“I’ve been on some staffs that don’t mesh and it’s been miserable to go to work,” said Texas’ first-year linebackers coach.
It’s been the exact opposite in his half-year on the job in Austin.
“It’s been seamless,” he said of working with this Texas staff. “I think we mesh very, very well as a staff. It’s always a blessing when you get together as a staff and have a brotherhood with them.”
It also helps that on your first year on the job you inherit a position group that’s as loaded and deep as any on the team. One that includes four of UT’s top 12 tacklers from a season ago and two of the top five in Dalton Santos (fourth with 74 tackles) and Steve Edmond (fifth with 73).
Santos will start the season as a backup to put Texas’ LB depth into perspective.
That’s in part because Jean-Mary has a healthy Jordan Hicks to work with after the fifth-year senior missed a combined 19 games the last two years due to various injuries (missed nine games last season due to a torn Achilles tendon).
Jean-Mary also has a healthy Demarco Cobbs back after missing the entire 2013 season from a knee injury sustained at the end of 2012.
Having that type of experience in Year 1 has been a blessing for a coach that likes to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at his players.
“We are going to flood them with defense,” Jean-Mary said.
There’s a method to this thinking. He wants to see what his defense best responds to, what their best traits are, and where they’re weakest. He’s still in that figuring-out stage despite him knowing he has a lot to work with.
“We are going to throw as much at them as possible, see what they can grasp, see what they do well as a group because every defense has a different identity,” he said. “We’ve been places where the identity is to blitz a lot. We’ve been other places where the front was good enough that you could sit back in coverage. We are going to try to do as much as possible as far as blitzing and playing four down, stacking and not moving to see what they do best. We don’t know what that is yet.”
What he does know is a healthy Hicks should help a defense improve on the 372.3 yards per game they gave up in 2013, which included an un-Texas like 137.6 yards on the ground.
Jordan Hicks is finally healthy.
“He’s healthy,” Jean-Mary said as if you can’t state that enough. “He hasn’t taken himself out of practice or the trainers haven’t had to pull him off. He’s got a clean bill of health. He’s an experienced player and really understands the game. He’s really the voice of the defense.”
Hicks only played in four games last season but still finished 12th on the team with 41 tackles.
“You can tell he’s hungry,” Jean-Mary said. “By the way he carries himself you can tell he has a lot to prove. I don’t think he is trying to prove anything to anybody outside this building. I think he wants to prove it to himself and wants to try to get this defense back to the standard where it was when he got here.”
Dependability is what Jean-Mary sees in Hicks when he’s on the field, and that’s something he wants to see more of from Peter Jinkens, who is in line to start alongside Hicks and Edmond against North Texas.
Jinkens plays with a swag constructed from his South Dallas roots, which Jean-Mary appreciates. But he just wants to make sure the junior is putting that energy to good use.
“It’s one thing to be high-energy and another to do it within the framework of the defense,” Jean-Mary said. “If you are high-energy and all over the board it kinds of takes away from the effectiveness of the defense.
“He needs to be more disciplined. We want to see him be more of a playmaker. It’s one thing to be in position to make a play but it’s a whole other thing to actually make the play.”
Jean-Mary asks a lot out of his linebackers because he knows how vital they are to what this defense wants to do.
BJ, as he’s known to many inside Moncrief, will tell you that this defense is going to be much more aggressive than the scaled back approach of Greg Robinson (when Robinson took over for Manny Diaz in Sept., he cut down the verbiage to free up Texas' defense).
“So they’ve probably had to read-and-react more on the run,” he said. “We are going to be a multiple front team so they are going to have to learn different techniques at different position. They have to be very, very multiple.”
Who better to help the linebackers learn than Texas head coach Charlie Strong, who Jean-Mary said spends more time with the LBs than any group.
“That’s kind of his thing. Before he was a head coach he was a defensive coordinator and a linebackers coach (at Florida from 2005-09). He really enjoys getting the game plan and the individual technique, fundamental aspect of it. That’s always going to be his thing.”
Having such an approachable head coach is just another reason why Jean-Mary enjoys going to work with this staff.
“He looks as himself as an assistant and sees himself as that,” Jean-Mary said. “He’s not sitting there on his iron throne demanding stuff from his coaches.”