FROM THE STANDS
WITH TREY MCLEAN
So it’s looking more and more like the little Texas A&M Aggies are headed to the SEC (no they aren’t. I’m just being nice. This is pretty much put to bed now, but still, let’s indulge them). Rumors abound that the SEC is also looking at (possibly) Missouri, Florida State and Clemson to make them the first super conference, although media outlets have reported that none are officially acknowledging that is true (because it isn’t). The SEC itself has voted on zero action to add anyone else to the league and sources say… Wait, Missouri? The one that’s black and gold? In Columbia? Is that right?
I get the Aggies. I mean, I don’t understand why the SEC is doing anything at all to be honest (they aren’t). Their model is working perfectly and their football success rate is off the charts. Five National Titles in five years is pretty good, don’t you think? Why mess with something for the sake of messing with it (they aren’t)? But they didn’t ask me what they should do. So, I get why they want the Aggies (they don’t). A&M is a big name in a big state that the entire conference wants to regularly recruit in. The TV sets in Dallas and Houston and all points between that follow the Ags will now be watching SEC conference games rather than Big 12 conference games (no they won’t). And let’s be honest- Texas A&M isn’t the juggernaut that will upset the apple cart in the SEC. The powers that be will still be the powers that be and even the most optimistic Aggie fan has to realize that it will take time for them to jump to the top of the conference. How long did it take Arkansas to get to the top of the SEC? Oh, they haven’t yet? You mean 20 years later they are still trying to win their first SEC Title? Oh, well maybe that wasn’t a very strong argument, then. Maybe the current A&M team with seven seniors on defense and a three-headed senior monster on offense won’t be the top pick to win the SEC West in 2012 (probably because they won’t be in the SEC West in 2012). But to be fair they haven’t been the top pick to win their division since Bill Clinton was in the White House… But don’t concern yourselves with that, Ags. You are in the SEC now (not really). Yay! No more boring games with Kansas and Iowa State. Now you get the SEC. Now you get Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Yeah! No more having to drive an hour or two to Waco to watch a game. Now you have to drive six or seven hours to Oxford to watch a game. No more crazy Tech fans, Ags. Now you get crazy Georgia fans (underrated crazy). And instead of long road trips to Missouri and K-State you get longer road trips to South Carolina and Georgia. That’s a time zone change! Awesome! And no more worrying about pesky oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns. You know you beat them BOTH last year?!? Now you get Florida and Alabama. And LSU. Speaking of crazy fans, enjoy that roadie. Oh, and Arkansas stays on the schedule, too. How convenient! That game was NOT pretty last year, was it? I’m sure that will change when they play as conference foes (they won’t be conference foes). Probably. Right? Sure. Anyway, this was about Missouri, not A&M.
Why Missouri, again? There is more Missouri love in my house than probably any in Austin, Texas, but I don’t get what Mizzou brings to the table. Football? Two conference Championship Game appearances, no titles, and they were hammered in both. Basketball? What have they done in basketball in the Big 12? Not much. Baseball? They scored 30 on Texas once a few years ago. Is that good enough? Apparently so. They don’t seem to have any of the rabid football fanaticism that the SEC has (and A&M has) and while they float between “good” and “meh” in the Big 12 they are going to float between “bleh” and “ugh” in the SEC. Why would you want them, SEC? The Kansas City TV market? Really? The 31st-best TV market in the country is worth it? Why don’t you call South Florida in Tampa (14th) or Miami (16) or the Houston Cougars (10th) if TV screens are the goal. But maybe that isn’t the goal. What is the goal, by the way? Water down the league with some schools that play sports for the sake of expansion? Oh, is that the goal? My apologies, then. You’re doing great!
What happens now? The Aggies are intent on ending this relationship, even if it won’t be with the SEC. They feel like they’ve been wronged too many times by big bad Texas and they are following the precedent set by Nebraska- they’re leaving. Or at least they want to. There’s the door. If you need to make this all Texas’ fault to get you to sleep tonight, fine. Mizzou has wanted out of the Big 12 for a while as well. They feel like they’re a better fit in the Big Ten and their presence in the SEC makes as much sense as a sweater vest at a NASCAR race. Mizzou wants out. Again, there’s the door. Texas will move forward and be fine.
