Latest news from Burnt Orange Nation - All Posts.
Legacy Texas S Dylan Haines excelling in Charlie Strong's meritocracy
Welcome to the first true defensive fairy tale story of the new head coach's regime in Austin. It probably won't be the last.
It was a tremendous risk, jumping that route -- to try for an interception and miss is a cardinal sin for any defensive back.
But Texas Longhorns safety Dylan Haines knew exactly what the Iowa State Cyclones were running because he had seen it plenty of times on film, so he broke on the football just as Cyclones quarterback Sam Richardson released it into the flat, pulling it in before racing towards the sideline, then cutting it back inside and finishing the 74-yard return in the south end zone of the stadium, sending the partisan crowd at Darell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium into a frenzy.
Like junior wide receiver Marcus Johnson the week before, Haines took some ribbing from his head coach Charlie Strong because he cut his interception return inside against Richardson.
"My man Haines, if he just stays straight, he doesn't have to cut back. If he just runs down the sideline it's a touchdown, but he said, 'I wanted to make it interesting, Coach.' I said, 'I see you did.'"
After Haines made it more difficult for himself, junior cornerback Duke Thomas thought that Haines has some conditioning work left to do.
"Man, he better run some more wind sprints, I know that. My boy died with 40 yards to go."
The craziest thing about it all, though?
Haines wasn't supposed to ever be in a position to intercept a pass during a game at DKR because he was a walk on in the 2012 class and walk ons didn't play at Texas under former head coach Mack Brown, just a basic reality of Mack Brown-Texas Football.
The journey of Haines from walk on to scholarship athlete to starter to game-changing player has been an incredible one with roots sown decades ago -- the fact that Haines is at Texas is hardly a coincidence, so let's start back at the true beginning of it all.
Even though it wasn't supposed to happen like this for Dylan Haines, excelling in athletics wearing a Longhorns logo is basically in his genes.
That's because his father, John Haines, was quite the athlete when he was at Texas. At 6'6 and over 260 pounds, he was an imposing presence for the talented defenses of the early 1980s and a four-year football letterman, an All-Southwest Conference selection, a captain, a seven-time game MVP, and a recipient of the Neuhaus Presidential Scholarship Award.
Put it all together and John Haines' resume in burnt orange and white is exceptional.
In an article for the Eyes of Texas, writer Adam Jones described Haines and his contributions to the sterling 1983 defense.
"John Haines played one inside spot and, at six-foot-six, was a nightmare for centers and guards to contain. Good luck to any quarterback trying to find a decent passing lane when Haines came up the middle."
After his time at Texas, the elder Haines played one year with the Vikings after being drafted No. 180 overall and then spent three years with the Colts. In his rookie season in Minnesota, he managed two sacks and a six-yard fumble return.
And sis wife, Sandra, was even a track athlete for the Horns and came from a family of Texas track athletes, though the Texas players would likely joke that Dylan got his speed from his father.
Unfortunately, the pedigree and a productive career just outside of Austin at Lago Vista didn't produce much recruiting attention for their son despite the fact that he excelled in a number of roles for his football team -- corner, safety, receiver, running back, left-footed kicker.
In one game against San Saba as a senior, the all-purpose athlete scored touchdowns on a 75-yard reception, a 15-yard run, and a 40-yard interception return.
Yet, no scholarships offers came in for Haines, not even from a Division II school, leaving him trying to decide which in-state school would provide the best academic environment for him. After looking at Texas State and Texas Tech, it was clear that neither of those schools could compete with his parent's alma mater in that area.
But what about Texas A&M, a notable omission from the above list?
"No, not A&M," Haines said decisively on Monday. "My parents would not have let me go to A&M."
And so his father in particular had a big impact on his son's decision, Haines said.
"I chose to come here because of his influence on me, and he convinced me, he always knew that I was capable of whatever I wanted to do, and when I told him that I wanted to play football, then he said, 'you go play football, that's what you can do.'"
But even after making the short trip to the 40 Acres, walking on wasn't easy for Haines, who called it one of the most difficult decisions he's made, knowing as he did that the upside was as a "tackling dummy" and someone who could possibly play on a special teams unit or two.
After trying out, making the team and then redshirting, Haines said he felt like he never really got an opportunity to prove his potential worth to the team in his second year under Mack Brown.
"My second year I wasn't given the opportunities in practice or in spring ball and camp to really show what I was capable of. I was kind of just limited to running the scout team against the first team offense. I guess, yeah, just a lack of opportunity was the real problem."
That all changed when Charlie Strong arrived, but even though the staff made it clear to Haines and the entire team that there were no superstars, no starters and no backups, that everyone was going to be treated equally, he was confused when defensive coordinator Vance Bedford called his name with the starters during practice.
"I thought maybe he got the name wrong," Haines said.
