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Texas S spring preview: Jalen Catalon helps Longhorns stay old

The Arkansas transfer will join Jerrin Thompson in the defensive backfield, assuming that his shoulder holds up.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Arkansas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing season at the safety position in 2021 marked by inconsistent play, Brenden Schooler graduated and BJ Foster left via the NCAA transfer portal, leading the Texas Longhorns to move nickel back Anthony Cook to play next to Jerrin Thompson.

The result was improved play all around with the veteran Cook providing a steadying influence and Thompson showing improvement after a stagnant sophomore season. Cornerback Kitan Crawford’s own position change yielded less benefit, but at least former walk-on Michael Taaffe proved steady and reliable.

During the offseason, the coaching staff brought in Arkansas transfer Jalen Catalon even though he’s missed most of the last two seasons with recurring shoulder injuries while losing former consensus four-star prospect JD Coffey to the portal.

Jalen Catalon

The Mansfield Legacy product was a three-sport standout and key Texas target in the 2019 recruiting class before ultimately choosing Arkansas, where he redshirted before a breakout 2020 season that saw him log 99 total tackles (51 solo), 2.0 tackles for loss, three interceptions, four passes broken up, one fumble recovery, and two forced fumbles.

As a redshirt sophomore, Catalon appeared in six games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury and only lasted one game in 2022 upon his return. With Catalon’s career in Fayetteville derailed by those shoulder issues, he opted for a change of scenery and landed on the Forty Acres.

Catalon will be limited during spring practice as he continues to rehabilitate his shoulder, so there was a certain amount of risk assumed by the Longhorns coaching staff since there aren’t any guarantees that he’ll hold up physically for a full season for the first time in three years.

But if Catalon is healthy, Texas will get a physical, instinctive playmaker who should also serve as a leader in the position room and across the entire defense — it’s a calculated risk and one that will yield some leadership benefits even in the worst-case scenario.

Jerrin Thompson

Thompson showed some promise as a freshman in 2020 with two late-season starts, including a pass breakup and an interception against Kansas State, but his sophomore season was a disappointment as the Nacogdoches product bounced in and out of the starting lineup, recording 41 tackles, three tackles for loss, three pass breakups, and a forced fumble.

Battling through an undisclosed shoulder issue that required wearing a harness for the second half of the season, Thompson nonetheless played better in 2022 with 83 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception, and seven pass breakups.

Thompson proved his toughness and ability to play through pain last year, but he also dropped a handful of interception that he hit in the, well, hands — he has a knack for being in the right place, he just needs to take advantage of those opportunities by coming up with interceptions.

Kitan Crawford

A two-way standout at Tyler John Tyler with verified high-level speed, Crawford struggled to break into the cornerback rotation over his first two years before moving to safety last offseason in an attempt to find more playing time. Crawford was able to record 25 tackles, two pass breakups, and a blocked field goal, but he struggled to remain assignment sound, rendering himself close to unplayable at safety. Unless Crawford attention to detail and mental side of the game can close the gap with his athleticism and willingness as a tackler, his contributions will likely be limited to special teams in 2023.

Larry Turner-Gooden

Ranked as a consensus four-star prospect and the No. 24 safety in the 2022 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Turner-Gooden was a January addition to the class after missing most of his senior season due to injury and redshirted while appearing in four games last fall.

A two-way player in high school in California, Turner-Gooden has the ball skills one would expect as a former receiver with the frame and mindset to help in run support while providing versatility with his coverage skills.

Turner-Gooden’s development this spring will not only impact whether he can break into the rotation at safety this fall, but could also determine where Taaffe will play this season.

BJ Allen

Ranked as the nation’s No. 10 safety out of state powerhouse Aledo, it was a concerning development last year that Allen did not appear in a single game despite multiple blowouts and enrolling early. Throw in the recent decommitment of his younger brother Jaden and the spring looms even larger for Allen to make an impression — as Coffey’s departure after two seasons indicated, the timetable to become a contributor is accelerated in the new era of college football with the one-time transfer waiver.


The addition of Catalon was much needed with the lack of proven depth at the position while also introducing a relatively wide range of possible outcomes next to Thompson, who has emerged as a solid starter and locker-room leader. The concern is the lack of proven depth behind them with Crawford’s struggles last year and the potential move of Taaffe to nickel back — he’s good insurance in case the need arises at safety, but this group is a bit thin until Derek Williams and Warren Roberson arrive this summer.