The only question surrounding the Texas defense this summer is just how good they can be as an overall unit. A lot of that expectation comes from a star-studded returning cast that includes seniors safety Kenny Vaccaro and defensive end Alex Okafor.
Okafor and Vaccaro are expected to lead a high-powered defense this season. In 2011, Texas finished 11th in total defense and is expected to finish higher this year.
The public will get to hear exactly what to expect out of this year’s defense from head coach Mack Brown and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz at the Big 12 Media Days this week in Dallas. However, the public will not get to hear from defensive leaders Okafor and Vaccaro.
Due to an offseason incident, the seniors are banned from addressing the media until September and will not make it to Dallas this week. In May, Okafor and Vaccaro, along with senior tight end Barrett Matthews and former Longhorn Eryon Barnett, were arrested in downtown Austin for failing to obey a lawful order.
The four athletes refused to leave a downtown pizza establishment after being asked by several individuals, including police. The incident led to their arrest and charges of class C misdemeanors.
“They are paying hard for really being disrespectful to authority figures,” Brown said. “It’s our job to make sure that we all keep the respect of the authority figures that we have. Our police department has a very, very difficult job. If they ask you to leave, you should leave, and you should leave quickly.”
All charges in the case against the players were dismissed, and the Longhorns will not face any serious legal ramifications because of the incident, but other penalties were handed down by the Texas coaching staff. Although they will not miss much, if any, game time when the season starts, the three players will not represent the team in public until school starts for the 2012 season.
“These guys will be able to address it when we start back in the fall but not until that point,” Brown said. “We want them to earn that right from their teammates to represent our team publicly.”
Vaccaro, four-year defensive back, was chosen to the All-Big 12 first team in 2011 and was honorable mention for Defensive Player of the Year. In 2011, Vaccaro started at safety in 13 games and posted two sacks along with two interceptions. For the 2012 season, Vaccaro has been named to the Thorpe watch list for the nation’s best defensive back, the Bednarik watch list for the defensive player of the year and the Nagurski watch list for most outstanding defensive player. Vaccaro was also named to the preseason All-Big 12 team for 2012.
In 2012, Okafor started in all 13 games, finishing with seven sacks and one fumble recovery. He was also named to the 2011 All-Big 12 first team and was a 2011 AFCA FBS Coaches’ All-American. In addition to also being named to the Bednarik and Nagurski watch lists, Okafor was named to the 2012 Lombardi Award watch list for the lineman or linebacker of the year and the Walter Camp Player of the Year watch list. Okafor is a preseason All-Big 12 team member and preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
“These are three leaders on our football team,” Brown said of the trio and their roles on the field.
Okafor and Vaccaro may not be on hand in Dallas, but the success of the Longhorns’ defense this season is strongly tied to their ability to disrupt opponents’ offensive game plans and lead the Texas defense. The hope is that barring the pair, along with Matthews, from speaking with the media until the fall will allow them to focus on offseason preparation and be fully-focused once the season begins.