Duane Akina

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Long time Texas defensive backs coach Duane Akina has accepted an offer to become the secondary coach at Stanford.

Akina joined the Texas staff back in 2001 and immediately began to build Texas’ reputation as “Defensive Backs University”, an aptly earned title thanks to the Longhorns' success over his tenure, sending several defensive backs to the NFL. Over his 13 seasons in Austin, 13 Texas defensive backs were taken in the NFL Draft, including five first round picks and 14 All-Big 12 selections.

Akina appeared to be headed to Arizona back in following the 2010 season, in which then head coach Mack Brown hired Jerry Gray for the same position. But, after Gray took the defensive coordinator position with the Tennessee Titans, Akina returned to the Longhorns.

Charlie Strong's hire of former Longhorn defensive back Vance Bedford as defensive coordinator and Chris Vaughn as defensive backs coach, forced Akina out of a job earlier this offseason, despite his impressive track record on the Forty Acres.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

When Mack Brown announced his resignation on Dec. 14th it was clear there would be massive changes in 2014 for the entire coaching staff. New head coach Charlie Strong only retained Bruce Chambers for his first staff at Texas, meaning everyone else was forced to find somewhere else to coach or something else to do.

Mack Brown

Since leaving the Longhorn program, Brown has stayed in the public eye via Twitter. Brown live-tweeted the BCS Title game, as well as the Broncos-Patriots AFC Title game. He recently used the platform to state that he is not interested in coaching in the NFL and looks forward to attending tailgates with Texas fans this fall.

Greg Robinson

Robinson is a finalist for the California defensive coordinator job, after he successfully revived his coaching career following Texas’ defensive turn-around in 2013. If Robinson is unable to land the job, it is unknown what and where he will be coaching in the future, and his prospects may be pretty limited despite a successful 2013 campaign.

Major Applewhite

Rumors circulated that Applewhite would rejoin Will Muschamp at the University of Florida, but that door closed before the Alamo Bowl was played. On Jan. 2, it was reported by SBNation that Applewhite had accepted a one-year severance package, but details of his future are uncertain at this point.

Manny Diaz

After being demoted following an embarrassing showing in Provo, Utah, Diaz fell off the coaching radar. So it came as a bit of a surprise when it was announced Tuesday that his next coaching job will be defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech.

Duane Akina

Reports on Cal’s SBNation site indicate that Akina could be bringing the “Defensive Back U” to UC-Berkley. If Akina is hired at Berkeley as defensive backs coach, it seems logical that Robinson would make the move as well.

Bo Davis

On Jan. 7, Davis was named USC’s defensive line coach, after Strong decided to combine the line position. That stint lasted one week before he bolted to
Tuscaloosa after Texas hired Chris Rumph from Alabama. The two switched places, reuniting Davis with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide for the foreseeable future.

Darrell Wyatt

After not being retained by Texas, Wyatt’s name has come up in numerous offensive coordinator searches and he is a finalist for the head coach position at Sam Houston State.

Stacy Searels

On Jan. 5, it seemed Searels was the front-runner for Florida’s offensive line job. But, just a day later, the Gators went in a different direction. With that opportunity gone, Searels is now a candidate to coach Virginia Tech’s offensive line.

Larry Porter

Since losing his job, there is not much known about Porter’s next coaching destination.

Oscar Giles

The hiring of Rumph resulted in Giles being let go. Not many details have emerged about where he will coach next.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Three years ago, defensive back Mykkele Thompson came to Texas with a set of skills opposite of those he uses now. 

Thompson was a quarterback in high school, regarded as one of the best athletes in the state of Texas. He recorded 5,322 all-purpose yards and a total of 62 touchdowns during his final two seasons. But when he arrived at the 40 Acres, he started his career on the other side of the ball, which proved to be quite the challenge. 

“It was a struggle for me,” Thompson said. “It was a totally different side of the ball from what I played.”

For Thompson, the hardest part about becoming a defensive player was hitting. The junior only played defense in one game before becoming a Longhorn and had no real experience tackling. Secondary coach Duane Akina said Thompson’s struggles were normal, though. Former Longhorn and current New York Giant Aaron Ross went through the same transition. 

