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Texas S DeShon Elliott emerging as a vocal leader

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One of the program’s many key juniors is ready to take a step forward in 2017.

Iowa State v Texas Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

When new Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman arrived in Austin, junior safety DeShon Elliott was no Niccolo Machiavelli — the hard-hitting member of the Longhorns secondary preferred to be loved rather than hated.

As one of the players who was closest to former head coach Charlie Strong, Elliot was faced with a difficult challenge in responding to Herman’s coaching.

“When we first got here, I think he was more concerned about being liked than he was about leading the team and he's done a 180 from that,” Herman said on Tuesday. “He's a really good leader right now and the guys respect him.”

As a third-year player in a secondary that lost Dylan Haines from last season, Elliott will likely step into a starting role that has not been easy to win, in part because of the spring injury to senior Jason Hall.

The 2015 Under Armour All-American faced serious questions about his ability to remain rangy enough to stay at safety coming out high school, then experienced an immediate setback as a freshman when he suffered a toe injury in fall camp.

When the Rockwall-Heath product did see the field, he forced a critical fumble on kickoff coverage during the remarkable 2015 upset of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl before recording two interceptions at safety late in the season.

Spring practice brought “tremendous strides” for Elliott, who went on to flash again during the 2016 season with a game-saving hit on Notre Dame wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. in the season’s opening contest.

However, at that point Elliott still hadn’t completely mastered the Texas defense run by coordinator Vance Bedford.

Now the former consensus four-star prospect is aligned with the new coaching staff and translating that message to younger players.

“Again, if you're not a hard worker you can talk all you want and guys are going to roll their eyes at you, but right now he's walking the walk in terms of work ethic, very articulate and vocal guy and has a knack for saying the right thing at the right time,” Herman said.

Newcomers like safety Montrell Estell, cornerback Josh Thompson, defensive end Taquon Graham, and linebacker Gary Johnson are all players that Elliott has focused on coaching up during the summer and the start of preseason camp.

“We're just trying to show them the culture that these coaches have showed us,” Elliott said. “So we get them on the culture and then they can pass it on to the following class.”

In the past, Elliott was content staying within himself — he’s a hard hitter on the field, but tends to be rather quiet off of it. When Herman and his new coaching staff arrived, Elliott was challenged to become more vocal.

With the help of players like senior linebacker Naashon Hughes and junior nickel back PJ Locke III, Elliott started to emerge from his shell.

But he also leads by example in studying his playbook diligently, which allows him to help other defensive backs get aligned.

"You improve communication by studying your playbook," Elliott said. "If you don’t study, you don’t know what to do. You might know what to do for yourself. But you can’t communicate to everyone else. You can’t just know your position, you gotta to know all positions."

Once the season begins, Elliott’s ability to make a consistent impact on the field will be more important than his leadership off of it — he’s expected to become a full-time starter for the first time in his career and will be asked to fulfill a variety of roles in coordinator Todd Orlando’s defense.

So despite the fact that Elliott has flashed at times over his first two seasons, now he will have to make plays game in and game out, as well as avoid any big coverage meltdowns as the last line of defense.

There is certainly a depth of evidence that Elliott can emerge as a playmaker — he only had 30 tackles last season, but stuffed the stat sheet with three tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, four passes broken up, and two fumble recoveries.

To put it succinctly, Elliott has a knack for finding himself around the football, a skill aided last season after he dropped some weight. Once up to around 215 pounds, Elliott is now listed at a lean, mean 202 pounds.

Does that mean that this is the year where the Kraken is finally unleashed?

One can only hope.