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July 25, 2011

Notebook: LHN the focus

DALLAS - Where other coaches before him shied away from challenging the University of Texas athletics TV channel, the Longhorn Network, Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel brought up a concern that Texas head coach Mack Brown would have to address just moments later.

Pinkel questioned the "common sense" of allowing the Longhorn Network to air high school football games but what he implied was the TV channel could have inherent recruiting advantages for Texas.

A fear other coaches have, but usually won't say on the record, is that Texas could further pursue a prospect by picking up a prospect's high school games as a favor -- maybe multiple games.

"It's a lack of common sense there to think that the network, the university network, can have high school games on their network," Pinkel said. "To me there's no common sense there. I have enough trouble coaching football so I'll leave that to some other people to make those decisions."

The first day of the two-day Big 12 Football Media Days event tended to center toward the Longhorn Network and the uncharted territory the Big 12, and by default the NCAA, is heading into.

Monday presented an opportunity for the media to get four opponents of the Longhorn Network to attack it and to watch Texas try to defend it.

It was a no-win situation for the Longhorns.

Brown knew as much and he took the high road. He avoided the network questions with blanket statements, praising the Texas brass for having the foresight and determination to make the network a reality.

Brown said it was an opportunity all colleges have but only Texas has been able to implement on its own.

After that, he played the victim role.

"On a day-to-day basis, they want to have some live practice, and I'm thinking a young man gets hurt on live TV, it's not like you can say hold that tape," Brown said. "So there's a lot of things. It's like an extra job for us and our sports information department and ESPN. We've all got to figure out what it means."

But finally, Brown got to the question Pinkel raised for him.

"When it's been brought up about the high school games being played, the way I understood it, it would have nothing to do with the University of Texas," Brown said. "Those games would be games that might be on ESPN anyway, and they would get to be played on the games. We're going to sign 20 to 25 players a year, more 20 than 25, and those players will probably be committed to us before June in their junior year. So I don't think that part will have any effect on recruiting at all.

I think the part that will affect (our) recruiting is you've got a lot more opportunities for young people to be seen. So there's no question that the opportunity to show who you are on national TV at every practice, at every ballgame, on a network, is -- I mean, it's a positive."

Brown continued.

"But I think the people that would be hurt if you don't show high school games will be the high school coach, the players - 99 percent will not even play college football, the communities in Texas that couldn't showcase their program. So I would hate that if that works that way."

Will the Longhorn Network actually impact recruiting? That won't be known for at least another full year.

Texas rarely had any problems recruiting against schools before the network.

QUARTERBACK-RECEIVER TANDEMS

Monday's media event also provided reporters with three teams with stellar quarterback-wide receiver relationships.

While Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones and receiver Ryan Broyles won't make an appearance until Tuesday, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller and Baylor's Robert Griffin and Kendall Wright talked about how their respective relationships were formed.

They offered insight into how Texas Tech first-year quarterback Seth Doege and a receiver can come together by default.

"I think just trust and communication," Weeden said. "Sometimes they're going to bust, I'm going throw a bad ball but it's not getting mad and pouting. You've got to communicate and understand and fix it without having to argue about. Just say 'this is what I was thinking' and move on. That's where I'm at with my receivers. I have a great relationship with all of them. If I see something I let them know and if they see something they let me know.

"There's times on the sideline where they'll see something and we'll talk about it and go score."

Obviously Weeden's job gets a little easier when a Billetnikoff winner is on the other side of the pass but Weeden said it takes a little while to get on the same page with any receiver whether it's Blackmon, Michael Crabtree or Jerry Rice.

In fact Weeden didn't even realize what Blackmon was capable off at first.

"With Blackmon, it was halfway through fall camp last year," Weeden said. "(Then-offensive coordinator Dana) Holgorsen said to me, 'if it were me I'd throw to him some more.' I started to throw to him more, more, more and by the end of the camp we both knew he could play.. The first couple of games he had great numbers and great catches and it's just one of those deals where I'd be a moron not to throw to him. It just kind of evolved and on top of that he made other guys around him better."

With all three of the quarterback-receiver duos Monday, the quarterbacks and receivers arrived at the same time.

Weeden was the third-string quarterback while Blackmon redshirted so they threw together on the scout team.

Griffin and Wright came into the program together and Tannehill and Fuller played receiver at the same time on A&M's roster before Tannehill turned into the quarterback.

"Me and Kendall came in together so it was kind of immediate," Griffin said. "We were both in the same situation, both young players, both trying to play. In a receiving corps as deep as the one we have, you have a whole bunch of athletes and he's the face but there are a lot of good guys around him as well."

Blackmon said the No. 1 receiver gains that status by having the best communication with the quarterback.

"Like everyone says, communication is key," Blackmon said. "Whether it's eye contact, hand signals or talking, communication is the No. 1 thing."

Tannehill said finding the No. 1 receiver takes time but also the quarterback needs to know the playbook and who is successful on what route.

"It's a combination of everything," Tannehill said. "They have to do well throughout the whole summer and fall camp. It's kind of a grind and people can drift off. You really see who has it and who doesn't early in the season."

Tannehill also said a quarterback should strive to have the same chemistry with all the receivers on the squad.

"You have to have a relationship not only with your No. 1 but also every guy that's out there with you," Tannehill said. "There's a trust factor in football and you have to know that you have the guy next to you's back and he has your back. Knowing that you're on the same page with your receiver and being able to trust them, throwing the ball into coverage and trusting that they're going to get the ball or no one will get the ball."

RB TALKS TEXAS' OFFENSE

When Brown and former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis talked about emphasizing the run last season, a lot of people scoffed at the idea.

People were right. Davis lost his job and Texas' offense wasted its Top 10 defense's efforts on the way to a 5-7 season.

Were the Texas running backs not up to the challenge or was it something else?

"That's kind of hard to say," running back Fozzy Whittaker said. "I haven't given it much thought. It's really something that we've kind of looked at and forgotten and hopefully we can be more of an impact offense."

Brown emphasized Texas has to get its "swagger" back this season. Part of setting up for that task was has hiring Bryan Harsin from Boise State. If you've seen Boise State play, it also probably means Texas scrapped its run-first strategy.

"It's more similar to Boise," Whittaker said. "(Harsin) has gotten away a little bit from Davis' traditional offense that we ran the past three years. It features a lot of things so hopefully we'll be able to learn it all and have it worked out by Sept. 3."

More trick plays?

"I don't know about trick plays," Whittaker said with a grin. "We gotta get the fundamentals down first."


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