Texas Football 2012: Major Applewhite Talks About Physical Practices

Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

A hot topic of conversation for the last two weeks has been the increased level of physical play in practice as the Longhorns try to fix some defensive issues.

As the Longhorns slowly try to climb back into a situation where the team features championship-level depth that can survive the loss of multiple contributors without suffering a corresponding drop in performance, head coach Mack Brown has been cautious with his team in practice.

For many, it's been an underlying cause of the tackling problems the team has faced this season. And so while it continues to be hard to understand why someone like junior safety Adrian Phillips has regressed, but less hard to understand why sophomore safety Mykkele Thompson has drawn some criticism for not wrapping up, driving his feet, and making the type of hard-nosed stops that have been the standard under defensive backs coach Duane Akina during his time in Austin.

As a former high school quarterback, the likelihood is that Thompson doesn't shy away from contact due to a lack of toughness, but more due to a lack of repetitions in games or in practices to help him develop the techniques that he needs.

Over the last two weeks, he's had more opportunities to improve.

On Wednesday, co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Major Applewhite said he believes that changes are helping the defense:

We are helping our team to be more physical at the point of attack. The defensive players are getting better in terms of their tackling.

Another bump in increased missed tackles against Baylor doesn't provide much empirical evidence to that effect, but anecdotally, there weren't as many big plays given up after missed tackles. Basically, the missed tackles were leading to some hidden yardage against Baylor, they just didn't lead to touchdowns as they were earlier in the season.

Hitting more in practice is normally soon as a boon for the defense. Applewhite believes that it can also be highly beneficial to the running backs:

The offensive players are getting a better feel for the pad level that they are going to have to block. The running backs are getting a better feel for the pad level when they are going to be approached by a tackler.

The more game-like the reps, the more teaching moments they can actually provide.

How much the team can handle and when is a discussion the coaches have frequently:

So there are a lot of positives about it, but then the other side of that is, what if a guy gets hurt? There is some risk-reward in that, and we’ve got to balance that. It is something we talk about a lot in staff meetings and balance out how much of this are we going to do today. We are three or four days away from the game so how much are we going to do on Wednesday? How much are we going to do on Thursday?

Applewhite also framed that concern as something that is felt around the country:

I think most coaches will tell you if they are honest that when you start flying around and you are full contact in the season you start to worry. It’s a double-edged sword.

So where does the former Texas quarterback fall in the spectrum of those who worry about what could happen and those who want to have physical football teams? It seems like the latter category:

I think most coaches will tell you if they are honest that when you start flying around and you are full contact in the season you start to worry. It’s a double-edged sword.

The problem, as the 'Horns are discovering, is that entering battle with a blunt-edged sword makes it difficult to deliver those killing blows. Instead of cutting deeply, the Texas defense is just leaving some bruises, while they face off against some blades forged of Toledo steel.

It seems that Mack Brown has finally relented and allowed his staff to hit more often in practice, even though the change that should have happened during the bye week didn't until after another bad loss to Oklahoma.

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