Position battles to watch: Safety

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
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Editor's note: This is the third part of a weeklong series breaking down Texas’ most important spring position battles when the Longhorns begin practice in two weeks.

Moving on: Safety Adrian Phillips brought experience and leadership to the Texas secondary, a senior who played in 50 games and started 28. An honorable mention All-Big 12 selection in 2013, Phillips dealt with a shoulder injury throughout his final two seasons. He could be inconsistent at times but still managed to start 23 games during that period.

The contenders: Lots of questions here, starting with a curious one: Who’s coaching the safeties? Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn are both assigned to the secondary. We’ll see which one takes charge of running this group, or if it’s a shared duty.

Either way, it’s a clean slate for a group of safeties that could probably use one. If not for the great Kenny Vaccaro, it’d be easy to point to this unit as a disappointing one in recent seasons. Former secondary coach Duane Akina coached up some greats at these spots -- Vaccaro, Earl Thomas, Michael Huff, etc. -- but who among these returning safeties is capable of upholding the “DB U” tradition?

Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner enter their senior seasons with starting experience but haven’t lived up to their potential yet. Adrian Colbert is an intriguing option and entering his third year in the program.

Also in the mix are Erik Huhn and Kevin Vaccaro, who both missed the 2013 season with injuries, and incoming freshmen John Bonney and Jason Hall arrive in the summer.

Moving forward: Thompson has the most experience of the group, with 18 starts in 38 career games, but remains a work in progress when it comes to being a physical hitter. He had a knack for blocking kicks as a sophomore but wasn’t much of a playmaker as a junior, recording 72 tackles and one interception (the first of his career). He has to get better.

Another veteran with a chance to impress the new staff is Turner. He’s been used as a utility defensive back so far in his career, with five career starts and two INTs in 2012, but couldn’t beat out Phillips or Thompson last year. The former ESPN 150 recruit has one year left to play up to his potential.

Behind them is a group of inexperienced DBs who will compete for snaps, led by Colbert. He recorded six tackles as a redshirt freshman, all on special teams, and can be the hard-hitting athlete Texas needs patrolling the secondary if he makes big progress this offseason.

Of the four other underclassmen, Bonney could have the best chance of contributing early. He’s a polished, confident defender with big upside, and a lot of Big 12 schools coveted his talents.

Prediction: Bedford and Vaughn work closely with Thompson to raise his confidence, and they move Turner around to try several roles in their secondary. Colbert becomes a rising star at a free safety, starting in spring ball, and wins one of the jobs. The redshirt sophomore is worth keeping a very close eye on in the next few months.

Max Olson | email

Big 12 reporter

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