Football Notebook: Texas stressing versatility in secondary, along defensive line

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Defensive back Kenny Vaccaro examines the offense during Texas’ game against Oklahoma last season. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Lauren Gerson | Daily Texan Staff

‘Quandre The Giant’
Listed as a slight 5-foot-10 — though, that may be two inches too generous — Quandre Diggs would not seem like one to merit a nickname befitting Goliath.

But Diggs, says junior safety Kenny Vaccaro, has earned himself quite the moniker.

“We call him Quandre The Giant,” Vaccaro said. “He is an explosive player. People say he’s short, but he’s not small.”

The younger brother of former Longhorn Quentin Jammer, Diggs finds himself in the thick of the battle for time in the cornerback rotation, and is also seeing action at punt and kick returner.

“He is playing big for us and he’s doing really well,” Vaccaro said.

Longhorns multi-dimensional in the secondary
Versatility seems to be the word of choice for this offseason. Multiple Longhorns have stressed the need to be able to do multiple things very well, and the secondary players are no different. A few of the defensive backs — mainly, Adrian Phillips and Vaccaro — are being cross-trained to play all over the field, depending on the set.

“It gives me a chance to get on the field more,” Phillips said. “With me knowing lots of positions, when somebody gets hurt, I can jump in and we won’t lose a step at all.”

Phillips and fellow sophomore Carrington Byndom are the front-runners to start at cornerback, with Vaccaro joining Blake Gideon as the starting safety. But when Texas goes with three or four corners in passing downs (Nickel and Dime sets), Vaccaro could cover the slot receiver, Phillips can rotate back to safety and Diggs can take an outside corner spot.

“They have me working corner for depth,” Vaccaro said. “I can play Nickel, I can play Dime. I can play outside linebacker. We just turn on the defense.”

Defensive ends stand out
Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat make up quite the one-two punch on the edge for the Longhorns, and the two defensive ends say that defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s scheme places a premium on versatility.

“It’s just a matter of going with the flow,” Okafor said. “If the offense does no-huddle and we get caught on a different side, just go with it. We both know how to play each side, and we’re both strong enough to play strong and weak end, so there’s no difference. We’ve been trained from day one to play both sides, and we plan on doing that this season.”

Jeffcoat says that he’s added seven pounds to his 6-foot-5 frame, and that the added strength is helping him shed blocks.

“We are reading on the run,” Jeffcoat said. “We go out with the blockers instead of getting off the ball and two-gapping somebody. It’s a lot different in this defense — a little more aggressive.”

Jeffcoat is also impressed with the complete transition that Chris Whaley has made from running back to defensive end, a switch similar to the one Henry Melton made a few seasons ago.

“He’s looking great,” Jeffcoat said. “He is a guy who can play multiple positions, so he is versatile. He is quick and good off the ball, so he is looking good this fall.” 

Printed on August 25, 2011 as: Freshman corner turning heads at camp