Fifty-nine starts. More than 300 tackles. Sixty-four passes defensed. Eight interceptions.
As members of the No. 10-ranked 2015 recruiting class, Kris Boyd and Davante Davis were highly-productive cornerbacks for the Texas Longhorns over the last four seasons. With both players now preparing for the NFL Draft, there are question marks about which young players will step up to replace them.
Across the defense, eight total starters are gone, leaving major voids for defensive coordinator Todd Orlando to fill.
In a recent interview with the Longhorn Network, senior safety Brandon Jones was asked about his breakout defenders this year. His answer? Sophomore cornerbacks Anthony Cook and Jalen Green, two well-regarded prospects from the 2018 class who saw playing time as freshmen.
“Jalen Green really hasn’t gotten the playing time this year but I know for sure he’s one of those guys that I’ve seen in practice in fall camp, he’s one of the best corners we have, in my opinion,” Jones said. “He does a really good job of just being able to find the ball wherever it is. He’s long, too, on top of that, which really helps him out in his position. So I think he’ll have a breakout year this year.”
Jones is right — Green did play sparingly in 2018, appearing in 11 games and making one tackle on special teams and one tackle on defense. Both of those tackles came in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia after Green clearly benefitted from the extra practices.
And he’s also correct about Green’s natural instincts and length, both of which are high-level attributes.
Early in the 2018 season, redshirt sophomore Kobe Boyce was ahead of Green in the rotation, but Boyce struggled at times and seemed to lack the necessary confidence for the position. In a relatively small number of snaps, Boyce gave up too many big plays.
Green, meanwhile, was a higher-rated recruit than Boyce as a top-50 prospect, the No. 6 cornerback, and the No. 4 player in Texas, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Unlike Cook, Green didn’t exclusively play cornerback in high school, so he arrived at Texas without an ideal number of game reps there.
However, the physical attributes possessed by Green are what made him so well regarded out of Houston Heights — not just his natural instincts and length, but also his agility after posting a 4.01 shuttle at regional camp for The Opening.
A vertical leap of less than 33 inches and a 40-yard dash of 4.69 seconds do raise some questions about his overall athleticism, though.
The most likely answer? Green is a better athlete and has more athletic upside than those testing numbers would indicate. He’s also physical — just watch the first play of his senior film and how Green exploded through the pass catcher to knock his opponent back three yards on a perfect form tackle.
Look for Green to replace Davis as the field corner and go through some growing pains, like most young cornerbacks, but ultimately emerge as a smooth and physical contributor during his sophomore season. The biggest key? Refining his technique under position coach Jason Washington.
Beyond that, there’s no question that he’s regarded as a player with a potential NFL future if he comes close to maximizing his talent.
If Green is the raw player with some elite athletic traits, Cook is the technician who received high-level training during the offseason and excellent coaching at Houston Lamar, a school known for producing defensive backs. Like Green, Cook had one drill in which he tested extremely well — he posted a 36.7 vertical — while registering a strong 4.12 shuttle and less-than-ideal 4.69 40-yard dash.
As a result of Cook’s best attributes, he was at one point rated as a consensus five-star prospect and a top-10 recruit nationally. Ultimately, he finished No. 64 in the country, but players don’t receive rankings that high without legitimate cause — Cook has that much potential.
After signing in December of 2017, Cook enrolled early before missing the Orange-White game due to a minor injury and didn’t receive significant playing time at cornerback until late October.
When Cook was thrust into the starting lineup against Oklahoma State due to suspensions to both senior starters at cornerback, Orlando played Cook on the right side, often in off zone coverage. Notably, Cook wasn’t the player that the Cowboys picked on during that disastrous first quarter. In coverage, his backpedal and transitions looked as clean and quick as expected given his reputation coming out of high school.
When Oklahoma State ran in his direction, Cook was mostly able to keep the play leveraged successfully, but the next step is to make those tackles instead of just keeping the running back from taking the sideline. Late in the quarter, he beat a block to make a tackle near the line of scrimmage.
As the season went on, Cook played more frequently and even had a special third-down package against Kansas. To combat the speed of standout running back Pooka Williams Jr. out of the backfield, Orlando put Cook in man coverage with a blitz trigger if Williams stayed in to pass protect.
When Cook fired, he came downhill quickly to record the key red-zone sack late in the game.
Unless Orlando continues to play Cook on the right side, he has enough technical acumen and the right mindset to fill Boyd’s fill as the boundary corner.
And while neither player tested with elite straight-line speed in high school, both have the attributes necessary to perhaps exceed the significant accomplishments of Boyd and Davis, who both had frustrating moments in their careers.
For Davis, it was about falling out of the starting lineup from the middle of his sophomore season until midway through his junior season. For Boyd, it was about mental mistakes on the field like committing too many pass interference penalties and biting on too many double moves.
If Green and Cook can avoid those type of mistakes and translate Washington’s coaching to the field, they will quickly prove Jones correct.