I have a buddy who said “I don’t really care what A&M does… My concern is what does Texas do?” And I think Texas has a plan. They had to know with all the whining about the Longhorn Network that something like this might happen and I think Texas has planned for that. I think Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and ou stick together and will make a very powerful addition to someone’s conference. My money is still on the Pac-12 if they can get the TV deals worked out. I’ve seen stuff about the Big Ten as well with Notre Dame in the picture. The point is Texas has options, and options allow you the freedom to make the best choice and that is what Texas will do. I personally think the Big 12 was never going to make it to the end of the TV contract (2016) so these departures will only speed up the next step, if there are departures. But there was going to be a next step to be sure.
The Big ~ is still intact this fall, but my guess is the Horns have new conference foes very soon, and one of them will NOT be the Aggies. Probably.
So long, Ags. See you in the Cotton Bowl sometime? Or at every regular season conference game around Thanksgiving from here on out.
On to the Texas defense.
To recap the Texas Defense Soap Opera of last off-season:
•December 6th- Texas defensive tackles coach Mike Tolleson (along with offensive coordinator Greg Davis and offensive line coach Mac McWhorter) retires.
•December 8th- Florida Coach Urban Meyer retires, citing health issues. It was the second time in a year Meyer retired (he took the spring off) and this time it was for good. One of the premier jobs in college football was open.
•December 11th- Florida hires Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. The Longhorn program was in shock as their Head Coach in Waiting and one of the two men (Mack Brown being the other) cleaning house after the 5-7 season was gone.
•December 13th- Former Miami Head Coach Randy Shannon is the leading candidate to replace Muschamp according to many and several say he has already gotten the job.
•December 15th- Former Florida defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is rumored to be announced as the next defensive coordinator at Texas as those Randy Shannon rumors prove untrue.
•December 19th- Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is the leading candidate to replace Will Muschamp at Texas and according to some it’s a “done deal”. Those Teryl Austin rumors proved untrue.
•January 3rd- Alabama defensive tackles coach Bo Davis is rumored to be in Austin interviewing for the same job.
•January 4th- Bo Davis is confirmed as the new defensive tackles coach at Texas.
•January 5th- Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is rumored to be taking over for Will Muschamp at Texas. The Justin Wilcox rumors proved to be untrue.
•January 6th- Mack Brown introduces Bo Davis as Texas’ new defensive tackles coach and Manny Diaz as Texas’ new defensive coordinator. Those Manny Diaz/Bo Davis rumors proved true.
•January 16th- Texas secondary coach Duane Akina resigns to accept the same job at Arizona and will be named the defensive coordinator for Mike Stoops.
•January 17th- Texas hires former Longhorn All-American and Seattle Seahawks secondary coach Jerry Gray to be the new secondary coach and assistant head coach. The Akina departure/Gray hire are right on top of each other.
•February 12th- New Tennessee Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak hires Texas secondary coach Jerry Gray as his new defensive coordinator.
•February 14th- Texas re-hires Duane Akina from Arizona to return to his old position.
That was a fun two months, huh? Man, I’m glad that’s done. Texas got everyone in place for spring practice and get to the business of rebuilding the team after the disastrous 2010 campaign. While Will Muschamp left with a fine pedigree and the sixth best defense in the nation, there were massive holes that got exposed during 2010. The Horns were 31st in sacks, 44th in rush defense, 49th in scoring defense and 116th in turnover margin. That isn’t exactly the same unit that was 25-2 in 2008 and 2009. The Longhorns gave up big play after big play, allowed teams to push them around in the second half on the ground and, aside from Nebraska, did not take over any games. And now ¾ of the secondary was gone, the best pass rusher was gone and new schemes were going to have to be learned. It was a time of uncertainly for Texas on defense.
It didn’t take long for Texas to start answering questions. As the Horns went through the spring, they grew accustomed to Diaz’ new scheme. Not a yeller, Diaz got the guys to buy into his pressure-from-everywhere scheme quickly. He trusts players to make plays, even freestyle within the scheme, and wants them to use their abilities and athleticism to make plays. The more plays they make, the more freedom he allows them. Mistakes are going to happen and he knows that, and as long as everyone can learn from them it’s pretty much okay. With this philosophy and the talent on the team, Diaz had his guys brimming with confidence and excitement quickly. Now he must hone and shape them into a defense. And from everything I hear and read the reports are glowing. Still, there are some holes. Let’s take a look:
Returning Starters: Kheeston Randall (Sr), Alex Okafor (Jr)
Key Players Returning: Reggie Wilson (So), Dravannti Johnson (Jr), Calvin Howell (So), Ashton Dorsey (So)
Key Players Lost: Eddie Jones, Sam Acho
Key Additions: Greg Daniels (DT), Chris Whaley (from HB to DE), Desmond Jackson (DT), Cedric Reed (DT)
Last year the Texas defensive line, despite all the accolades and the rep, was pushed around a little bit. They had trouble standing up to the run and were gashed in games against UCLA, K-State, Baylor and A&M (who did I leave out?) and while the defense had 31 sacks (their lowest total in three years) I don’t recall but two of them— at Rice that led to a Keenan Robinson fumble return for a touchdown and the first drive vs. Nebraska— being impactful at all. And now 15 of those sacks are gone with Eddie Jones and Sam Acho done with college. But don’t you worry about that.
