By this point, much has been made about the fact that the offense has only turned the ball over once over the course of two scrimmages. And that means that Texas's ball-hawking defensive backs haven't been able to take the ball away at a high rate. Still, Texas defensive backs coach Duane Akina said his position group "performed well" in the scrimmage.
"I am excited about this group. I think the bar has been set high since the groups before starting with Ahmad [Brooks], [Quentin] Jammer, [Nathan]Vasher, and [Rod] Babers. Starting after that it was the Ced group with the Griffins, Aaron Ross, Tarell Brown and Michael Griffin, and then on to Earl Thomas and A.J. [Aaron Williams]," Akina said. "I think this is going to be the next group of guys. I am excited at where we are. They are doing all the things we are asking, and I think we can get into much more this year schematically and pre-snap wise because there is more confidence."We have been doing a lot of the same things the past 12 years," Akina said. "Last year it was a younger group, and this year it is different. A year ago from what we understood was that it was going to be the weak link of the defense and the team. We all knew better after watching them during the spring and in two-a-days. Now this year we have got to shift gears. In anticipation there has been a lot of nice things said about us, and we just have to put that on the back burner and make sure those things are being said after the season and not before."
At the heart of this year's group is safety Kenny Vaccaro, who Akina said was the team's most consistent defensive back.
"I want the best player in the room to grow the most because what he does is that he brings the rest of the room along with him," Akina said. "With Kenny, you could argue he is as good of a defensive back in the nation and not just in our room. He still realizes that if he is going to come back, there is still a lot more that we can get out of him.
"He has done a great job of now understanding formations, backfield splits, and depths of a back," Akina said. "All these little things, like I said that will make him an intellectual player. We see that he is a physical guy, he can run and cover but now he has seen the game. I would also just say that all four of those guys have been very consistent."
That includes new safety starter Adrian Phillips, who adds an extra dimension with his versatility.
"Over the last 30 years you have had a lot of unique players and you have a lot of guys that mentally are maybe able to play six positions and at times are able to play seven depending who you have in there," Akina said. "You will find that there are guys that can play the position mentally but physically they can't. And then you get guys that can play all seven physically but mentally they cannot handle all the different job descriptions. "What Adrian gives you is that he can play both mentally and physically," Akina said. "That is a real unique talent and a lot of people don't understand how big that is. He can go out there and play boundary corner, field corner, nickel, dime, field safety, and boundary safety. Those are all different job descriptions within the defense, and those guys are very hard to find. So not only can you line up and cover a fleet receiver, you can get down in the box and be physical, and you could make all the adjustments. In this conference you need to because we don't have a lot of two backs back there with a tight end and two receivers. You will see everything from four to a side to five. You got to have some real intellectual players back there."
While the secondary starters are a veteran group and don't leave many spots open for newcomers, Akina said that true freshman Orlando Thomas has been "a pleasant surprise."
"When you bring in a young man that has not played defensive back, you wonder how quickly they can pick up concepts on that side of the ball," Akina said. "We have had some experience with Curtis Brown [who]was a receiver and Mykkele Thompson was a quarterback and Duke is another one. What I do feel like, and Adrian Phillips has seen it, that a high school quarterback is taught concepts all through so he is used to making adjustments and he is used to understanding splits because he had to tell a receiver what they were running. There are a lot of concepts that are already built in there.
"What you don't know is that as a quarterback or an offensive player they are used to avoiding contact all the time and now you have to run through contact," Akina said. "It sounds real simple but it is not. They have to shift gears, throw their eyes, and run through contact. That has been where he has been a nice surprise. He is getting to be physical. Our standards are pretty high and he is young, but he is getting there."
Akina said he was excited to see what happened in the opener, citing the overall defensive talent level, and particularly the strength along the defensive line.
"It all works together," Akina said. "We talked to the secondary about getting to the second look. We have to get the quarterback to the second look so pressure can get home. We have to do our job in the back end so it works up front. I see that all is just pieced together because there is a strong front up front and a secondary that can hang on to the ball. We are excited about it."