Reporters have their own way of getting information, even if it involves going around their true source of information. And so it was on Monday, when Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz followed offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and plopped into his seat in front of the cameras.
Since Bryan Harsin likes to keep things under wraps, at least as it pertains to specific information about his offense, reporters on Monday decided to ask Diaz about Harsin's group. Not surprisingly, Diaz said he likes what he sees out of Harsin's offense.
"What scares me about our offense?" Diaz repeated when asked. "Well, the first thing you hate, as a defensive coach, is having the ball fed down your throat. What keeps you up at night is that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. So when they hand the ball off to the backs that we have, and we're talking (Joe) Bergeron and (Malcolm) Brown and some of the strides that (Johnathan) Gray has made in the last week…and someone you shouldn't sleep on is Jeremy Hills, who is playing better, in my opinion than at any point in his career. If you can't stop the run, you can't stop anything. And when they can run when they want to, then they can throw when they want to. It all starts there."
Diaz also said the Texas quarterbacks have made an impression on his defense, which has failed to record a turnover in a pair of scrimmages.
"I think the football team believes in both quarterbacks," Diaz said. "I think they know that both of those guys can make plays."
As for his own group, Diaz admitted that the lack of turnovers in the scrimmages was bothersome, but tried to present the lack of turnovers in a way that seemed more palatable. Of course, as nice as he was in complimenting the offense, you could tell the Diaz most likely would've preferred for his defense to knock the ball on the ground or snare an errant pass or two.
"The offense did a really good job of protecting," said Diaz, without a hint of a smile. "What we do is, we chart strip attempts. Usually what happens in fall camp is that the defense is really hungry for the ball early on. The offense has gone all summer without having someone touching them on their own, so you see more turnovers early in camp, and then the offense gets aware of it and makes a big point of it, and it gets really hard. That's what you want. You want a team that's hard to turnover in practice."
Diaz also talked about one of his players who could be one of the top turnover perpetrators on his defense, speedy linebacker Demarco Cobbs. The Tulsa native continues to get rave reviews, and Diaz is a particular fan of the linebacker's versatility.
"When you have a defense with fast people at all three levels…when you make a mistake on defense it doesn't stay a mistake very long," Diaz explained. "DeMarco certainly upgrades our speed at the linebacker position. He's a guy who's physical enough to play the run, but has the ability to play the pass, which of course in this conference you have to do. He's very versatile and also a very intelligent player and a very hard-working player."
Cobbs was not the only linebacker who Diaz mentioned fondly. The second-year Texas coach said Cobbs was, in fact, "knighted" as a senior earlier this year, despite the fact that he's a junior.
"When you only have two seniors on defense, we sort of 'knighted' him and a few other juniors," Diaz said. "We told them, literally, that they have to go ahead and start preparing yourself like you're a senior, because we couldn't wait around. What you want is to have a natural leader, and Jordan Hicks wants that role and embraces that role. He wants to be a guy that everybody looks up to. And everybody does look up to him. That's very important as a linebacker because they're the guys who make the calls. The defensive backs are too far back and the linemen have their hands in the dirt."
When asked if having Cobbs on the field was like having an extra safety because of his speed, Diaz explained part of the defensive philosophy that he believes in. It was an interesting view into the mindset of one of the "up and comers" in the big-time college coaching profession.
"We can call them all 11 safeties if we want to, because we want 11 guys that can run," Diaz said. "Because once the ball is off the line, once the quarterback is throwing it or handing it, we're all playing safety, we're all playing linebacker, we're all 11 pursuers of the football. And the faster you pursue it, the better you will be on defense. But with Demarco's flexibility and versatility, we can do some different things."
Diaz added that not only does he love having speed at all levels, but he is also happy with the progress of backup defensive ends Cedric Reed and Reggie Wilson, who obviously do not bring as much fanfare to the table as Alex Okafor or Jackson Jeffcoat.
"I think the difference between our first bunch and our second bunch in that position has really narrowed, and that's a good thing because we think highly of our first team," Diaz said. "And in this conference it's so critical to come up with ways to rush the passer. And it's not just rushing the passer, because everything in the spread offense is about messing with the defensive end. Everything they're doing is trying to influence the defensive end in the run game. It's really become playing linebacker, that's about what it's come to.
"In the shotgun offense, we all want them to rush the passer like Lawrence Taylor, but in the run game, they really turn into linebackers. It's not as easy as just put your hand in the ground and go."