On Monday, Texas had several players available to the media. Today’s availability notes talks to the star linebacker concerned with leading, a defensive lineman preaching pressure, a safety talking sound technique and an offensive lineman ready to dominate.
Jefferson on leadership, player responsibility
With the talk of mid and post-season coaching changes circling Texas Longhorns football like vultures, player responsibility for on field results can get lost in the rhetoric either calling for a coach to be relieved or for a coach to return. According to sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson, the players bear a lot of responsibility as well.
“It’s high, and that’s the problem,” Jefferson said regarding how responsible the players are for this season’s poor results. “People will look at the coaches and take it out on the coaches, but we’re out there missing tackles. That’s something that we have to do on the field while we’re out there. We’re out there missing a lot. They go over this stuff with us and it’s not just one person’s fault, it’s all our fault for not being accountable for each other.”
Over the past several weeks, both immediately and several days after games, players have taken most of the responsibility for the on field results rather than blame it on the coaches. For Jefferson, that is the way it should be.
“The coaches want to take all the heat and stuff like that, but I don’t think that’s fair, though,” Jefferson said. “We’re the ones making the plays and we have to do what their telling us to do.”
Jefferson repeated about how he needs to continue to be a leader on the defense. So far, he says, he has not done that enough this season. When asked how he becomes a better leader, Jefferson said he needs to watch over his teammates. “That means Malik Jefferson has to take account of all the other 10 players on the field when he’s out there,” Jefferson said.
An often repeated question from Longhorn fans is whether Jefferson is playing at the right position in middle linebacker to maximize his athletic abilities. Jefferson said Monday he has no problem with how he is being utilized.
“I’m fine where I’m at,” Jefferson said. “I’m comfortable where I’m at playing inside. I know I can run from sideline to sideline. Of course, it’s harder inside because you’re taking 300 pounders head on, but that doesn’t bother me.”
Jefferson also said the team knows about the external pressure on head coach Charlie Strong to win and win fast. With Strong taking over defensive play calling, Jefferson said he has full confidence in the head man to put him in the right position.
“DC Strong, he won a national championship at Florida,” Jefferson said. “Honestly, I expect the same thing. I expect him to go out there and call plays to put us in successful spots, and us going out there and executing.”
When asked again about the situation, Jefferson again shifted focus onto those on the field rather than those on the sideline.
“I understand there’s a lot of pressure,” Jefferson said. “Everybody is giving him heat for everything that’s going on. Like I said, we’ve got to take responsibility too as players. That’s part of the leadership that I need to step up to do.”
Nelson, talks improving d-line play, changes at the top
Sophomore defensive tackle Chris Nelson, along with several other defensive tackles, consistently preach execution, effort, focus and preparation. Even with the defensive line stressing those qualities, their play thus far has a lot of room for growth. Now that Strong is taking over the defensive play calling, the entire team is ready to execute, focus and prepare the calls that Strong himself is going to make.
“He just kept it real with us,” Nelson said about the change in defensive coaching. “He told us there was going to be a change. We respect the change. We think Coach Bedford is a great coach. He’s been great to me, and we’re going to support him and back it up.”
Nelson’s front four has matched up against several offenses that not only like to pass the ball a lot, but they like to also pass the ball very quickly after the snap. Nelson said he knows the front four needs to get pressure, and if they get pressure, they can finally force more turnovers.
“As a d-line, we have to get more pressure,” Nelson said about how to force more turnovers. “That’s where I can come from. We get more pressure on the quarterback, we can get more turnovers on the back end.”
After a coaching change like the one Strong just made, it can be easy for players to lose faith due to the change in who is delivering the message. Nelson said that definitely has not happened yet.
“I don’t believe anybody has lost faith,” Nelson said. “We all talk as a team. We feel like people need to have more excitement about the game.”
One of the issues plaguing the entire defense is the lack of tackling, which showed in full force during the first half of the Oklahoma State game. According to Nelson, this problem is not on the coaches, but rather on the players.
“That’s just us not executing on plays,” Nelson said. “You can’t really coach tackling. That’s on us. We have to wrap up and make plays. We did miss a lot of tackles and we put that on us. We have to fix that on our half.”
