Longhorn Football Preview
There was a time not long ago when we Longhorn football fans didn’t worry too much about our offensive prowess. We knew a mean and nasty defense waited, frothing at the mouth, ready to pummel and bury any team they faced. If the offense scored a couple of touchdowns, we win. If the offense didn’t, the defense probably scored themselves. That was a magical time. We want it back. And so does Head coach Mack Brown. That’s why he hired Manny Diaz to lead that side of the line of scrimmage after Will Muschamp left for the head coaching job at Florida.
“We have to protect the ball, and when balls hit the ground, we need to get them.”
More on Diaz later in this series, but let’s just say he is a size and strength defensive believer: clog holes, make plays.
Mack Brown detailed what he believes is the most important statistic he keeps, one he says was the most significant problem last year. Yes, he actually said this was at the top of what must be a very long list — turnover ratio. “We have to protect the ball, and when balls hit the ground, we need to get them.”
Texas ranked 116th in the country last year in turnover ration (how many you get, versus how many they get). If that’s not the worst in the nation, it’s pretty darn close.
It’s tough to coach desire. Not just the ability to knock someone silly with the possibility of doing yourself harm, but the “I want to” knock somebody silly and “I don’t care” if I do harm to myself while doing it. That’s why it’s hard to coach the ability to fall on fumbles without getting someone hurt during practice; the defense needs to want it more.
So let’s take a look at the defense Manny Diaz gets to work with. This D has questions, yes, but not nearly as many as the offense. This D has senior leadership, something the offense sorely lacks. This D has teeth—baby teeth right now, which we hope will grow into fangs.
I may as well work on the biggest issue first. Let’s let Mack Brown describe this problem simply: “We don’t know who the corners are, we don’t know who the tackles are.” Ouch.
Now let’s turn that around. Mack could have said, we do know who the safeties are, and we do know who the ends and linebackers are. That’s better right?
“We don’t know who the corners are, we don’t know who the tackles are.”
"We want the defensive line to be our strength," said Brown at his press conference last week. "We will have a team of pass rushers."
Brown and Diaz want four guys able to rotate at defensive tackle. That is a great plan and allows them to keep a set of fresh legs on the field longer. Unfortunately, they only have one defensive tackle right now, that's Kheeston Randall. Randall has huge potential and is a likely NFL player next year. He’s a senior and a leader and had a terrific season in 2009. Not so much last year as his playing partner at tackle was TBA most of the time.
This year Randall expects the opposition to tee off on him, and he’s ready for it. It's quite likely he will be teamed up with a freshman or sophomore. There are some terrific young players wanting that job. The question obviously is, "Can they play at the college level?"
The defensive ends might be as good as Texas gets on defense. The Hendricks Award named Alex Okafor to their preseason watch list as one of the best ends in country. On the other side, Jackson Jeffcoat leads a great group of fast, sure tacklers who can get after a quarterback.
No worries. Seniors Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson lead this group and, along with senior safety Blake Gideon, will try to lead the defense back to greatness. This may not be the best linebacking corps in recent history, but when you add Jordan Hicks and Demarco Cobbs to the mix, you get a strong top four. “I am not coaching these guys to be game ready. They have been in games. They have been in giant games,” said Diaz, “now we are coaching them to be dominating players.” I like that.
Three of the four starters from 2010 are gone, including the playmaker Aaron Williams. The guys below them, well, didn’t exactly tear it up when they had a chance to play. Senior Safety Blake Gideon anchors the backfield this season and with some good training from the veteran backfield coach Duane Akina, should provide the leadership they need to develop into a decent unit.
The cornerback position is completely up for grabs and the guys working to start have not exactly dominated when they got a chance to play. I could list the names, but why? Lets see who ends up on the field.
Yesterday, the other senior safety, Christian Scott was suspended from the team indefinitely after being charged with assault. He is a huge loss. Scott may not have been the best coverage guy but good lord he could hit. Hits that echoed off the walls and scared the pants off the receivers running around out there.
The bottom line here is this. Texas needs their powerful D-line and linebacking corps to get after the quarterback, disrupt plays, and force turnovers. If opposing offenses are allowed to settle into a passing game or run into that open space behind the linebackers, Texas is in trouble.
Tomorrow, The Coaches, a brand new group with brand new ideas.