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Monday, July 22, 2013
Previewing Big 12 media days: Texas

By Max Olson

DALLAS -- We already know plenty about how this week’s Big 12 media days will go.

Most coaches will wear suits. Art Briles might wear a mock turtleneck. They’ll arrive at a swanky hotel and give a speech to the assembled media about how the summer went great, the season is exciting, their players are experienced and their quarterback is promising.

If they’re savvy, the coaches might say something nice about the stability of the Big 12. If they’re bold, they might say something about the SEC. Those words will immediately be stripped of context and ridiculed on Twitter.

They’ll take questions -- some good, some not -- and then get whisked away for radio interviews and TV hits and photo shoots. Their players in attendance will go through a similar gauntlet. A lot will be said before the day is done. Most of it will prove meaningless by midseason.

But at least the message is always the same: Football is coming.

Mack Brown is scheduled to show up Tuesday for Day 2 of this year’s media days, and he’s bringing David Ash, Jackson Jeffcoat, Trey Hopkins and Adrian Phillips. Here are five questions you can expect to hear this week at Texas’ appearance at Big 12 media days.

1. Who are you, David Ash?

David Ash
David Ash can quiet some doubters at Big 12 media days.
Reporters who cover the Big 12 voted TCU’s Casey Pachall as their preseason All-Big 12 quarterback, despite the fact Pachall played only four games last season before leaving the program to seek treatment for addiction following a drunken-driving arrest.

It makes you wonder how Ash fared in that vote. Was he runner-up? Maybe not. We know how Texas fans generally feel about Ash, but it’s hard to know how the rest of the conference perceives him.

We’ll have a better sense after Tuesday. Ash is one of only two quarterbacks attending media days, along with Kansas’ Jake Heaps. He’ll draw a big crowd of reporters.

A lot will probably be made of whether Ash is now officially a “leader,” and he’ll be scrutinized by folks both for what he says and how he says it.

Ash grew increasingly comfortable with interviews during the 2012 campaign. He’s typically succinct and direct when surrounded by reporters. Now that he has already been named the clear-cut starter, will he convey confidence Tuesday?

As silly as it sounds, this is a nice opportunity for Ash. He can show off his personality, kill some misperceptions and reshape how people peg him.

2. How good can Jackson Jeffcoat be?

Jeffcoat won’t enjoy all the inquiries he’ll get Tuesday about being prone to injury, but you know they’re coming.

The ruptured left pectoral in 2011. The ruptured right pectoral in 2012. They’re both fair game. So is his five-star potential.

The senior defensive end was off to an All-America-caliber start last year before going down in the Cotton Bowl. Can he do it again? And what will he bring to a locker room that will miss leaders Kenny Vaccaro and Alex Okafor?

Jeffcoat doesn’t need reporters reminding him what’s at stake this fall. If anything, the questions might only further fuel his motivation.

3. Who stepped up this summer?

Players get asked this question year after year at media days. It’s used as a method to find out which freshmen have made a strong impression or which returning players are suddenly much improved.

The key figure in this, of course, is Ash. Texas players will face plenty of questions about what kind of leader he is, how he leads and how loud he is now. But this broad question also creates opportunities for the veterans to tip their caps to whichever young players proved themselves with their summer effort.

This is also a good time to slip in questions about Tyrone Swoopes and whether he’s a legitimate contender for playing time. After all, quarterbacks get all the pub, and the absence of eight Big 12 starting QBs means they’ll be topic No. 1 this week.

4. Is the tackling problem fixed?

Expect lots of questions about Texas’ defense and whether the Longhorns are confident it has been “fixed” after the various struggles of 2012.

Brown has given full support to defensive coordinator Manny Diaz in interviews this offseason, and he’s right to point to the season-ending injuries that felled Jeffcoat and Jordan Hicks as major reasons for the woes of last fall.

But it will be interesting to hear Adrian Phillips' thoughts on this topic. The much-hyped Texas secondary was humbled a few times last year. What did it learn?

On paper, Texas brings considerable talent at all three levels of its defense. But how did those groups mesh this summer, and what -- if any -- changes can we expect in scheme or philosophy?

5. How hot is that seat, Mack?

No matter what Brown or his bosses say, there will always be people who question how much longer he’ll be at Texas. No doubt he’ll answer more than a few questions on this topic Tuesday.

Don’t be surprised if we see a supremely confident Brown this week, one who believes his team is going to win a lot of games this fall. He had to be excited about that fourth-place Big 12 prediction last week. It’ll help bolster an “us against the world” mentality on his team.

He’ll shoot down talk of a hot seat or of any interest in retiring. He’ll tout Texas’ efforts in 2015 recruiting as proof he’s in this for the long haul. That might not quell the chatter, but there’s no better time than Big 12 media days to address it.