October 15, 2008

Blake Gideon playing way beyond his years

For a guy with no sense of humor, according to his teammates, Texas freshman safety Blake Gideon absolutely cracks up his head coach and defensive coordinator before every game.

Seconds before kickoff, Gideon will find Mack Brown and then Will Muschamp and say, "I hope you're not nervous."

"I'm going to start hiding from him," Brown joked.

Added Muschamp, "I know he's trying to get to me subliminally."


Gideon and redshirt freshman Earl Thomas survived their first big test of the season by outlasting Oklahoma. It doesn't get any easier this week against Missouri senior quarterback Chase Daniel, All-American receiver Jeremy Maclin, preseason All-Big 12 tight end Chase Coffman and running back Derrick Washington.

"They have some incredible stats you can obviously get caught up in," Gideon said of the Tigers, who are third nationally in passing offense (378 ypg) scoring offense (48.3 ppg).

But coaches and teammates say Gideon isn't one to get awed by anything. Brown calls Gideon "my biggest surprise of the year."

"He's a guy who walks out in that environment unfazed," Muschamp said. "First ballgame unfazed. You walk on the field with Blake and say, 'If they get into three-by-one and run the Yogi Hawk, we need to be here.' Well, he understands that, and not many kids understand that at this point - or ever.

"So that's a credit to him, to him studying. It's important to him. That's fun to be around, especially when you're making adjustments on the sideline. I think he brings a little bit of a calming effect to our secondary. Those kids know he knows what he's doing. "


In fact, Gideon is so consumed by preparation, fellow safety Earl Thomas said Gideon is humorless. Serious all the time. Mega intense. All business.

"Blake, he's more quiet and serious," Thomas said. "I'm more goofy. I like to play around. He takes everything real serious. I'll just push him, but he doesn't like to play around like that so I'll just leave him alone. He'll be the angry guy."

Despite their opposite personalities, Gideon and Thomas have amazing chemistry on the field, according to Muschamp. UT's defensive coordinator purposely paired them together because they communicate well and look out for each other.

"The communication between those guys is essential," Muschamp said. "The secondary is a lot like the offensive line. They have to know exactly what the other is doing."


They didn't know exactly what the other was doing on a 52-yard touchdown reception by Oklahoma's 6-6, 260-pound tight end Jermaine Gresham last Saturday. But after that play in the first half, Gresham didn't hurt Texas the rest of the game.

"If we don't get it communicated, it will be a touchdown or a busted play, and we can't have that," said Thomas, who lost containment on the play. "We had a little mishap against OU as you probably saw, and we can't have that."

Gideon, who had eight tackles against the Sooners and is tied for second on the team this season with 26, said he won't soon forget trying to tackle Gresham.

"I tried four different strategies in tackling him, and I think I tried all four on that first play," Gideon said. "He's definitely a great athlete, and it's an honor to be on the same field with athletes like that and say I competed against him."


After cornerback Ryan Palmer left the game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury (he's day-to-day for Missouri), Aaron Williams replaced Palmer, giving Texas three freshmen in the secondary against OU's vaunted passing attack.

"The game was not too big for Aaron, Earl or Blake," said secondary coach Duane Akina. "It's amazing when you have three young players back there who are in a very critical decision-making and execution position. The kept their poise when a negative play happened. I wasn't sure how they would handle the situation and they exceeded what I thought would happen with them."

Akina said Gideon and Thomas will have to be at the top of their game this week against Missouri, which has skill talent equal to if not better than OU on offense.

"We put a lot on them and as they continue to grow and understand concepts we can continue to do more with them, which is really important," Akina said. "We haven't been able to that with some of the past young safeties."


Gideon has asked Muschamp about Will Herring, a four-year starter at safety at Auburn, who played for Muschamp in 2006 before being selected in the fifth-round of the 2007 NFL Draft.

"Blake's a similar type player," Muschamp said of Herring. "But athletically, Blake is further along.

"He just never seems to make mistakes. He's in the right spots, he tackles well, plays the ball down the field well, he's a great communicator. He plays well in space. He can cover. All of those things encompass a good DB and he exhibits all of them. He just didn't have any experience."


Gideon, whose nickname on the team is "Slim Gid," says his ability to digest Muschamp's multiple schemes as a freshman comes from spending hours watching film and talking Xs and Os while growing up with r his father, Steve, who coached Blake at Leander High School.

"It's a great feeling knowing all those great players around me, to some extent, count on me," Gideon said. "It's a great responsibility and part of that comes from the household I grew up in, my dad being a coach. It's as simple as understanding the language and the schemes we're going up against.

"I like to think I'm one of the best prepared players on the field. I don't think it's possible to be too prepared, whether that be in the weight room, practice field or in the film room. I'm thankful for the knowledge my dad has shared with me. I guess I have somewhat of a feel for it after so many chewings in practice (in high school)."


At one point in high school, Blake missed time with a back injury and Steve Gideon went out of his way to disclose the injury to Mack Brown. Brown said other high school coaches or fathers might have tried to hide the injury to keep a school from losing interest.

"Obviously the amount of respect we have for Coach Brown and this program, we're not going to put them in a situation where they're not fully informed," Blake said. "We told him about my (back) injury. We were up front and told him about why I was sitting out for awhile and then was cleared by doctors. Now I'm back to normal and feeling great."

Now, about that lack of sense of humor. Blake says Earl Thomas and cornerback Chykie Brown do a nice job of keeping things light, while he plays the role of straight man.


"Whenever I need to lighten up, Earl helps me lighten up," Gideon said. "Whenever there's a joke that needs to be cracked on the practice field because it's real tense, he or Chykie will be there for that comic relief. It's worked so far.

"I think whenever they see me focusing and know it's time to focus, we get work done. I'm not an angry guy. I'm a nice guy to be around. But I can see why Earl would say that because of the competitive settings and environments he's seen me in."

As for his pre-game ritual of tracking down Mack Brown and Will Muschamp to ask them if they're nervous, Gideon said that started his sophomore year in high school when he got his first start on varsity and posed the question to his father. Muschamp says now it's just a sign of Gideon's growing confidence.

"I'm very confident knowing the guys I'm playing around," Gideon said. "Our front is incredible, leading the nation in sacks. It's pretty easy to be confident, make plays and relax when you have tremendous players around you."

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