University of Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando answer questions from the local media about his strategy for the Texas Longhorns at the Moncrief Athletics Complex, UT campus at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Football

Without looking back, new Texas defensive coaches focused on the future

Posted February 22nd, 2017

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Story highlights
  • Texas' 2015 and 2016 defensive units were two of the worst in school history.
  • Oscar Giles: “I’m concerned about the now, now. That’s the most important thing for me.”
  • Todd Orlando wants to see UT's defensive linemen slim down this offseason.

Tom Herman has taken over a Texas football program that’s had three straight losing seasons. When his defensive assistants looked under the hood, they found real problems.

The 2015 and 2016 defenses were statistically two of the worst in school history. Both teams allowed more than 30 points and nearly 450 yards per game. Somewhere, Tommy Nobis is disgusted.

Herman’s defensive staff can teach new tactics or implement different schemes, but they’re working with most of the same cast that UT has had the last two years. To their credit, these defensive coaches really don’t care.

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“What are we doing right now?,” defensive line coach Oscar Giles said Wednesday. “For these kids that are here right now, we have to do our job as a coaching staff and show them how to do different things.

UT linebacker Malik Jefferson is congratulated by Head Coach Charlie Strong after he sacked Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II in the fourth quarter at AT&T Jones Stadium in Lubbock Saturday November 5, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson will be moved around the formation in new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s system.  JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“The past, I can go back and look at the 2005 national championship, and I couldn’t tell you where it ranked,” he added. That team was tied for eighth nationally in scoring and allowed only 16.4 points per game. “I’m concerned about the now, now. That’s the most important thing for me.”

Giles knows what a good Texas defense looks like. He was a four-year letterman with the Longhorns from 1987-90 and later spent nine seasons as a defensive assistant under Mack Brown. “Kids change when they open up their heart and you change what they’re doing, now you’re getting different results,” Giles said.

Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who held the same position at Houston under Herman, did not get into specifics about players during an hour-long interview session with reporters. Texas will have a 3-4 base alignment, and “We play base, we play nickel, we’ll play a variation of dime on third down,” he said.

Orlando would like to see UT’s defensive linemen slim down. The Longhorns’ three nose tackles averaged 309 pounds last season. “We’re a bit too heavy up front,” he said.

At linebacker, Orlando said everyone is being cross-trained at multiple positions. The best will play, Orlando said, instead of anyone being pigeonholed into being just an inside or outside linebacker. That includes Malik Jefferson.

“Right now, the preliminary thought with Malik is to move him around and try to get him the best way we can match up with people’s deficiencies,” Orlando said. “So I’ve told all those guys in the meeting, you learn both — inside and outside — because the best three guys are going to play.”

On the back end, defensive backs coaches Jason Washington and Craig Naivar are tasked with rebuilding their players’ confidence. Kris Boyd is a motormouth, but Holton Hill and Davante Davis disappeared last season after being labeled two of Charlie Strong’s best defenders as freshmen in 2015.

“When we produce and do things good, boy, it’s like we won the national championship,” Washington said. “I’m going crazy and high-fiving and jumping up. If we’re able to bring that energy, I think energy is infectious; it carries over to the rest of the group and the rest of the defense.”

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Naivar said if the coaches are going to ask players to “basically run through somebody else’s face for 12 Saturdays,” they must have an incredible bond. “You really, really dig into their lives,” he said.

To hear the defensive coaches tell it, the players have been more receptive to different coaching. What they’d been doing the last three years wasn’t working, so why not try something new?

“We haven’t seen anybody that maliciously doesn’t want to do things,” Orlando said. “They’re taking the coaching. I don’t think there are people in this program that don’t want to do things, so that’s one thing I’ve been impressed with.”

Injury report: Texas announced that tight end Andrew Beck will miss some of spring practice with a broken left foot, the same one he injured last season. It’s hoped he can return by mid-March.

Punter Michael Dickson, a Ray Guy finalist last season, suffered a right hamstring injury while doing conditioning work. It’s unclear whether he will participate in spring drills.

Quarterback Shane Buechele also has recovered from a thumb injury that he initially suffered in high school. It bothered him last season, a source said, though the Longhorns never admitted Buechele had any problems with his throwing hand. He wore a brace during the team’s winter break and is expected to be ready for spring workouts, which begin March 7.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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