- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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AUSTIN, Texas -- If you understand how the Texas secondary operates, this is the best way to put it: Quandre Diggs is getting a promotion.
Texas' new depth chart made official on Monday what had been talked about all summer long. Diggs will move over from corner and start at nickel back, a decision that creates some interesting ripple effects for the rest of the Longhorns defense.
All three are cashing NFL paychecks these days, so from that standpoint, Diggs knows how helpful the move to nickel can be.
“I’m very excited about this position, don’t get me wrong. It’s a position that great players have played,” Diggs said. “It’s a big position in the game of football now, especially in the Big 12. Nickel defense is pretty much your base defense each and every week. I’m happy for the opportunity.”
In this conference, a trustworthy nickel back is a must. If defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s estimates are correct, Texas might’ve had five defensive backs on the field for 75 percent of its snaps last season.
So it only makes sense to put one of your secondary’s best assets in a role that’s more critical than ever. Diaz lauded Diggs’ ability to diagnose plays and make quick decisions, his experience playing man and zone, his confidence in covering the slot and how he’s a physical tackler.
“One of the rules is, the more instinctive of a player you are, the closer you want to line that guy up to the football,” Diaz said. “Certainly one thing Quandre has shown over the last two years is he has great instincts for playing the game. If you’re just playing pickup football, Quandre is a guy you want on your team.”
The former Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year has picked off eight passes and recorded 22 pass breakups in two seasons. Though he’ll still play corner in base defense, Diggs is excited by the possibility of making plays all over the field this fall.
“It plays a lot of different factors in the game,” Diggs said. “You get to blitz, you get to cover, you get to do all different type of stuff and disguises. It puts me closer to the line of scrimmage to go make more plays. That’s something I’m very, very excited about.”
To make this move, though, Diaz and secondary coach Duane Akina had to have faith in the cornerbacks who will step into Diggs’ role on the outside.
Duke Thomas has earned a major vote of confidence from players and coaches after an impressive three weeks of fall camp. Diggs wouldn’t be moving out of his usual gig if Thomas wasn’t ready.
“You have to believe what the film tells you,” Diaz said. “What the film says is that Duke is one of our best players. We’re not into playing favorites. We’ve got to play the guys that we think are the best, and Duke has earned that right.”
The sophomore was supposed to split time at receiver in camp but he was too talented to move away from corner. The rise of Thomas and Sheroid Evans in recent weeks created opportunities for creativity.
Diggs has been working in the nickel since bowl practices last December. He’s glad the challenges of the role will make him a more well-rounded defensive back.
As the brother of 12-year NFL cornerback Quentin Jammer, getting to the pros is of course in the back of Diggs’ mind. He knows a year of playing nickel will help get him where he wants to be.
But that NFL future isn’t something he pays much attention to these days. He’s got a new position to master first.
“It’s not my time to think about that,” Diggs said. “I’m a junior. I’ve just got to continue to go out and play and let my play do the talking.”