Bedford had not and Haines has been taking advantage of his opportunities since, playing well enough to start for the Texas team in the Orange-White game and intercepting Tyrone Swoopes' first pass and returning it 23 yards to give his side the ball at the 20-yard line.
It was his fourth snap in the spotlight at DKR.
The ball was overthrown by Swoopes and a good drop by linebacker Dalton Santos helped to force the overthrow, but Haines was in position and made the most of his opportunity, the first public display of that continuing theme. With four tackles on the day and the important interception, Haines helped establish himself as a player who could contend for the rotation given his start with the second unit.
During the summer, Haines was a survivor while the other contenders for the job made poor decisions. Senior Josh Turner was reported to be dismissed during the first great Purge by Charlie Strong, possibly resulting from the round of drug tests that took place after Big 12 Media Days.
Collins was one of the players dismissed during that Purge, having already exhausted his chances in quite a short period of time.
Entering fall camp, then, Haines had performed better in the spring game than Adrian Colbert and he had worked hard and followed Strong's simple core values, unlike the dismissed Collins and the suspended Turner.
Now, having returned an interception for a touchdown against Iowa State to help Texas to a critical victory and having intercepted a pass in his first game game against North Texas and having started every game since that opener, Haines has become the first true poster child for upward mobility in the Charlie Strong era defensively.
Given an opportunity, he's run with it because of his work ethic and preparation. Call it luck, perhaps, since that's the meeting of preparation and opportunity.
"He does everything you ask him to do," Strong said on Monday.
The preparation that enabled Haines to make the game-changing interception against Iowa State was the result of an ability to prepare that has defined him since high school, according to Lago Vista's head coach Alan Haire.
"He's the type of kid who would come in on Tuesday and tell you the other team's favorite routes and, with the kid he was covering, what his routes were depending on splits and alignment," Haire told ESPN early in fall camp. "He was a student of the game. I think he's a late bloomer if you ask me. He didn't reach his full potential until college. To me, he's still developing."
There may be a ceiling athletically for Haines -- his teammates have certainly suggested so after senior cornerback Quandre Diggs ribbed Haines' return as happening in slow motion -- but the ceiling mentally is exceptional. With his preparation ability and instincts, the Longhorn legacy can make up for his lack of ideal speed.
So far, the results have been both special and improbable, yet inexplicably probable because of that combination of opportunity and preparation.
"It's fun to watch him," Strong said. "What's happening now is everybody is taking notice, and because the whole team, when you're looking for that player that you really say, hey, that's the kind of guy that you like to see go play, and because he plays hard, and he gives you everything he's got.
Under Charlie Strong that's more than enough, even for a walk on.
Kansas State will test Texas defense with QB run/pop concepts
Most of the plays won't be legal, but the Longhorns will just have to deal with that.
The perception of Kansas State Wildcats head coach Bill Snyder is that he's an old-school coach and while that's true in many ways, the Texas Longhorns will have to deal with a variety of modern pop-pass concepts that put defenders into conflict.
Kansas State senior quarterback Jake Waters has masterful timing when choosing when to run on these plays, but as a passer, his reads are made much easier by these plays, many of which stress the middle linebacker or other second-level defenders. Sometimes even cornerbacks.
Last week against the Sooners, the Wildcats tied the game 11 minutes into the first quarter when Waters hit fullback Glenn Gronkowski on a quarterback draw/pop concept that Gronkowski took 62 yards for a touchdown.
The Oklahoma safeties got cleared out on the play and Gronkowski was able to run past the play-side linebacker, who was so keyed in on the run that he never even really saw the Kansas State fullback running past him. By the time safety Ahmad Thomas recognizes Gronkowski running free down the field, he was too far behind to get back in the play before wide receiver Curry Sexton was in position to make the final block for his teammate.
Here's a look at a diagram of the play:
Back in August, when SB Nation's Ian Boyd profiled the rise of the pop pass in college football, he discussed the exact play that Kansas State used to create the big play against Oklahoma:
Everything the middle linebacker has ever learned about football tells him to charge and meet the lead block as close to the line of scrimmage as possible, preventing a crease from forming for the runner. But during pop plays, that aggressive instinct is turned against him. Maybe the fullback is going to feign a block and run past the linebacker, becoming a receiver. Maybe a tight end or slot receiver is going to run into the space that the linebacker is responsible for in pass coverage.
The quarterback inches toward the line and makes a quick read. Is the linebacker attacking? Throw the easy pop pass over his head. Is he hanging back in hesitation? Run through the crease.
Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has seen the film and knows that his defense will have to be sound against those pop passes.
"It comes back with discipline, knowing your assignment, what your responsibilities are, situations, and when it pops it can't go for 70 yards," Bedford said on Wednesday. It's got to be 20 yards so you can lineup and play again. The whole key to that is making them drive the football field. Make them go 80 yards in 15 plays instead of going 80 yards in 6 plays. When you do that, good things can happen for you and that'll be key for us."
