August 8, 2008

Breaking down the defense on day four

Sometimes, believe it or not, continuity can actually be a bad thing. When Mack Brown promoted Duane Akina to defensive play-caller, he did so to bring some stability to the defensive coordinator position. From 1998 to 2003, defensive guru Carl Reese called the plays, and called them well, fielding five straight top 25 defenses for the Longhorns.

After his retirement, the Texas defensive coordinator position suddenly became a springboard for head coaching positions elsewhere. First came Greg Robinson, the NFL coaching vet with plenty of experience and two Super Bowl rings to show for it. After one season, in which he produced a defense ranked 18th nationally overall, Robinson took off to succeed Paul Pasqualoni as Syracuse's head coach. Then came Gene Chizik, the 2004 Frank Broyles top assistant award winner, whose No. 1 scoring defense led the Auburn Tigers to a 13-0 record. Two years and a national championship later, Chizik left Texas for a head coaching gig at Iowa State.

After having so much success bringing in ambitious, innovative, and experienced defensive coordinators, Brown did the exact opposite by giving Akina the reins. Why? All in the name of stability.

Not that Akina wasn't ambitious or innovative. After all, he's coached three Thorpe award winners, including Longhorns Michael Huff and Aaron Ross. No one is doubting the man's ability to coach defensive backs. His experience at play calling, however, was non-existent before 2007, unless you count the three years of offensive play calling at Arizona. The result? A Longhorn defense that ranked 52nd overall and 109th in pass defense. All in the name of stability.

Enter 2008. Texas demotes Akina and hires Will Muschamp, the Nick Saban disciple whose NCAA defenses have averaged a 7.4 national ranking during his stints as coordinator at LSU and Auburn. With a national championship, NFL coaching experience and five years calling plays, the one thing he doesn't bring to UT is continuity, because the style of defense he brings to the table is nothing like the Texas defenses of old, and in all reality, Muschamp will likely take off for the next quality head coaching job he's offered, which might be exactly what the Longhorns need.

Defensive quick hits from Thursday's practice:

- One of the first things the Longhorns worked on today was blocking on turnovers. The defense would drop back for a pass, intercept the ball, and then the entire defense would run down the field in front of the runner, evidence that Muschamp wants this year's squad to capitalize on turnovers.

- Deon Beasley always does an exceptional job at jumping to catch the ball at its highest point. Look for him to have plenty of interceptions in 2008.

- The coaches had Sergio Kindle working a lot at blitzing from the outside and dropping back in the middle. If he can stay healthy, Kindle has the athletic ability to be a monster in Muschamp's attacking defense.

- Earl Thomas had the best catch of the day, making a diving interception against John Chiles that had the crowd going crazy. It's early, but Thomas looks like he's ready to take on the arduous task of starting as a freshman.

- After getting an ear full from Akina after being out of position in an 11-on-11 drill, freshman Aaron Williams bounced back by batting down a Chiles pass the very next play. Other than Thomas, Williams might see more playing time than any other freshman on defense.

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