April 6, 2011

Advice for Gilbert, Diaz's differences from Muschamp and more ...

1. Manny Diaz has a very different style with the media than Will Muschamp.

Muschamp never seemed to admit weakness, always maintaining a strong exterior, as if saying to opponents, "Good luck." Manny Diaz, on the other hand, doesn't mind telling you exactly where he thinks his group has ground to make up.

It's not as if one style is better than the other. Just different.

Almost two weeks ago, Diaz, spent time at ESPN as a production assistant out of college and has a great relationship with the media, said there wasn't a player on Texas' defensive line who any opponent would be afraid to block.

Then, after the spring game, Diaz talked about how the Texas defense has little margin for error.

"We are a defense that has to do everything right to be successful," Diaz said. "And on the plays when 11 guys lock in and do their job, we are hard to move against.

"But we still have very little margin of error when we don't play within our technique or we don't play within our assignments. I would think the same thing would be true, whatever value you have for us as a defense, if we come back with that same value the first practice in August - we are in trouble.

"It is really important for our players in the off-season to make some strides. Right now, we think we know. But when we come back, we need to know we know.

"And that is tough and all part of the transition of going into a scheme, and even our top guys have a good idea of what the basis of the scheme is. But we have to know we know. We can't just have it memorized. We have to have the understanding, and that should come in the summertime."

I think the candor is refreshing, especially at a time when realistic expectations for the Texas team in 2011 are essential.

Probably the most important piece of news involving Diaz is that his chemistry with Duane Akina is strong.

Mack Brown said Diaz' scheme has some similarities to the "Desert Swarm" D at Arizona in the early 1990s that Akina helped run at Arizona under Dick Tomey.

"You had to have the hire work with [assistant head coach/defensive backs coach] Duane Akina and Manny Diaz," Brown said. "Because the front seven has to tie into the back four, obviously. They're getting along great. They have very similar philosophies. We're doing a lot of the stuff like some of the 'Desert Swarm' stuff back in the 90s where they were all over the place and multiple looks. So those two have gotten along great."

Blake Gideon said the defense showed only about "5 percent" of its playbook against the offense in the spring game. So there aren't many conclusions to be drawn about the new Texas defense based on that.

But Diaz has indicated he's going to allow his players to be instinctive as long as they show him they can master the defense. He talks about having "more eyes on the football" to create turnovers and stopping the run on the way to the passer.

It all sounds good, especially at this time of year. But then you remember his earlier statements about not having anyone other teams would fear on the D-line and the thin margin for error. Lots of work to be done.

2. I came away from the spring game very intrigued by true freshman cornerback Quandre Diggs.

Diggs hit my radar when Mack Brown said the younger brother of Quentin Jammer had worked hard during the coaching searches to keep the 2011 recruiting class together. That showed leadership.

Then, you could see how he's progressing in the spring game by having perfect position against receiver Mike Davis on a pass breakup in the end zone. And again when Diggs flattened fullback Ryan Roberson on a pass in the flat.

Mack Brown also thinks Diggs can be a solid return specialist for Texas. Diggs had a 29-yard kick return and a 17-yard punt return in the spring game.

"He does get it," Brown said of Diggs. "I think probably being around his brother [Quentin Jammer] a long time, he knows how to back pedal. He's been at every camp with his brother forever. He's very mature. He's very smart, and he competes.

"You could see it on the first ball in the end zone to Mike Davis. He jumped up along with Mike. He's not scared. You would never think he's a high school senior. I'm really excited about the possibilities of him as a returner.

"We saw a little spark a couple of times today, but I think he's got that build of those guys with his strong legs and he's not that tall but he's really hard to tackle. I think he can make a difference for us in returning as well."

Manny Diaz said he thinks Diggs was born to play defensive back.

"For a guy who should be walking around and taking English 4 in high school right now - you know he had to be diligent to get out of high school a semester early - he has a knack for making plays," Diaz said. "He did a great job on a deep ball on the first drive of the game. He came up and put his face on somebody later in the scrimmage.

"So Quandre is a guy who was born to play defensive back. He just has the knack. Some guys you have to draw them a map, but Quandre understands what it takes to play there. He is still young, and like young guys do, sometimes they are there and sometimes they are not. But we are glad he is with us."

Blake Gideon said Diggs has talent that can't be coached.

"Quandre is going to be a very good player," Gideon said. "He has a chance to do some great things while he is here. There is only so much you can coach, and he seems to have that natural part, that instinct, that knack for the game.

"That is something that is rare in a young defensive back. And he will come up and hit you, and I think everyone is pretty excited about Quandre and what he brings. He keeps his mouth shut, and that is an important aspect of being a freshman here."

Gideon laughed when he added that part about Diggs keeping his mouth shut. But others have said Diggs is very humble. Refreshing.

3. Has there been any bigger spotlight put on an incoming position group than the five freshmen offensive linemen arriving on campus in June?

If things are truly going to change offensively at Texas, Garrett Greenlea, Josh Cochran, Marcus Hutchins, Sedrick Flowers and Taylor Doyle have to be good. A few of them need to be really good.

Texas hasn't come close to the level of talent seen on the offensive line since 2005 and 2006, when Justin Blalock, Kasey Studdard and Lyle Sendlein were clearing paths and protecting quarterbacks at UT before moving on to the NFL.

For Texas to truly flourish under Bryan Harsin's new offense, the Longhorns have got to start hitting home runs when landing OL talent.

I spoke with former Ohio State and NFL linebacker Chris Spielman this week about his thoughts on Texas after he worked the booth for ESPN covering the Longhorns' spring game. Spielman said the offensive line has to get "meaner, nastier and tougher."

"The first thing I'd do if I was Stacy Searels is get a tape of Wisconsin's offensive line from last season, and say, 'This is how we're going to play,'" Spielman said. "Texas is too good of a program not to have that kind of talent and attitude on the offensive line."

Spielman doesn't think the defenses in the Big 12 are very good and that a physical running game can be a real advantage. But he stressed the offensive line has to be there to get that accomplished.

Spielman said Garrett Gilbert gives Texas the best chance to win in 2011. And Spielman said he told Major Applewhite to have Gilbert talk to North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates about overcoming adversity.

Spielman pointed out how Yates really struggled two seasons ago and lost the faith of his fan base. Then Yates bounced back last season and led the Tar Heels to a bowl game with much improved play.

"Hopefully, Gilbert is a tough kid like T.J. Yates because I heard the boos when he threw the interception in the spring game," Spielman said.
Spielman said he thinks 8-4 is a good season for Texas in 2011 based on the talent and experience he saw.

"I just think Texas is a year away from getting back to the expectations of competing for championships," Spielman said. "They'll get there, but I think they are a year away."

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