Texas Longhorns safeties coach Blake Gideon will oversee a rebuilt position room in the 2022 season following the Friday news that BJ Foster and Chris Adimora both entered the NCAA transfer portal, with Foster ending his up-and-down career on the Forty Acres by becoming a graduate transfer.
Combined with the departure of super senior Brenden Schooler, Texas will return only three players at the safety position — junior Jerrin Thompson, who has started seven games for the Longhorns, redshirt freshman JD Coffey, and sophomore Morice Blackwell, a converted linebacker.
Gideon has also helped oversee the additions of several 2022 recruits, including Aledo’s Bryan Allen Jr., currently the third highest-rated recruit in the class, and versatile Denton Ryan standout Austin Jordan, who could play a number of positions in the secondary. Additionally, Texas remains in pursuit of Larry Turner-Gooden, a top-200 prospect from California who was formerly committed to Arizona State.
So the Longhorns are only on track to feature a little more than a two-deep chart at safety while replacing three players with starting experience in the Texas secondary. While the biggest question is whether the losses will represent addition by subtraction, there’s no doubt that the way Foster and Adimora ended their Texas careers represented major disappointments.
The cousin of former Longhorn standouts Quentin Jammer and Quandre Diggs, Foster arrived as a seemingly can’t-miss prospect who was part of the historic 2018 defensive back recruiting class — a consensus five-star prospect, Foster was ranked as the No. 24 player nationally and the No. 3 safety, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Foster’s career began with promise after he arrived in Austin from Angleton, too, as he started six games and recorded 46 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles, along with an interception, as a true freshman. Over the middle, he was a hard-hitting enforcer. As a box safety, he was difficult for offensive linemen to deal with and a frequent visitor to opposing backfields with the ability to finish plays.
Then Foster battled through a shoulder injury as a sophomore that severely impacted his tackling ability, forcing offseason surgery after all his statistics declined.
When new defensive coordinator Chris Ash arrived with a different coaching staff, Foster struggled to adjust. A fractured hand punching his car during the offseason didn’t help. Neither did quitting the team midway through the season-opening win over UTEP, though then-head coach Tom Herman ultimately allowed Foster to rejoin his Texas teammates. Foster finished the season with 45 tackles over nine games, including two starts.
Another coaching change went better for Foster as he regained his role as a starter and set a career high with 47 tackles and three interceptions in 2021. But with defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski regularly employing two deep safeties, Foster rarely had the opportunity to play in the box where he was so effective early in his career. In Foster’s final game at Texas, he was benched after taking a bad angle on Kansas State quarterback Will Howard’s 71-yard touchdown run that head coach Steve Sarkisian assessed as featuring poor effort from multiple players, including Foster.
The poor angle and inability to catch Howard represented the final, enduring image of Foster’s career on the Forty Acres.
Adimora’s third and final season with Texas was notable by his regular absence from the rotation. Listed as the second-team safety behind Foster, Adimora lost the starting nickel job to a resurgent Anthony Cook after starting all 10 games there under Ash in 2020. Adimora was solid in that role, producing 46 tackles, three pass breakups, and an interception, but played sparingly at safety in 2021 despite the starters struggling and the resulting obvious frustration by the coaching staff — the California product only made 11 tackles in eight appearances.
Now Gideon will either need to coax development out of his returning players or hope the incoming freshmen are ready to contribute. Pulling someone with experience out of the transfer portal may loom as a necessity with the uncertainty among the returnees.
Thompson’s sophomore season failed to capitalize on the flashes he showed late in the year as a freshman in starts against Kansas State and Colorado, games during which he recorded his first career interception against the Wildcats and then led the Longhorns in tackles against the Buffaloes with six stops, including five solo.
Schooler and Thompson rotated frequently at the safety spot opposite of Foster, and while Thompson forced a fumble, broke up three passes, and had 41 tackles overall, his miss on Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams on the 4th and 1 touchdown run in the Cotton Bowl both changed the complexion of that loss and was representative of Thompson’s overall struggles as a sophomore.
A top-10 safety nationally from Kennedale, Coffey is still a blank slate in terms of his collegiate career after maintaining his redshirt in 2021 by appearing in four games. Known as a solid tackler with good range and ball skills in high school, Coffey may need to emerge as a contributor in 2022 barring any more additions at the position.
Recruited as a linebacker, Blackwell moved to safety during the season and eventually emerged in a third-down specialist role, but there are questions about his top-end speed and coverage ability that could limit him to roles near the box in the short term. If those concerns remain throughout the offseason, the ability of the Texas defense to stop the run with the defensive front could impact Blackwell’s ability to see the field in 2022.
So Allen may also need to prove his capability as a rotation player immediately as a near top-100 prospect nationally. The Aledo product has experience as a single-high safety with strong instincts and the ability to consistently take the right angle as a tackler. Top-end speed in college could be a concern, but he certainly played fast enough in high school.
Jordan primarily played cornerback at Ryan with proven sub-11 speed in the 100m that should allow him to remain at the position in college while possessing some NFL upside, but the need at Texas could force a position change. Since Jordan projects favorably at both cornerback and safety, he may train at safety where the team needs him most before the coaches figure out the best long-term spot for him.
Whatever happens to close out the 2022 recruiting class in terms of adding another high school safety or two or mining the portal for a contributor, the safety position will look much different for the Longhorns in Gideon’s second season back at his alma mater.
If that group actually represents an improvement in on-field play will depend on how well Gideon can coach his players up or whether Texas already has an instant-impact safety in the 2022 class or in the future pipeline.