A look at the defense

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One of two senior starters on the Longhorns defense, along with safety Kenny Vaccaro, defensive end Alex Okafor leads what should be one of the best defenses in the country.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas defense is trying to not get caught up in the hype. But it must be hard.

The group led the Big 12 in rushing, passing and total defense last season. After losing just a few significant pieces, the Longhorns are expected to be one of the best defenses in the country.

“It’s just about getting back to where we were, and then picking up from last season,” senior defensive end Alex Okafor said. “Just getting back to the top, man. That’s all we worked on this offseason, was just getting Texas back to where it belongs, getting back to a Top 10 BCS team.”

The defense’s strength starts in the front. Defensive ends Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat are the leaders of one of the best lines in the country. The two were the anchors of a line that finished sixth in rushing and 33rd in sacks last season.

The two bookends, along with tackles Chris Whaley and junior college transfer Brandon Moore, will only improve on last season.

With the graduation of Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, the linebacker position is the main question of the Texas defense.

Junior Jordan Hicks has taken a leadership role at the position and will be joined by Demarco Cobbs and Steve Edmond in the starting spots. The linebackers are young, but Hicks’ experience and leadership will play an important role in their development.

“When you only have two seniors on defense, we sort of had to ‘knight’ or get them on their knees and do the sword thing to knight a few juniors and turn them into seniors,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “We told them that you have two senior seasons. We couldn’t wait around.”

Last season Kenny Vaccaro made the decision to stay at Texas for his senior season rather than enter the NFL draft. His versatility gives him the ability to play multiple positions in the secondary, but will start at free safety.

Adrian Phillips joins Vaccaro at strong safety. Like Vaccaro, Phillips is very versatile. Promising sophomores Josh Turner and Mykkele Thompson will back up Vaccaro and Phillips.

Carrington Byndom and sophomore Quandre Diggs look to make up one of the most dominant cornerback duos in the Big 12. Diggs tied a Texas freshman record with four interceptions to go with 51 tackles, while Byndom had 15 pass breakups and two interceptions.

The entire team has been focusing on being more aggressive.

“Last year, we thought we knew what we were doing,” Diaz said. “We looked like a team that we were pretty sure about our assignments, and I hope this year, we are a team that knows our assignments and that there’s just a little bit more aggression last year that you saw as the year went on.”

For a defense that thrived last year, it looks like whether or not the offense can catch up will be what determines the success of the Longhorns’ season.

Printed on Thursday, August 30, 2012 as: Horns defense back for more