Mykkele Thompson

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

Tuesday marked head coach Charlie Strong’s first NFL Pro Day with Texas, where he saw 14 Longhorns perform for scouts and coaches from 25 different teams in the league.

The five players who participated in last month’s NFL Combine — defensive tackle Malcom Brown, running back Malcolm Brown, linebacker Jordan Hicks, defensive end Cedric Reed and cornerback Quandre Diggs — mostly focused on position drills as they tried to establish a spot in the NFL Draft. 

Diggs participated in the vertical jump and the broad jump, reaching 36 inches and 9 feet 11 inches, respectively. Malcolm Brown ran in the 40-yard dash, aiming to beat his time of 4.62 from the Combine. He clocked in around 4.5 seconds.

“I definitely believe I am one of the best cornerbacks in this class,” Diggs said. “A lot of people have made a big to do about my size. It is one thing if you’re 6 foot 1 inch but are soft. I know the kind of player I am, and I let my play speak for itself.”

Reed, after only taking part in the bench press at the combine, did not participate in the Pro Day. He is still recovering from meniscus surgery he had during the offseason.

Tuesday was crucial for wide receivers Jaxon Shipley and John Harris and safety Mykkele Thompson, who weren’t invited to the Combine. 

Shipley ran between a 4.43 and a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash and jumped a 39-inch vertical. During wide receiver drills, his routes were clean, and he showed scouts the strong hands Texas fans were familiar with.

“Coming out here today, I really want to surprise some people with my speed,” Shipley said. “I also wanted people understand that, even with injuries in college, I can still play at a high level.”

Shipley said he felt good about his performance and was glad to talk with a couple of scouts following his workouts.

Thompson also looked strong in all of his drills, especially the broad jump, which was around 10 feet 9 inches. His broad jump would have been better than many guys at the combine, including Alabama safety Landon Collins and LSU cornerback Jalen Collins.

Harris, one of the Longhorns few offensive weapons last season, gave a good performance.  He completed 19 reps on the bench press and ran a 40-yard time of about 4.5. On the his last attempt for the 40, Harris pulled his hamstring, but it didn’t bother him the rest of the day.

“At this time last year, I was not really paying attention to Pro Day,” Harris said. “I remember coming to watch for a little while but quickly leaving. Now, a year later, a lot has changed.”

The Longhorn prospects still have a long process ahead of them, with individual team workouts and meetings before the NFL Draft on April 30 through May 2.

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.”

Sophomore safety Josh Turner made the most of his first start, making his first career interception, a play that set up a go-ahead Texas touchdown and proved to be a turning point in the Longhorns’ 56-50 victory over Baylor this past Saturday.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Ever since Jordan Hicks went down in the first half of the Longhorns’ win over Ole Miss more than a month ago, the Longhorn defense has been searching for a spark. The search ended with Josh Turner.

Texas had surrendered 28 points to Baylor in the game’s first 20 minutes. The Bears were threatening to take the lead when Turner, a sophomore defensive back, chased down a scrambling Nick Florence, laying out to catch him from behind.

Turner made his first career interception on the next play. Florence overthrew his intended target and Turner, with his airborne body parallel to the ground, picked him off. Johnathan Gray’s 25-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive gave the Longhorns a 35-28 lead they would not give up.

“We were in thirds,” Turner recalled. “I was in the 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.”

Adrian Phillips was supposed to be the solid safety opposite senior Kenny Vaccaro that solidified Texas’ secondary. His struggles led to sophomore Mykkele Thompson cracking the starting lineup, but Thompson has missed numerous tackles since. It’s time for Turner, who made his first career start during Saturday’s 56-50 win over Baylor, to become a mainstay in the first-team defense.

“He did an excellent job of making plays in the time that he was in, especially geting the turnover that was very crucial to the game and I think it did spark a lot of momentum,” junior cornerback Carrington Byndom said. “That’s what we expect and what he expects of himself. They know when their opportunity comes, they have to take advantage of it and I think he did an excellent job of it this weekend.”

