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March 4, 2012
BREAKDOWN: A look at the D after the two open practices
LINEBACKERS: I'll admit, this is the group I'm most excited to watch and see grow. I found my eyes constantly wandering over to No. 33 and No. 42 in this group.
And I may be overcooking it, but Steve Edmond made some nice plays over the two days and showed he is a load on the blitz, and showed he can close, like he did on a hitch pass to Malcolm Brown on Saturday.
He and Kenny Vaccaro blew up Brown, and Brown fumbled.
Edmond got into the backfield a few times as well. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said too much is made about Edmond's weight (255) and not enough about his feet and ability to play fast.
"Steve, first of all, is a good instinctual linebacker," Diaz said. "For his size, he moves very well, which is what we like about him there. He has the ability to play the run and pass equally well, which is important in the league we play in.
"But he's still learning. He's still learning to be a down after down guy. If he's going to be in our first 11, he has to be one of our 11-best players. So he's earning the trust of his coaching staff and his teammates."
Diaz said Edmond is working on his endurance and becoming more consistent.
"Everybody sees Steve's talents the first day he got off the bus. It wasn't all coaching," Diaz joked. "So now it's a matter of playing down after down.
"Weight is a number I don't get jarred up on because different people can handle their size differently. You watch the way they move. You watch the way they move and react and watch their stamina.
"Then as they are getting bigger and stronger, you watch the way they run. Right now, Steve has found himself a good home in the middle of our defense."
Boom. Those words resonated with me.
Then I asked Diaz to describe Edmond's personality, and as only Diaz can do, he put it into a context as vivid as a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie.
"The players like Steve. He comes off as quiet, but he's listening to everything you say," Diaz said. "I always say, when you walk into the bar, the guy who is running his mouth usually doesn't want a fight.
"But the guy in the back who doesn't say a word, that's the guy you have to be careful of - that's Steve. He's the guy who if he gets up, everyone's going to get quiet because they know something terrible is about to happen to them."
Diaz said Edmond will not necessarily be the linebacker taken off the field when the defense goes to five and six defensive backs.
"He can stay out there," Diaz said. "When teams spread you out, they are still hunting the A gap and B gap. That's still the easiest way to move the football.
"He (Edmond) can cover and play the way the defense is designed. We are looking for guys who are complete football players.
"We need DBs who can play the run and pass. We need LBs who can do the same thing. We feel like we have what we need there. Now, we just need to know where to go."
Tevin Jackson is getting the opportunity to prove himself at outside linebacker with Demarco Cobbs still out of spring practice with a neck injury.
"Tevin plays with a lot of suddenness," Diaz said. "He uses his hands well. He has a good knack of rushing the quarterback. So Tevin has a feel for the game."
Jackson is ahead of Kendall Thompson and Aaron Benson. Benson made a nice play on the ball, nearly picking off a pass by Case McCoy on Saturday.
"They'll all show up in the right spot on one play and then go left when they should have gone right on the next play," said Diaz, who is the linebackers coach. "That's my job, and it just comes with at-bats.
"That's what spring ball is all about - getting at-bat, after at-bat after at-bat and learning what intensity they'll need to survive.
"It's hard to drive the car as fast as you can drive when you're not real sure where you're going."
Jordan Hicks didn't have many plays that stood out the past two days, and Hicks got the worst of a battle with Ryan Roberson in bull in the ring on Friday. But Hicks is the veteran leader of the group, and coaches are excited about his progress.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: All discussion in this group starts with Kenny Vaccaro, the senior leader and head-hunting playmaker.
He didn't participate in scrimmage work on Friday so younger players like Josh Turner and Leroy Scott could work at safety alongside Mykkele Thompson.
But Vaccaro was in scrimmage work on Saturday and made his presence known almost immediately by causing a fumble (along with Steve Edmond) after a collision with Malcolm Brown. It was one of the few loose balls caused by the defense over the two days.
Diaz was asked if he was surprised Vaccaro chose to come back to Texas instead of entering an NFL Draft with a weak safety class and possibly going in the first or second round.
"You never know. There's a lot that goes into those decisions," Diaz said. "But I have to admit, after watching him jump that guy in the Holiday Bowl, I thought that might have been it. At first, I thought it was a great play, and then I thought, 'Oh man.'
"There's a certain sense of awareness that this is his last time. And he looks around the secondary and sees there's not a lot of guys around who have been here as long as I have. That heightened sense of urgency is normal for guys in his position."
