The Texas Longhorns defense is taking a big hit.
Thanks to the eight graduating seniors, Texas is losing a total 223 starts on that side of the ball. More than a few of those players will find their ways onto NFL rosters next season.
So when Brandon Jones announced his decision to come back, the Longhorns gained not only a talented defender but an anchor for the defense.
Jones has been a productive player for the Longhorns in his three seasons with 147 total tackles. His career for Texas took off in his sophomore season, as he took over the starting role at safety. As a sophomore, he finished third on the team in tackles.
As Texas looks to reload, his experience will be key to the Longhorns efforts defensively.
Based on the Georgia two-deep, had Jones not returned the most-experienced potential starter in 2019 would be defensive end Malcolm Roach with 11. The rest are in single digits. Jones brings with him two full seasons of starting experience, both of which he played at a high level and helped anchor the back end of the defense.
As a rule, safeties play a critical role in defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s scheme. In 2015, 2016, and 2017 a safety was one of the team’s three leading tacklers. The same could have been said for 2018 if it was not for the late-season injury suffered by Jones.
Four seasons ago, Houston Cougars safety Adrian McDonald finished the campaign No. 3 on the team with 91 total tackles on the season. The 2016 campaign ended with safety Khalil Williams at No. 3 behind both starting linebackers, just six tackles shy of the No. 2 spot.
Last season, DeShon Elliott put on a Thorpe Award-worthy performance put him second on the team with 63 tackles, while Jones sat just three tackles behind Elliott at No. 3. This season, Jones likely would have ended the year as one of the top, if not the top, tacklers on the team.
Jones started seven of the first eight games of the season, heading into Week 9’s matchup against the West Virginia Mountaineers four out of the top spot, in spite of missing Week 2 with an ankle injury suffered against Maryland. Jones then missed the next three games, finally taking the field again against the Kansas Jayhawks.
In spite of that, he still notched 70 tackles on the season, good enough for No. 4 on the team. It’s easy to believe that had Jones not missed those four games, he would have easily made up the seven tackles that separated him and P.J. Locke for the No. 3 spot. Taking it to the extreme, if he hit his seven tackle per game average, he would have ended the season with 98 tackles, taking the top spot by eight.
Not only does Jones bring experience and his obvious playmaking abilities, but it allows the Texas defense a bit of added depth to a defensive backfield that needs to figure out which of its untested players can contribute.
Jones’s presence presumably allows BJ Foster to continue to play from the Joker in the defensive scheme, as well as potentially getting heavy rotation at the nickel spot. If that is indeed the move, then expect Josh Thompson to shift outside at the cornerback position, with his big frame giving Texas yet another big, physical corner.
His presence at the back of the defense will also allow he and rising sophomore Caden Sterns to continue a successful partnership. The freshman All-American thrived when he was able to play a center field coverage role, rather than being pressed into more significant coverage responsibilities.
With that answer in the books, now Texas must figure out how to replace its other key pieces of the defense if the Longhorns want to improve on the 2018 finish. However, with back-to-back top 10 recruiting classes, the depth of talent on the defense gives the coaching staff plenty to choose from.