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October 24, 2012

Reward is worth the risk

--- One of the hot topics in the past couple weeks among the Texas fan base, particularly after the OU loss, is the need for the Longhorns to be more physical. Last week, the coaches put the players through what were described as physical and intense workouts. That them has carried over this week.

Major Applewhite was asked if the coaches are conscious of being too physical in practices, possibly leading to injuries. Applewhite was pretty honest in his answer, saying he's always worried about a player getting banged up with too much contact, but in his eyes, the rewards outweigh the risks.

"Most coaches, if they're honest, will tell you when you start flying around and it's full contact during the season, you start to worry - it's a double edged sword," Applewhite said. "We're helping our team learn how to play with better pad level. We're helping our team learn how to fly to the ball and be more physical at the point of attack. The defensive players are getting better at their tackling. The offensive players are getting a better feel for the pad level they're going to have to block at. The running backs are getting a better feel for the pad level when they're approached by a tackle.

"There's a lot of positives about it. But the other side of it is what happens if a guy gets hurt? There's some risk-reward in that. We have to balance that."

The coaches talk before each practice about how much contact they'll use. Some of the decisions are dictated by the team's efforts, sometimes the amount of contact is decided by how many days they have left until live game action.

"Personally, as a running backs coach, I like those shots because I can't, in certain periods of practice, emphasize pad level enough," Applewhite said. "The only thing that's going to teach you how to get your pads down is when someone is coming at you.

"I think it helps us across the board."

--- Last week, Texas had a renewed intensity in its preparations, and the loss to Oklahoma helped keep the team focused. This week, Texas faces the worst team in the conference so the players have to guard against overconfidence. The message being delivered by the coaches is that Texas isn't good enough to overlook any one opponent.

" What we talk to our team about is we're not good enough to sit there and look on the schedule and say 'we're going to beat them, we're going to beat them, we're going to beat them and this one is going to be hard.' We're not at that stage," Applewhite said. "Every week we have to show up and play. If we don't play well, we're capable of being beat. We have to have a mentality like a blue-collar worker, that we're going in there with a job to do, I don't care what it is, I'm going to get it done no matter who the opponent."

"The guys have done well with it. It's funny, when you get out of it from a player and you're a coach, you don't see those things. But there's always a little bit of a hangover from a win. The thing you have to fight at this place is you have to fight all the negativity, and you have to fight all the 'you're great, you're back on track.'

"You have to throw all that stuff out that (the media outlets) write or say, that your parents say, that your friends say, that your teammates say. Just stay pure of mind and focused on whatever the hell it is you have to do."

--- Josh Turner played the best game of his young career last week, including an interception that was one of the game's biggest plays. Duane Akina compared Turner to former stars Nathan Vasher, Aaron Ross and Earl Thomas in the way the ball just seems to find them.

"He has a knack for the ball. We've had a couple guys that just have that ability," Akina said.

On the interception, a diving grab in which Turner had to get his hands under the ball and roll on his back to show the officials he made a clean catch."

--- It's always interesting to hear Akina talk about some of his players who have come through the DB room at Texas. This week, he talked about the decision of moving Michael Huff to safety and allowing Cedric Griffin to play corner. There was a time when those roles were up in the air, but Akina had some high praise for Huff when describing what helped him made that decision.

"It is one of the tricks in the trade that you have to kind of have to feel it out. The toughest decision I had to make with that is with Michael Huff and Cedric Griffin. They were both freshman and alternating at safety. But when Vasher graduated, one was going to have to move to corner and I had to figure out which one was going to go - Huff or Cedric.

"I just thought Huff just had a better feel for the game. ... Huff, we had to beat on a little bit to callous him up. But he had such a great feel for making calls. He's possibly the best one I've ever had in 30 years when it comes to the mental side of the game."

Huff was so strong in his mental make-up that by his senior year, Akina said he was teach the Thorpe Award winner the defensive front calls because Huff was bored in the DB meetings.

--- Daje Johnson made his mark early last week, lining up in the backfield on the first play from scrimmage and taking a handoff down the right sideline for an 84-yard TD run. Expect to see more of Johnson as a running back in the future.

"He'll have some stuff out of the backfield, he'll have some stuff at wideout. Any time you have a guy who is that explosive, you have to find a way to get the ball in his hands," Applewhite said. "Sometimes in the passing game, coverage dictates that a ball goes elsewhere and it's harder to get the ball to a certain guy in the passing game. Sometimes it's better to just hand it to him."

--- kina said sophomore corner Quandre Diggs was given a tough task last week in trying to lock down Baylor wideout Terrance Williams. Williams got the best of Diggs on a double move for an 80-yard TD reception but Texas made adjustments after that play.

"It was a tough job description on an NFL wide receiver who is going to be an early draft pick. So once they found it, we had to change a little bit and give him margin for error because we had zero margins for error on that particular coverage," Akina said. "Then from there we did a great job of taking away the vertical throws. I can't remember what it was when you eliminate all the bubble screens and the back crack screens, you eliminate that 80-yard throw - what did they say 32 attempts for 168 yards? Which is really what you want to do against an offense like that, which is so vertical, so explosive."

Diggs is one of the most competitive guys on the Texas roster. As a cornerback, you have to be able to leave one play in the past and immediately move on to the next snap. I asked Akina how hard that is for Diggs, and what he told him on the sidelines after Williams' TD catch.

"You have to let it go. If you are going to play corner, you are going to have plays like that. That is just the nature of the business.

"It's tough, and we understand it is a difficult job description. I've got to help them as a coach. Sometimes you have to be tough on them and others you just got to grab them and hug 'em and say 'next play.' You just have to feel what it is.

"If you are asking your players to do something that is just a real difficult task, as a coach you have to be able to see that on Saturday and make the adjustment. Anybody can see it on Sunday, but you got to be able to see it on Saturday."

--- Akina was asked if he likes watching contrasting styles match up. Like the average fan, he said he does, and he would have loved to have seen Oklahoma State and LSU square off for the title last year.

"I thought last year, an Oklahoma State-LSU match-up would have been great. Two completely different philosophies," Akina said. "I'm not cheering for one or the other, but I think that would be a real appeal to the fan."


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