We close out the defensive side of the ball with a look at the Texas Longhorns’ defensive backs. So far, we’ve covered running backs, linebackers, the offensive line, the defensive line. and the wide receivers/tight ends.
We know the 2019 Longhorns could deploy multiple packages on defense that may include anywhere from four to eight defensive backs. For now, we’ll consider the nickel and dime packages that deploy five to six defensive backs.
Note: Some defensive back positions/players could be fluid depending on how a player develops and where there is need/opportunity.
Safeties (field, boundary, nickel):
Seniors: Brandon Jones
Juniors: Donovan Duvernay (redshirt), Josh Thompson
Sophomores: Chris Brown (redshirt), Montrell Estell (redshirt), B.J. Foster, DeMarvion Overshown, Caden Sterns,
Freshmen: Chris Adimora, Tyler Owens
Sophomores: Kobe Boyce (redshirt) Anthony Cook, Jalen Green, D’Shawn Jamison,
Freshmen: Marques Caldwell, Kenyatta Watson II,
As it currently stands, there are about six to eight defensive backs who could mix into the defense throughout the 2019 season. The strength of the secondary comes from the safeties, and that, along with some questions at linebacker, could push defensive coordinator Todd Orlando to rely on a handful of defensive backs this fall.
Leading the way in the secondary are returning starters Brandon Jones, Caden Sterns, and B.J. Foster. All three played extensively last season and will be important leaders in 2019.
Sterns and Foster were two gems from the 2018 recruiting class. As true freshmen, both were quickly inserted into major roles on defense that included Foster starting six games and Sterns starting 13 of 14 games. In 2019, Sterns will resume his starting role at field safety and Foster is expected to take control of the snaps at nickel.
Sterns, a 6’1 205-pound sophomore, enters the season on the 2019 Thorpe Award Watch List after ending 2018 as a semifinalist for the award. As a true freshman, the talented safety filled the box score and made his presence felt on the back end of the Longhorns defense. He compiled 62 tackles, eight pass break ups, four interceptions, which led the team, and added a blocked field goal; Texas’ first since the 2017 Maryland season opener.
For Sterns, a goal this fall will be to expand his knowledge of the defense and be a leader in the secondary while Texas works in fresh faces at both corner positions.
Another goal? Stay healthy. After starting 13 of 14 games last season, there actually is some injury concern for Sterns heading into the 2019 season. In last year’s Big 12 Championship game against Oklahoma, he left the game with a lower leg injury. Though the initial MRI came back negative, the injury did ultimately motivate the coaches to hold him out of the Sugar Bowl against Georgia.
In the nine months since then, Sterns has sat out of practice and missed time for two other injury-related issues. He underwent a knee surgery for pateller tendinitis back in March and recently he missed practice time due to a low-grade high ankle sprain in fall camp.
Sterns is expected to be ready to go for the season opener against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 31, but his ability to stay healthy moving forward will obviously be something the Texas staff will monitor.
With just one week remaining before the start of the season, sophomore B.J. Foster finds himself in a battle with junior Josh Thompson for the starting nickel position. If Foster does take control of the starter’s snaps at nickel as expected, Foster will provide Texas with a DB who can get physical like a linebacker.
At 6’2 and 210-pounds, Foster is still closer to a safety than a linebacker, and should either Jones or Sterns miss extended time, Foster could be first in line to fill the spot. But as we saw last season, Foster can impact the game lining up close to the line of scrimmage.
Racking up a total of 46 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two quarterback hurries, five pass breakups, and one interception, Foster quickly became a valuable asset for the Longhorns’ defense in 2018.
Heading into year two, the goal for Foster will be similar to that of Sterns: Expand his knowledge of the playbook in order to become even more of an impact player and leader for Texas.
The defensive back returning with the most experience and playing time is senior Brandon Jones. After deciding to forgo the 2019 NFL Draft to return for a fourth season, Jones is expected to start at boundary safety for the Longhorns.
In 2018, he finished fourth on the team in tackles. Had it not been for an ankle injury last season that ultimately cost him four games, the 6-0, 205-pound safety may have paced the team in tackles, a feat he could achieve in his final season at Texas.
This season, Jones will also likely look
to lead the team in urine hydration tests to build on his tackling ability as a defender with a goal of generating more turnovers. In 34 games, Jones has generated just two interceptions (both coming last season) and one forced fumble.
If Jones can up his turnover total from last season, the Longhorns will have an opportunity to have one of the strongest safety duos in the nation on the back end with him and Sterns.
Other defensive backs expected to play some sort of role this season are DeMarvion Overshown, Chris Brown, and Josh Thompson.
As mentioned above, Thompson has been battling B.J. Foster for starter’s snaps at nickel. Soon we’ll know whether or not the 6,0, 200-pound junior earned the start at nickel. At the very least, he’ll be valuable depth off the bench and a piece that could be utilized in sub-packages when Orlando calls for more defensive backs.
As for Brown and Overshown, both are on track to be key players when Texas chooses to go dime or needs to spell the front-line starters.
Brown, known as a hard-hitting safety since his high school days, is a fourth-year junior who’s received high-praise this off-season. He’s likely one of the top options to receive snaps should one of the two deep safeties need relief.
As for Overshown, the anticipation to see more of the 6’4”, 210-pound sophomore is high from Texas fans. A knee injury in last year’s fall camp prevented the uber-athletic defensive back from making the type of impact on defense that was initially expected in year one.
Though there has been some injury concern this August due to a strained neck, year two expectations for Overshown are that he works his way onto the field in dime at joker or possibly as a hybrid linebacker/safety. Regardless, Overshown is yet another talented, young defensive back Orlando will have available to lean on.
Another veteran of the Longhorns’ program to note is third-year sophomore Montrell Estell. To date, the 6’1, 205-pound former four-star out of Hooks, Texas has predominately played on special teams.
Newcomers at the loaded safety positions include true freshmen Chris Adimora and Tyler Owens. Both were highly-rated four stars out of high school.
Looking for support from the talented safeties this season will be a group of young corners, including sophomores Jalen Green, Anthony Cook, D’Shawn Jamison, and Kobe Boyce.
All signs point to Jalen Green being the Longhorns top corner this season. A top-50 prospect out of Houston Heights, Green played in 11 games as a true freshmen and flashed at corner in this year’s spring game.
Green and the young group of corners will have the task of helping Texas make a smooth transition from last year’s starters of Kris Boyd and Davante Davis.
Opposite Green, Cook seems like the candidate to lock up the starting snaps. Cook and the other two sophomore corners have all been battling for more playing time in 2019 but since his arrival in 2018, Cook has shown some of the skills it takes to win the starting job.
Creating competition at corner, former three-star prospect Kobe Boyce had shown signs of progress this offseason after struggling some as a redshirt freshman in 2018, and D’Shawn Jamison made the move from wide receiver to corner earlier this spring.
True freshmen at the position include Marques Caldwell and Kenyatta Watson II, with the latter having a chance to push for snaps this season in large part to his preparation before arriving to Texas for fall camp. Watson stepped onto campus as a 6’1, 190-pound four-star from Georgia and was a top-150 recruit nationally in the 2019 class.
In all, the Longhorns’ 2019 secondary will be led by its safeties, and few teams around the country can match the Longhorns’ combination of skill and depth at the position. If Texas can find at least one rock at corner with someone like Jalen Green, the secondary will have the makings of a strong and reliable unit in 2019.