Aug. 21, 2012
Assistant head coach/defensive backs coach Duane Akina
On how the defensive backs did during the scrimmage: I thought that they performed well. I am excited about this group. I think the bar has been set high since the groups before starting with Ahmad [Brooks], [Quentin] Jammer, [Nathan]Vasher, and [Rod] Babers. Starting after that it was the Ced group with the Griffins, Aaron Ross, Tarell Brown, and Michael Griffin and then on to Earl Thomas and A.J. [Aaron Williams]. I think this is going to be the next group of guys. I am excited at where we are. They are doing all the things we are asking, and I think we can get into much more this year schematically and pre-snap wise because there is more confidence. We have been doing a lot of the same things the past 12 years. Last year it was a younger group, and this year it is different. A year ago from what we understood was that it was going to be the weak link of the defense and the team. We all knew better after watching them during the spring and in two-a-days. Now this year we have got to shift gears. In anticipation there has been a lot of nice things said about us, and we just have to put that on the back burner and make sure those things are being said after the season and not before.
On what he has seen from CB Adrian Phillips: Over the last 30 years you have had a lot of unique players and you have a lot of guys that mentally are maybe able to play six positions and at times are able to play seven depending who you have in there. You will find that there are guys that can play the position mentally but physically they can't. And then you get guys that can play all seven physically but mentally they cannot handle all the different job descriptions. What Adrian gives you is that he can play both mentally and physically. That is a real unique talent and a lot of people don't understand how big that is. He can go out there and play boundary corner, field corner, nickel, dime, field safety, and boundary safety. Those are all different job descriptions within the defense, and those guys are very hard to find. So not only can you line up and cover a fleet receiver, you can get down in the box and be physical, and you could make all the adjustments. In this conference you need to because we don't have a lot of two backs back there with a tight end and two receivers. You will see everything from four to a side to five. You got to have some real intellectual players back there.
On who is becoming a leader on defense: I believe this, I think we cannot call leadership. I think leaders emerge through their practice habits, through their off-season habits, and through how they are playing. I'm sure Coach Manny Diaz was saying that there are younger guys that are playing with great maturity, that are practicing with great maturity, and I would say there would be a handful of the those guys. I am proud to be a part of those four guys back there that are the guys- Kenny Vaccaro, Adrian Phillips, Quandre Diggs, and Carrington Byndom are doing a heck of a job. Josh Turner and Mykkele Thompson are coming along nicely. We have got a nice group back there, and we are excited. The schedule is going to be challenging so we will know where we will be at very early in the game when we line up against Wyoming.
On who has been the most consistent defensive back: I would say Kenny Vaccaro. My feelings on coaching is where I try to stretch it is that I want the best player in the room to grow the most because what he does is that he brings the rest of the room along with him. With Kenny, you could argue he is as good of a defensive back in the nation and not just in our room. He still realizes that if he is going to come back, there is still a lot more that we can get out of him. He has done a great job of now understanding formations, backfield splits, and depths of a back. All these little things, like I said that will make him an intellectual player. We see that he is a physical guy, he can run and cover but now he has seen the game. I would also just say that all four of those guys have been very consistent.
On defensive coordinator Manny Diaz: I think Manny is doing a great job. We have had some success here in the past years, and we have been able to bridge a lot of concepts together. I think this is a different league than the Southeast Conference and as the year went on, I think you could feel how he shifted gears. We do a lot of great stuff, he has done a great job with the kids, and mainly what I see as an assistant coach who has been through this a long time is that the players trust in the leadership. That is key in what you are doing. I think Manny has done a wonderful job, and is going to keep getting better and better as time goes on.
On DB Duke Thomas: He has been a pleasant surprise. When you bring in a young man that has not played defensive back, you wonder how quickly they can pick up concepts on that side of the ball. We have had some experience with Curtis Brown [who]was a receiver and Mykkele Thompson was a quarterback and Duke is another one. What I do feel like, and Adrian Phillips has seen it, that a high school quarterback is taught concepts all through so he is used to making adjustments and he is used to understanding splits because he had to tell a receiver what they were running. There are a lot of concepts that are already built in there. What you don't know is that as a quarterback or an offensive player they are used to avoiding contact all the time and now you have to run through contact. It sounds real simple but it is not. They have to shift gears, throw their eyes, and run through contact. That has been where he has been a nice surprise. He is getting to be physical. Our standards are pretty high and he is young ,but he is getting there.
