Texas returns seven starters (eight, if you include veteran LCB Aaron Ross) from last year's 13-0 season. For the four seniors in the starting lineup, it marks the first time in their Texas tenure that they have had the same coordinator in consecutive years. But staff continuity does not necessarily mean Chizik is installing appreciable amounts of new schemes, disguises, blitz packages, bells or whistles.
"Our goal is to perfect the defense," Chizik said. "We've gone back with a fine-tooth comb and tried to figure out when we were not good last year, and why. We're trying to perfect the things we weren't good at last year. They're very glaring. We're not trying to re-invent the wheel; we're trying to get better at what we ought to be doing."
Just how 'glaring' of a deficiency was there on a unit that finished No. 10 nationally (302.9 ypg), representing its first Top 10 finish in five seasons? Two areas emerge: improving the run defense and forcing more interceptions.
Texas surrendered 209 rushing yards in the 41-38 win over USC, nearly forgivable since several media outlets had anointed the Trojans as the greatest offensive juggernaut in college football history prior to kickoff. But 277 rushing yards yielded at Texas A&M and another 250 at Oklahoma State? The late season slippage meant that the one statistical area where Texas did not improve, defensively, last season was stopping the run. The 2005 Longhorns yielded 130.9 ypg (No. 33) on the ground while surrendering 107.4 ypg (No. 16) the previous season.
Texas also only came away with 11 INTs last season.
"Last year we had our hands on 23 footballs that were in the air and we dropped them. If you get half of those, your turnover margin becomes one of the best in the country. What we are trying to let our guys understand is that there are very few opportunities. When you get them, you've got to capitalize. It was linebackers, DBs and it was defensive linemen. It was the whole defense. We had opportunities and we didn't capitalize on them. We have to create more turnovers. We have to get better in the turnover margin simply by hanging on to the ones we have an opportunity to get."
As a form of reinforcement, Texas defenders drop and do pushups during practice immediately following each missed opportunity. During Tuesday's Red Zone drills, backup MLB Roddrick Muckelroy performed his pushup between the hashmarks after getting his hands on a toss intended for TE Neale Tweedie but failing to come away with the pick. Next play, CB Tarell Brown obliged Chizik with some pushups in the corner of the end zone when he thought he could steal QB Colt McCoy's pass to SE Limas Sweed. On that one, Sweed actually made a fine defensive play because the throw was long and Brown was in position to force the turnover.
Texas spent as much time in man defense as it did zone last year.
"It was about 50-50. I thought we did a nice job of mixing in-and-out of both of those. We're trying to perfect those two things. It depended on the situation, it depended on their personnel, it depended on what we thought they would be running at the time. To be an all-around team or an all-around player, you can't be one-dimensional. You can't play just zone, you can't play just man. You've got to be able to do them both equally well. That's what we're working on now."
Obviously, the most important statistical category (on Chizik's side of the ball) is scoring defense, Last year, Texas ranked No. 8 nationally (16.4 ppg) in that area, a stark contrast from John Mackovic's porous unit that gave up nearly 30 ppg (No. 83) in 1997. Still, the defense's progress report these past few seasons did not make the second half of the 2006 Rose Bowl any more palatable.
"When you give up 38 points, you're not happy," Chizik said, "and it doesn't matter who you're playing. There were certain things we could have been a lot better at that night. We're going to continue to address those things to make sure they don't happen again."
Ideally, the defense would field 15 or 16 guys who, in essence, would be considered starters.
"Then you try to grow to 22," Chizik said. "That's been a trademark of The University of Texas since Coach (Mack) Brown has been here, and that's to play with some depth. Today, I feel like we could play with 15."
The Horns don pads for the first time Wednesday evening.
Backup SLB Sergio Kindle left practice early with an apparent injury to his left ankle. He was able to walk without assistance to the training room but did not return to practice. Mack Brown referred media questions regarding Kindle's status to UT Sports Information officials. I spoke with four different SID officials but none had an update following Tuesday's practice.