"We're going to be a good secondary for a couple of reasons," Akina said. "There's tremendous competition, so the guys that have had reps prosper. There's been tremendous focus. They know that this is their opportunity. The experienced guys look behind them and they see Deon Beasley and Chykie Brown. They know there are tremendous athletes out there. Where they've got to maintain their edge is on the mental side of it. They've got to be ahead of the game, mentally. I cannot be making the same corrections with them as I am with the younger guys. They understand where they stand on that. I can't keep repeating the same things over and over. There all tremendous athletes but, somewhere in there, if you're saying the same things over and over then there's no difference between a guy who can't do it and who just won't do it, mentally. But competition drives great concentration."
Texas coaches are using the current Spring Break week to evaluate practice film and to take the initial steps toward solidifying the two-deep chart. FS Marcus Griffin is the lone returning starter (10 starts) but Drew Kelson (with three career starts at LB) is expected to have a steadying presence on the field. Kelson was considered a prototypical SS when signed out of Houston Lamar. The senior is one of the hardest-hitting and smartest athletes ever to wear the Burnt Orange; as such, coaches believe Kelson could function as the secondary's vocal leader and function as a coach-on-the-field. .
Kelson and Erick Jackson are battling for playing time. FS Robert Joseph saw action in seven games last season as a true freshman before limited with a separated shoulder while Ishie Oduegwu has logged snaps in13 career games. Deon Beasley, Ryan Palmer, Brandon Foster and Chykie Brown are looking to solidify their spots on the two-deep chart.
"We've got a lot of great athletes," Akina noted, "but a great athlete doesn't equate into a great football player. We're looking for the guys who can play the defense and what's right, structurally. We're looking for guys who will play with great effort, who will run to the football, and then strike...We're looking for guys who can make plays. Take-aways are a big part of that. Those characteristics are the basic ones, but we're also looking for resilient players. It's something we've always preached: you've got to overcome adversity. In this league, you're playing against some good teams, so you're going to have some down times."
It's been widely suggested that the susceptibility to big plays last season resulted from a combination of injuries and former Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik's prioritizing the run defense by bringing safeties up to the line-of-scrimmage to provide run support. Critics said it left the cornerbacks overloaded and rendered the defense one-dimensional. Akina judiciously does not enter into public conversations with the media that might be construed as critical of his former colleague. Yet, Akina has always been up-front about his proclivity toward an aggressive and attacking style of play. As such, fans can expect more blitzes in 2007 and, if the secondary continues to mature, more of a departure from the base defense. Akina loves playing 'man' but recognizes the need for balance; he would also like to trot his nickel- and dime-packages out onto the field more than Texas did in 2006.
"I'm probably more over the top than most secondary coaches," Akina concluded. "I refuse to be associated with a defense, or secondary, that will be considered soft. We will strike. If we come up short at the end of the game, we will know that we have the respect of our opponent."
The Horns return to practice Monday afternoon.