Last year Jason Hall and Dylan Haines received a crash course in playing the safety position for a Division I school. Year Two should net better results.
In a season littered with growing pains, it is only fitting that Hall and Haines were thrown to the wolves. Both players came out of nowhere – Hall a true freshman and Haines a walk-on. Yet here they were, beating out more experienced players for the safety jobs. Hall and Haines did a commendable job, and allowed Vance Bedford to slide Mykkele Thompson into the nickel role on obvious passing downs.
The experience gives the duo a boost of confidence going into the 2015 season.
“There is such a different team chemistry and energy this year compared to last year,” Haines said at Saturday’s press conference. “Duke Thomas had a quote and he said we always had dogs but now we have a team and you really feel that and from the outside looking in it may be hard to understand but everyone has just improved so much and there isn’t one area of this team you can look at and see weakness and I think everyone has improved and we are going to have a great year.”
Chemistry is the keyword. It is something Hall and Haines were able to develop during the 2014 season, and carry over into the offseason. Haines points out that getting to know each others playing style has made a huge difference going into fall practice.
“From last year he [Hall] was thrown in there as a true freshmen and I got thrown in there as well and we didn’t really know each other that well. We kind of just got thrown into the fire so we were just looking to make things work but yeah now that we have worked together during the summer Jason and I have grown a lot and have a better chemistry we know each other’s signals on the field and what the other is thinking.”Aug 30, 2014; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns defensive back Dylan Haines (44) run with the ball after an interception against the North Texas Mean Green during the first half at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
This will be important to a secondary that returns Thomas, but could see several first-year players contribute earlier than planned. John Bonney, Holton Hill, Kris Boyd and Davante Davis are vying for significant playing time. The youngsters are pushing the veterans, something Haines sees as a good thing.
“You have to be head and shoulders above a freshmen because they are an investment and have four-plus years to play and some of these juniors and seniors only have limited time to play so yeah it motivates the upperclassmen and you can see them pushing and working hard in practice.”
Hall and Haines were just that in 2014. Haines turned some heads in an otherwise boring spring game with an interception. He parlayed that performance into 12 starts at safety. He led the team with four interceptions, including a 74-yard interception return for a touchdown versus Iowa State.
Playing on a defense that rarely earned a lengthy rest, Haines finished third on the team in tackles. It wasn’t always pretty, however. Against BYU, Haines missed a tackle on Cougar quarterback Taysom Hill that made the highlight reel. Hill hurdled Haines and scored a touchdown on the play to begin the rout. Aside from that game, Haines performed admirably.
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Hall came to Texas thanks to Charlie Strong’s full court recruiting press. The Longhorns needed a safety who could deliver the big hit. Hall certainly fit the bill. He quickly moved up the depth chart after Chevoski Collins was dismissed from the team and Josh Turner was suspended. Hall made seven starts for Texas.
Fast forward to the upcoming 2015 season and things should be different. The offense has to improve, meaning the defense should spend less time on the field. Thomas, Hall and Haines have a year of playing together under their belt. This should help in the continuity department.
The secondary gets a big test right off the bat. Notre Dame’s Malik Zaire will run a spread offense, mixing in the run along with the pass. The Irish’s dual-threat quarterback will keep the Texas secondary on its toes. Hopefully going up against Jerrod Heard in practice will help prepare the defensive backs for what they will see on Sept. 5.
Regardless of what happens in the season opener, the Texas secondary looks to be in good hands with the unheralded safety duo ready to grow from the trials and tribulations of the 2014 campaign.