On the defense: I am as excited as you guys to see what will happen in the opener. I think [defensive tackles coach] Bo Davis has done a nice job at creating depth up front so when we hit some of those offenses where you have more than one guy in there because in a throwing league you have to have depth. They can be chasing the passer or chasing the ball. So with DTs Desmond Jackson, Brandon Moore, and Ashton Dorsey up front, we have really strong inside techniques. At times, those two can eat up the inside three, which means you have good edge pass rushers with Des Jackson. [Jackson] Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor. It all works together. We talked to the secondary about getting to the second look. We have to get the quarterback to the second look so pressure can get home. We have to do our job in the back end so it works up front. I see that all is just pieced together because there is a strong front up front and a secondary that can hang on to the ball. We are excited about it. We have a physical present in there, and I like where the linebackers are.
On trying to get more blocked kicks this year: Yes, hopefully. You have Kenny Vaccaro that has a couple to his name, Leroy Scott has a couple, and also Mykkele Thompson. We have a lot of speed that can come off the edge there, and we are excited. We are a little disappointed that Fresno State blocked 10 last year so they passed us. They have 66 and we are now second with 64 and that doesn't sit good with us. We have been number one in the nation for the last six years, I believe, in blocked kicks. So we are out to go get that back.
Co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Major Applewhite
On the running backs: Right now we have two starters with [sophomore RB] Joe [Bergeron] and [sophomore RB] Malcolm [Brown]. Those guys are rotating frequently. [Senior RB] Jeremy [Hills] and [freshman RB] Johnathan [Gray] have their packages right now. Obviously when you're dealing with a freshman coming in that's been given the ball 20-30 times, the thing is that those guys typically lack, from the high school to college levels, is all the situational football. Third downs. One-minute drives. Four-minute drives. Trying to take the air out of the ball in the game. All the nuances that you've got to do in terms of staying in bounds, getting out of bounds, what you're seeing on third downs, how you're seeing things in the red zone. So that's kind of how we're rotating those guys right now.
On who could have the third-down role: Jeremy, because he's been in that situation so much, could help us in that third-down role. Joe and Malcolm have had so many at-bats that they could play that third-down role as well. A true freshman, I mean I have never heard of anybody saying, "I can't wait to get my true freshman in on third down and pass protect." So I don't think that is going to happen right off of the bat. But he is a guy that can make space plays, can catch the ball in the screen game, and as he becomes more familiar and more comfortable with protections, which he is each and every day, we can start to slide him into that role. That's what we're looking at right now.
On running backs being diverse: When you look at the last, let's say 15 years, go back to '98 and '97, only about five or six of those teams have really had thousand-yard backs. Most of those guys have had your 500-to-700 yard backs, and there have been three of them. You look at Alabama, they had a great Heisman Trophy guy that was over 1,000, but if you go back and look over the span it's a conglomeration of two or three backs that have stayed fresh throughout the year. So however we get the production, it doesn't really matter. If we had a 2,000 yard back that'd be great. But that's just not what we're in for. That's not how the game is played anymore. You don't snap the ball 55 times. You're snapping the ball 75-85 times a game. You're going no-huddle. You're getting multiple snaps. You need two, three, four guys at that position. I visited with a guy from Carolina in the offseason two years ago, he started six different tailbacks during the course of a season. I was sweating because I had started four. He started six. It's a brutal game. It's a physical game. Those guys are taking about three shots a play. So we've got to have more than one.
On if he looks at other offenses for inspiration on how to use multiple running backs: Yes. Just looking at how you rotate those guys as a big picture. You look at a "one-two-three" back. Your "one" and your "three" are going to be the same guy. They're the guys that play on first and second down. Your "two" is your changeup back that comes in on third down, space situations, loose plays. So you're rotating those guys in those manners. And then you hide your tendencies. You play your "one-threes" on loose space plays. You play your "two" guy on some run downs. So you're able to hide your tendencies. That's what we're looking at. So if you were just taking a look at our backs, Joe would be our "one" and Malcolm would be our "three," or vice versa. Rotate them as you go throughout the game. And your change-of-pace back is Jeremy or Johnathan.
On balancing a group of such talented running backs: It's a situation where your tailback is a guy that's carried the ball from Pop Warner to junior high, all the way through high school. He's going to have that big ego. He's a great player, we all know it. We were always mad because they tossed it to him instead of us in peewee. But he ran all the way around everybody, and then he gets to college and he's sitting in a room with four other guys that did the same thing. So you've got to kind of balance those egos. I'll point up on the wall and say, "See that guy? He didn't start until he was a junior because that guy right there, [former RB] Priest Holmes, was a starter. So he had to wait his turn." And you've got to understand that. In the flow of the game we'll all need each other. We need to play throughout the game. And those guys get that. They understand it. And they also pay attention to the NFL. They see these NFL backs that get beat down. They get worn out and shot out of the league in three-four years. And that's not where their head is, but they understand that for us to win all of our games and for them to be the type of players they need to be, that there needs to be a rotation. There needs to be sharing.