“You are going to go through some growing pains when you play in the secondary, especially with one that is as aggressive as ours,” Akina said. “We put some guys on islands back there. We can go through it with Aaron Ross and some of those great ones who had some struggles early in their careers and did fine by the time they left here. I see Mykkele much in that same stride.”

Thompson is moving in the right direction. This season he is a force in Texas’ defensive backfield and attributes much of that success to Akina.

“Coach Akina is really encouraging, and he’s always pushing you,” Thompson said. “He just told me that I had the potential, so I went out and worked on it.”

There are some things the safety can improve on, though. The 6-foot-2-inch, 186-pound athlete is used to the pressure he faces, but still feels the stress when it becomes his job to stop the ball carrier. 

“I’m the last defensive help back there,” Thompson said. “It’s a really scary moment when a guy is running with a full head of steam at you and you have to take him down. It’s very nerve-racking.”

Nevertheless, Thompson has helped turn around a defense that started the season 1-2. After that start, which cost defensive coordinator Manny Diaz his job, many believed Texas would end up with another losing season. But Thompson and his defensive squad rose to the occasion. 

“I feel like everybody is just doing their assignment,” junior defensive back Quandre Diggs said. “Playing assignment football, everybody is in the right spot, the right place they’re supposed to be. We don’t have guys trying to do too much and trying to execute other people’s assignments. You can definitely see a team that’s maturing at the right time and continuing to grow as a football team.”

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

It's official: Texas relieved Manny Diaz of his defensive coordinator duties and named Greg Robinson as his replacement.

Here are five things you need to know about Texas’ new defensive coordinator:

He’s not new to Texas

Robinson is a familiar face to the Longhorn program. He served as the co-defensive coordinator for Texas with Duane Akina for Texas’ Rose Bowl victory in the 2004 season. He led his team to an 11-1 season, including the Longhorns’ first BCS Bowl win against Michigan.

Robinson has been with Texas since July as a football analyst. Brown hired the veteran coach to assist him in quality control evaluation, film review and data collection, among other things.

He has experience

Robinson has 36 years of coaching, which includes 14 seasons in the NFL.

The 61-year-old coach spent 10 years as a defensive coordinator in NFL with the New York Jets (1994), Denver Broncos (1995-2000) and Kansas City Chiefs (2001-03). Robinson served as the Broncos' defensive coordinator when they won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998.

Robinson also has plenty of collegiate experience. Before moving to the NFL, he had stints at Cal State Fullerton, North Carolina State, University of the Pacific and UCLA. After his time at Texas, he became the head coach at Syracuse for four seasons and followed that with a stint as Michigan’s defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2010.

Robinson's Texas history

In 2004, when Robinson called the defensive plays that helped lead Texas to a Rose Bowl title, the Longhorns ran a 4-3 defense, similar to this year’s squad.

The defense hasn’t changed much — style-wise at least — since Robinson last coached for the Longhorns. He still has Akina helping him out in the secondary, and the base defense remains the same. The only real difference between the defense between the two is coaching. 

Texas should see run defense improvement

Compare Robinson’s defense in 2004 to Texas’ defense in 2012 and it’s basically night and day. Last season, the Longhorns gave up 192.2 yards per game on the ground, but under Robinson they gave up 107.4.

In addition, the 2004 defense gave up only 320.1 total yards per game, the 23rd best mark in the country.  

Only pay attention to Robinson’s defensive capabilities

Robinson doesn’t have a good track record as a head coach. In his four seasons as head coach at Syracuse he went 10-37.

However, Mack Brown didn’t make Robinson the new head coach; he made him the defensive coordinator. Because as a defensive play caller, he’s accumulated two Super Bowl rings and a Rose Bowl Championship. Robinson has the needed experience and skills that can help turn the defense around. He instilled a toughness and grit into the defense in 2004.

Now, he needs to do the same for the 2013 iteration.

As controversial as his offseason was, once the college football season kicks off, Johnny Manziel promises to be just
as exciting. 

And those on the 40 Acres should learn to appreciate him for the incredibly talented and wondrously entertaining player he is. 

We heard Manziel, 20, reference his age repeatedly while addressing questions about his recent exploits. But that’s no excuse for oversleeping and failing to fulfill his duties at the Manning Camp last month, even if he was “dehydrated.” It’s no excuse for getting into a fight that almost derailed his career, even if he was sticking up for a friend. It’s no excuse for tweeting about how much you can’t wait to leave College Station, even if you were provoked. 

