Brown Wants Speedy 'D' To Hold Its Turf

An integral component of head coach <B>Mack Brown</B>&#146;s recruiting philosophy involves a &quot;spin-down&quot; approach to get more speed (and more speed!) on the defensive side of the ball. Here, corners play safety, safeties move to linebacker, linebackers to defensive end, and DEs to defensive tackle.

We’ve already seen the impact that team speed has had on the defense relative to the bunch Brown inherited five springs ago. But this year’s fleet, fueled by an injection of freshman talent vying essentially for back-up jobs, may be the swiftest of all.

"I’m really pleased with our speed and our defensive coaches are pleased as well," Brown said Monday following the fifth session of spring drills. But the flip side of having speed to burn is the tendency to get burned while over-pursuing a play. That’s why coaches are impressing on the entire unit to also play smart, stay at home, protect their turf and not allow their speed and aggressive play to take them completely out of the play.

"We’re playing a lot more base defense," Brown said. "We’re putting more pressure on the guys to whip the guy in front of them and to protect their gap."

Case-in-point was Saturday’s scrimmage in which the defense blitzed only seven times. There were times last season when Brown thought his defense was a little blitz-happy. This year, he wants to mix in more zone defense while, at times, playing man-to-man defense without blitzing.

"We’re putting more pressure on the secondary but we’re trying to put more pressure on our defense, in general," Brown said. "We’ve got more quality players in the two-deep as well. We should be developing more depth. It doesn’t mean we’re there yet. Reed Boyd has played at linebacker, Derrick Johnson has played, but the other guys are learning right now how to play. And they’re doing it fast. Our (defensive) line is young, so they’ve got to grow up."

The D-line, of course, was battered and bruised by season’s end and will be hardly recognizable without DE Cory Redding. Defensive end has been thinned this spring with Bryan Pickryl’s shoulder surgery and Kalen Thornton easing his way back into the lineup.

"Kalen Thornton had a really difficult year, both emotionally and physically, because he wasn’t well," Brown said. "We’re trying to get Kalen well in order to get him back out there. (CB) Nathan Vasher and (FS) Dakarai Pearson are guys that have been around a long time, along with (DT) Marcus Tubbs, if we can get him back well and back into condition because the older guys are usually the ones that have the spirit of your team.

"You want Bryan Pickryl out there because he’s really good player but we’re also getting to look at Eric Hall and Mike Williams along with Austin Sendlein and Kaelen Jakes. So we’ve got some new guys out there that are showing up across the board so we’re excited about watching them. Chase Pittman is a little behind because he’s coming off of a shoulder operation. He’s a little sore today, but all those guys are in that mix."

For now, it’s a matter of getting the youngsters some reps, establishing depth and not much harnessing all of that team speed but giving it direction and maturity.

"We’re really pleased right now with the speed of our defense," Brown reiterated, "understanding that we gave up some bigger runs than we should have on Saturday but that’s good for us because it shows the guys that that is their responsibility. It’s their gap. Ten guys would be in the right place and one guy in the wrong place, so he’s got to pick it up."

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