For high school defensive backs, there's a major appeal to coming to Texas and following in the footsteps of numerous former stars who have gone on to the NFL. The current crop of defensive backs are getting a chance to literally follow in those footsteps, as several former 'Horns are currently in town working out with the team:
The young receiving corps will reap the benefit:
Got some good 1on1s in with the slot wrs today...#hookem..— Earl Thomas (@Earl_Thomas) July 3, 2012
It's hardly uncommon for NFL 'Horns to make appearances in Austin during the offseason, but there's a sense this year that it's more than just coming home to hang out -- they're here to help the young team mature and move past 13-12.
What better way to do that than showing Carrington Byndom, Quandre Diggs, and company how it's done? And giving the receivers the confidence that if they can beat Earl Thomas one-on-one, they can beat anyone in college football. Assuming they did win a rep or two last night.
As an aside, there have been some concerns that the Texas quarterbacks could be losing confidence not only going against the talented secondary currently in place, but also the returning stars. The simple answer is that if some adversity destroys the confidence of either Ash or McCoy, there's no way that they're going to make the necessary advances to help the Longhorns once again compete for a conference title.
The optimistic viewpoint is that after facing guys like Aaron Williams and Earl Thomas right now and Byndom, Diggs, and Kenny Vaccaro the rest of the summer, the season should be a sweet relief. Make no mistake -- walking out onto the field and looking across the ball see Wyoming defensive backs is going to be a good feeling for David Ash.
But back to the topic at hand -- the defensive backs. It's a group that needs to consistently create more turnovers next season, particularly interceptions. To truly be an elite group -- and to make that money -- more opportunities for interceptions need to turn into actual interceptions.
ESPN Inside KC Joyner took a look at the top Thorpe award candidates ($) in the Big 12 (a reasonably interesting exercise in and of itself), but more interesting were the metrics and numbers involved with his choices. For instance, despite strong seasons last year, Byndom and Diggs combined to convert only six of 16 near-interceptions into actual picks.
What the two did extremely well was break up passes, as they had 15 apiece, tied for third in the country. Of note for Byndom was his strong effort against Justin Blackmon, holding him to 48 yards on 10 targets. Overall, opponents tried to get vertical on Byndom 33 times, but only got 6.2 yards per attempt out of those efforts.
In contrast, Diggs gave up 9.0 yards on 27 similar attempts against him, which of course included the third-down conversion by Jazz Reynolds in the Cotton Bowl. Clearly, the areas for improvement are two-fold -- convert more than four of 11 near-interceptions into turnovers and giving up fewer plays vertically. Teams will continue to target him in 2012 unless he gets better there.
For the stat-stuffing Vaccaro, Joyner didn't reveal his misses on near-interceptions, but there were at least one or two. What the senior did extremely well was limit the yards per attempt against him, giving up only 3.6 yards per attempt on passes thrown 11 or more yards downfield and only .3 yards more overall. Lock. Down.
By the way, has anyone found Ryan Swope yet? Didn't think so.
But just how good are Byndom and Diggs overall? Mike Huegenin of Yahoo Sports believes that the two are the top cornerback tandem in the Big 12. Oh yeah, and also in the nation, ranking them no. 7 on the list of the top units at any position. Number one on that list? The Texas defensive ends.
This defense is going to be good.