Tracking the Longhorns: March 1
March 1, 2011
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz
On getting out with the team for the first time: On the door, it says "Coach", but we do a lot of other stuff other than coach. When you think about it, there are only 15 days in the offseason when you really get to coach. It is why we do what we do. Getting out there with the guys, and getting on the grass and being able to instruct them, see them learn and see them get better - it is a big part of why we do what we do.
On the linebacker position: What we are trying to do is figure out who we have, what type of depth we have behind those three. We're looking for leadership out of [Emmanuel] Acho and Keenan Robinson. Jordan Hicks is a guy who I think has really impressed through the first three days. And we are not really worried about who is in what spot. We have flexibility in that we can play our best three. We're just trying to find out who can play, and who can help our team win. And then beyond that, they can't play every snap for us to be successful. That is our biggest challenge right now.
On freshman linebacker Aaron Benson: Aaron has done a good job. Right now he is playing our weak side linebacker, learning things. You can see his athletic ability running, chasing the ball, things like that; but it is all new. Especially for someone who has only been here for six months to erase everything on the board and start over, that is tough on those guys. But I think Aaron has done a good job of playing catch up and getting in the mix.
On junior defensive end Alex Okafor: Right now we have him playing end, and he has done a good job out there so far. He has looked good. We like the leadership he brings to our defensive front in general, but he does a solid job. In terms of where we want to be in terms of being hard to run against, we feel like he is a guy that can really solidify us at that position.
On the preference to play Okafor at end rather than tackle: Well that is our starting point. When we went through offseason drills watching the way he moves and the way he works, we felt like he had the athleticism to be outside. So we wanted to give him the opportunity to move out there. So instead of being good enough inside, we want to see him be special outside and that is what we are working on right now.
On how much new stuff is being taught: It is a big part of it. There is a lot of ways to do things. Generally, every coach is preaching the same things, but we may just say it in different ways. So we are learning them, and they are learning us. The drills may be packaged a little differently, but everything we're trying to do is stressing attention to detail, that is what is really important to us right now. Don't do it - just do it. It is either all the way right or all the way wrong. There is no B+ in our profession. We are in a zero-sum business. We don't want to make decisions on what we feel should be important. We want to feel like everything is important and every down is important.
DE Alex Okafor
On moving back to defensive end: It feels good to be home.
On his weight: I'm currently at about 262. When playing tackle, it was always hard for me to put on weight. So I feel like 262 is maybe not my peak, but a solid weight for me.
On when he found out he would be moved back to end: Right at the end of our training camp before spring ball, so maybe about two weeks ago. I kind of had a feeling because we are deep at defensive tackle, but not so deep at defensive end. So it just made sense.
On playing defensive end: I'm definitely excited. I'm going to try my best to stay out there, since we have a lot of young talent coming in at defensive tackle. I feel like I can help at end.
On if practice feels different: There is a lot of energy. I think the biggest difference is, since we have a whole new coaching staff, there are no spots. Everyone has to earn their spots, no matter if you are a freshman or a fifth-year senior. There is a lot of competition and excitement.
On if there is healing going on with the players: Maybe not healing but humbling. Us going 5-7 brought us down to earth, and showed us that if we don't work hard and we don't execute, we are no better than a mid-major team.
On if there is 100% buy-in from the players: Yes, we all want to win, and that is what we have to do.
S Blake Gideon
On the excitement of practicing again: Everybody knows how we finished the season last year, and that's definitely not our standard. That was the taste that was left in our mouth. If that would have been during the season you get to play next week. There's really no waiting period, but we had to wait seven weeks to even get back here. It's good to get back to practice and to get back to doing what we do best.
On all the changes during the offseason: That's always tough. In my situation it would have been very easy for me to look at it going into my senior year [and view it as] probably not the best situation for me and everything, but I signed up to play at Texas. Regardless of who is here, I'm going to give everything I have as long as there's a Longhorn on my helmet. I know that the guys that are going to be out on the field with me are going to give everything they have, and that's really what means the most to me. Obviously it matters who's on the sideline, who's calling the plays and who's getting us lined up. But at the same time, we're the guys that are going to have to make the plays. Coach Diaz and coach [Duane] Akina and all the other coaches are not going to be able to get out there on the field with us. Ultimately it's going to be up to us to make plays and as long as we all stick together that's all that matters.
On defensive coordinator Manny Diaz: I think there's a lot more freedoms with coach Diaz. He told a couple of guys that were asking specifically how we were going to line up, how [he saw] us fitting in and a couple of guys told me that he said, "I don't care if you drop out of a helicopter every play, as long as you make plays that's fine." There's a lot more freedom, and it's a lot more simplified and it allows us to run and hit which is really what defensive football is.
On his impressions of coach Diaz: He's more laid back, but at the same time he knows what has to be done and he knows what wins. He pushes all the clutter aside, and he simplifies everything and allows us to play fast and have fun. It's fun. It's been fun so far the first three days, so hopefully we can turn it into something.
On the difference between the first three days of practice this year compared to last year: The first three days are always going to be pretty much the same, I feel like. Everybody's going to be excited to get back on the field. I think the real test is going to be if we are going to have that same intensity or better intensity on the 15th day of practice or whatever it is. Whenever everybody's bodies are sore and we've been beating on each other all through spring; it's starting to get hotter, it is Texas - that's going to be the real test. Everybody's going to be fired up and flying around the first few practices, and everybody looks good running around in shorts. That kind of simulates being late into a season after you've played 12-13 games. How are you going to respond? How's your body going to respond to all that turmoil? We'll see. I'll have a better answer on the 15th practice.