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Antwuan Davis to fill in at nickel back for injured Texas starter PJ Locke III

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The fifth-year senior has the respect of his coordinator.

San Jose State v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

For the first time in more than two years, Texas Longhorns senior Antwuan Davis will receive a start on Saturday for the ‘Horns with junior nickel back PJ Locke III out with an ankle injury sustained against the Baylor Bears.

In 2015, the former US Army All-American started the first five games of season until he was displaced by the talented group of freshmen cornerbacks. Since then, he’s moved between cornerback, safety, and the nickel back position, spending his most notable time this season as a valuable asset on punt coverage as a gunner.

With 10.4 100m speed, Davis is extremely fast, but has also struggled with his hip fluidity and change-of-direction skills. However, in filling in for Locke against Baylor last weekend, Davis was a valuable asset in matching his career high with three tackles and will have to continue minimizing his weaknesses and maximizing his speed to succeed this weekend.

Count defensive coordinator Todd Orlando as a believer.

“He's very smart,” Orlando said on Wednesday. “He's very intelligent in terms of football. He's been through a lot of ball games, he has experience. He's a tough kid. I love him as a human being. Forget about the football thing. He's a bright-eyed kid. He comes in to meetings, he's always saying hello. He's accountable. I'm excited for him.”

Indeed, Davis will play in his 40th career game against TCU, making him one of the team’s most experienced players as a redshirt senior who has played for three head coaches in Austin. He’s also been a member of the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll.

The Horned Frogs will provide some challenges for Davis by featuring two talented running backs the Bastrop product will have to contain on the edge and talented slot receivers like shifty targets Desmon White and KaVontae Turpin.

In 2015, the ‘Horns saw what Turpin could do as a freshman when he exploded for 138 yards and four touchdowns on six catches. This week, head coach Gary Patterson said that the offense needs to get him more involved after he failed to catch a pass last week in the upset loss to Iowa State, but did have a 94-yard kick return touchdown to score the only points for TCU on the day.

In a rather inexplicable development, Turpin hasn’t been a big part of the offense in Fort Worth this season, scoring only one touchdown through the air and totaling a mere 23 receptions for 236 yards, a remarkably low average given his explosiveness.

Attacking Davis vertically on post routes or double moves that could cause him to flip his hips and lose ground against the speedy Turpin is a concern for the Longhorns defense. However, with Orlando likely remaining in the Lightning package that worked so well against Oklahoma State and Baylor, Davis will have more help than the cornerbacks had against Turpin two years ago.

If Davis struggles early, Texas could turn to junior John Bonney or freshman Josh Thompson at nickel, but with Bonney playing well in the dime package and Thompson having little experience, the fifth-year player will likely have a relatively long leash.

Considering that Davis was a candidate to become a graduate transfer this season and instead chose to stick with the program and play hard on special teams, it would be a feel-good story for him to take advantage of a rare opportunity at extended playing time.