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Eyes on Texas: Turn around, look for the ball! Chris Ash explains what he’s teaching these DBs

Play the hands or look for the ball? Either way, Longhorns’ pass defense ranks 9th in the Big 12

Posted November 12th, 2020

If you’ve been watching TV the last few weeks, you’ve probably been screaming. At the Texas defensive backs, that is.

Turn your head around! Look for the ball!

Sigh. Oh dear.

Look, nobody ever said playing defense in the pass-happy Big 12 was easy. To those playing cornerback in this league, heaven help you. Then again, even the good Lord almighty can only do so much against Tylan Wallace.

Oklahoma State’s sensational receiver had 11 catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns against Texas on Halloween. The Longhorns were called for pass interference a season-high three times. As Wallace was running wild, and the ball came zipping through the air, you just wanted to shout out to D’Shawn Jamison or Jalen Green. Turn your head around! Look for the ball!

Defensive coordinator Chris Ash recently explained what the coaches are teaching about using their hands and, yes, getting your head around. The Horns have the second-worst pass defense in the Big 12, so something must be getting lost in translation.

To be fair, pass defense is not solely a judgement on the defensive backs. Texas is seventh in sacks this season, averaging two per game. This defensive line is getting better with each passing week. It’s possible there could be considerable pressure exerted in UT’s final three regular season games.

But pass defense does expose weak spots, especially among those out on that island.

“There’s no coaching that’s going on that says we don’t look for the ball or we just play the hands,” Ash said. “It’s all based off the defensive backs’ positioning on the wide receiver within the play.”

“Play the hands” is a phrase Ash has used numerous times this season. What exactly does that mean?

“You never look back for the ball when you don’t have vertical control of the receiver,” Ash said. “If I’m not on top of them, and I look back, what do I naturally do? I slow down. And when I slow down, what naturally happens? I’ve lost the receiver and separation occurs.

“If I’m on top of the guy, and I’m in a good position to defend the receiver, then I’m going to turn and locate the ball,” Ash said.

This explains why the Longhorns may not be turning their head around at all times. If you’re running step for step with a receiver, sure, Ash would approve turning and looking for the ball. What he’s saying is that if there’s any separation, like perhaps the receiver has a step, then it becomes about watching a receiver’s hands.

Two of the biggest defensive plays against West Virginia were solid examples. Both came on fourth down as the Mountaineers threw into the end zone.

On fourth-and-1 from the Texas 16-yard line, quarterback Jarret Doege lofted a ball for Mike O’Laughlin, who had separation from safety B.J. Foster. Instead of conceding, Foster got his hands up into O’Laughlin’s face and broke up the play. Judging from replays, Foster never appeared to turn and look for the ball. Still, the pass was incomplete and a turnover on downs.

On WVU’s next drive, the Mountaineers went for it again. This time, on fourth-and-1 from the Texas 8, Doege faked a handoff to Leddie Brown and went looking over the middle. UT’s Chris Brown broke up a bullet intended for Ali Jennings in the end zone. Another turnover on downs.

Should officials have called pass interference on Brown? West Virginia fans would say absolutely. Frankly, it looked like a 50-50 decision, and officials are going to let them play in that situation. Credit Brown for a hard-won individual battle, one worthy of a Flex Alert.

Texas loaded the line of scrimmage, and coach Tom Herman said after the game it “forced them to be one-dimensional. Our secondary did a great job covering them.”

Play the hands or play the ball. Ultimately it comes down to each defender relying on his own athleticism in the heat of the moment.

Think back to Jalen Green’s interception against Oklahoma State. He was with the receiver step for step, had time to turn and look for the ball and made the interception. D’Shawn Jamison was trailing the receiver, tried to use his hands and was called for pass interference.

It’s not that Green is good or Jamison is not; they’re both athletic and talented. This is hard stuff. That’s why you always hear coaches talk about “moving on to the next play.” Forget that one, it’s over. What are you going to do on the next one?

“There are different types of finishes; there’s not just one finish that you coach or teach,” Ash said. “And it’s not a new concept. It’s pretty universal, that you either turn and look for the ball or you play the hands of the receiver based on your body position with the receiver.”

