UT defensive ends going to the next level

AUSTIN, Texas -- Sure, Texas defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor came back bigger, stronger and maybe even faster.

A summer with strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie will do that. And defensive coordinator Manny Diaz does appreciate it. But where Diaz really sees the growth is inside their helmets.

“They both have a great understanding for the game,” Diaz said. “[Defensive ends] coach [Oscar] Giles is moving on to what we call ‘next level coaching’ with them and they are able to detail out their game a little bit more this year than they were this time last year. That is exciting for us and we will expect great things out of them this fall.”

Those great things might not equate to a ledger full of sacks. That is a stat dictated by the prowess of the pass rush yes, but also can be controlled by a quick-trigger quarterback. Such was the case through the first part of the 2011 season. Texas started slowly, but finished with 29 sacks. The national leader, Texas A&M, had 51.

So the focus will not be on how many takedowns but takeaways instead.

“It’s more important to disrupt the quarterback and throw the ball to our defense, and our defensive backs,” Jeffcoat said. “To get the ball back. So the sacks will come. We’re not too focused on that. We’re working on getting the ball back to our offense and disrupting the quarterback.”

That is where the next level coaching comes into play.

“Now when you know what to do, you can start paying attention to what is happening on the other side of the ball,” Diaz said. “Like, ‘What does this back foot tell me? What does this stance tell me?’ That is what an experienced player does.”

That Texas has two such experienced players at defensive end is a plus. That it has two more defensive ends -- Cedric Reed and Reggie Wilson -- right behind Jeffcoat and Okafor with slightly less experience, should allow Diaz to deepen the rotation.

“No matter who we play, if you are on the field for eight straight plays the guy on the sideline is better than the guy that is on the field regardless of whatever credentials he has by his name,” Diaz said. “If, and this is the whole key, if the guy on the sideline can handle his assignments.”

“That is really what we are stressing with our depth, with our second unit of defense. At first it is to be dependable. The best ability is dependability.”