AUSTIN — Texas DC Vance Bedford wants to play up to eight D-linemen, but which freshmen are standing head-and-shoulder pads above the rest?
Should we expect MLB Malik Jefferson at his more natural spot on the edge, and how is it that former walk-on FS Dylan Haines manages to keep his starting job?
Bedford’s weekly press conferences are a combination tent revival and comedy club, but he’s never sugarcoated an “awful” 2015 defense that ranked last in program history. Yet, there’s a big reason why he expects a marked improvement this year.
This year’s D has attitude. In fact, the attitude adjustment is prevalent in all three phases of the game, Bedford believes.
“It’s something we didn’t have last year. The guys are focused. They’re ready to go. They’re ready to prove that last year was a fluke. They can’t wait to take the field.”
Plus, a year’s experience does wonders for a program that was among the youngest in college football last season. Now, freshmen believe they have enough scalps on the wall to emerge as vocal leaders.
Notably, the soft spoken Jefferson is starting to flex his vocal chords, but will the sophomore flex his muscles more on the outside?
“We’re going to bring him off the edge sometimes but, primarily, he’s going to be inside as he was this past year,” Bedford said Wednesday.
Jefferson’s strength remains his pass-rush while the learning curve continues to be pass-coverage, Bedford noted.
“We’re going to drop him (in coverage) and, when we do, he has to understand where he has to drop and what he has to do, and not to come out of coverage when the quarterback scrambles. The next thing (in Jefferson’s development) is learning how to get off blocks. In high school, you can run around guys and make plays. In college football, you take a guy head-on and get off the block. He has made strides there this spring and also this summer.”
Last season, the D-line was forced to rely on three walk-ons as backups. Now, the backups include three scholarship freshmen. The result has been a more consistently productive unit rather than the 2015 edition that merely “showed flashes.”
Bedford quips that he still “hates freshmen” because of their tendency to “look pretty for a play and then have four flat tires” on the next one.” Still, a couple of freshmen D-linemen have impressed during camp.
DT Gerald Wilbon and OLB/DE Malcolm Roach have been the most consistently productive rookies during the preseason, Bedford noted.
“Of all the interior guys, Roach is probably been the most mature.”
Meanwhile, Roach has drawn comparisons to sophomore Breckyn Hager when lined-up at Fox.
“It’s full speed ahead every snap. Roach just goes.”
And Dylan Haines just won’t go away. Despite the fact that Haines’ was the 2015 Big 12 co-leader with five INTS and is second all-time in program history in INT-return yardage, many fans expect (hope, pray, Tweet) that it’s only a matter of time before freshman FS Brandon Jones nudges Haines from the starting lineup.
Fans tend to remember mistakes rather than the things a player has done right, Bedford said of Haines.
“He shows up (with the 1’s) because he works hard every day. He’s in the meetings. He gets aligned properly. He helps these young guys get aligned in the right way. You need that Steady Eddie out there. He’s kind of that missing piece to the puzzle. He’s in the right place at the right time…(As a walk-on), his dad paid for him to go to school here. He doesn’t have a star on his head. That’s why he works so hard. He works hard to prove that he belongs.”
Notre Dame boasts a size advantage on both lines, Bedford acknowledged, and will play two experienced QBs. But his biggest point of emphases this week has been to better defend the vertical seams that Notre Dame exploited in last year’s shellacking. Even so, he expects a vastly improved defense compared to the one that yielded 452.6 ypg and 30.3 points last season. And he can summarize that expectation in one word: attitude.
The benediction of Bedford’s weekly tent show revival is his altar call for fans to pack the pews at DKR. This is how Bedford exhorted the faithful on the cusp of Sunday’s showdown against Notre Dame:
“The one thing I’m going to ask our fans to do is not sell their tickets to Notre Dame. It’s the highest (priced) ticket out there, and I know they could make a lot of money, but this is Texas. It’s oil. It’s cattle. Why would you sell your ticket? Go out there and sell a cow. Do not let the Irish come in here and have fans in here. Let’s have burnt orange all over the place.”