The Texas offense may be garnering attention with its new tempo, but that doesn’t mean the defense is taking it easy in the spring.
With nine returning starters, the defense is looking to regain its stature after a frustrating 2012 season that was marred by missed tackles and overall sluggish play. The run defense was the worst in the Big 12 and 100th in the nation.
Preparing for a better season means tough, physical play and a bit of nastiness. At least, that’s how defensive coordinator Manny Diaz sees it.
“We need to establish ourselves as fast, tough and physical as the three ways we will be described next year,” Diaz said after the Orange and White scrimmage. “What we found out is that a defense is about all 11. What we have to do is find a way that all 11 guys do their jobs and do it with a nasty disposition.”
Key returners include junior cornerback Quandre Diggs, who led the team in interceptions last season and senior cornerback Carrington Byndom, who started in all 13 games and followed closely behind Diggs in interceptions. Senior safety Adrian Phillips, who finished 2012 as one of the top tacklers on the team, will also return for his last season. Junior safety Mykkele Thompson, who has not missed a game in his last two seasons, developed a knack for blocking punts last season.
Younger members of the team will look to linebackers Jordan Hicks and Dalton Santos for guidance, Diaz said. Santos, who lost a bit of weight since last season, now boasts a trimmer figure and confident outlook.
“He plays with a lot of passion,” Diaz said of Santos. “He plays with a lot of fire. Your players are always going to be driven by your hardest workers. And they see that guy in the weight room just eating up the weights. You want to be around guys like that.”
Then there’s the versatile Duke Thomas, who played on defense and special teams in all 12 games last year and worked out wide receiver in the spring game. His talents are wanted on both sides of the ball. Now it’s just a game of tug-of-war.
“A guy like that can help our football team in a lot of ways,” Diaz said of Thomas. “We need to make sure we use him in the best way possible.”
The up-tempo style has also impacted the defense, head coach Mack Brown said.
“We were at a disadvantage some last year where you couldn’t practice against it very often, and then you’re out there and you’re wearing out,” Brown said. “We think that by working against tempo offense every day in practice is going to help us a lot when we get ready to play against these type offenses in the fall.”
Senior defensive tackle Chris Whaley said the team is focused on turning things around after last year’s defensive struggles.
“Last year was a letdown for the defense, but we don’t focus on that,” Whaley said. “There is a big chip on our shoulder to come out and prove that we are still that tough Texas defense. There’s a lot of senior leaders on this defense, and we are stressing that we are going to get this thing turned around.”