AUSTIN, Texas -- New Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz offered an insight this week that his players already had memorized.
The defense wins games, he told fans at an Austin luncheon. The offense determines by how much.
The Diaz-ism might have some truth behind it -- especially this season. With question marks ranging from quarterback to left tackle to tailback, the Texas offense seems like a jigsaw puzzle with a few pieces missing.
New play-caller Bryan Harsin built offenses at Boise State that averaged 41.4 points per game from 2006-2010, but he'll probably need time to implement his multiple-formation magic. Consider: Three of Texas' top offensive playmakers this season could be a true freshman tailback (Malcolm Brown), a true freshman receiver (Jaxon Shipley, brother of Jordan) and a junior blazer seeking a niche (D.J. Monroe).
The offensive uncertainty was heightened Thursday. As the Longhorns reported for Friday's first practice, coach Mack Brown announced that receiver Malcolm Williams would forego his senior season. The two met Thursday morning. Williams, a former Garland standout, had missed much of spring practice with a family situation.
"He's had some tough things happen that would be tough for all of us, and they got tougher this summer," Brown said, without offering specifics. "I want what's best for him. I wish him well."
While the 6-3 Williams never fulfilled his tantalizing potential, he still had flashes (remember the 91-yard TD vs. Texas Tech in 2008?) and brought experience. Williams had 80 career receptions, including 24 in 2010, and was a special teams standout.
"When he's on the field, he's been known to make a play," linebacker Emmanuel Acho said.
Texas had already lost a veteran receiver when junior Marquise Goodwin decided to concentrate on making the 2012 U.S. Olympic track team.
Maybe that's why Brown seems realistic about his team's chances coming off a 5-7 season that rocked the program last season. When told his team was 24th in the USA Today preseason coaches' poll, Brown answered: "That is high. That's way up there."
So if Texas is to shake off last season's demons, the defense may have to lead early.
"I think if you're a competitor, you'll feel comfortable with that," said senior safety Blake Gideon, expected to start for the fourth straight season. "You want the pressure on your shoulders.
"Every true defensive player would be fine with their offense scoring three points a game because you want to go into every game believing you can shut a team out."
Diaz's system, which players say should produce more sacks and force more turnovers, will be tested early. The first two opponents, Rice and BYU, return a combined 19 offensive starters.
Areas of concern remain. The Longhorns need senior defensive tackle Kheeston Randall to become the next Lamarr Houston and to find someone alongside him to stop the run. A group of young cornerbacks must step up like Gideon and Earl Thomas did as freshman safeties in 2008.
Everything else seems in place, including a more confident attitude.
"Even if we have the New England Patriots' offense," defensive end Alex Okafor said, "we have to expect the team to lean on the defense."
Chuck Carlton breaks down the top Texas receivers last season:
Name Rec. Yds TDs Status
James Kirkendoll 52 707 2 Departed senior battled inconsistency
Mike Davis 47 478 2 Back after record-setting freshman season
Fozzy Whittaker 34 217 0 Likely to start opener at tailback
Marquise Goodwin 31 324 1 Redshirted to pursue Olympic dream
John Chiles 29 418 1 Injuries limited productivity as a senior
Malcolm Williams 24 334 2 Decided to forego senior season