Defensive notebook: Longhorns aim to reverse course in Herman era

Trenton Daeschner

With less than a week before the start of the season, the Longhorns are turning their attention to Maryland and the dynamic rushing attack of the Terrapins. Here are five notes on the defense from this past week of practice.

Improvement in communication

Junior defensive end Chris Nelson said one of the biggest improvements made on defense this offseason is pre-snap communication. Walk by a Texas practice at Frank Denius Fields or roll down the window while driving by on Interstate 35 and you can expect to hear some Longhorns getting vocal.

“If y’all are standing out there, you can hear everybody talking and yelling,” Nelson said. “And if you’re talking soft, (the coaches) are gonna get on you. Like, ‘Start it all over.’”

Ford emerging as a leader

Senior defensive tackle Poona Ford is soft-spoken by nature, but his teammates say he’s become a more vocal leader on the field recently. Nelson, a fellow defensive lineman and Ford’s roommate, believes there’s been a significant change in Ford this offseason.

“This year, he’s speaking up a lot more,” Nelson said. “You know, Poon’s always been a laid-back person, but when he’s on the field, he’s a dog. He’s a beast. I think he had it in him. He always been like that since day one. (The coaches) brought it out of him. They were telling him, ‘Poon, you’re a great player, you have to talk. Players are gonna listen to you.’ So he started talking a little more.”

Texas names its captains, including three defensive players

Head coach Tom Herman announced on Twitter Friday night the Longhorns’ team captains for 2017. Of the four captains named, three play on the defense. Joining junior left tackle Connor Williams are Ford, senior linebacker Naashon Hughes and junior nickelback P.J. Locke III.

Longhorns prepare for Maryland

With preseason camp now fully in the rearview mirror, the Longhorns have set their focus toward Saturday’s season opener against Maryland at Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium.

Herman said Texas began installing the game plan for the Terrapins this past week. Maryland’s bread and butter on offense is running the football, featuring a pair of explosive running backs in junior Ty Johnson and sophomore Lorenzo Harrison. Dual-threat sophomore quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome is expected to start.

“The difference will be if it’s (Pigrome), that’s gonna change a little bit of the coverages and run support that you can play because you got to account for him in the run game,” Herman said. “But that’s nothing that’s foreign to our defense.”

Despite the pressure for the Longhorns to get things turned around under Herman, Nelson says the team isn’t concerned about expectations going into the Maryland game.

“I really don’t think there’s nothing for us to prove,” Nelson said. “It’s just us counting on ourselves to go out there, and we want to make a change, just showing the fans that we’re different.”

Injury update

A pair of freshmen defensive backs will miss Saturday’s game against Maryland. Chris Brown is out with a high ankle sprain and will miss extended time. Eric Cuffee had wrist surgery on Tuesday and will also miss extended time.

Check out the offensive notebook here.