Posted: 2:36 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013
By Wescott Eberts
The Texas Longhorns didn't show enough of it last season on defense last season.
Now, that's not a new accusation, but one of the somewhat odd developments during fall camp has been the emerging consensus from defensive players that they didn't always leave everything out on the field, didn't always hustle to the football, and didn't always trust their teammates to be where they needed to be, a toxic combination that played out in a toxic manner on the scoreboard and on the stat sheet.
The discussion got to the point that a beat writer asked head coach Mack Brown on Monday about whether the team did lack in effort. Brown shot it down.
"No, you can sit and make excuses for what you want to. I do know this year I think all of that will be better because we have more depth. There is more competition. We have more experience. We know more about what we're doing against tempo offense. We'll still have to line up."
Maybe Brown doesn't want to call out the effort of his team, but is that something that Nick Saban would be willing to mince words about?
Perhaps it's just the point that things are at, in this new age of cynicism where Brown is saying that he's going to torture the Rationals that abandoned him after the Oklahoma game last season until the 2020 season, an unacceptable amount of time for a fanbase that is increasing disillusioned with their longtime head coach, but this just feels like another data point in the growing disconnect between Brown and reality.
Why dissemble about that? Because it would make headlines in a way that the players admitting it didn't?
Saying that the effort level wasn't there last season isn't an excuse right now -- it's the culprit of last season's failures. Something that can be fixed rather easily.
Maybe Brown won't admit it because he knows that it comes down on him and the senior leaders who departed last season. Maybe Brown really believes it wasn't a problem.
Despite Brown's denial and evasiveness, there was senior Carrington Byndom minutes later, pointing directly to effort as the culprit, even though he was merely asked about the biggest difference between this year and last.
"I think our effort," said Byndom. "That's one thing that we strive to improve on. Ever since the bowl game, we made a statement that we needed to improve our effort. Effort can fix a lot of things. It can help fix the missed tackles, big plays, things like that. Effort has been the main focus that we've been trying to get done. I think we did a pretty good job throughout the spring and summer and even two-a-days."
So the team knows. The coaches know. The players are willing to admit it publicly. But not the head coach. Okay, then.
How did it happen, Carrington?
"I think we just allowed it to happen, allowed ourselves to be nonchalant about things, not running to the ball, things like that. That was something we should have took upon ourselves to fix last year and kind of notice. I think we have seen that that was a problem. After this past season, we know we needed to correct it."
But, maybe that's just Byndom's opinion, right?
Junior cornerback Quandre Diggs fielded the same question.
"Just effort," said the player who grew up around the program. "That's a word I'm going to be talking to y'all. Our effort is totally different than it was last year. The way we run to the ball is totally different. Just something that has become second nature to us. We want to continue to put that on film and show everybody this is a different team than last year."
Try on the comments from another senior, safety Adrian Phillips, when asked about a higher standard of effort defensively.
"When you turn on the tape from last year, you aren't happy about what you saw," said Phillips, who didn't turn in the expected breakout performance expected by many in 2012.
"You just really looked at yourself and really made it up in your mind that you don't want to be that type of player again.This year when you looked at the film during camp, you saw everyone flying to the ball. You saw people running full speed. You saw the backside corner trying to check down on the receiver just in case he broke. You weren't seeing that last year in the game film. It's a lot different."
If the film doesn't lie -- and it doesn't -- what Phillips is saying is absolutely damning about the 2012 team, from the players to the assistant coaches to Brown himself. When things started to fall apart, the team got entered into this negative feedback loop of
The players know. They're the ones between the lines, in their position rooms having everything dissected, they know the chemistry level and the trust level and the intensity level of their teammates.
Does Brown know? Is he that removed from his team as well?
No matter what the answers are to those questions, the inexperience that resulted in what Phillips twice referred to as "panic attacks" on Monday led to a decreased level of trust last season, something the team is working to rectify this fall with trust a major point of focus.
So as marginally effective as the team logos might be each season -- the RISE theme from last season certainly took it's beating and the Longhorns never turned the S into swagger by that the defining stretch to start the conference season -- the theme of trust has been as prevalently discussed by the players and coaches throughout fall camp as was the lack of effort on Monday.
One player who unquestionably has a positive impact on the team was responsible for coming up with the motto for the 2013 season. Junior Nate Boyer is the team's long snapper and a former Green Beret who served around the world after the 9/11 attacks before finding football at Texas and earning the starting job on punts and place kicks before picking up the Big 12 Sportsperson of the Year award in June.
His experiences in the military helped inspire this season's theme.
"The team theme is 'for the man on my right and the man on my left,'" said Boyer on Monday. "What that means to us in the military is all the training you're going through, everything that you're doing when you're in combat or in a situation, it's about making sure the guy next to you is successful, keeping him safe, keeping him alive."
"In the Army, a lot of guys join for different reasons. Some of them join because that's the only thing they think they can do. Some of them really want to serve their country. Some want to be able to go to college, need a job, whatever. But once you go through the training and understand, they really instill in you, what's more important than anything is the buddy system, the guy next to you."
"When you're deployed, something goes down, immediately all you think about is, 'What can I do so I don't let the guy next to me down?' You know what I mean? That's the only thing that is going to keep everybody alive and safe as they possibly can be. Yeah, that's a saying we have in the military. No matter what you're doing, no matter what your political agenda or whatever, in the end it's all about the guy next to you. You don't even have to like him, and a lot of times you don't (laughing)."
From the sound of it, there may have been some of that going on last season. At the least, the trust factor wasn't there. Phillips described what it felt like last season and what the theme means to him.
"Brotherhood," said the senior safety. "It shows that you are your brother's keeper. For the man on my right and left, it shows there's that trust level we have between each other. You know that you're not going to be alone at any point in the game."
The subsequent comments from the Garland product were perhaps as telling about what really happened in 2012 as were his thoughts after watching film.
"Maybe last year you might have felt that way. When we were missing tackles, you felt that the tackle was that much harder because nobody else would show up. This year you know if a back breaks down the field, there's going to be 10 other guys trying to get him on the ground. The man on my right and left, it's a selfless act. You don't worry about yourself anymore, you worry about your brothers."
It's something that Byndom feels as well, albeit in a slightly different way.
"You have that feeling that the person next to you knows just as much as you do with the knowledge of being in the scheme for three years," added the senior cornerback from Lufkin.
Knowledge helps, but without effort there is no trust. Last season, lack of effort destroyed trust among the defensive players. With more effort, perhaps that changes this season. Combined, effort, trust, and experience could all result in a much-improved Texas defense.
Of course, Mack Brown doesn't think effort was a problem, and that's fair, but the possibility that effort did lag last season -- as suggested by leaders on the team and Kansas State's Tre Walker -- does rather scare you to death. Especially since it could happen again if things go sideways.
Want to know more about why the Texas defense fell apart last season and how Manny Diaz can fix it? What about insight into Major Applewhite's influences and how they will impact the new Texas offense? Or why you should believe in David Ash making the jump this season? Get all the answers in 2013 In the Huddle: Texas.