The point by Bedford about forcing methodical drives is a deeply engrained philosophy for head coach Charlie Strong and his defensive coordinator, but it holds especially true about the Wildcats -- while the team ranks No. 9 in explosive drives, it ranks No. 100 in methodical drives.
Take away the big plays and the Kansas State offense is extremely average. The overall number of plays over 10 yards is not impressive (in the 80s nationally), but a closer look reveals that the slow pace of the offense has a big impact on that ranking -- the Wildcats rank near the bottom nationally in plays this season, but have gained 10 or more yards on 22% of their plays.
By contrast, Texas A&M leads the country in plays of that distance and run as many as anyone in the country, but their explosive play rate sits only 3% higher than Kansas State.
Some of the necessary discipline to stop those explosive plays will involve understanding tendencies. Even the play-by-play guy calling the game against the Sooners last weekend recognized what the Wildcats like to do with Gronkowksi in the game.
"When it pops it can't go for 70 yards. It's got to be 20 yards so you can lineup and play again."-- Texas DC Vance Bedford on KSU pop concepts
The sophomore fullback has only three carries in his career (and a mere four catches this year), so he's not likely to get the football on a hand off when he's in the game and Kansas State often uses him as the lone back in the sets that make frequent use of the pop passes that include the quarterback runs the Wildcats use so effectively.
But even though there are some definite tendencies, the conflicts multiple players on the defense will be in when they get read on the numerous pop concept variations will test more than one player throughout the game -- just knowing the tendencies won't be enough.
Going into the Iowa State game, the defense had been the most consistent unit on the Texas team, but senior linebacker Jordan Hicks noted on Monday that a lack of discipline and eye control hurt the Horns against the Cyclones last weekend.
Left unsaid was the fact that an effort like that won't be good enough because the Wildcats will break off big plays like the one that Gronkowski made last weekend if that happens.
Bedford believes that a lot of the battle is winning on first down.
"Second down and medium, if they do a pop pass, it's hard to defend because it's not a good situation for us defensively but we have to execute," he said. "Sometimes you need to tackle a guy, that's what you need to do to keep it from going past the line of scrimmage."
Easier said than done, it turns out -- Kansas State is averaging over five yards per carry on first down this season, including a 53-yard run and first downs on almost 13% of the attempts. Through the air, Waters has produced first downs on nearly 30% of his throws, including the pass to Gronkowski and those attempts are going for a robust 8.9 yards per attempt.
How does Texas help hold such an explosive offense in check? Bedford thinks it comes down to the defensive line.
"We need to get more pressure from our front four, so we can play straight out coverage and some zones and man and mix things up." said Bedford. "We also have to continue to pressure. When we pressure and we have people one on one, they need to win those battles. Right now, we aren't necessarily winning those battles. When one guy can block us, it's difficult to defend things some times."
As usual, then, the Texas defensive line will be relied upon to make big plays. Nothing new there.
And, as Boyd mentions, the pop plays are difficult to defend because the keys that linebackers normally use to flow to the football, like watching whether offensive linemen are run blocking or pass setting, are completely destroyed, but what makes it even more difficult to defend is that many of these plays are not technically legal.
Unlike in the NFL, where offensive linemen are only allowed to be one yard past the line of scrimmage, college linemen are allowed to be up to three yards beyond the line of scrimmage, even when the ball is thrown down field.
Here's an example from Kansas State-Oklahoma game:
A look at the play by Gronkowski reveals that a lineman was well past the three yards on that play, too.
Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was upset after the game about plays like the two just mentioned.
"The linemen running down the field and trying to throw a pass when they're five yards down the field, to me is ridiculous," Stoops said on Tuesday evening. "Football has gotten to where it is stupid, letting guys run [running] plays then throw the ball. I'm just not a big fan of it -- it's lenient and all of a sudden it's three, four, five yards.
"Once you get to a certain point it's not even fair."-- Mike Stoops on OL well downfield
"Once you get to a certain point it's not even fair."
While the Oklahoma defensive coordinator didn't reference any specific team, it doesn't take a lot of reading between the lines to know that a lot of his frustration stemmed from having Kansas State linemen get far downfield last weekend in the loss.
Unless the public complaining from Stoops makes a difference in pushing the conference to enforce the rules, offenses will likely be able to continue running those plays without telling the linemen to become concerned about how far downfield they are, as Boyd said that the Big 12 rules guy he spoke with at Media Days this year gave the impression that the conference would rather have exciting offenses than follow the rule.
So it's unlikely that there will be any changes this weekend, as even Stoops admitted that his main goal is to merely have the rule revisited in the offseason.
If Texas can't limit the pop concepts run by Kansas State to short gaines and give up some backbreaking plays?
Well, that would make it another in a line of heartbreaking days days in Manhattan for the Longhorns.
Texas doesn't want to see this scene often on Saturday (Scott Sewell -- USA TODAY Sports).