On Baylor’s last possession of the first half, with Texas holding a 42-28 lead, Florence lofted a pass to his favorite receiver, Terrance Williams. The senior wideout leads the country with 1,013 yards ­— more yards than seven FBS teams have passed for this season.

Williams caught the pass in the corner of the end zone but Byndom kept him from catching it in bounds while Turner ranged over to jar the ball loose and ensure he wouldn’t make the catch. Baylor settled for a field goal on the next play as the Longhorns trotted into the locker room with an 11-point lead at halftime.

“The play he makes down there in the end zone is a great play,” head coach Mack Brown said. “That’s a perfect throw and catch. Carrington Byndom’s got him covered up but Josh knocks him out of bounds.”

Phillips and Vaccaro are listed as Texas’ starting safeties for its game against Kansas this weekend. Thompson and Turner are listed as backups. But if the way he played against Baylor last Saturday was any indication of what we can expect from him, Turner needs to be on the field more than Phillips and Thompson.

“We’re excited about the plays that he made,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “That’s how we know our persistence is working, but there’s some things that we have to continue to correct. We’re all in it together. We can’t be too excited about anything.”

Diaz is right. He shouldn’t dwell on the efforts of individuals too long — as good as they may be — as long as his unit is on pace to go down as, statistically, the worst defense in school history. But starting Turner would go a long way toward turning things around.

Printed on Thursday, October 25, 2012 as: Turner the spark Texas' secondary needs

Justin Brown gets past a group of Texas defenders during a 28-yard catch in the second quarter of the longhorns' 63-21 loss to Oklahoma on Saturday. Quandre Diggs' attempt to strip Brown was unsuccessfull, while Carrington Byndom and Mykkele Thompson made futile attempts to tackle Brown on one of many long gains made by the Sooners in theis year's game.

Photo Credit: Andrew Torrey | Daily Texan Staff

It’s been a month since linebacker Jordan Hicks went out with a hip injury. It’s been about that long since the Longhorns have been able to tackle anybody.

Hicks, a junior, has missed the last 14 quarters of football and is questionable this week. To make matters worse, Jackson Jeffcoat was lost for the season this weekend with a pectoral injury. Texas still has Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro to lead the way, but there are nine other guys on the field who have to step up and help the Longhorns fix the tackling problems that have plagued them over their last four games.

“I don’t think the young players know their role as well as they need to sometimes,” Vaccaro said. “There were three or four guys playing hard and some others that were not. It’s just causing a cancer on the team … Everyone needs to want to make the play every down. It’s not like that right now.”

Texas has allowed 178 points over its last four contests — the most over a four-game stretch in the program’s 1,223-game history. That has to change. And it starts with a Longhorns run defense that ranks 106th in the country, the worst in the Big 12.

“Right now, we have no confidence in our run defense,” Okafor said. “There’s no doubt that any team right now is capable of gashing us … We’re too careful on defense. We’re not throwing our bodies around. We’re expecting somebody else to make the play. That comes from practice. That comes from effort. We have to change that.”

Damien Williams’ 95-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of last week’s 63-21 loss to Oklahoma epitomized the Longhorns’ defensive struggles.

“They took a base zone play and ran it 95 yards,” head coach Mack Brown said. “We had two standing there that they run by and three in the back end that can’t tackle him. That was awful, a terrible thing. We’re trying to change everything. Our young safeties need to tackle better.”

Sophomore Mykkele Thompson is one of those safeties. A quarterback in high school, Thompson has made his first two career starts the past couple of weeks, taking the spot of another struggling safety, junior Adrian Phillips, making a team-high 22 tackles over that span. But many have been made with Thompson going several yards backward and as a result of a struggling linebacking corps escorting ballcarriers to the secondary.

“I don’t really understand. I feel like tackling is something you should have learned a long time ago,” sophomore cornerback Quandre Diggs said. “This is Mykkele’s second game. I guess you guys think that everyone is just going to be All-Americans. He’s trying. He’s giving it all he’s got every weekend.”

Thompson doesn’t have to be an All-American. But he, along with others on defense like juniors Demarco Cobbs and Carrington Byndom, have to play better in the second half of this regular season, because defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, in his second year on the job, is leading a unit that is on pace to go down as the worst defense in program history.

