Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Texas spring takeaways: Assessing the D
By Carter Strickland
AUSTIN, Texas -- Manny Diaz was the master of disguise defense.
Remember, back in the halcyon days of 2011, when Kansas was fretting about preparing for the first-year Texas defensive coordinator and his supposed 130 blitz combinations?
Given how subterfuge gave way to substandard performances in 2012, those times have long been forgotten. The Texas defense was laid bare last season. So, it stands to reason, there is no hiding anything in 2013.
Manny Diaz's Texas defense showed in the spring game the same inconsistencies that plagued it last season.
It was on that backdrop and with that back story that Diaz unspooled his 2013 defense for a first look in the spring game: Mistakes, despite it being spring, would be seen as cataclysmic errors. Solid play would be greeted with harrumphing "about times."
Truth be told, there was a little bit of both at the spring game. Turnovers were forced and younger players, defensive end Caleb Bluiett in particular, made plays. Some veterans, such as linebackers Jordan Hicks, flashed for moments and flickered, too.
Had it not been for one particularly alarming sequence of plays, it might have been possible to say that progress had been made by what was the worst defense in school history in 2012.
Ah, but then the first-string defense faced the third-string quarterback and a collection of players along the offensive line who will never be grouped together in the first three quarters of any football game at Texas.
Now, not everything went wrong on the drive engineered by freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. But there were more than enough issues to cause the following phrase to be bandied about not for the first time and probably not for the last: "How is it possible this defense is going to be better without soon-to-be NFL picks Kenny Vaccaro and Alex Okafor?' "
On the offending sequence of plays, the defense allowed a second-and-18 to be converted on a 21-yard scramble, allowed a third-and-6 to be converted on a 7-yard scramble, had two veteran players whiff on a tackle of Swoopes on the aforementioned 7-yard scramble, became so discombobulated in the substitution pattern that Hicks didn’t know whether he was in or out and therefore allowed a 4-yard gain on first-and-goal at the 9-yard line while only having 10 players on the field and, finally, the defense had to call a timeout on the very next play so this veteran group could calm itself and get the correct personnel on the field.
To the defense’s credit it did force that second- and third-string offense to kick a field goal after Swoopes was stopped at the 2-yard line following another 6-yard gain. That, in light of things that have passed right through this defense in the past -- such as the offenses of Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State and West Virginia -- could be seen as a measure of progress for those with an optimistic bent. But because this defense not only bent but severely broke in 2012, it is hard to fathom there are many Pollyannas left among the Texas faithful.
Only consistent domination, which is probably much too great an ask for a spring game, would suffice to quell the worries about a defense that, again, was one of the nation’s worst before it lost its two best players, Vaccaro and Okafor. That didn’t happen. And because of that, there will be no disguising the consistent worries and questions that will float around this defense as it moves through the summer and into the fall.