Moving Monroe to make screens work

AUSTIN, Texas -- D.J. Monroe cannot find a way to get the ball in his hands and make an impact.

Texas cannot figure out an effective use of the bubble screen.

OK, let’s all pause here for a moment … now slowly put two and two together. Don’t think you are all alone in figuring it out. Texas had that aha moment as well. That’s why as of now Monroe, who was ineffective at running back, has become a wide receiver.

“He should be really good at those little bubble screens because he can do thing in space,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.

And Texas is going to need to be effective at those plays. While David Ash and Case McCoy have a year of experience, Texas is not exactly ready to hurl the ball downfield 40 times a game. So the Longhorns need some quick, easy passes -- the type they failed to throw last year -- that allow the quarterbacks to get a rhythm and gain confidence.

“It is usually an easy completion, and it can be a play that is part of the run game for four yards or 20 [yards],” co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said. “It spreads the field and gives you more options on the offensive side of the ball.”

That’s not to say the execution of the bubble screen is a no-brainer. There still has to be a decent throw, a catch and some serious blocking to make it work.

“… being physical on the edge,” Harsin said. “When you do throw it out there, it is not the guy catching the ball, but the guy blocking for him (who makes the play).

“I think we have made an emphasis on that going into the bowl game, and it has carried over into these practices. We are trying to get some different people in those spots.”

Different people like Monroe.

“If he is going to play more he needs to expand his package,” Brown said. “He needs to be outside. That is who he is and to do that he has to catch better.”

That has always been the catch with Monroe. He was a running back in high school and not called upon to catch balls out of the backfield. When he got to Texas he was almost exclusively used on speed sweeps and not in the passing game. He has eight career receptions, all of which came last season.

But Texas took a look at its depth at running back -- three deep with Johnathan Gray coming in -- the size of those backs -- all 200-plus pounds -- and then at Monroe -- 170 after an enchilada lunch -- and made the move. Now Monroe must make himself a receiver and make sure his hands are no longer a liability.

“We've told him catch better,” Brown said. “I mean, you just need to do that. It's really important. So work really hard. You're fast. You're great with the ball in your hands in space, but we can't hide you if you've got one play. We've got to get more plays. We've got to get more touches for you.”

Monroe has accepted the new role. Not that he had that much choice.

“I think he understands now,” the coach said. “When you first tell a guy we need you to do this more, they don't like it much because they say I'm a tailback. If you're not going to touch it there and you want to touch it, then listen to us and let's try to help you grow.”

If Monroe can grow into a wide receiver then the Texas passing game can grow by adding the wrinkle of effective bubble and slip screens. It’s pretty simple match and math.