Can Texas Get Defensive In 2004?

Pre-season camp begins August 9 for a highly-ranked Texas football team that sees defensive improvement as key to grabbing that elusive championship. Just before the summer break, Co-Defensive Coordinator <B>Greg Robinson </B>wanted to make one lasting impression to motivate his unit through the off-season and on into two-a-days. He did it by showing a video clip from his Kansas City NFL playoff loss to Indianapolis last January in which Robinson's defense never forced a punt.

For the record, the Colts didn't force a punt either. But what Robinson wanted the Longhorns to see was how the Chiefs defense responded on the last play of the game when their elimination was already assured.

"Every kid on that Kansas City team flew to the ball and knocked the ball loose on the last play of the game," head coach Mack Brown recalled from the film session.

That's when Robinson reportedly turned to his troops and said: "You need to know who you are, and you need to be that when you're ahead and you need to be that when you're behind. What we're going to be is a tough, physical defensive football team that forces turnovers and sprints every minute of every play."

That one play epitomized the kind of defense that not only Brown expects at Texas this season but is also convinced is key to getting his program over the hump and into the BCS high-rent district. It's part of the reason why Brown gave Robinson the "only whistle" during spring drills. Previously, position coaches were blowing whistles right and left. The result was that some athletes stopped play while others did not. There was also more contact between the first team defense and the first team offense last spring. Scrimmages were conducted at full speed to try to approximate game day conditions.

For the first time in Brown's tenure, most of the practices were closed. It allowed for more focused and intensive sessions, Brown said, as he looks to shore up a run defense that slid to its lowest statistical ranking (NCAA No. 58, 152.5 ypg) during his tenure at Texas. The porous run defense contributed to the reputation that the unit was, at times, soft and underachieving.

"Everybody talks about how little we hit but nobody watches us practice," Brown said. "It's perception more than reality. We've had the Number One defense since we've been here (2001) and we had the Number One defense at North Carolina so obviously the way we practice isn't the reason we win or lose. But I did think, with those perceptions out there, that it was important for us to scrimmage full speed this spring. It came out really good for us and we didn't lose anybody because of that extra hitting."

Former Defensive Coordinator Carl Reese and former DE coach Hardee McCrary resigned "for personal reasons" last January.

A 14-year veteran of the NFL, including three in Kansas City, Robinson arrived in Austin with mixed reviews. On one hand, Robinson received ringing endorsements from the likes of USC's Pete Carroll, Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan and Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Yet Robinson was virtually run out of Kansas City after opponents ran all over his defense. On the other hand, the Chiefs ranked dead last among 32 NFL teams in total defense (390.5 ypg) in 2002 and 29th last season (356.7 ypg).

"He came into high expectations at Kansas City," Brown said. "He took their defense and made it better. They led the League in forced turnovers."

True dat -- the Chiefs led the NFL in turnover margin with a +19 advantage last season. Brown also points to Robinson's six seasons at Denver where he directed a unit that posted three Top 10 finishes in total defense. His run defenses also register three Top 10 finishes, including a League best 83.2 ypg in 1997. That year was the first of two straight Super Bowl championships for the Broncos.

Robinson also coaches linebackers while former Arizona Coach Dick Tomey is in charge of the DEs. Tomey was a defensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers last season, but is best known for his Desert Swarm unit that led the nation in run defense (30.1 ypg) in 1993 that remains a PAC-10 record. Adding two coaches with NFL experience lends instant credibility to the players, Brown said.

"Most of the young guys on our team want to play for the NFL," Brown said, "so bringing in a San Francisco 49er guy and a Kansas City Chiefs coach gets their attention because those guys know what our guys want. Dick brings in so much credibility with that Desert Swarm defense, even though it was the early 1990s. The players may not remember it but they've heard of it."

A Texas defense that preserves wins instead of cratering in big games is what Orangebloods hope to start hearing about this season.

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