By Bobby Bragg
Date: Jul 8, 2009
The Texas Longhorns have quite a history on the defensive backfield. That storied tradition includes two, two-time consensus All-Americans in Jerry Gray (1983 and 84) and Johnnie Johnson (1978 and 79), a 14-year NFL player Raymond Clayborn, college greats Mossy Cade, Stanley Richard, Lance Gunn, and Bryant Westbrook and more recently, back to back Thorpe Award winners (top DB in the country) in Michael Huff and Aaron Ross in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Quentin Jammer was also a finalist for the award in 2001. And dont forget Super Bill Bradley who started his career at Texas at quarterback.
Going into the 2008 season, the defensive backfield had the unenviable task of starting a redshirt freshman at strong safety, Earl Thomas, and a true freshman at free safety, Blake Gideon. Both ended up starting all thirteen games for the Longhorns and now both anchor a very young and talented backfield heading into the 2009 season.
Spotlight: Earl Thomas
Honestly, an argument could be made for any of the top five defensive backs on the roster to get the spotlight recognition. Thomas, who started all 13 games last season while logging 72 tackles, two interceptions, and a team-high 17 pass break-ups, will likely move around in the secondary this season. Last year, Thomas got every start at strong safety, but this year, in nickel situations, it is expected that Thomas will slide to the nickel corner and Christian Scott will take over his spot at strong safety. At nickel corner, Thomas will get an opportunity to play closer to the line of scrimmage and should allow for some blitz and turnover-creation opportunities.
If there is a knock on Thomas specifically and the defensive backfield in general, it revolves around creating more turnovers. Turnover creation was one of the key areas of emphasis of the spring under the watchful eye of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, and Earl Thomas jumped a slant route pass from Colt McCoy in the spring game and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. That needs to translate over to Saturdays in the fall for Thomas to reach his goal of winning the Thorpe Award.
Other key starters: Corners Aaron Williams and Chykie Brown
Cornerback Aaron Williams is in line to take over Ryan Palmers starting spot while Chykie Brown returns to his starting role. Brown started the first seven games before a nasty ankle sprain kept him out of the starting line-up for five games. Chykie Brown did return to the starting line-up for the Fiesta Bowl. Williams, who did start one game in 2008 when the team lined up in a dime package against Texas Tech, looks to have overtaken senior Deon Beasley who has eleven career starts and continues to draw rave reviews from coaches and current NFL stars. Michael Huff now of the Oakland Raiders said that Williams reminds him of a young Huff. Huff also opined that he's better than Chykie Brown.
Key Contributors: Safeties Christian Scott, Blake Gideon, and Nolan Brewster, and Corners Deon Beasley and Curtis Brown
In the pass-happy league like the Big 12, it is imperative to have depth in the defensive backfield and Coach Brown seems very pleased with the work there. Gideon, Beasley, and Curtis Brown have 13, 11, and four career starts, respectively. When asked about the most impressive guys this spring, his first three answers were all DBs in Christian Scott, Aaron Williams, and Nolan Brewster. Later, Coach Brown indicated that he would be fine with any of the top eight in the defensive backfield. Expect all eight to contribute significant minutes this season.
The 2010 outlook is a case of the rich getting richer. Assuming Texas avoids any early draft enrollees, the Longhorns will return seven of the top eight defensive backs. Back-up corner Deon Beasley is the only departing senior on the roster. Texas also adds three defensive backs in the 2009 class and has three more committed in the 2010 class.
Chykie Brown, SR
Curtis Brown, SR
Aaron Williams, JR
Earl Thomas, JR
Christian Scott, JR
Blake Gideon, JR
Nolan Brewster, JR
Ben Wells, JR
Marcus Davis, RFR or SO
Eryon Barnett, RFR or SO
Kenny Vaccaro, RFR or SO
AJ White, FR
Bryant Jackson, FR
Carrington Byndom, FR
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