|04-17-2006, 11:56 AM||#1|
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Saratoga, NY
Huff and ready: Longhorn at head of draft's DB class
By Skip Wood, USA TODAY
Birdie King pauses when asked to provide any off-the-wall tidbits about her son, former University of Texas defensive back Michael Huff, expected to be a first-round selection in this month's NFL Draft.
"Well, he does like to watch SpongeBob Squarepants," King says with a chuckle, referring to the animated character who lives in a pineapple under the sea.
These days, one of SpongeBob's bigger fans lives way, way above the sea — and atop the radar of most any team searching for quality help in the secondary.
And for that, Huff can credit, well, sponge-like qualities.
Namely, his position coach talked and Huff listened — absorbing every word.
"He was always a very good athlete, a very good technical player, but he just wasn't as physical as I wanted," Texas co-defensive coordinator Duane Akina says. "I always say I want our players to be know as DBs, not just cover guys. I really think that was his last hurdle to being considered a great defensive back, and I told him that.
"Well, he took it to heart, and it's really rewarding to me to hear people on TV now talking about how physical Michael Huff is. And he is, but that's only because he worked so hard at it, and that's a credit to Michael."
The credits keep rolling.
Not only was Huff a consensus All-American, he also won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back.
And to his potential employers in the NFL, he's a player whose skills are viewed as good enough to possibly make the switch from safety to cornerback.
If Huff isn't the first defensive back selected, it will be something of a surprise.
All of which is quite a change from Huff's first couple of seasons at Texas.
It wasn't that Huff ever lacked top-flight talent. He started 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2002 and progressed quickly enough that he was named the team's most improved defensive player.
Even so, something was lacking.
And Huff is the first to admit as much.
"When I first got there, I still considered myself a track guy, a speed guy," says Huff, who was one of the nation's fastest high school sprinters. "So I pretty much just wanted to run around and look pretty."
In other words, something along the lines of a Deion Sanders? A player who dazzled with coverage ability but wasn't exactly a hitter to be feared?
"I hope I wasn't that bad," Huff says with a chuckle. "But I was close."
In fact, Akina recognized early that Huff had the potential to be a truly special player both at Texas and at the next level but that adjustments to the way he tackled the position, as it were, had to be implemented.
So Akina talked and Huff listened.
And it wouldn't be long before the roles were reversed.
Akina raves about Huff's on-field acumen. In what he calls a perfect example, Akina points to last season's second game, a 25-22 win at Ohio State. The coach had called for a blitz from a nickel package on third down, but Huff noticed something about the Buckeyes' formation and changed the defensive play just before the snap.
The fourth-quarter play was stuffed. Had Huff not changed the play, Akina believes the Buckeyes at least would have made a first down.
"So I'm not sure if we go on to play for the national championship," he says, "unless Michael had the presence of mind to do what he did. It basically was a mistake on my part, and he bailed me out."
Huff wasn't always so kind to Akina — something that's an example of his playful side.
"He was what I'd call one of the practical jokers on our team," Akina says in mock dismay. "You always had to keep your eye on Michael Huff."
Huff laughs when told of this assessment.
"I mean, it's true," he says. "... Coach Akina would have this little projector he showed films with, and we used to hide it before he came into the room for meetings. That always got him."
Akina actually will miss such high jinks.
"He just has a great sense of humor, the ability to laugh, to not take himself so seriously," he says. "In a lot of ways, it's hard to replace kids like that. They're good for everybody."
Posted 4/16/2006 8:53 PM ET
Updated 4/16/2006 9:52 PM ET
Teams in need: Giants, Falcons, 49ers, Lions, Raiders, Rams.
Insider's take: "He can play safety or corner, and not many guys can play both safety or corner, so I really believe he will be the first defensive back taken." -- Gil Brandt, NFL draft expert and former Dallas Cowboys personnel chief on Michael Huff.
Prospect's view: "You never really know anything for sure until draft day, but I'd like to think I'd go kind of high. Hey, there's more money up there, you know?" -- Michael Huff
Stats and stuff: Winner of the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the best defensive back in college football. Returned four interceptions for touchdowns during his career, a school record. He also was the player who recovered the fumbled lateral attempt by USC's Reggie Bush in the national championship game.
Last year's gem: Kerry Rhodes, New York Jets. The fourth-round pick (123rd choice overall) started 16 games and finished with 108 tackles (85 solo), a sack and an interception.
Cream of the crop: Michael Huff (Texas), Jason Allen (Tennessee), Darnell Bing (USC), Daniel Bullock (Nebraska), Ko Simpson (South Carolina), Anthony Smith (Syracuse), Pat Watkins (Florida State), Donte Whitner (Ohio State).
|04-17-2006, 12:20 PM||#3|
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Topeka, KS