If texas wants to run, revamped line must get the job done
Hix says switch to left tackle to protect Gilbert’s blind side not a big deal
IRVING — Kyle Hix returns to his football roots this fall, in more ways than one.
After three years at right tackle, the giant Longhorn will spend his senior season at left tackle, the position where he became a highly recruited standout at Aledo High School.
Additionally, if Texas’ offensive scheme pans out the way coach Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Greg Davis hope, Hix will get more opportunities to drive block for a downhill running attack than he did on the right side. Talk about returning to your roots … “It’s what you do since you’ve been little, starting out in peewee ball,” the 6-foot-7-inch, 316-pound Hix said Wednesday on the final day of the Big 12 media days. “You don’t throw the ball there. You run it. It’s kind of what comes natural to you.” Texas is banking on it. The Longhorns’ commitment to revitalizing the potent running attack that has been missing the past couple of years is dependent on what happens with their totally retooled line. Hix and guard Michael Huey are the only returning starters,
and they are playing new positions with both switching from the right side to the left.
Center David Snow, right guard Tray Allen and right tackle Britt Mitchell will replace fifth-year seniors Chris Hall, Charlie Tanner and Adam Ulatoski. But it’s not like the new starters just got off the bus. Allen and Mitchell are seniors, Snow a junior.
“They’ve got a ton of experience,” said Hix, the only Longhorn named to the All-Big 12 preseason offensive team. “We all know what we’re doing. So I don’t think there will be that big of a letdown.”
Again, the Longhorns are banking on it.
With Texas averaging just 147.6 rushing yards last season — its lowest average since 2002 — Brown believes an improved running attack will pay dividends on several fronts, not the least of which is helping ease sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert into his post-Colt McCoy starting job.
Brown said Texas conducted studies that showed “we had more explosive plays when the quarterback was under the center as well as the tailback being right behind the quarterback.”
But it all hinges on what happens up front. If the line performs the way Texas needs, the Longhorns have a chance to make the ground game work regardless of who lines up at tailback.
But if the line doesn’t live up to Brown’s hopes?
Well, the most recent memories of Texas fans are the Big 12 championship game — when McCoy was sacked nine times by a Ndamukong Suh-led Nebraska defense — and the BCS title game, when the Longhorns rushed for just 81 yards vs. Alabama, an average of 2.9 yards per carry.
Asked if the Nebraska game was embarrassing, Hix showed some fancy footwork.
“Nebraska’s a great team, Suh’s a great player. Their whole defense is really, really good,” he said diplomatically. “But we won the game and that’s what we were trying to do.”
Speaking of footwork, Hix said reacquainting himself with the footwork on the left side of the line was the biggest hurdle he had to scale in making the switch from the other side.
“You just reverse everything. After that, it’s not a big deal,” he said. “It took me about a week or so to get used to it in spring.”
Originally, coaches lined up Allen next to Hix at guard. Eventually, they decided to reunite Hix with Huey and move Allen to the right side.
“He (Hix) is best friends with Michael Huey,” Brown said. “We hope they can become a good tandem for us.”
It’s essential, especially on the left side since they will be protecting Gilbert’s blind side. Hix now occupies what most regard as the most critical position on the line since he’ll often be on an island against an opponent’s best rusher.
But Hix, a man of such few words that Brown brought him to the media days because “we want him to be a leader on the line,” doesn’t necessarily see it that way.
“Nah, doesn’t matter,” he said of the increased pressure of playing left tackle. “You can give up a sack just as easily on the right side as you can on the left.”
But the left side being Gilbert’s blind side?
“Trust me,” Hix said. “A sack from the right is just as effective as a sack from the left.”
Kyle Hix played right tackle for the last three seasons. Now he’s returning to his former position of left tackle.
Guard Michael Huey (63) lifts wide receiver Jordan Shipley after Shipley scored against Louisiana-Monroe last season.