And it’s certainly no excuse to be treated the way he was when Manziel paid a visit to Austin recently. 

Manziel was kicked out of a frat party one night, ridiculed and had beer thrown his direction on his way out. He was spotted at a party the following morning in a Tim Tebow jersey, throwing the Internet into a collective tailspin. 

When you see Johnny Football eluding defenders in seemingly impossible ways and hitting receivers in stride downfield, don’t shake your head. Those at the frat party who gave Manziel the boot offer a poor example of how to approach such moments. 

Instead, remember that Manziel cheered the Longhorns on as a child. He would’ve played in the Longhorns’ secondary rather than be a quarterback at Texas A&M — if given the choice. Texas never offered.

Ironically, Longhorns’ defensive backs coach Duane Akina was reportedly the only one on the coaching staff who thought they should give him a shot at quarterback.

And this is the hospitality he’s shown? 

He wasn’t here to party so much as he was here to see his friends on the Texas football team, Miles Onyegbule, Malcolm Brown, Tyrone Swoopes and M.J. McFarland, among them.

“Good seein y’all fellas this weekend, best of luck,” Manziel tweeted last weekend.“#NoLoveLost.”

He’s not the cookie-cutter, Boy-Scout-guy under center most enjoy, and expect, from college football’s elite. He’s not A.J. McCarron or Teddy Bridgewater or David Ash, who claims to never curse. He’s Johnny Football. 

Unfortunately, Texas won’t play a scheduled game against Texas A&M any time soon. The Longhorns’ and Aggies’ battles are limited to the recruiting trail. Unless they meet in a bowl game, Manziel won’t play a down against the team he grew up cheering for. 

Manziel is far from perfect. But resisting the urge to toss a beer at him, or not having the urge in the first place, doesn’t mean condoning any of his misdeeds. It shows class. 

Like time, winning heals all wounds. It is the great elixir. And, until Manziel gets the chance to do it again, the unwanted attention won’t go away. 

Like many of us, Manziel grew up a Texas fan. And, like many of us, Longhorns and Aggies alike, he just needs the football season to start.

Quandre Diggs stands during the TCU game in Demember. The cornerback is one of several players on the Texas defense who could take over at safety with the loss of Kenny Vaccaro to the draft. 

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

As Kenny Vaccaro anxiously anticipates the NFL draft, Texas deals with the tough task of replacing him.

Kenny Vaccaros, after all, don’t come along every day.  The quickness, consistency in coverage and versatility the senior safety yielded provided a major asset for the often sluggish Texas defense this past season.  He could hit hard, move his feet and execute a physical game. 

Beneath an array of tattoos on his arms was genuine tackling talent: In his 51 career games, Vaccaro had 264 tackles and led the team in tackles in his senior season.

As he departs for an NFL career, Texas must address a burning question: Who can replace Kenny Vaccaro?

It’s a question both Mack Brown and defensive backs coach Duane Akina have been addressing as spring practice commenced.

“We had a good discussion about that for about the last 10 days, and [Duane is] going to work them all,” Brown said at his press conference last week. “We got Sheroid Evans starting out at corner. But Quandre [Diggs] can play safety. He can play corner. And Duane has got to find his best five because of nickel.”

Dubbed “Munchie” for his hearty childhood appetite, Evans will likely be hungry for more playing time in his junior year. He played as a reserve defensive back and on special teams last season, missed four games with a leg injury and ended the season on a high note with a tackle in the Alamo Bowl. 

Evans played 13 games as a freshman, notching eight tackles and a fumble in his first year on the team. His highlight performance came in the Holiday Bowl in 2011, as he helped the defense pressure Cal, holding them to a mere seven rushing yards. If he can continue to assert his influence and stay healthy in 2013, Evans could be a viable option to fill Vaccaro’s spot. 

Other candidates include Adrian Phillips, who will enter his senior season with 15 career starts after playing in all 13 games last season, upping his consistency as the year progressed. Then there’s Mykkele Thompson, whose resume boasts experience on special teams and as a safety. Another possibility is Josh Turner, who hasn’t missed a game in the past two seasons and made his first start against Baylor in 2012.