On if it's easier for young players to understand the need for a multiple-back offense today: You've got to have knowledge of the game to be able to handle that type of situation. And then you've got to understand that's how it works. You've got to be a selfless player, and you've got to have knowledge of the game. Those guys, fortunately enough, are knowledgeable on how the game works, and then they're smart enough and good enough people to make it work. Thank God we don't have anybody in there that is sour and bitter and hard to deal with. That's the best part about it. They understand the game, number one. And they're all good, solid people to begin with.
On the quarterbacks: I've seen the guys feeling more comfortable. Sometimes they may get a lopsided call and they're able to figure it out. Get it straightened out in the huddle. They may have the wrong personnel in, and the quarterbacks kind of see it and say, "Hey we can't run it today. We've got to get this other guy in the huddle." So just overall management. And so much of that position is really that. It's really about what you do before the snap. Because sometimes it's as simple as just turning around and handing the ball off. That's not very complicated - I did it for a whole season. So, you've got to make sure that you have the right guys in the huddle. You've got to make sure that you're paying attention to the clock, thinking, "Are we going to get a delay of game here?" So those types of things. So I've seen those guys progress in that manner.
On the Texas defense: In any sport you play, you've got to be solid in the middle. I don't care if it's basketball - you've got to have a great point guard and center. In baseball - shortstop, second baseman, and pitcher - everything has got to be solid right down the middle of it. And you see great depth inside. And then you talk about this league; you've got guys off the edge that can rush the passer. So we're built well inside out. And then you've got a bunch of guys in the secondary that are coming back. So they can help the pass-rush by locking it down so those guys can get to them. The pass-rush can help the secondary out by getting to the quarterback to get the ball out of his hands. Kind of the question mark going in for the defense is since they saw the secondary's young guys play well, and they know they have so much depth, it has been the linebackers. And I thought that [junior LB] Demarco Cobbs, [sophomore LB] Tevin Jackson, [sophomore LB] Kendall Thompson, and [junior LB] Jordan Hicks obviously, and even some of the young guys [freshman LB] Peter Jinkens and [freshman LB] Dalton Santos, I have seen those guys. And they can play. And that's encouraging. There are a lot of great plays made by guys that played last year in the secondary. You're seeing what you expect out of the front. But the linebacking corps, all the calls that they've made, [defensive coordiator/linebackers coach] Manny [Diaz] has them coming from all over. They're doing a great job. They really are.
S Kenny VaccaroOn being ready for season opener:
Yes, of course. It has been along time since we played a game, since the Holiday Bowl. Everybody is fired up, and you can feel the spring in the air.On biggest concern about this football team:
I think not getting into all the hype. There are a lot of good things being said about our defense, and I think we just need to shut it all off and prove it first before we get our heads to high. On how he feels about the quarterbacks:
We have two good quarterbacks like Coach Mack Brown
said, and I trust both of those guys. My main goal is to service them whether it is on special teams or defense and put them in the best position to be successful.On being a lot less physical as the opener gets closer:
It has been toning down starting this week, but it has been full speed this past couple weeks. We don't want to lose that edge either.On advice to young special teams guys:
I just told the guys that back in 2009, my only role was special teams because I had all NFL defensive backs in front of me. So I didn't even think about getting the chance to play there. I just told them just to play your role and that can contribute tons to your team. Coach Duane Akina
, before starting camp this year, he put a specials team highlight film of the top 10 plays of me my freshman year. I believe it was three blocked punts, couple of forced fumbles on kick-off, and things like that just to help the team make big championship runs.
DE Alex Okafor
On expectations for the defense this year: It's more about meeting expectations this year. The goal around here is to get to a BCS game every year. That's what we're working towards. Taking steps every day to do that.
On the last scrimmage: It was good. The thing with the scrimmage was to build depth along both sides of the ball. Get 22 guys that can play both ways. And I think that's what we did. A lot of the younger guys got a lot of the reps. I sat back most of the scrimmage. I think it helped build depth, and it's going to help us throughout the season.
On the defensive tackles: I like the direction the defensive tackles are going in right now. We've got four guys that definitely can start for us right now. The key is keeping them fresh. If they come in and rotate every four plays or something like that, they can take a double team every single play. It's just about keeping those guys fresh.
On freshman DT Malcom Brown: He's great with his hands. A lot of the young guys struggle with using their hands, but it's like he's been in the program for a year or so now. He works his hands so smoothly.
On how he is approaching his senior season: For me personally, I've got to give everything I have every single play. There are no plays that I can't. The coaches say some of the young guys are playing with house money. They know they have three of four years more down the line. Me, I have thirteen games guaranteed. So I've just got to go out there and give every single play my all.