New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’ first move in the spring to get Alex Okafor outside. The junior played inside at tackle last year at 265 pounds or so and despite being Size-0-small in defensive tackle terms, he did okay. He finished the year with 2 1/2 sacks, 30 tackles, 13 pressures and a forced fumble. Okafor has all the talent in the world, but he doesn’t have the size to stick inside and be the presence he can be elsewhere. So rather than pack on the pounds to make him a better fit inside, Diaz and new defensive tackles coach Bo Davis decided to move Okafor back to where he made his name, at defensive end. And now rather than being an undersized defensive tackle he’s a perfectly-sized defensive end where he was a Freshman All-American in 2009. His ability to get into the backfield, using a combination of quickness and strength, make him an incredibly dangerous defensive end if you are a quarterback. He showed he could rush inside last year with 2 1/2 sacks, but now outside with more space to use his speed he will be a demon. I don’t say this a lot, but mark it down- Okafor is going to blow up this year. He’s been “unblockable” in camp according to reports and he has two things going for him that will only make him better: a terrific motor and Jackson Jeffcoat. The 6-foot-5, 253-pound sophomore from Plano will start opposite Okafor and had he been healthy all season he would have had many awards hanging on his wall. An ankle injury limited him to eight games last season, and that was enough to get him the Honorable Mention Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Award. As a true freshman last year he was the most technically sound of all the ends and his impact was immediate- he started the Texas Tech game, which No.3 on the year- and that ankle injury limited him down the stretch. He’s back for 2010 and healthy and every bit the beast that Okafor is on the other side. Okafor is a little stronger and more polished, but expect JJ to be as lethal coming off the edge as anyone in the league, and with both of them on the field at the same time, offenses are not going to be able to key on one and cut the other one loose. In short, both Okafor and Jeffcoat have the potential to be All-Big 12 this fall.
With the two of them outside it can only help Kheeston Randall inside. “Big Money” is the headliner of the Texas defensive line this year and for good reason: the 6-foot-5, 295-pound senior is on the Nagurski, Outland and Lombardi Trophy watch lists. He has 22 starts and was All-Big 12 in 2010. He has the frame for the NFL, but last year he wasn’t in great shape and at times wilted under the focus of the blocking schemes. This summer and into fall camp he has taken advantage of Bennie Wylie being his new strength coach, reporting in the best shape of his life and taking his game to the “draft me very high, please” level that frankly he wasn’t playing at last year. It’s a contract year for Randall in a sense and so far he’s shown up with the urgency you’d expect in that situation. Expect a great season from Randall.
With three of the starting four set in stone, the only job up for grabs is the other tackle spot opposite Randall. And the fact none of the guys on campus have been able to lock that job down is a bit concerning. Calvin Howell, Ashton Dorsey, De’Aires Cotton and Taylor Bible can’t seem to get over the hump. The consistency hump, the staying healthy hump, the staying-in-great-shape hump are some of the humps plaguing these guys. The talent is there, but for some reason they just can’t seem to put it all together. The guy that seems to be making the biggest push is Greg Daniels. The redshirt freshman was a defensive end last year but has spun down to tackle and he had excellent spring; however, he’s sort of in the Okafor mode in that he just isn’t big enough to handle the every-down duties of the tackle job right now. He has great quickness and for a time was running first team alongside Randall but I don’t think he is ideal right now as he learns a new position. He’s going to be an excellent situational player, but Texas needs someone to step in as the front line starter and it doesn’t appear to be anyone on campus already. So where do we go from here? We go to Desmond Jackson.
