least. After pre-college hype comparing him to a hybrid Vince Young, Chiles didn’t disappoint but didn’t necessarily impress either. His brief stint at backup didn’t evoke a new Young, and he was switched to slot receiver, where he finished his career. Chiles filled a niche with his speed and versatility, and the coaches couldn’t leave him off the field. Chiles’ free-agent contract with New Orleans is a good match, as Saints quarterback Drew Brees has always been good at spreading the ball around to various targets.

James Kirkendoll
A native of Central Texas, Kirkendoll was a quick, dependable receiver, who will forever be remembered in Longhorn lore for his catch in the final minutes of Texas’ 2009 Fiesta Bowl win. The Tennessee Titans signed Kirkendoll to a contract and, while he’s certainly undersized 5-foot-10, his work ethic could land him a roster spot.

Kyle Hix and Michael Huey
Neither of the offensive linemen was ever dominant at Texas, but both players offer something general managers look for: size. But even with their big frames (Hix is 6-foot-7, 325 lbs. and Huey, an offensive guard, is 6-foot-4 and around 300 lbs.), neither was drafted, maybe in part because of a lack of a run game in the Longhorn offense last year. They’ll both have to fight for a roster spot; Hix with the Patriots and Huey with the Seahawks.

John Gold
Fans never had many complaints about the former walk-on, a guy who punted and punted well. But kickers and punters have a more difficult time making professional rosters in a league in which teams sometimes keep only one kicker on the payroll to save cap space. Case in point: Hunter Lawrence, arguably the greatest kicker in Texas history, didn’t even get a spot on the Buccaneers after being signed to a free-agent contract in the offseason. While Gold has a slim chance of making the Seahawks roster, he’ll have his shot.

Greg Smith
Smith is one of the more overlooked tight ends in school history. From his early role as a blocking tight end, Smith showed promise and versatility, clearing out defensive ends for Jamaal Charles and deep snapping on the side. Like Hix and Huey, Smith’s final year wasn’t one to boast about. The 2010 Longhorn offense was just plain stagnant, and Smith never had a chance to do much — just nine receptions for 60 total yards. Smith will never be confused with elite pass-catching tight ends, but he does have a unique opportunity to make the Carolina Panthers roster as a savvy blocking specialist.

Some undrafted players who have yet to sign: Eddie Jones, Dustin Earnest and Britt Mitchell.

The Longhorns’ stat sheet after every game has been misleading when it comes to red zone conversions this year. For example, last weekend against Baylor, Texas was 4 of 4 in the red zone, but that’s because kicker Justin Tucker made four field goals, not because the offense scored touchdowns.

Head coach Mack Brown said at this time last year, the team was 24 of 38 in the red zone and this year they are 15 of 36. The Longhorns are driving downfield and getting into scoring position, they just aren’t finishing with touchdowns.

“The lack of production in the red zone has been unbelievable,” Brown said. “That percentage is killing us.”

Brown told offensive coordinator Greg Davis that they need to be more aggressive if they want to score more points, and one way to do that is to have quarterback Garrett Gilbert run more.

“I told Greg to go back and turn it loose,” Brown said. “We gotta score and we gotta take more chances.”

<strong>Making changes</strong>

For the past few weeks, punt returners Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown have muffed quite a few punts. But when asked if he’ll make a change, Brown has been adamant that those two players are the best the team has and they’ll continue to play that role.

After Brown dropped two punts against Baylor inside the 20-yard-line, Mack Brown said this week they would try out new players.

“Punt block/return has been the best in the country for us for years, and it has been a real struggle to say the least,” Brown said.

Curtis Brown is ranked 13th in the country in punt returns and has averaged 14.9 yards per return this season. However, he’s really struggled in that position. Brown said that defensive backs Christian Scott and Adrian Phillips and receiver Mike Davis will get a shot at returning this week.

<strong>Out for the season</strong>

Senior Michael Huey has likely played his final snap as a Longhorn. The starting left guard is out 4-6 weeks with a right knee injury that he suffered in the first half of the Baylor game last Saturday.