Strong said during his press conference on Monday that rather than teaching his players to break down and allow the ball carrier two paths of exit, Strong insists his players tackle aggressively and allow only one way for the runner to go. Although this may be different than how many coaches teach tackling, Nelson said it should not be the issue it has become.
“That’s the right way you do it,” Nelson said about the tackling method the defensive coaches teach. “He’s been teaching us that from the jump. I guess people, during the speed of the game, are doing thinking and not playing.”
With the important stretch of October ahead of the Horns, Nelson said he knows he has to lead his team through this tough stretch.
“As a leader, you just talk to guys to keep their heads up,” Nelson said. “The motivation, that’s what we’ve got our coaches for. We’re keeping our heads up and moving forward. The next four games, we’ve got a season ahead of us.”
Williams talks offensive rhythm, OU emotion
Following the upset victory over Oklahoma last season, sophomore offensive lineman Connor Williams now has a great appreciation for the emotion of the Red River Shootout. Although the team preaches taking things one game at a time, it is hard for players not to get somewhat excited about playing the team’s biggest rival.
“Of course for the OU rivalry there’s going to be emotion in it,” Williams said. “We take it week by week, and now that it’s OU week we’re very excited about it. We’re very excited to play it.”
Regarding last year, Williams said about the game “I think as a team we all just came out and played to the very best of our ability and it was just an amazing game.”
The team struggled on offense most of last season under the direction of both Shawn Watson and Jay Norvell. Now that the team has a clear offensive mission under the direction of offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, Williams knows how the team can score points to win. “I think we’re very solid on our offense and know who we are and know our personality and know how to address the game.”
The Texas offense pushed the Sooners around last season, using sophomore Jerrod Heard, junior D’Onta Foreman and sophomore Chris Warren to pound Oklahoma on the ground. With the dedication to the run game the team has shown this season, Williams says it has toughened up the team and the offensive line.
“I think it’s mentality,” Williams said. “I think we go into the game knowing that it’s up for us to stop ourselves. Other teams can’t stop us. We can run the ball all over them and they can’t do anything about it.”
Even with its newfound efficiency, the Texas offense still struggles from time to time. Williams knows what the team needs to do.
“I think some things we can fix like simple third down conversions, and also penalties on our end are just killing our drives,” Williams said. “We can easily fix.”
Williams stressed multiple times the importance of “dominating the line of scrimmage” and how his o-line expects to do that each play. With all the issues surrounding the program at this team, Williams has tunnel vision.
“We”really just put the [Oklahoma State] game behind us and we still have complete faith in our coaching staff and our players and each aspect of our game,” Williams said. “We can go out and be able to do what we need to do. We’re very confident going into the week.”
Hall on coaching changes, fixing simple mistakes
Junior safety Jason Hall knows the defense has struggled immensely this season, and a change was possible. With Charlie Strong now calling the shots on defense, Hall said he has nothing but trust in the new play caller.
“Whatever he does, I trust his process,” Hall said. “At the end of the day, he knows what he’s doing. I listen to what he wants me to do and just execute it.”
Hall declined to say whether the change from Bedford to Strong was one the defense needed. Again, like several other players, Hall put the focus on the field.
“I wouldn’t pick sides on that,” Hall said. “At the end of the day, the players are the ones that are playing. We’re the ones on the field that have to execute.”
Hall referred to missed tackles as mistakes several times when he was available for interview. Hall admitted although there were too many against the Cowboys, “mistakes” like missed tackles do occur.
“You have to be prepared for every game,” Hall said. “It’s football. Mistakes are going to happen. You’ve just got to move forward from it.”
Hall said the mistakes need to be fixed, however. The team is not blaming any single person for the issues so far, but according to Hall, they do need to learn from the issues quickly.
“At the end of the day, we’re not singling out anybody,” Hall said. “It’s a team effort. We have to cover those mistakes and come together and strategize and see how to redo things.”
With the cloud of a possible change in head coach looming over the team if results continue to be poor, Hall said the team does not have time to worry about any of those reports.
“We don’t focus on that,” Hall said. “We focus on just playing the games, the love of the game, and wanting to win. We just stay focused and not worry about that specifically.”