I think the goggled freshman is going to be the starting defensive tackle opposite Randall when the season starts. At 6-foot-1, 280 pounds he has the size of a classic nose guard. And while I like my 0-, 1- and 2-techniques (“0” over the center, “1” in the gap between the guard and center, “2” on the guard) at 300 or so pounds, the amazing strength that Jackson has off-sets his lack of girth. Reports are he put up 455 pounds on the bench press when camp started. That’s frightening. With his strength and non-stop motor (I’ve seen multiple sources that state Jackson is 110% on every play) he reminds me of a young Chris Akins. If you remember, a young Chris Akins was outstanding. I expect Jackson gets the job and he doesn’t come out except for rest. His strength and quickness are going to make him a factor in run-support and as a pass rusher, pulling some heat off of Randall. My one concern is if he’s big enough to handle teams running right at him consistently, but I think what he brings to the table more than makes up for that liability.
The Horns have three all star candidates and the future anchor of the line starting this year, but do they have the depth to sustain it? In a word, yes. While Dorsey, Howell and Bible (and Cotton) have shown they cannot separate themselves from the pack, they have all shown flashes of great play. Dorsey has shown up in the best shape of his life and Howell seems to finally be healthy. Barring injuries Texas probably isn’t going to ask any of them to log 50 snaps a game, but rather ask all of them to log 15 snaps a game. With Manny Diaz wanting 10 or more defensive linemen rotating in, they will all get their chance to play. With the first three listed and Greg Daniels coming off the bench, Texas might not have superstar depth right now, but they have talent and the pool is very, very deep, meaning Texas can overcome lack of star power with overwhelming numbers.
The name to watch outside is Reggie Wilson. The 6-foot-3, 252-pound sophomore had what many would consider a wasted year in 2010. Okay, what EVERYONE would consider a wasted year. He was a super talent coming out of high school just like fellow ’10 class member Jackson Jeffcoat and is just about his equal in pass rushing and playmaking skills. With less experience than Okafor and Jeffcoat he’s behind them, but that is only because Texas can only play two defensive ends at a time. Or can they? We will see. He’s going to get starter reps the way Texas wants to substitute and he is going to be a star. I don’t mean later on, I mean this year. Texas basically has three defensive ends that could start for just about everyone and I think you’ll see all of them get their reps and make plays. The fourth end spot is open and the two guys battling for it are Chris Whaley and Cedric Reed. Whaley, the super athlete who is moving over from the offense, has shown flashes of his abilities, but he is still learning his new role. At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds he has the size and measurables to play immediately- it’s just a matter of him getting comfortable. The other option is Reed, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound freshman. He has plenty of room to add some weight with that frame, but he has abilities that should get him on the field quickly. He and Whaley are vying for that fourth spot, but I think they are both going to play unless Whaley just takes off with the job and they redshirt Reed. I don’t think he does, so I think they both play.
The Texas defensive line is going to be nasty. NASTY. There is a good mix of upperclassmen, young contributors and newcomers that combine to make one of the best and deepest lines in the Big 12. With superstars like Okafor, Randall and Jeffcoat and superstars-to-be Jackson and Wilson, the Horns are set up front.
Returning Starters: Keenan Robinson (Sr), Emmanuel Acho (Sr)
Key Players Returning: Jordan Hicks (So)
Key Players Lost: Dustin Earnest, Jared Norton
Key Additions: Aaron Benson (RFr), DeMarco Cobbs (So), Steve Edmond (Fr), Tevin Jackson (Fr), Kendall Thompson (Fr)
Let me get this out of the way- this is the most talented group of linebackers from top to bottom I’ve ever seen at Texas. You look back at guys like Derrick Johnson and Brian Jones and see how great they were, but they didn’t have the guys around them like these guys do. The emotional leaders of this team are at linebacker in seniors Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho and they lead from the front with their words and their play. New linebackers coach Manny Diaz (remember him?) has done some tinkering and Keenan Robinson will get the start inside with EAcho on the outside. With superstar Jordan Hicks completing the trio, the Texas Longhorns are positively sick with talent in the starting lineup. I remember thinking in the beginning of the off-season back in the winter that it was going to take some guys that were fed up with how things went, from top to bottom, last year to affect a change and I wondered who those guys would be. I’ve heard Robinson and Acho where two of those guys. Someone has to yell, someone has to be the hammer and someone has to make sure that everyone is doing their part. Last year those guys weren’t around or weren’t able to do anything about it. This year they are and this year Acho and Robinson were two of them. Before I anoint them all the next Tommy Nobis’ (Tommy Nobi? Is that the plural?) there are some issues. With the lack of dependable size at the second defensive tackle spot it means the middle linebacker is going to have to be a physical beast to make up for anything that gets past that tackle in the running game. There is some concern that Robinson might not be physical enough to handle the job. I don’t have those doubts, but I am not a coach. If you look at the depth at linebacker right now, there isn’t what you’d call a classic middle linebacker on the team. The one guy that I thought would be that middle linebacker is Chet Moss, but the incoming freshman has moved to fullback after playing well at lb in the spring. That move right there tells me that the staff is not as concerned as some others are about that, but you never know what will happen until the season starts.
