Mark D. Smith-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
There's a growing trend among Longhorn fans wanting to blame the Texas defensive coordinator for all the problems currently ailing the Longhorns defense. It may be time to chill out on that.
Texas fans are incredibly fickle -- that isn't exactly a newsflash. Any sign of adversity presents a fantastic time to panic.
Right now, the current panicky craze is to rag on defensive coordinatorfor the fundamental issues the defense is having with tackling and with poor linebacker play.
Clearly, the issue is that Diaz sucks and was never a good coach in the first place, getting lucky enough to somehow make it to Texas on the back of an aggressive but unsound defensive scheme, then benefiting from the work done by departed coordinator Will Muschamp to miraculously cover up his inability to teach basic concepts to players.
Never mind the fact that Diaz learned under one of the greatest defensive minds in recent history in Mickey Andrews at Florida State. Or his consistent history of success. Or the fact that the experienced Texas linebackers had similar struggle last season before finally adjusting to his scheme. Or the fact that Diaz is much less aggressive than most casual fans believe, instead focusing on limiting big plays and making offenses sustain drives to score touchdowns.
With the exception of Demarco Cobbs, most of the tackling problems are occurring in the secondary, primarily junior safety Adrian Phillips, who knows how to tackle because he's done it in the past. The primary coach responsible for working on technique in tackling drills is position coach Duane Akina, so if the defensive backs are having trouble tackling, Akina is the coach working with them one-on-one the most. And Akina did make Aaron Ross and Michael Huff into physical football players during their time on campus.
Asalso mentioned on Monday, some changes will start happening if the problems continue with more work on fundamentals, a sentiment echoed by Diaz:
Well, you keep drilling what you're drilling. But now the advantage we have as the games go on, you may start to see trends, you know what I mean? We can do two things. We drill. We can punish and give friendly reminders to make sure we do that. At some point the bench has to talk. You have to just not be able to play if you can't tackle.
Hence Phillips now being listed as a co-starter.
Diaz also had an interesting point about the number of missed tackles:
Our missed tackle numbers aren't more extreme than they've been in the past. What's getting us is the tackles we're missing are causing explosive plays to happen. We had more missed tackles last year when he played Iowa State than we have in the last two games. Iowa State had no points. The problem is where we're missing the tackles.
Which is in the secondary, where there's no additional support, since Carrington Byndom has struggled massively providing any type of assistance to Phillips.
And it isn't that Diaz doesn't get it, trying to shoehorn young layers into a complex scheme ($):
You have to make sure every player you have, the curve they're on and the expectations they're on should be set according to what they can handle. What we've shown is we can do it in spurts, but that's what young guys have to do. They have to get it every play.
Consistency, it's a big problem for young players.
Junior linebacker Jordan Hicks was in a similar spot two years ago when he had to step in after injuries to Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. Asked to recall the game in front of his current teammates, Hicks admitted that he really had no idea what he was doing out there other than just running around and hoping something good happened.
It was an exprience offered at the behest of Diaz:
What I was trying to make them feel is what you experienced that night, you're not the first person to experience. When they looked at the film and saw the simplicity of the mistakes, they couldn't believe it was [themselves] they were watching.
The linebackers aren't confused because Diaz is asking too much of them or because he's an ineffective teacher, they're confused because the game is happening too fast for them right now and they're stuck reacting rather than acting.
Again, it happened last season with more experienced players and got worked out. It's not unreasonable to give Edmond, Cobbs, and the other young linebackers like Dalton Santos and Kendall Thompson more time to get things figured out before deciding that Diaz is terrible at his job.
The most legitimate concern in these lines of argument is the lack of live tackling practice in fall camp, with most of the time spent in "thud" tempo. It's a difficult line to walk for a head coach -- on one hand, exposing players to more physicality in practice leads to more injuries and the Longhorns aren't quite to the point where there's enough depth across the board to make that an acceptable risk.
Sure, criticize those decisions, which come down from the head man himself. Deciding that Diaz is basically incompetent because players have all of a sudden forgotten how to tackle in game situations and the linebackers are all works in progress?
Well, that seems like a stretch given his track record of success. Let's allow a couple more weeks for improvement here before flipping out, okay?