Edited by LTtxfan
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Bobby Burton on Freshman...    Thx @utexas8

At linebacker, Jaylan Ford has stepped into a potential heir apparent as the most talented linebacker on the team. Coaches like his combo of football smarts, size and relative quickness. They also think he’s football tough. Ford will likely end up a multi-year starter for the Horns. Jayden Hullaby and Prince Dorbah are the other two LBs in the class. Dorbah has plus-ability but coaches would like him to show more tenacity and a greater commitment in his desire to develop as a player. Hullaby is different in that regard. He’s considered a blue collar, lunch pail type. He will strike you and he has no problem giving it everything he’s got on every play.

In the secondary, Kitan Crawford, Xavian Alford, and Jerrin Thompson all have the cut of future starters. Coaches are particularly high of late on Crawford and Alford as they have shown signs of growing into their plus-athleticism with more and more practice reps. Thompson is considered a savvy football player. Alford was singled out as a potential captain-type long term. Crawford is the most physically gifted of the group. That leaves Jahdae Barron, who has already seen significant action on special teams. Barron has some work ahead of him to define his role better but he has the requisite talent to be a contributor and possible starter

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Jalen Green pulling double duty for Texas in Alamo Bowl prep

ByJEFF HOWE 15 hours ago

The Texas secondary has gone through a series of changes since the Longhorns suffered a 23-20 loss to Iowa State on Nov. 27, and the juggling of personnel continues ahead of the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl when No. 20 Texas (6-3, 5-3 Big 12) faces Colorado (4-1, 3-1 Pac-12). Following Wednesday’s bowl practice on the Forty Acres, head coach Tom Herman confirmed a report by Horns247’s Chip Brown that safety Montrell Estell has moved to wide receiver, a transition Herman said Estell requested.

“It's been our position that players are going to play where they want to play,” Herman said. “We've made it a point to never really force a player to play any position that he didn't want to play. Montrell, who was a tremendous wide receiver in high school, wants to try his hand at playing receiver.”

Estell flipping over to the offensive side of the ball is a move defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who coaches the Longhorn safeties, is looking to offset from a depth standpoint by cross-training cornerback Jalen Green. Herman said Wednesday was Green’s first practice to work at both positions, something Green asked the coaches if he could do.

After playing in four games at safety in the regular season, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Estell moving to wide receiver helps the team’s depth at outside receiver with Brennan Eagles announcing his decision on Tuesday to skip the Alamo Bowl and make himself eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft as an underclassman. Eagles led all Longhorns in receptions (28) and yards receiving (469) and was second on the team with five receiving touchdowns through nine games and while Estell (875 yards rushing, 628 yards receiving, 11.8 yards per carry, 21.7 yards per reception and 20 combined receiving and rushing touchdowns as a senior at Texas Class 3A Division II Hooks High School in 2016) switching positions is significant, Green getting to know the safety position should provide immediate relief to a suddenly-depleted safety room.

Caden Sterns opted out of the remainder of the season following the loss at home to the Cyclones and declared for the upcoming NFL draft as a junior. Chris Brown declined to pursue a potential sixth season of eligibility granted to him by way of the NCAA providing blanket eligibility to athletes in fall sports, opting out of the bowl game to begin his draft process following a 69-31 win over Kansas State on Dec. 5 in which he recorded a game-high 12 tackles and broke up a pass in his final outing for the Longhorns.

The 6-foot-1, 197-pound Green played in eight games and logged one regular-season start at cornerback (a 53-45 loss to Oklahoma in quadruple overtime on Oct. 10), heading into the bowl game with 12 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception and two pass breakups. Even though Wednesday was Green’s first day to pull double duty, cornerback Josh Thompson is confident Green can maximize the secondary's depth in the Alamo Bowl.

“He's very smart,” Thompson said. “He can pick up things really quick. I think that's what's so special about him is how he can just go to a different position and just learn it like that. Just having football intelligence really helps his game.”

Along with Green, Texas has B.J. Foster, Jerrin Thompson and Tyler Owens available to see action at safety. Xavion Alford entered the NCAA transfer portal on Tuesday, but the true freshman who was the No. 8-ranked safety prospect in the country according to the 247Sports Composite in 2020 had been working at the hybrid SPUR position behind Chris Adimora and Anthony Cook.

