Defensive backs coach Duane Akina arrived on The Farm last season with a great resume. Last year he showed Stanford what he can do sending two more players into the NFL. This year the defensive backfield is a major question mark going into the season as five of the top six DBs from last season has moved on. While the experience may not be there, it sure appears the talent is and now it is up to the coaches to see who develops the fastest. After the second day of practice I had the opportunity to chat with Akina about the players he is working with.
The Bootleg: How does it feel to be back at practice and get things going?
Duane Akina: Really good. We got our T-shirts out of the way here. Then eventually we'll get to pads tomorrow and then we'll really get to finding out what's going on here. But I'm excited. It's a good young group that we're working with and we're excited to get started.
TB: Ronnie Harris is the veteran, you have a couple of offensive guys in their second year, and a bunch of young guys, how do you bring everyone together? How is this going to work?
DA: We've been through this drill before. We've had some young secondaries in the past. I think you have to understand what their capabilities are and make sure we don't give them too much at a young age. So they'll go in confident knowing what they got, comfortable with the technique we are asking them to do. It is very competitive back there so it keeps their concentration throughout camp. I think the new freshmen coming in, we guessed right on all four of them. I think they are going to be four outstanding players. Very conscientious. Physically it looks like they can play. Mentally I think they have done a nice job. Kodi Whitfield has done a nice job teaching them over the summer. I'm encouraged by what I've seen. I was encouraged at the end of spring ball. They've grown quite a bit. I've always said that the end of spring to the beginning of two a days (is the biggest improvement), now we're really going to get a lot of growth here.
TB: How is Dallas Lloyd doing?
DA: He's looking really good. You know when he first got into the secondary it was a little bit of a struggle. But he has worked hard on hip flexibility. That was the first thing we really had to do. There is so much going backwards, there is opening your hips one way or another, so you have to have loose hips back there because at times you will be leaning one way and then you have to slip back. He has worked really hard in that area. I teach from an offensive side, with a lot of offensive concepts so he has really related really well to understanding the mental side of the game which is huge for a safety.
TB: You worked with a ton of defensive backs who have gone to the NFL, have you worked with anyone else that has made the transition from QB?
DA: Chuck Cecil was a high school quarterback. Jeff Hammerschmidt was a high school quarterback. Mykkele Thompson who was draft in the 5th round, never played a snap of defensive back ever. I've had guys like Curtis Brown, who was a third round draft pick who was just a wide receiver. Earl Thomas was the offensive player of the year coming out of high school. Kenny Vaccaro, he came to our camp, he was a wide receiver. He didn't even play DB in our camp. I liked how he was competing in those two hand touch football games. He did play some linebacker in high school. So....what we look for is passionate athletes that really love ball, show athletic ability. I think we can work with that.
TB: What is your secret to getting to getting these players who have had such success on offense and turn them into stars on defense?
DA: First of all when you see them play offensive we kind of look for certain things on how they run. You can still see when they are carrying the ball, their running style. tight foot in the ground, vertically, you can simulate them coming out of a break like Earl (Thomas). I think the biggest thing you see is athletic ability but what I always look for is just really passionate guys that just love ball, that have some athletic ability. Then you can start adding the length and some of those things. So often the guys that everyone always wants to talk to me about are the first rounders, the 30-plus NFL guys, but really you can still win a lot of games with a lot of really good college football players. Kyle Olugbode last year is a great example of that. Walk-on, never played much, but all he did was do it right. He was good enough of an athlete. I think he deserves, in my opinion, a tryout. I don't know if he'll make it but he deserves to be in a camp. He was part of a an outstanding secondary last year. Just look at the numbers that were generated. He was a major part of that.
TB: You're replacing everyone, Ronnie is the grizzly old veteran, what is his role both on and off the field?
DA: He is a high energy guy. Everyone feeds off of his energy. I think he is very conscientious. I'm very detailed and very technique oriented. I always believe as you move up, if you want to play for a national championship you are going play against other great players. So athletic ability is going to cancel each other out. Now it comes down to the technician. Now it comes down to the mental side of the guy. The guys who are doing extra film studies and all those things. That is what Ronnie brings to table. He is 5'9-corner, he doesn't pass the look test, but he is high on all the other things that you can't measure on paper, that compensate. Like Jordan Richards, his measurable weren't height, weight and speed it was intellect, good guy and those things.
TB: You were talking about freshmen earlier, do you think any of the true freshmen will find playing time this year?
DA: We'll find out. We're putting on the pads. So that will start telling us a lot. Your sense right now is that nobody is overwhelmed with the speed of the game or the size of the people around them or the volume of the playbook that is being installed daily. Nobody is overwhelmed with any of that which give them the opportunity. Now we will find out when the bullets are live how we react.
TB: Give me a couple of guys from the end of spring who coming in now you think will play a big role?
DA: I tell you what, I think we had a real solid spring. I think guys across the board is making this a very difficult decision for me. I thought Alijah Holder had an outstanding spring. I thought Alameen Murphy did. I thought Terrance Alexander really grew. He got some live work and it looks like he has come back this fall and taken advantage of that. I think Taijuan Thomas is really coming on too. We haven't heard much about him because he sat out last year. But he is having an outstanding year. Then Dallas....I tell ya, Kodi Whitfield. I said it about Jordan last year when I got here. I've had a lot of outstanding safeties in my career, I think Kodi Whitfield is going to be one we need to keep a close eye on. He's going to surprise a lot of people. I think he is going to be as good of a safety in this conference that we've got.
TB: Is it safe to say there is tremendous depth in the defensive backfield just not a lot of experience?
DA: I would say that. There is tremendous depth. There is outstanding athletic ability. Now we just have to see who can make decisions and who can play when the lights come on. Who can forget a negative play. Who can forget a positive play, because they are the same. The next play is the only important play. We have challenges because it is a young secondary, but like I've always said, it's like the 2008 secondary at Texas. Earl (Thomas) was a freshman, (Blake) Gideon was a freshman, Aaron Williams was a freshman, Chykie Brown was a sophomore and (Deon) Beasley was a sophomore and we lined up against Oklahoma with Sam Bradford and that whole crew. (Editor's note: Texas beat then #1 Oklahoma 45-35) Then when they were all seniors the challenge is to keep them motivated and hungry and not be overconfident. I think you have challenges every year when you go into it, hopefully the kids will respond.
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