But perhaps the most intriguing is Quandre Diggs, a cornerback with 24 career starts and eight interceptions who seems to have enough versatility to step into Vaccaro’s shoes.

“Quandre can play safety, he can play corner,” Brown said. When Adrian was out some of the bowl practice, Quandre got a good week at safety in there.” 

If Diggs can make the leap from cornerback to safety, as Brown believes he can, the gaping hole Vaccaro leaves won’t be so wide. And while Vaccaro certainly won’t be easy to replace, Texas has a string of players ready to step up and fill the slot he left.

He’s still learning the game, but so far Josh Turner has made monumental strides as a player. The versatile defender was first employed as a cornerback but has since shifted to safety.
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

For Josh Turner, last Saturday’s contest against Baylor was a game of firsts.

He recorded his first collegiate start, first ever tackle for loss, and most importantly, first career interception.

The pick came in the second quarter of a 28-28, back-and-forth game. Baylor quarterback Nick Florence was looking to hit Lanear Sampson on a post route over the middle but overshot his target by a few yards. Turner, who was playing back at safety, made a break on the ball, dove and plucked the ball right before it hit the turf to secure the interception.

“We were in thirds,” Turner said of the play. “I was in right third, and I was just reading the quarterback. I saw that he kind of overthrew the receiver, and I was just trying to make a play on the ball.”

The pick was a huge momentum swing in the game, and perhaps a symbol of many more firsts to come for Turner.

Turner, the Oklahoman who scorned his native Sooners to come play in Austin. Turner, the corner turned safety who didn’t utter a word of complaint in the offseason because he enjoyed the challenge of switching positions so much. And Turner, the young safety whose playmaking ability rivals that of former Longhorn greats Aaron Ross, Earl Thomas and Nathan Vasher, according to his position coach Duane Akina.

“He has a knack for the ball,” Akina said. “That is one of the things that really stands out with him. He has some nice natural instincts for the football.”

His interception against Baylor was a perfect example of that. He was naturally instinctive on his break to the ball and when he reached it his natural athleticism took control.

“It was a super catch, and he is one of the few guys out there that is capable of making that play,” Akina said. “You know moving to his right, having to come back, ball off his body. He did a nice job of rolling.”

His athleticism gave him the aptitude to make the spectacular play, but it’s his dogged work ethic that’s allowed him to switch positions seamlessly from his freshman to sophomore year.

Turner played corner in his first season on the 40 Acres, but with the departure of four-year starter Blake Gideon, the Longhorns needed more depth at safety. Akina, who likes to cross-train his defensive backs, thought Turner would be the perfect fit to make the switch.

It wasn’t an immediate success story by any means. It took Turner a while to get the hang of the position, and even now he has the occasional stumble, missed assignment or whiffed tackle attempt.

But Turner recovers from those mistakes quickly, in part because of his will to improve and his desire to be pushed to the limit. And Akina has no qualms about granting his request in practice. Akina is intense and relentless in his frenzied devotion to making his players better, which means he is often forced to show a little tough love.

It doesn’t bother Turner a bit.

“If he’s hard on me then he actually sees potential in me,” Turner said. “Whereas if he didn’t say anything that’s when you have to start to get worried.”

Because of his lofty standards, Akina is a hard person to please. Turner’s teammates were impressed by his showing against Baylor — just not surprised. The performance served only to confirm what they perceive every day.

“He showed me what I already knew,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “In practice, he makes a lot of plays. He’s a playmaker. He’s real disciplined, and he played good against a good offense.”

Turner watches film every day, striving to get better. He studies tape after practice, on the bus, after class and every night before he heads to sleep.
With all of that work one would think Turner reach the point of exasperation. But, in the polite manner of the soft-spoken defensive back, he had a rebuttal for that conclusion. His answer was short, but went a long way in explaining his success.

“No sir,” Turner said. “You can never get tired of watching film.”

Printed on Friday, October 26, 2012 as: Turner's instinctive nature allows him to flourish

Football

Quandre Diggs, returning a punt against Texas A&M, will play at Qualcomm Stadium, where his older brother and former Longhorns defensive back plays home games for the San Diego Chargers.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Quandre Diggs is used to following in his brother’s footsteps.