Even with Green getting some work at safety, the Longhorns are still two-deep at both cornerback positions. Thompson and D'Shawn Jamison were the team's starting cornerbacks in eight of nine games with true freshman Jahdae Barron and Kitan Crawford slated to backing them up should Green be needed at safety in the game. 


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Tom Herman confirms return of Texas LB Juwan Mitchell for 2021

ByJEFF HOWE 22 minutes ago 

A recent message posted on the Twitter account of Texas junior linebacker Juwan Mitchell indicated a probable return to the Longhorns in 2021, but head coach Tom Herman confirmed Monday ahead of Tuesday’s Alamo Bowl where No. 20 Texas is due to face Colorado that Mitchell will indeed be back in the program next season. Mitchell led a much-improved defense under first-year coordinator Chris Ash through the first nine games of the 2020 season with 59 total tackles to go along with 4.5 tackles for loss, one pass breakup, one quarterback hurry and one fumble recovery.

Recruited out of Butler Community College as a late addition to the 2019 roster, Mitchell has played in 20 games over two seasons with 13 career starts for the Longhorns. Mitchell has started each of the team’s first nine games and while he won’t start for Texas (6-3, 5-3 Big 12) in the Alamo Bowl due to a targeting penalty he was hit with that resulted in him getting ejected from the second half of a 69-31 road win over Kansas State on Dec. 5 (true freshman Jaylan Ford will start in Mitchell’s place, Herman said Monday), the return of Mitchell and DeMarvion Overshown for another season under the tutelage of Ash and co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Coleman Hutzler bodes well for the 2021 defense building on a season where the Longhorns enter the bowl game tied for No. 32 nationally in yards per play allowed (5.27) while ranking No. 30 in in the country rushing yards per game allowed (135.6), No. 25 in yards per rushing attempt allowed (3.59), No. 30 in third-down defense (36.6 percent conversion rate allowed) and No. 35 with 16 turnovers gained.

Herman said specifically that the duo of Mitchell and Overshown is “light years” ahead of where they were entering the Sept. 12 season opener against UTEP compared to where they are in their development heading into Tuesday's meeting with Colorado (4-1, 3-1 Pac-12).

“I thought Juwan had a really good year,” Herman said. “I thought DeMarvion continued to get better and feel more comfortable in that role that WILL linebacker and he's kind of taken to that like a fish to water. He knows he's got to beef up a little bit this offseason to play at — continue at a very high level for an extended period of time as well as for his career at the next level. I think he's pretty excited about that as well.”

An honorable mention All-Big 12 selection by the league’s coaches, Overshown finished third on the team with 54 total tackles in the regular season after making an offseason move from safety to linebacker. Overshown (7.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, seven pass breakups, two quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles) and Mitchell took their lumps early, but they started to turn things around coming out of a bye week when Texas hosted Baylor on Oct. 24.

Overshown had five tackles and broke up a pass, but Mitchell played one of his best games as a Longhorn in the 27-16 win over the Bears with 12 total tackles and two tackles for loss. Mitchell and Overshown combined for 13 tackles in a 41-34 overtime road upset of then-No. 6 Oklahoma State on Oct. 31 with Overshown recording one tackle for loss, one pass breakup and a forced fumble in the memorable victory.

Mitchell had a team-leading nine tackles in a 17-13 home win over West Virginia on Nov. 7 with Overshown experiencing his breakthrough outing with eight total tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one pass breakup and one forced fumble. Mitchell posted his third double-digit tackle performance of the season with 10 stops in a 23-20 loss to Iowa State at home on Nov. 27, a game where Overshown posted a tackle for loss, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry in addition to eight total tackles.

As for the K-State game, it was Mitchell’s second targeting ejection of the season after he was sent to the sideline in the first half of a 33-31 home loss to TCU on Oct. 3. With that said, targeting calls going against Mitchell aren't something the head coach is concerned about becoming an issue for the team's starting middle linebacker.

“We're talking milliseconds and millimeters in terms of when the contact is made, how the contact is made and all that,” Herman said. “We teach the kind of strike zone where we tackle, but obviously, you're tackling a moving target that can move at the very last split second as well. Those things are unfortunate, but they're part of the game in today's football.”


Edited by LTtxfan
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