Texas Longhorns defensive spring position battles

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Which positions are open on defense entering Charlie Strong's first spring as head coach?

Texas Longhorns players are on spring break this week and will start spring practice next week upon their return, starting the month of work leading up to the spring game on April 19.

Here's a look at the open positions on defense and the players battling to fill them.

Weakside defensive end

The contenders -- junior Shiro Davis, sophomore Bryce Cottrell

The departed -- Jackson Jeffcoat

The take -- Jeffcoat was fully healthy for the whole season for the first time as a starter, so there weren't a lot of repetitions behind him, meaning that Texas doesn't have much proven depth behind Jeffcoat, especially since it was Cedric Reed who filled in for Jeffcoat in 2012 with Alex Okafor starting on the other side.

A redshirt year burned for Davis produced six games played and three tackles, while 13 games in 2013 produced 15 tackles, so the two years at Texas for the Signing Day flip from LSU haven't done much to advance his development in terms of putting him in position to make plays on a consistent basis, though Davis has flashed at times. Given the significant opportunity to earn a starting role, can he put it all together with the new staff?

Cottrell joined in on the Texas Tech demolition with a tackle for loss and a sack and benefited from a redshirt season, so it's hardly out of the question for him to provide some quality snaps since he's been a player seemingly on the path to contribute since he arrived on campus. Missing on the defensive end position in 2013 makes the late take of Cottrell look even better, too.

Boundary cornerback

The contenders -- junior Duke Thomas, redshirt freshman Antwuan Davis

The departed -- Carrington Byndom

The take -- As at the weak side defensive end position vacated by Jackson Jeffcoat, there's not a lot of proven talent at this particular position, as Byndom rarely came off the field either.

Fortunately, Thomas has a fair amount of experience over two seasons playing the field role and has enough size to make the move to the boundary. The area for improvement with him will be in not making the big mistakes that plagued him at times last year like the long touchdown pass allowed to Iowa State when he took himself out of the play with a poor angle.

With Byndom on the other side, Thomas was tested often and always bounce back after bad plays, the type of short-term memory that is critical to become a successful cornerback.

Davis may have nearly as much upside as Thomas, even though he isn't known to be as fluid. He is faster, taller, and stronger, with the physicality of a safety and the type of elite recovery speed that may render his somewhat tight hips irrelevant. Texas may need him to contribute this year with only four pure cornerbacks on the roster.

Strong safety

The contenders -- senior Josh Turner, senior Leroy Scott, redshirt sophomore Adrian Colbert, redshirt freshman Erik Hurhn

The departed -- Adrian Phillips

The take -- The Longhorns were pretty simple defensively on the back end after Greg Robinson took over as defensive coordinator last year, but if there was one player who tied the whole secondary together, so to speak, it was Phillips, who turned in a solid senior season. The safety position occupied by Mykkele Thompson may be up for grabs as well due to his inconsistent play and scheme changes will impact which players are truly battling for this position -- Turner was listed as a strong safety last year despite having the build of a free safety, if that.

In that sense, Turner and Scott are opposite players -- Turner is the more rangy safety who still has cornerback size and could benefit from a return to that position based on the current depth chart, while Scott is the bigger, more physical former cornerback whose lack of playing time in 2013 was a bit perplexing since he made plays when given opportunities.

Then there's the still-raw upside of Adrian Colbert, who was listed on the final 2013 depth chart at free safety because of his track speed, but has the size to play a strong safety position and could even be impactful nickel back with his skill set, as his striking ability would have to chance to play well closer to the line of scrimmage.

Huhn redshirted and may end up as a hybrid linebacker.

*****

There's more stability on the defensive side of the ball, but Strong and his defensive staff will have to get a significant amount of production from players who haven't yet contributed at key positions -- pressuring the quarterback from the weak side defensive end spot and locking down opposing split ends/X receivers at the boundary cornerback position are two keys to any defense on top of stopping the run.

Some of that heralded teaching ability for the staff is going to be on display early.

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