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December 27, 2012

Manny Diaz assesses the season on defense

Manny Diaz met with the media in San Antonio on Thursday, and there is a lot to get to:

****Diaz said Mack Brown never got heated with Diaz this season despite a year in which the Longhorns gave up more yards (4,957) and more yards per game (413.1) than any defense in school history.

Brown on Monday called the Texas defense against Oklahoma State, West Virginia and OU "atrocious" and as bad as he's been around at Texas.

But Diaz said Brown never blew up at him this season.

"There was no heated discussion in a game, after a game, in a meeting. He's a smart man. He knew what our issues were," Diaz said.

****Diaz said the coaches could not come down too hard on the players during that stretch because they were learning on the job and might have lost all their confidence.

"We could not go in there and brow beat the kids or we would have lost the team," Diaz said. "We had to keep teaching and finding ways to reach them. That carried us through November."

****I asked Diaz what he learned about himself this year that will make him a better coach going forward.

"You learn every team is different. But you have to continue to demand things in a way that they have to get done.

****Diaz was asked about linebacker Demarco Cobbs' play this season.

"There were some plays he was involved with that were explosive," Diaz said.

Diaz said Cobbs and sophomore linebacker Steve Edmond were the most affected by the loss of Jordan Hicks (groin) in the third game of the season.

"Losing Jordan was like losing the quarterback of your defense. It didn't hurt us at one spot. It hurt us at three or four spots, because of the guys around him.

"It shined light on the preparation of our guys, and it shouldn't have put us in a three-to-four week hole the way it did. And ultimately, that's my responsibility."

****Diaz praised Kenny Vaccaro for not checking out on his teammates.

"After the OU game, we had two losses and weren't looking like a team headed to the BCS and Kenny could have put it on cruise control," Diaz said.

"But he did the exact opposite. This defense didn't demand a lot of each other through this season. But Kenny and Alex Okafor stood up and tried to make sure everyone demanded more from themselves and each other."

****On the middle linebacker position going into the spring, Diaz said it should be a war between Steven Edmond, Kendall Thompson and Dalton Santos.

"The fix at that position will come from Jan. 15 through the end of July," Diaz said. "We have to get stronger, more physically fit - not just in height and weight - more explosive.

"The good thing is we have a bunch of guys back, and this spring I can be the scorekeeper and really put the heat on those guys. We will have all kinds of opportunity to put our three best players on the field at the linebacker position."

****On the progress of Tevin Jackson and Peter Jinkens, Diaz said, "They've really stepped up their attention to detail.

"Tevin Jackson played well against Kansas State, and I look forward to him improving. And Peter Jinkens has added a little bit of spunk. At linebacker we were young and had guys who were naturally quiet guys once we lost Jordan.

"Peter brought a little bit of bravado to our bunch and some play we can get excited about."

***Diaz said Oklahoma State's ability to run the ball for 275 yards after the coaches tried to simplify the defense without Jordan Hicks "changed our season."

"We simplified things, and they still ran it right down our throat," Diaz said. "So against West Virginia, Oklahoma and Baylor we were trying to figure out things that would work and had to play some really good teams while we had some wounds we wanted to heal."

****Over the last five games of the season, Texas led the Big 12 in scoring defense (21.6 ppg), total defense (328.4 ypg) and pass defense (153.4 ypg), along with ranking fourth in yards per rush (4.21 ypc). But Diaz said he's tired of talking about being "resilient."

"I think there's 99 reasons we didn't play the way we wanted to play. Some that were in our control and some that were not in our control. But we're responsible for all of them.

"The bottom line is what I was proud of our defense as the year went on despite the fact we played very poorly especially in the middle part of the season, I thought we were resilient.

"I thought we hung together and I do think we improved as the year went on. The time for resilience is over.

"We've proven we can take a punch. But the time for that is over. Now, it's time to start moving forward. What's important, I think, is the guys having a higher expectation of yourself and higher expectation of what you demand of the man that plays beside you."

****Diaz singled out freshman CB Duke Thomas as a guy the coaches think can be a big-time player.

"He's tough, physical, works hard," Diaz said. "It's been exciting watching him progress."

****If Duke Thomas is one of the four best defensive backs on the team, it's possible Thomas would play corner and Quandre Diggs could be moved to safety to replace Kenny Vaccaro.

Diggs said, "I'm a team player. So I'll do anything. Whatever the coaches need me to play - corner, safety, nickel, whatever. I'm fine with it. It (playing safety in bowl practices) was fun. It kind of took me back to my high school days playing safety.

"But I'm playing corner this week. Safety is Kenny's position, and he's going to make plays out there. I'll stick at corner and do what I do. If it happens to come around next year, maybe we can talk about it then."

****Vaccaro was asked if this year's struggles were an unexpected blow to his pride?

"I knew before the season it was ultimately going to be about our game play," Vaccaro said. "I mean, it's disappointing. But it's the cards that I was dealt. And we just had to grind through it. It could be worse. Some guys are sitting at home."

****On taking his name out of the Florida International head coaching search, Diaz said:

"You don't leave the University of Texas for any position unless it's the perfect situation. And so that was on one side of the equation.

"The second side of the equation you have some pride about yourself. And there's something that I came here to do. There's something we started last year, and we had a setback this year.

"And there's something that every day, you wake up in the morning and you want to get back at it. And you want to get back to getting these guys playing the type of defense we're capable of.

"There was a little bit of unfinished business here. I think we've got guys who understand we've got a little bit of a chip on our shoulder now. And that's going to fuel us going forward."

****Manny Diaz also said he's seen some nice progress from DE Hassan Ridgeway during his redshirt season and thinks DE Shiro Davis can take another step. Diaz is very excited about the progress of DT Malcom Brown.

"Our expectations next year will be at a championship level," Diaz said. "With our youth at certain positions, we didn't know how to prepare at a championship level. Honestly, we had some guys who were happy to be playing.

"Next year will be different. I want to see guys confident, excited and physical."

****I asked Diaz to assess his job as linebackers coach this season.

"It was like you trying to get directions to my house," Diaz said. "I tell you once, but you may not have gotten it all, and you need to ask questions. I have to keep explaining it to you until you can understand it.

"And that's where we were. I think everyone saw in the spring game that our second-team defense was having major problems settling down. And we ended up playing a bunch of those guys. So we lived out a very public experiment on the job this season."

****Diaz said he senses the players are ready to raise the level of expectations from each other.

"What they expect from each other has to be raised," Diaz said. "A defense that plays without trust looks like a defense with nine guys on the field with all kinds of holes.

"Trust is earned. It's earned in the weight room and on the field over the spring and summer. It's going to be a comprehensive fix, and everyone will have a hand in it."

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