The timetable, however, is really code for out for the season as team trainer Kenny Boyd told Brown that Huey will not be healthy in time for Texas A&M, the last game of the regular season. It is unknown at this point if Huey would be healthy enough to play in a potential postseason game. Huey is now the third offensive lineman to go down with an injury this season. The first was right guard Tray Allen, who broke a bone in his left foot in the spring and re-aggravated it during fall camp, and the second was backup left tackle Luke Poehlmann, who tore his ACL against Wyoming.

“It’s a huge blow that we’ve lost another starting offensive lineman,” Brown said. “Especially since Michael Huey has been playing great.”

Huey has been the most consistent, hard-working offensive lineman for the Longhorns all season and the coaches have raved about his progression and leadership on the field.

The new starting left guard will be Trey Hopkins. Davis says he has a lot of confidence in the true freshman that Rivals.com ranked as the No. 1 offensive lineman in the 2010 recruiting class.

“Trey is extremely athletic,” Davis said. “He’s got a great wingspan, is very bright and has never complained. He’ll get better and better as he works out in the weight room and gets more snaps.”

Michael Huey (63) looks for a block in the national championship game. Huey is one of the strongest players on the team.

Photo Credit: Stephen Keller | Daily Texan Staff

Texas is already more than halfway through with its spring practices, which means the days of Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley are fading farther and farther away in the rearview mirror. It was no secret that Shipley was McCoy’s go-to receiver, but now the question is, who will be Garrett Gilbert’s?

“I’m not sure exactly,” wide receiver John Chiles said. “You’ll see James [Kirkendoll] make a play, then you’ll see Malcolm [Williams] make a play, and I’ll make a play. It’s sort of all over the place right now. He’s spreading the ball really well.”

While no one receiver has fully distinguished himself as Gilbert’s go-to man, those three veterans have begun to distance themselves from the rest of the pack.

“I think there’s some separation,” Chiles said. “Malcolm, James and myself. I think there’s separation, we’re definitely the starters. We’ve been working hard to push each other.”

Despite all three having seen game action and catching a combined nine touchdowns last year, they’re having to make the adjustment to catching balls from Gilbert instead of McCoy.

“I think he has a faster release a little bit,” Chiles said about Gilbert’s passes compared to McCoy’s. “It’s not exactly blazing fast, but it’s faster. It [arrives] a little bit quicker.”

Five-finger discount
Texas is stealing plays from everybody this off-season.

OK, so it’s not stealing if they give it to you, but still, the Horns are taking some pages, literally, from other teams’ playbooks. Earlier this offseason, Texas brought in some of the coaches from Boise State to help learn some new trick plays to keep defenses guessing and to keep things fun for the players.

Now the Horns have brought in someone new to help: Jim Caldwell, coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

Caldwell came in and introduced a stretch play to help with Texas’ new emphasis on the running game. The play can be used as either a run or a play-action pass, which fits perfectly in Texas’ new offensive strategy. The stretch, which is, in a way, replacing the zone-option, is nearly as versatile as Texas’ stable of running backs.

“In our system, they taught us all well how to run the play and what to look for to read the play, so we’re all capable of running that play,” running back Fozzy Whittaker said.

The players also get some extra benefit in the film room when studying the play beyond just learning how it works.

“We watch snaps on the Colts to see how they do it,” Whittaker said “It helps us realize the play a little bit better and helps us get a full understanding of how they do it in the League, which we’re all pursuing.”

Huey the hulk
Maybe they should start calling Michael Huey the “Hulk,” given that everyone seems to think he’s one of the strongest guys on the team with a nasty mean streak.

“I think Mikey Huey has been the nastiest out there,” Whittaker said. “I’ve seen him get in a couple of defensive tackles’ personal bubble.”

“I might have to say Michel Huey,” Kheeston Randall said when asked who the strongest guy on the team was. “I’d say [he benches] 500 [pounds].”
Randall’s max on bench is only 445 lbs.

Huey is not alone, though. The one area that was looking to be one of Texas’ weakest points is its strongest ­— at least in the weight room.

“They’re pretty strong,” Randall said of the offensive line. “I’d probably say they’re strongest overall.”

Despite having already made a smooth transition from right guard to left, Huey is going to need that strength to help him while he continues to adjust to the move.

“He’s fine,” said Kyle Hix, who also moved from the right side of the line to the left at tackle. “It takes a couple days to get used to it. Really, it’s not too big of a deal for him. He’s played both sides before.”