The two seniors lead the way, but Jordan Hicks is the star. The 6-foot-2, 228-pound sophomore from Ohio has terrific quickness, instincts and athleticism. He makes plays. Go watch him in the Nebraska game and see how fast he comes off the ground after getting cut to hit the quarterback on the blitz and blow up a play. That isn’t something you can teach. You can do it or you can’t and Hicks can sure do it. He came off the bench last year but will be the starter in ’11, fully recovered from the foot injury that cost him the spring. He does everything well, just like EAcho and Robinson. Emmanuel Acho is as good running laterally as I have seen in a while and Keenan Robinson is NFL-good in coverage. Again, the only downside to these two is their ability to handle the power running game, which is not something either has been asked to do much and honestly is not something either did very well last year consistently. Will they improve? Yes they will, and for three reasons: First, Texas is going to run defensive linemen out there like rows of shark teeth, keeping fresh legs and fresh bodies in front of them to keep them cleaner and allow them to make plays. Secondly, they are both bigger and stronger this year. The added endurance and added strength will make them bigger factors late in games. Third, the mentality is going to be different. Last year, even early, the defense seemed to press to make up for the lack of pop on offense. And when you go too fast, or get reckless, it can get it away from you. And when it does get away from you, sometimes you don’t get it back, “it” being the confidence and ability to overcome mentally. That’s what happened many times last year to the Texas defense: I saw it against UCLA, against Baylor, against A&M and early on against Kansas State. With HarsinWhite running the offense, you can bet there will be some pop. It will not be three bubble screens and cloud of dust and this will allow the defense to relax and trust the offense to do its job.
So the Horns are set in the top three at lb, but in college football it’s all about depth. The good news is Texas has depth at linebacker. Maybe more depth than any other position on the team, which is why I say this is the most talented group of linebackers I’ve seen at Texas.
The first three off the bench (that’s right- three) are Aaron Benson, Steve Edmond and DeMarco Cobbs. Benson, the cousin of former Longhorn and current Cincinnati Bengal Cedric, is the guy that will get reps in the middle behind Robinson. The redshirt freshman is solid at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds and I think he’s best suited to play inside, but he’ll get a look everywhere. I think Diaz plans to cut loose with Edmond and Cobbs. Cobbs is a 6-foot-2, 210-pound athlete that played defensive back last year. He spins down to safety to get his athleticism in places to make plays behind and at the line of scrimmage. So far he’s doing that, but not consistently enough to take a job from the best three linebackers on the team. Even so, you will see some highlight-reel plays from Cobbs. And from Edmond. The incoming freshman is a beast at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds and could easily be bigger than that after the summer with Mr. Wylie. I could see him jumping inside at mike and not leaving because of his size and fondness for contact. Or maybe he stays outside. Whatever, he’ll be on the field. Diaz is cross-training them all, so expect to see them all over the place. The next two off the bench (yes, two more) are Tevin Jackson and Kendall Thompson, both freshmen. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Jackson was in the class of 2010 but had some qualifying issues, which he cleared and will start college this year. To say he’s got a chip on his shoulder is an understatement. He should up in shape and ready to go and was every bit the talent Jordan Hicks was coming out of high school in 2010. He has the same game as Hicks and is similar in size. Thompson is bigger at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and could also get a look at middle linebacker and I expect he’ll compete there next spring unless he blows up in the next week.
That’s eight linebackers that could play this year. I’ve never seen or even of that many lb’s on a team, much less competing for playing time the same year. Insane. A good insane, but insane. Like I said, Texas is stacked at linebacker and I think this is going to be the best lb corps in the Mack Brown era. With Diaz letting these guys freestyle within the system, he’s going to make them stars. Watch for Hicks to have breakout year.
