AUSTIN, Texas -- Kenny Vaccaro doesn’t want to offend or insult so it was with all apologies to those previous Texas players that he stated this defense, the 2012 version, is unequivocally faster than any he has played on.
Then linebacker Demarco Cobbs returned from injury.
“When he blitzes, it’s for real,” Vaccaro said.
In order for the 2012 defense to be for real, it needs Cobbs, not just a blitzing Cobbs, but one who stays healthy and active for the entire season. To date, Cobbs has been unable to do that.
A backup in 2011, Cobbs’ time on the field was limited to half the season because of a broken forearm. When he did make it back onto the field, the junior wasn’t effective as expected due to the injury and the unfamiliarity with Manny Diaz’s defense.
Spring was the same song, second verse. Cobbs suffered a neck injury that kept him out of the first half of spring. A combination of Tevin Jackson, Alex De La Torre, Aaron Benson and Kendall Thompson were shifted and shaped to try and fill the void alongside Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks. Jackson received the most snaps. But he was unable to play with the same impact as Cobbs.
“We really were hurt by Demarco not being out there,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “He's been a good player that's made some highlight plays. But he hasn't been consistently healthy. So like our backs, he's another guy that needs to be healthy and stay on the field.”
Ah, but when he is on the field …
“He is a versatile linebacker for us,” cornerback Carrington Byndom said. “With him being back, it is adding an older guy who has already been in this system. He is a pretty fast guy.”
“He is fast, and he is physical,” added Hicks. “He is somebody you can trust out there so it is always good to have somebody like that back.”
Trust will be a large factor in this defense. Diaz relies on many moving parts to confuse and stun the offense. Those parts must move in concert in order to be effective. If they are not moving together, it doesn’t matter how fast each individual player is.
For instance, in the first several games last season, Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho, two players with less speed than Hicks and Cobbs, were not completely sure where the other would be within Diaz’s scheme. It led to several substantial runs from Rice, BYU, and UCLA before ultimately leading to a 64-yard backbreaker against Oklahoma.
That is the reason it was important for Cobbs to get back into spring practice and start working alongside Hicks and Edmond. That trio has to learn each other’s tendencies within Diaz’s schemes. That way they will understand what is expected of each other and how to react during the game. That familiarity can also lead to more innovation in the defense.
And that is exactly what has been happening in spring practice, Vaccaro said.
“I think we have the defense down to a `T’ so much that we have freedom now,” he said. “We can mix things up on our own and execute the defense without putting too much of a twist on it.”
Now the added twist is the speed and ability of Cobbs.