November 1, 2007

The Locker Room Report

Q: (brianut) - There's been some debate on the board about our team speed. I'm in the camp that believes this is one of the slower teams we've had in a while, at least when it comes to the upperclassmen. When I compare our team speed to that of some of the SEC or Pac-10 schools, it seems like we don't have as many really fast defenders in the front seven. Our offensive skill players are competent but rarely seem to break away from the pack (obviously Jamaal was able to put his track speed to use against Nebraska). What are your thoughts about our team speed?

A: I don't think there's any question that the offense currently lacks a lot of difference makers in the speed department. Outside of Jamaal Charles, I'm not sure there's anyone in the program that really has the ability to separate and beat teams vertically down the field. Quan Cosby and Nate Jones are very skilled receivers, but they aren't burners. When you look at the young talent in the program, true freshman James Kirkendoll and redshirting freshman Malcolm Williams have a chance to be that kind of player, but there aren't many speed guys on that side of the ball presently.

I think the picture is a little different on the defensive side of the ball. When you look at the young talent that has been assembled across the board, the team speed should be stronger than it's ever been, especially at linebacker and on the defensive line. Overall, this isn't the fastest team that Mack Brown has had at Texas and it shows up on offense and in the return game, but it's not a team that's totally void of it.

Q: (Towerlightjay) - Look into your crystal ball at the fate of the Texas Defense. How do you see it performing going forward? Do you think Duane Akina has lived up to Mack Brown and the Fan's expectations? Do you see continued improvement going forward? How big of a factor do you think staff continuity will play in the improvement of performance of the defense in the coming years?

A: If you're talking about this season, I think the defense will continue to play better in the front seven with the continued emergence of some of the young players at defensive end and linebacker. The cornerback play has been very solid, but the play of the safety position must get better or it will likely cost this team a win at some point. Replacing Michael Griffin in the line-up on defense and special teams has proven to be easier said than done.

If you're talking about the defense in future years, I truly believe that this is the side of the ball that's going to lead this program for the rest of the decade. For most of this season the Longhorns haven't had many difference makers on that side of the ball, but players like Sergio Kindle, Jared Norton, Rodderick Muckelroy, Sam Acho and Deon Beasley have really started to show flashes of being impact performers in the future. A defense that includes Brian Orakpo, Acho, Roy Miller, Kindle, Muckelroy, Norton and Beasley should give this team one heck of a foundation coming into next season.

That line-up doesn't even include players like Aaron Lewis, Eddie Jones and Ryan Palmer; all of whom are on the current two-deep and very important members of the defense. It also doesn't include emerging young talent like Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown, Christian Scott, Ben Wells, Keenan Robinson and Russell Carter that should be ready to start contributing in earnest nest season.

Overall, the Texas defense hasn't forced enough turnovers and the question marks at cornerback and the season-long deficiency at safety has restricted this team to a large degree each season. I'm still not sure if what we've seen this year is everything that Akina would like to do on that side of the ball, but the talent restrictions have been a limitation without question. There are some issues on that side of the ball that need to improve, especially when discussing the team's blitz packages and inability to pressure the quarterback, but Brown seems content with the progress that Akina has made. One thing that shouldn't be an issue beyond this year is talent. There's enough speed and raw athleticism across the board to put together a dominant defense in future years.

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