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Texas DB coach Clay Jennings doesn’t expect Dylan Haines, Jason Hall to lose starting S jobs

The youth movement may not be ready to take over at the back end of the secondary just yet.

NCAA Football: California at Texas Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

When asked at Texas Longhorns media day on Friday to kick off camp whether the young safeties could “dethrone” senior Dylan Haines and junior Jason Hall, defensive backs coach Clay Jennings offered a swift dismissal.

“I don’t see that happening”, he said.

And so with five words Jennings sent the burnt orange nation aghast at the possibility that the young fan favorites at safety aren’t expected to make the big, quick, and decisive moves anticipated or at least desired by so many.

Though the season is still a month away, it appears that Jennings will start his reliable veterans, rather than his highly decorated, but minimally experienced young players. Right now, that makes sense, but Jennings seems to be indicating that he doesn’t expect that the young players will take over — at least for fall camp.

Texas’ young safety talent could not be any more different than its likely starting upperclassmen. Freshman Brandon Jones was a gem of the 2016 recruiting haul, ranked as the best safety in the country for his class. Sophomore DeShon Elliott suffered a toe injury last preseason which may have delayed his progress, but he was a consensus four-star Under Armour All-American in his own right.

The two seasoned safeties who will likely take the field for the first defensive snap of the season don’t exactly have the same narrative.

Dylan Haines is a former walk-on who would’ve likely never seen the field if not for the attrition that occurred when Strong took over the reigns. Where he is deficient of natural athleticism or tackling abilities, he makes up for in leadership and knowing where to be on the field. Strong has said Haines “does everything you ask him to do."

As a result, Haines led the team with five interceptions last season and is now second in the all-time Texas record books for interception return yardage.

Jason Hall only earned three stars out of high school, but the hard-hitting safety overachieved early in Austin and started 11 out of 12 games last season. The Grand Prairie product with 51 tackles in 2015 is being called upon to take on a bigger role this season as a leader.

"He know needs to take a leadership role and have idea of what to do, how to fit the run, how to read your keys and do the little things right. And he's had a good spring so far so he's heading in the right direction right now,” Chip Brown wrote in March.

Despite Jennings’ comments, Texas fans loyal to the youth movement shouldn’t be too heartbroken. Jennings dismissed that Jones and Elliott will dethrone Haines and Hall — not that they can compete with the two vets, and potentially get a good share of snaps. When asked about playing Jones as a freshman earlier in the month, Strong didn’t rule out the possibility.

“You’re not afraid of that because you’ve seen a lot of freshmen defensive backs,” Strong said at Big 12 Media day. “The best player is going to play if they work hard enough and get that opportunity.”

As for Elliott, he had a spring in which he made, “tremendous strides” in the film room and on the field, according to Haines. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has also been complementary of Elliott.

"(Elliott) has the most confidence of anyone you're ever going to see," Bedford said in March. "In tight quarters, he is going to knock your helmet off."

However, Bedford has also noted that Elliott has been overly reliant on Haines for defensive alignment, as does Hall.

In a crucial 2016 season, the coaching staff has decided to go with the veterans who know how to be in right place at the right time, rather than the players with better natural tools to get there.

There’s no denying that Haines is a natural leader for the Texas defense, and that Hall is growing into one in his own right. They have the abilities necessary to succeed on the field, and should also be able to help groom Jones and Elliott into future stars.

Now it’s time for some competition, but ‘Horns fans got an interesting insight on Friday into what the new defensive backs coach thinks will happen.