Thompson is getting a ton of work at safety in place of Adrian Phillips, who is recovering from shoulder surgery this spring. He had his ups and downs the past two days.
"Mykkele is a great kid," Diaz said. "Very smart. He picks things up very easily. Very athletic. Very rangy, so he gets to places in a hurry.
"He's really diligent in everything Coach Akina tells him. There's a lot of things about Mykkele that are very exciting.
"We have a lot of guys who are exciting but the first time they have to tackle someone, it could be exciting too.
"That will be the big test for all of us. The number one thing on defense is don't give up big plays. And I thought last year our secondary was a big part of that. That's one of our biggest challenges going into this year."
Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs took a few snaps in scrimmage work before clearing out for guys like junior A.J. White and early enrollee freshman Duke Thomas. There weren't a ton of plays made by the backups at safety and corner, but they didn't get brutalized, either.
All in all, a lot of potential and a lot of work in progress for guys not named Vaccaro, Byndom or Diggs.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Depth at defensive tackle was the thing that jumped out most to me over the two days with regard to the line.
Ashton Dorsey was the most consistent of the DTs with Desmond Jackson a close second.
When junior college transfer Brandon Moore keeps his pads low, he's monster. You can tell he's still getting used to the conditioning and demands of a program like Texas.
Chris Whaley also had some moments. When you think of adding Malcom Brown and Paul Boyette to this group, you can really talk about depth.
Some of the most encouraging words from Diaz were about Dorsey.
"What you're seeing out of Ashton is consistency," Diaz said. "He's fighting between being good and being great. Sometimes a guy just wakes up and decides I'm going to be dominant. We have a lot of guys who are fighting that battle. What helps is having depth. We can roll guys in there."
A lot of attention the last two days was on Moore, who towers over everyone at DT at 6-6, 325.
"He obviously has great size and great leverage," Diaz said of Moore. "He's a good athlete for his size. But the bigger you are, the more technique you have to play with because football is a big man's game, it's a low-man's game.
"So he's doing a good job of working on keeping his pads down."
Texas should be fine at DE when the season starts with Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor starting and Cedric Reed and Reggie Wilson backing them up. And don't forget about Torshiro Davis and Hassan Ridgeway arriving over the summer.
But the lack of depth lack of depth at defensive end the last two days (with Jeffcoat out, recovering from pectoral surgery) was staggering.
At one point on Saturday, the ends on the second team lining up outside of Brandon Moore and Chris Whaley were Chris Terry and Logan Mills.
All-in-all, Okafor and Cedric Reed stood out to me more than Reggie Wilson at the end position.
"Alex (Okafor) showed last year he had the ability to make plays," Diaz said. "What we have to do this year is hit the ground running. We felt like there was a learning process last year.
"We don't have the opportunity for that anymore now. We have to hit the ground running and be good from the jump. I think Alex has worked hard towards that."
As far as Wilson and what it's going to take to get him to take the next step, Diaz said, "He's worked on becoming a guy who is more dependable down to down."
A FEW OTHER THOUGHTS FROM MANNY: Diaz cautioned against everyone assuming the defense is going to be better this year than last year after losing guys right up the middle of the defense like DT Kheeston Randall, LBs Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho and safeties Blake Gideon and Christian Scott.
Diaz didn't rule out the defense being better, but he said it's going to take a lot of work and maturity.
"Last year, we were hard to beat between the A gap and B gap, right up the middle of our defense," Diaz said. "If that becomes a problem, then a lot of things become a problem.
"That's the tip of the spear. We have to be good up the middle and a lot of the guys who were strong for us last year right up the middle are not here anymore. So that's the challenge for us."
Also, Diaz gave his assessment of David Ash thus far.
"Heightened sense of confidence in terms of knowing what we're doing, so he can play faster," Diaz said. "The bowl practice made a difference with this football team."
And about the kicking game, neither Bryan Harsin ("It's not my area," Harsin said.) nor Diaz was ready to discuss the 0-of-3 field goal attempts by Ben Pruitt (missed from 37 and 32 yards) and William Russ (missed from 32 yards).
When do Nick Jordan and walk-on Nick Rose get to campus?
As a positive, Russ boomed a few punts on Friday.
DEFENSIVE MVPS THE LAST TWO DAYS: Kenny Vaccaro, Steve Edmond, Ashton Dorsey