There’s a reason why the Texas Longhorns football program has been dubbed “DBU”. Mack Brown and his coaching staff have turned out a wealth of NFL talent over the course of the last decade or so, and, prior to now, recruits from the Lone Star State have the Longhorns first on the list if they play defensive back.
Recently this hasn’t been the case, as many of the top DB recruits in the state have signed with other in-state and national programs. The 2013 season is an important one for the Texas defensive secondary to step up and once again play to a level which fans are accustomed.
There’s no lack of depth in the unit, but there are a few guys that will be expected to lead by example, set the tone, and ensure the younger guys follow suit.
Cornerbacks: Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom
Texas cornerbacks Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom played at a very high level in 2012 and each showed they belonged among the nation’s elite at the position. Diggs led the team in interceptions last season with four, with Byndom right behind him with three. Diggs’ seven break-ups led the team, with Byndom right behind him with six.
You can see the trend.
In simplest terms, these two guys will be the heart of the Texas secondary in 2013.
Their ability to continue to play first-class cover corner against the Big 12′s first-tier receivers, make tackles in the open field if the second-level fails with gap control, and occasionally turn an interception into one of Texas’ four explosive plays per game could well make the difference between a win and a loss in the season’s more important games.
You can bet teams will do their best to throw away from this duo whenever they can, and with a less dynamic pair of safeties patrolling the middle of the field, the sidelines may not be thrown toward too often.
Safeties: Adrian Phillips / Josh Turner / Mykkele Thompson
Senior strong safety Adrian Phillips is the only one of an unproven trio that has a guaranteed starting spot for 2013. Juniors Josh Turner and Mykkele Thompson will be fighting for minutes at free safety, with both likely to see significant action.
Thompson could also double as a spot kick-returner after another explosive performance in the Spring Game, if he can out-battle another fellow defensive back in sophomore Duke Thomas.
Adrian Phillips was one of the team’s top tacklers in 2012 with 72, the majority of which coming in the open field after broken down coverage in the second-level. Phillips will be expected by Manny Diaz and the Texas coaching staff to take on more of a vocal leadership role this season and to play at the level, consistently, which has been expected of him for some time now.
In Turner and Thompson, Texas has two athletic safeties who can cover a ton of ground and make plays in tough situations. Both guys are former high school quarterbacks and have a nice combination of football IQ, speed and lateral quickness which should close the gap against many of the talented wideouts they will face this fall.
Fighting for a Role: Duke Thomas / Sheroid Evans / Leroy Scott / Kevin Vacarro
As is true with every position on the Forty Acres, there are a few guys on the fringes that could fight their way into the rotation with strong performances.
Of the four, sophomore Duke Thomas was the most impressive during the spring and could crack the rotation along with being paired with Quandre Diggs on kick returns. His explosive athleticism, in fact, could even earn him some snaps on offense in specialty situations in a role similar to Daje Johnson.
Juniors Sheroid Evans and Leroy Scott played sparingly and will see a similar amount of action in 2012 barring any injuries or unforeseen absence from the starting core.
Sophomore Kevin Vacarro has an interesting bloodline as the younger brother of former Texas star Kenny Vacarro — now of the Dallas Cowboys – and while he just saw action on special teams in 2012 could be given a shot here and there in 2013, especially in blowouts or garbage time late in games.
The 2013 season will be a defining one for the Texas Longhorns in all respects, and the success of the defensive backs to re-establish themselves as one of the country’s best units will play a huge part in what story is told when it is all said and done.
Kris is also featured in the print publication, Lindy’s In the Huddle – Texas Edition which hits stores on July 16th.