Brown: Defense, Kicking Game Key To Title Run

Media and fans tend to focus on Texas' quarterbacks and their untested receivers but, two days into preseason camp, head coach <B>Mack Brown </B>said the key to a championship run this year will be improving the UT run defense and kicking game.

By the end of 2003, Texas' run defense had slipped to its lowest statistical average (152.5 YPG, NCAA No. 58) of the Mack Brown era. Enter Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson. He was the architect of the NFL's top five units in Total D that helped lead the Denver Broncos to consecutive Super Bowl championships. But then Robinson was run out of Kansas City this past January after his defenses finished at (or near) the NFL cellar for three straight seasons.

Because I spent the better part of Tuesday's practice watching QB Vince Young and the new receivers, I focused more on Robinson and what he was trying to do with the defense Wednesday at Denius Field. Robinson devoted the first part of practice to drilling linebackers in fighting off blocks, and then he worked some on open field tackling techniques. But the thing that immediately emerges about Robinson is his level of intensity and energy. He is all over the field.

"I've got to get my workout," Robinson laughed. "I'm a young guy and I've got to stay in shape. When you like what you do, it's fun to run around out there and get after 'em a little bit. This is the way I've always coached."

Locally, Robinson remains a relative unknown but has been labeled (in the national sports media) as some sort of cerebral defensive coordinator who would rather outscheme an opponent than rely on his players' instincts. It's almost enough to evoke memories of some of John Mackovic's woeful defenses, but there is very little about either Robinson's personality or his approach that suggests that painful history is going to repeat itself around the Forty Acres any time soon.

This we know: Robinson is staunch on teaching the fundamentals of tackling and that is basically most of what he did during the first two weeks of spring drills. (This, of course, has more to do than the physical aspect of the tackle but also pursuit angles, shedding blockers and footwork.) Part of what Robinson did with WLB Derrick Johnson is show him game film where the All-American instinctually over-ran plays last season and was not in position to make the tackle. It's not about eliminating those instincts but rather harnessing and re-directing them.

"You're going to see a great tackling defense," Robinson said Wednesday. "You're going to see a lot of people around the ball. You're going to see a lot of guys hitting. You're going to see balls coming out. You're going to see turnovers. That's what we'll be noted for. It won't be the scheme. It will be the intensity and the way we get after it and gang tackle. There's a lot of talk about things like that but I think you'll see the real deal."

Even though it "won't be the scheme", Robinson still concedes there is a certain amount of information overload this week as coaches incorporate zone blitzes (particular from linebackers) to the base 4-3 defense. Granted, the guys are still in shorts but speed is still speed. Late in 11-on-11 drills, sophomore Garnet Smith shot out of his SLB spot and got to QB Vince Young (lined up in the shotgun) almost as soon as the ball did. This was one instance where VY wisely tucked and ran. Coaches are also adding zone coverages to a secondary that will still man it up more often than not.

"We've put a good bunch in right from the start this fall and I'm very pleased that these guys haven't blinked," he said. "I think that they've progressed since spring. They worked so hard on their own this summer, and you can see it. They're much more comfortable with what they're doing and they're not inhibited. That's what you're looking for as a coach where you get them to where they play without inhibitions and flying around."

The jury will be out on Robinson until, oh, the evening of the second Saturday of October. But Brown notes there is already evidence of improvement under Robinson's watch.

"It's hard to play defense in shorts but they are getting in the right place, they are doing a much better job of disguising and they're all chasing the ball," Brown said. "And no one's giving them the opportunity to do anything different. That's been a big plus so far."

Although Brown said Tuesday the top priority was getting the new receivers on the same page as the quarterbacks, "the kicking game has been the thing we've emphasized the most" during the first two days of practice.

"We feel like we still have to figure out how to win a couple of more games. We want to be great in the kicking game instead of real good. That's been a huge emphasis here early."

The punting game was suspect (to say the least) early last season but K Richmond McGee ended up averaging 41 yards on 46 punts. He produced a career-long 58-yarder against both Kansas State and Arkansas. Junior Selvin Young is expected to handle both punt return as well as kickoff return chores while senior PK Dusty Mangum (based on his experience) has to have the inside edge over David Pino.

The Horns will workout in shoulder pads and shorts on Thursday and Friday (6:45 p.m.) before strapping on pads Saturday (9:30 a.m.).

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