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Thursday, February 21, 2013
Position breakdown: Defensive back

By Carter Strickland

AUSTIN, Texas -- Duane Akina will spend most of the spring mix and matching.

Given time, the Texas secondary coach likes to take his time before typecasting a certain player in a certain role. Ideally, Akina prefers to have every defensive back ready and able to play every role.

That versatility can not only cover up some deficiencies but also make the back four a stronger and more cohesive unit because every player understands the role to the player next to him seeing as how he has spent at least some time in that role.

Quandre Diggs
Quandre Diggs might play cornerback and safety for the Longhorns in 2013.
So to pick who will ultimately end up where among the defensive backs can be a bit of a gamble this year. But here is a role of the dice:

Quandre Diggs: He is Texas' top cornerback. He also might be Texas' best safety. Diggs is a sure tackler with very good cover skills. That makes him valuable in run support or pass coverage. He is not the biggest of players (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) so durability could be an issue if he were expected to be at safety full time, especially if the linebackers refuse to tackle like they did last season.

It’s tough to lose a presence like Diggs on the corner, but Texas does have some backup players it could try and that position. There are also some younger safeties who, if given the chance, might develop and therefore nullify the need to even consider moving Diggs.

Carrington Byndom: The rising senior needs a bounce-back year. He was tentative in several big games and never reached the level he hit as a sophomore. This spring should bring a sense of urgency for Byndom being that it is his last one. He will be playing for draft status in 2013 and that process starts now.

Mykkele Thompson: A lickity-split runner, Thompson was hesitant when it came time to run through tackles in 2012. Given that he was primarily an offensive player in high school it is not unusual that he preferred to avoid contact. But if he has not shaken that tendency by this spring, Texas will have to look elsewhere for a safety.

Josh Turner: Turner had a very rough start to 2012 (Oklahoma State game) but began to understand where to be on the field as the season progressed. He, like all the other returning safeties, has to work on his tackling. But he had a couple of interceptions at key times. Turner will most likely have to beat out Adrian Phillips for a starting role. But Phillips is at least vulnerable given his 2012 performance.

Adrian Phillips: Phillips is a versatile player who has played safety and cornerback for Texas. In 2011 he was a solid backup corner. In 2012 the thought was he could be the safety or a nickel back next to Kenny Vaccaro. He started 10 games in that role but failed to develop. Spring brings another chance, and Akina has always been very high on the skills that Phillips brings to the field. He has shown flashes in the past of what he can do but, to date, has lacked in consistency.

Duke Thomas: Thomas had a strong spring for an early enrollee last season. But when matched against the first-string receivers he had issues. Texas really didn’t need him to perform during 2012 but now, if it wants to toy with the idea of moving Diggs, the Longhorns need Thomas to step up at the corner position. He should get plenty of reps and exit spring as the first cornerback to come in for either Byndom or Diggs.

Sheroid Evans: He is not running track this season, so that is a bonus for Texas. Evans has a ton of speed but really has not had the time of the field to develop as either a corner or safety. He might also be looked at in the return game.

Leroy Scott: Scott will be in a battle for backup time at the corner spot. He should have the edge over Evans but will need to watch out for a fast-rising Bryson Echols. Again Scott gives Texas depth at corner and that gives Akina flexibility in how he wants to play his defensive backs.

Kevin Vaccaro: Vaccaro played special teams as a true freshman and will most likely continue in that role. He does not yet have the size that his brother, Kenny, had so safety does not appear to be in his immediate future.

Adrian Colbert and Bryson Echols: Both redshirted last year and of the two, Colbert might get more of a chance to play in 2013. Colbert is a bigger safety and if he proves he can pick up the defense and understand what to do against the spread attack, Texas will use him.

Echols would be considered for playing time as a backup at the corner spot. He has several players to climb over before he sees the field.