It's Back To The Future For Chizik's Defense

New Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik was relatively tight-lipped last spring about how his unit might differ from that of his two predecessors. But LDT Rod Wright is like a kid in a candy shop with Chizik's schemes. And head coach Mack Brown said the 2005 Longhorn defense should be better than last season's.

I had a chance to go one-on-one with Wright last week, and have been wanting to ask him (for several months now) to elaborate on a comment he made right after the Orange-White Game last April. That's when he said Chizik's defense reminded him more of Carl Reese's schemes than what Greg Robinson tried to do in 2004. Basically, I knew what he meant but I wanted to hear him say it: Chizik is taking the fetters off of his front four, allowing them to become playmakers whereas Robinson preferred his down linemen to funnel plays toward linebackers.

"Scheme-wise, it was a little difficult for us (under Robinson) because we were sitting and holding (offensive linemen) and it was kind of hard to adjust," Wright said. "Now, it's back to shedding (blocks) and making plays. I think it's going to be easier for us to have a pass rush in this defense."

Robinson was generally a fan favorite but also criticized (long before his brief UT stint) for his read-and-react style that sought to establish containment and force turnovers. Case-in-point: the narrow win at Arkansas where Robinson schemed to establish a pocket of containment with his D-Line around rangy QB Matt   Jones, never blitzing for fear that Jones might break a big one like in 2003. Yet, RDT Larry Dibbles forced the critical turnover at the UT 13 with little more than two minutes remaining and attributed the play to everything Robinson had taught him.

One could argue that Robinson had not tapped into the total package by the second game of the season. But then look at Texas' narrow win at Kansas, the last road game of 2004 in which a fourth-team walk-on QB who had never started a collegiate game torched the Longhorn secondary. (A Kansas City reporter sitting next to me in the press box asked, 'Why doesn't Robinson come after the quarterback? If Texas blitzed just once, the Kansas QB would s--- his pants.") Robinson's strategy: Read and react. Bend but don't break. Contain and don't give up the long ball. Confuse the passer by mixing and disguising coverages. Come up with the big turnover.

Reese was also, generally speaking, a fan favorite whose 2001 unit captured the NCAA statistical title in total D (236.2 ypg). Yet, that group was conspicuously porous against Colorado and Washington at the close of 2001, in the Big 12 title game and Holiday Bowl, respectively. During his final two seasons, Reese's defenses suffered some meltdowns of John Mackovician proportions. Reese's run defense in 2002 was the lowest rated of the Mack Brown era (142.5 ypg, NCAA No. 47); it even slipped the following season to 152.5 ypg (NCAA No. 58). Reese's players often spoke of their genuine love for the man, but they were also criticized as being an undisciplined lot that took incorrect pursuit angles, overran the play and couldn't tackle. Yet, players loved the fact that Reese allowed the D-line to attack with their ears pinned back and that he thought zone defense was for sissies.

"During my freshman and sophomore years (under Reese), the D-line was getting up the field and making plays," Wright said. "And then my junior year we were more sitting, and holding, and letting the linebackers roam to make plays. It was kind of hard adjusting to that. This year, with Coach Chizik, it's more like we did my first two years. Spring practice was kind of tough for me to adjust from sitting to making plays. That's what we (D-linemen) do now, but last year we weren't."

The run defense, overall, was improved under Robinson (107.4 ypg, NCAA No. 16). His group gave the offense ample opportunity to pull out the 'W' against OU; his game plan at Texas Tech was Robinson's finest hour on the Longhorn sideline. But there were notable lapses.

"I was disappointed some in our defense last year," Brown said, which is about as close as he gets to publicly criticizing an assistant. "We gave up too many rushing yards at OU. They had a great back but we missed too many tackles. I remember (ABC commentator) Lynn Swann asking me at the half, 'Why aren't you tackling (Adrian) Peterson better?' I said, 'Nobody else is either.' We didn't stop Kansas like we should have. We didn't put them away early like we should have. We're down 35-7 at Oklahoma State. We give 37 points to Michigan, so I really think we can be better."

Nine returning defensive starters from an 11-1 team should help. So should the fact that Texas' third DC in as many seasons is the 2004 National Assistant Coach of the Year. Chizik's defense at Auburn finished No. 1 in the country in points allowed (11.3 ppg) on the way to the Southeast Conference championship and a 13-0 season.

In short, Reese was aggressive; Robinson was intense. Gene Chizik, it seems, is both. From what we can tell, he also brings Robinson's attention-to-detail and focus on fundamentals.

"I love Coach Chizik," Wright continued. "He's only been here one school year and he's already made a big impact on me and on the defense. He's a motivator, kind of like a drill sergeant. In spring practice, he always had the same attitude. He likes for us to get after it. He's taught us a lot, already, in just the time he's been here."

The defense will also be improved under the tutelage of new DE Coach (and former Texas All-SWC lineman) Oscar Giles. As a former Longhorn, it's obvious that Giles takes personally the fact that the program has not produced a double-digit sack leader in years. Producing an honest pass rush from the front four was an emphasis this past spring, Wright said, and will continue to be throughout the season.

"Coach Giles is a true defensive end," Wright said. "He's really been on those guys about a pass rush. I think we're going to be in the sack race this year for the nation."

August camp is set to begin for Texas on August 7.

Horns Digest Top Stories