Returning Starters: Blake Gideon (Sr)
Key Players Returning: Kenny Vaccaro (Jr), Carrington Byndom (So), Adrian Phillips (So), A.J. White (So)
Key Players Lost: Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown, Aaron Williams, Christian Scott
Key Additions: Nolan Brewster, Quandre Diggs, Josh Turner, Mykkele Thompson
If there is a concern on the defense it’s the secondary. Texas loses three starters to the NFL and fourth player to a possible trial for assault. A ton of experience and starts are now gone and the Horns must fill the void with youngsters with little or no experience. And you know what? Good. I don’t want to take shots at guys no longer here, but the senior-laden secondary has just not very good last year. Too many big plays, too many blown assignments and far, far too few game-changing plays. Sure, it wasn’t their entire fault. There was no pass rush to help them out and the linebackers had their own issues. But they were the headliners of the Texas defense last year and their play was like my grades my first freshman year- poor. So let’s move forward with young guys that want to learn and want to improve, shall we? That’s what we are doing. The only starter returning is Blake Gideon. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior from Leander has started all 39 games of his career and along with EAcho and Robinson is the vocal leader on the team. He was called a “coach on the field” his freshman year and his knowledge and experience this year will be a key to helping a young and inexperienced secondary get lined up correctly. He is a solid ball hawk playing center field and can lay the lumber supporting the run. He’s a bit limited athletically in coverage and sometimes a super talented wide out might get the better of him. Texas is going to scheme and plot and get him out of those situations when they can. When Gideon is allowed to play run support and zone the middle of the field, he’s terrific. Joining him will be junior Nolan Brewster, who redshirted last year. Brewster has 27 games under his belt and is similar to Gideon in size and game. The problem is they might be too similar at times and Texas will need a cover guy at safety at times, so look for my man the Tattooed Missile Kenny Vaccaro to be out there again. The junior has the best cover skills at safety, so look for him to get the slot man most of the time as the nickel. Oh, he can also bring the wood on run support, as you remember. Still, even with Vaccaro at the nickel, Texas doesn’t have that lock down cover guy in the slot that they like to have. I see some shifting coming in the next few weeks and involves true freshman Quandre Diggs.
The 5-foot-10, 192-pound little brother of Quentin Jammer is ready right now to play corner for Texas. He has the size, speed, hips, swagger and physical presence to see the field right away. And I think he does as the starter at one side. He runs well, tackles well and his cover skills are far ahead of a kid just starting college. I think he’s the starter in week one because he’s that good. On the other side is Carrington Byndom, who got experience last year as the backup. At 6-feet, 175 pounds he’s taller and leaner than Diggs and not as physical (seriously, watch Diggs tackle. Very impressive) and will probably draw the opponent’s best wide out in coverage. They are young and they are going to make mistakes, but they are going to make some plays, too. Give them time to grow up and get some experience and you will love what you see. Now back to the slot guy: With Diggs coming on and (I think) winning that job, it allows sophomore Adrian Phillips to move over and play that slot with Vaccaro. Phillips is a cornerback, meaning he has terrific cover skills and I think he’ll get to showcase them as the slot cover man in the nickel, splitting time with Vaccaro. Phillips’ abilities at the nickel will ease some concerns of coverage in the safety spots, allowing one or both of the true safeties to play Cover Two and watch the quarterback, allowing everyone to play to their strengths. It will also free up those safeties to blitz and lay waste to opposing backfields. You can’t ever have enough secondary guys, so look for Texas to get reps for sophomore A.J. White and freshmen Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner. Watch out for Thompson. At 6-foot-2, 183 pounds, he’s a monster that can play anywhere in the secondary and I expect him to play everywhere in the secondary.
There is a lot of talent in the secondary; Texas just needs it to grow up quickly. There are big time quarterbacks in the Big 12 and these guys are going to have to learn to swim in the deep end very fast. I think they will. Sure, there are going to be some growing pains, but the end result is going to be a dynamite secondary at the end of the season. Watch out for Diggs and Thompson, because they are going to be outstanding.
In Conclusion …
The Texas front seven is loaded with talent and experience and they are going to be terrific. There is a great mix of vets and youth and senior leadership that isn’t going to let this defense be satisfied with anything but 100% effort. The only questions up front are: who wins the second defensive tackle job and can they stand up to a strong running game? I see the answer to those questions as freshman Desmond Jackson and yes. The secondary is going to be a bumpy ride for a bit, but veteran safeties are going to help smooth it out. Expect some big plays from opposing quarterbacks, but expect some bigger plays from this athletic, hungry defense being led by an evil genius in Manny Diaz that is going to blitz and pressure from every angle all the time. It’s going to be fun to watch.
Two weeks and we see if I’m right. Next we hit the offense.
From the Stands