UT defense, Edmond hitting high gear
Sophomore middle linebacker gaining momentum after slow start for Horns
AUSTIN, Texas -- In the beginning, Steve Edmond's shoulders, wide as they are, could handle neither the expectations nor the load.
"The expectations were totally unreasonable," said Texas coach Mack Brown.
"We all got ahead of ourselves," he added later.
That's because everyone needed the middle linebacker to arrive ahead of schedule. Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were gone. Jordan Hicks, Texas' only other veteran linebacker, would be lost three games into the season. Texas had to have a middle linebacker to run Manny Diaz's defense. And there was Edmond, a 6-foot-2, 255-pound sophomore with a Ferrari engine encased in a Peterbilt body.
So maybe the hype, provided by those such as safety Kenny Vaccaro, was more wishful thinking than reality.
"I wanted to back up what everybody was saying and then I wasn't," Edmond said. "I kind of felt the West Virginia and OU losses were on my shoulders. I'm the middle of the defense."
That's right where Texas had been exposed for 535 rushing yards in those two games.
"This is not a game where you collect people that can jump over buildings and lift the weight room and just turn them into good football players," Diaz said. "You have to learn how to play this game."
And it takes a long time for a Peterbilt to take a sharp curve, no matter what kind of engine it holds. Edmond finally might be shifting out of first gear.
"He is so much better than he was three weeks ago," said Brown. "Every time he has a meeting, every time in practice or every time that he plays in a ballgame the learning curve is up."
In the last three games Edmond had 31 tackles, more than any other player. Contrast that with the Oklahoma and West Virginia games, in which he had 13. Not only that, but in the OU and WVU games the three leading tacklers were all defensive backs. In the three wins since, Edmond has been either first or second in leading tackles.
So the opponent's offense is not getting to the third level of the defense as frequently as it did in Texas' two losses. Instead the second level, Edmond, is stepping up and making stops.
"Steve has always been focused," said defensive tackle Desmond Jackson. "Now, since he has been playing more this year, his confidence level has reached a point where he feels more comfortable."
In that sense, Edmond's progress -- not so surprisingly due to the quarterback nature of his middle linebacker position -- has mirrored the progression of the defense. Unsure and unsteady at first, to understanding and, at times, unrelenting near the end of the season.
"All of the sudden he became the guy who had to be the voice, in terms of getting everything set up front," Diaz said. "It's crazy to think about that. It is so hard when you have just been on this campus for 13 months, and then all of the sudden you have guys, Alex Okafor and seniors, and you are the one who is supposed to tell them what to do. That's not a trait that comes naturally to everybody. Steve is learning into that and growing into that."
Obviously Edmond is not the only one learning. Diaz has had to learn how to work with Edmond and the entire defense, as well as which of his myriad teaching techniques work and which don't. And now, with a lesson plan seemingly intact, or at least in some stage of final revision, Diaz, has to guard against complacency.
Amazing, yes, given what the defense has been through and its lack of success. But in a 60-seconds-or-less society, six quarters of good defense nearly constitutes a lifetime.
"The standard has not been met," Diaz told his defense Sunday in film session. "We still have a long way to go."
That goes for Edmond, too. Sure, he made the play that might have sealed the Texas Tech game by dropping into coverage and batting down a ball, a play that shifted momentum. But there are more plays to be made, particularly as Texas points to No. 2 Kansas State and its offense, which is fifth nationally in scoring.
"Now we are doing better, but better is not our goal," Diaz said. "Our vision has never changed in terms of where we wanted to get to. The process of getting there has been slower than we wanted. But it is important for our players to understand that we are not satisfied."
It's also important for Edmond to understand, because of his play and not the manufactured hype, that the expectations and load have been placed right back on his shoulders. Only this time he might be more able to shoulder it.
"He will end up being the player everybody wants him to be," Brown said.