“Our run defense was horrendous on Saturday and the responsibility for that comes to me,” Diaz said. “Why you’re not [tackling] is not because you don’t want to, it’s the opposite. You become so worried about not making the tackle that you forget the very first fundamental about missing the tackle — you have to go run and step on the ballcarrier’s toes.”

Good advice for a defense that has been caught on its heels all too often this season.

Printed on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 as: Opponents- and maybe season- slipping out of UT defense's grasp

Mykkele Thompson passes Adrian Phillips on Texas depth chart

Adrian Phillips is no longer Texas' starting strong safety. The Longhorns depth chart that was released on Monday had him behind sophomore Mykkele Thompson.

Phillips, a junior, played cornerback in his first two years at Texas, but made a position switch to safety this offseason to replace four-year stater Blake Gideon. In the offseason, Phillips received rave reviews from the coaching staff and his teammates.

But, Phillips has not lived up to expectations in his junior campaign. He’s missed multiple tackles and has been consistently beat in deep coverage. This is coming off of a game at Oklahoma State where he missed two tackles in the open field that led to touchdowns.

Freshman wide receiver Jaxon Shipley runs past Iowa State defensive back Jacques Washington during a first half touchdown reception.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

This time last year, he was throwing touchdowns for Belton. Now, he’s doing it for Texas.

David Ash was one of many Longhorn freshmen to turn in fantastic performances, throwing for his first two career touchdown passes. Mykkele Thompson, who was at Stevens High School in San Antonio last fall, blocked a punt in the second quarter and fellow freshman Josh Turner took it all the way back. The play epitomized how Texas’ youngsters dominated its 37-14 win over Iowa State as the Longhorns’ leading passer, rusher and receiver were all true freshmen.

Ash had split snaps with Case McCoy for most of the last three games but had not seen the field as much as his sophomore counterpart. That changed Saturday when Ash completed four of eight first-half passes, one more than he had attempted in his first three games combined, for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Both he and McCoy were 7-for-12 passing.

“I thought the rotation went well,” McCoy said. “David played really good. He made plays, and it worked out for us. We’re 4-0.”

The rookies made their mark on defense, too. Texas forced three first-quarter turnovers for the second straight game, scoring after each of them once again. The Longhorns got a field goal off the first one before Quandre Diggs popped the ball loose on the ensuing kickoff and Tevin Jackson fell on it. Fittingly enough, both Diggs and Jackson are freshmen. Texas scored its first touchdown on the following possession.

“Tonight, we forced the turnovers,” said head coach Mack Brown. “If you force a lot of turnovers and you protect the ball like we did tonight, you’re going to win a lot of
football games.”

Eventually, the defense got tired of setting the offense up for scores. So they got one of their own. With the Longhorns leading 20-0, the Cyclones lined up for their second punt of the game. That’s when Thompson blocked the 75th kick in the Mack Brown era, the Longhorns’ first blocked punt returned for a touchdown since Malcolm William’s in 2009.

“I saw that ball got tipped so I just grabbed it and went,” said Turner, who was playing high school football in Oklahoma last season. “I was thinking I was about to score. It was a momentum shift, and it helped us a lot.”

On the offensive side, Malcolm Brown and Jaxon Shipley continued their fantastic first-year campaigns. Brown ran for 63 yards on 15 carries against a defense that honed in on the Texas backfield. Iowa State stacked the box and opened up throwing lanes for Ash and McCoy, who both found Shipley for long gains. Ash hit Shipley for a 40-yard touchdown seconds after Shipley pitched the ball to him while McCoy found Shipley for 49 yards on an acrobatic grab on the sideline in the second half.

The impressive catch wasn’t surprising. Shipley has been spectacular all season, as evidenced by his six-catch, 141-yard showing against Iowa State this past weekend.

But Ash’s pair of touchdowns, Thompson’s and Turner’s blocked punt return for a score and true freshmen accounting for nearly 60 percent of Texas’ total offense? No one saw that coming.

Printed on Monday, October 3, 2011 as: Freshmen lead offense, overwhelm Iowa State