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July 6, 2011
Okafor ready to lead Texas ... by force
"You've got to throw it down with force," he says. "You can't just let it drop down slowly."
Okafor would like to take the same approach to sacking quarterbacks
Now that the moving has stopped, new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz says Okafor could be the difference in Texas fielding a good defense or a great one.
"He's an imposing guy out there at end," Diaz said after spring practice. "If Alex just plays so-so for us, then we'll just be so-so as a defense. For us to be great, he has to be great."
With sophomore Jackson Jeffcoat on the other end and tackle Kheeston Randall able to get a push inside, the Longhorns have a potentially overpowering pass rush. If Okafor has a strong season, he can rack up sacks and also open opportunities for other linemen and blitzing linebackers.
Still, saying he's the key to the defense puts a lot of pressure on one guy.
"I think a lot of people took that quote out of context," Okafor says. "Each position is key. Every player is key and needed to make plays. But in this defense, the ends will have to make a lot of plays. I think that's what he's saying.
"But I like the pressure. It brings the best out of everyone. I don't like to disappoint. So I love the pressure whenever something is on the line."
At 260 pounds, Okafor is a big end but an undersized tackle. He's glad he's back on the outside.
"It's a good feeling," he says. "I'll do whatever it takes to help the team. But I came here as an end, so I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel good to be back there."
Texas is trying to bounce back from a disappointing 5-7 showing last season. Most of the Longhorns' problems were on offense, but the defense had its issues, too. Even though Texas was ranked sixth in the nation in total defense, the interior was vulnerable and the Longhorns gave up far too many big plays on long runs.
Players say those problems will be solved. Okafor says Calvin Howell, who is coming back from injury, and sophomore Ashton Dorsey, among others, are capable of taking over the tackle position next to Randall and fortifying the run defense.
"We're bringing back a lot of key players," Okafor says. "We're more mentally tough. Going through a 5-7 season and with a lot of teams running on us made us tougher because we don't want to go through that again. You go through the steps to make sure that won't happen
"With the tradition of our program, we always have high standards for ourselves. We understand it's a step-by-step process. That doesn't mean you automatically step on the field and beat teams. We're going to put the work in. We do plan on having a great season this year."
Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.