The freshman cornerback came to Texas a decade after his older brother, Quentin Jammer, starred with the Longhorns as a defensive back. Diggs is the latest pupil of secondary coach Duane Akina, who mentored Jammer for one year before he was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft.

Diggs is familiar with the Texas program: Akina, head coach Mack Brown and co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite all worked with Jammer and was a major reason the freshman chose to play in Austin. He’s also familiar with Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, the site of the 2011 Holiday Bowl, where the Longhorns will take on California on Dec. 28.

“It’s great just to be able to play in the stadium that your older brother plays in,” Diggs said. “It’s the same as here. So hopefully we’ll go out and execute and win the game.”

Diggs typically spends the holiday season in San Diego anyway, where his family gathers to spend time with Jammer and cheer him on as the NFL season winds down.

He’s never been to a bowl game — most of the Longhorns haven’t either — but he’s taken in countless Chargers games over the past 11 years.

“I’ve been to plenty,” Diggs said. “So I know the stadium. I know the ins and outs of the stadium. I know San Diego in and out. I’m excited to be able to go back out there.”

The Angleton native started nine games this season and his team-high three interceptions were the second most for a freshman in school history (Chris Carter had four in 1993).

Diggs was also in the top 10 in tackles (48) and tackles for loss (4), and tied the team lead with two forced fumbles.

But the success is nothing new for Diggs, who was a top recruit in high school and has learned from the game’s best.

Jammer isn’t his only kin that played professionally; cousin Cedric Woodard spent six years in the NFL after starring at UT as a defensive lineman in the late 1990s.

“He’s really grown up in a high profile football family,” Akina said. “He has been around high quality football, so he knows how to prepare, he knows how to train in the off-season. He’s worked out with the best in the world, so he’s not intimidated by anything. For him to come in and learn as quickly as he has is really something.”

But Diggs’ impressive pedigree isn’t the only reason why he’s become one of the Longhorn’s best players. He’s a football junkie with the same love for the game as the young boy who used to beg Jammer and then-roommate Applewhite to play catch with him outside their apartment in Austin a decade ago.

“From the time I met him in first or second grade he’s always had a football in his hand,” Applewhite, who quarterbacked UT to a pair of Holiday Bowls from 2000-01, said. “Always had the latest stats. The latest Sportscenter highlights. He’s always been a gym rat. And he’s continued to be that way as he’s grown up. He’s got an infectious attitude, a lot of energy and enthusiasm. He’s a guy that’s a straight baller.”

Printed on Tuesday, December 6, 2011 as: Diggs to play on brother's home turf

Carrington Byndom (23) tackles Texas Tech wide receiver Austin Zouzalik in the Longhorns' recent 52—20 victory over the Red Raiders. Byndom has quickly become one of the Longhorns' best defensive backs this season.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Carrington Byndom isn’t much of a talker. But the cornerback sure knows how to listen.

Of course, it helps to be around people who know what they’re talking about.

Byndom’s postion coach, Duane Akina, has sent dozens of defensive backs to the NFL, with 10 currently in the league.

“He hangs on to every word that Akina tells him,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “He’s not brash and boisterous but at the same time he exudes a quiet confidence.”

Byndom spent his summer working out in Austin with Akina’s pupils, including Michael Huff, Aaron Ross, Cedric Griffin and Michael Griffin. He picked their brains and soaked it all in.

So far, it’s paid off. The sophomore has started all eight games and leads the Longhorns with 11 pass breakups.

“You’re around them and around their presence and they teach you their little secrets to improve your game,” Byndom said. “That was another key for me. They just give you their insight because they’ve been through this. They’re helping us prepare our game and get that much better for the future.”

His future certainly is bright. Give Byndom another year in Akina’s system, and he’ll be lining up at corner on Sundays.

The defensive backs room at the football complex is home to the “Money Wall,” homage to the former Longhorns who have gone on to the NFL. It’s also a constant reminder of the high expectations that come with being Akina’s latest pupil.

“Every DB wants to be on the money wall when they leave here,” Byndom said. “That’s another goal, another milestone for us, to have you picture up there on the wall so every DB who comes after knows he made the money wall.

“I definitely aspire to be like one of those guys that came through our defensive back room. Being like them is a goal for me, maybe even going beyond that.”

Byndom’s certainly gone above and beyond expectations in his first year as a starter.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Akina said. “I knew he was going to be a good player, but he’s really ahead of schedule, much more physical. He’s really just seeing the game. He’s an outstanding athlete and now the game is really beginning to slow down. All those reps are starting to catch up."

Byndom routinely draws the assignment of covering the opponent’s best receiver and has done well in that role. He held his ground against Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles and shut down Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon.

“He’s now one of the best corners in this conference, and his goal is to become national,”
Akina said.

Byndom may not be a big talker, but he let’s his game speak for him. And while his 6-foot, 180-pound frame might not be all that imposing, he’s not afraid to mix it up and hit somebody.

“He’s just a class act, much like Aaron Ross, Michael Huff and yet, on the field, very competitive,” Akina said. “Don’t let that demeanor fool you a little bit. He’s a physical, tough guy.”

On Saturday against Missouri’s 37th-ranked pass offense, Akina will need to make adjustments on the fly and shout instructions between plays. You can be sure that Byndom will be listening.
 

Adrian Phillips calls out the defensive alignment against UCLA in the Longhorns’ 49-20 win on Sept. 17. The sophomore cornerback is one of a handful of Texas defensive backs with NFL potential.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Saturday isn’t the only time to watch Texas defensive backs in action. They also shine on Sundays.

The Longhorns have 47 players on NFL rosters, the most of any program in the nation. And 10 of those players are defensive backs, all tutored by secondary coach Duane Akina. There’s a reason Texas is known as “DBU.”

Akina has another boatload of pro prospects at his disposal this season, even after three were selected in last April’s NFL Draft.

Sophomore cornerbacks Adrian Phillips, Carrington Byndom and freshman Quandre Diggs have filled the void left by Aaron Williams, Chykie Brown and Curtis Brown. And this trio will join their DBU brethren in the NFL sooner rather than later.

“We’ve got some playmakers back there,” Akina said. “We guessed right on them.”

Byndom and Phillips played primarily on special teams in 2010 but understood their time would arrive this season. And they’ve taken advantage of every moment, combining for three interceptions in four games.

“I had to come in and do a good job of taking the role from the guys who left last year,” Byndom said. “Knowing I was going to enter this season as a starter after splitting reps last year made me step it up.”

Of course, it helps to have ten NFL players to learn from, including Diggs’ older brother and San Diego Charger, Quentin Jammer.

“Those guys were great mentors to me,” Byndom said. “They taught me a lot, all the little details, things that people had helped them with.”

This week, the Longhorns secondary will face its toughest challenge yet against Oklahoma’s high-powered offense. Indirectly, they’ll go against the Sooners defensive backs, a unit that refers to itself as “The Sharks.” So what does the Texas bunch call itself?

“We just go by the fact that DBs are the moneymakers; we make the money,” Phillips said. “It’s DBU, we have to keep the tradition alive.”

Texas has two players who chose the “Moneymakers” over the “Sharks.” Freshman Josh Turner and sophomore Demarco Cobbs were the No. 1 recruits in Oklahoma the last two years, but both committed to UT over OU. And for good reason.

“Josh was well aware of our secondary tradition here, and that was very appealing to him,” Akina said. “Josh really knew a lot about us, knew about Aaron Ross and Michael Huff and had followed us closely.”

While Cobbs has since transitioned to linebacker, he was instrumental in prying Turner from the Sooner state.

“Demarco had a real positive experience here,” Akina said. “Our players are the ones that recruit for us.”

Ross and Huff were teammates on the 2005 National Championship team, and both were first-round picks. When Akina scans the practice field these days, he sees several players who will earn NFL paychecks in the near future. That’s why he stresses versatility when evaluating recruits, noting that pro teams value prospects that can play multiple positions.

“That’s what we’re constantly looking for,” he said.

Phillips epitomizes all that Akina covets. He’s already started at corner, split time at safety and excelled as a nickel back — all this from a first-year starter.

This group is young but poised. No corner has started more than four games in his career, but they all play the part of a wily veteran.

“Even though we’re young, we don’t worry about age at all,” Phillips said. “If you can play, you can play, and that’s all that matters with Coach Akina.”

This group can certainly play — on Sundays.

Printed on October 6, 2011 as: NFL prospects roam secondary