When the curtain closed on the 2018 campaign, it marked the end of eligibility for more than half of the Texas Longhorns’ starting cast. Save for Sam Ehlinger returning to his role at quarterback, the Longhorns replace at least one starter — in most cases, multiple — at literally every level on each side of the ball. Included in this bunch are both of the starting Texas cornerbacks in Davante Davis and Kris Boyd, the latter of whom ended his college career as a first-team All-Big 12 selection.
It appears that sophomore Jalen Green and redshirt sophomore Kobe Boyce will battle it out to fill the void Davis left behind as the field corner, but Boyd’s shoes will be a bit more difficult to fill given the skill set and responsibilities required from a boundary corner.
Anthony Cook may be the answer to that end.
A former high school All-American once considered to be a top 10 prospect nationally and the second-best corner in the 2018 class, Cook arrived in Austin last spring with a reputation as a technician — as polished of a cover corner as you’ll find from a prospect at that early stage in their development. With Davis and Boyd leaving a capable, yet tremendously young and inexperienced crop of cornerbacks behind, Cook is, in all likelihood, already the most adept coverage corner on the Texas roster this spring, despite the inexperienced label that he, too, carries.
As a true freshman last season, Cook saw some semblance of action in each of the Longhorns 14 games, but he didn’t exactly enjoy the kind of teeth-cutting experience that some comfortable wins could have afforded the young corner who was sure to be stepping into a far more significant role as soon as this spring. The road loss to Oklahoma State stands as the only notable example of Cook being thrown into the fire for an extended period of time, as he and Boyce started in place of Davis and Boyd as they served first-quarter suspensions.
Notably, Cook wasn’t the player that the Cowboys picked on during that disastrous first quarter — he was targeted just once in the red zone, and unsuccessfully so. Granted, Texas relied on a more conservative scheme more than usual throughout that 15-minute stretch to ease the burden a bit, but in coverage, Cook’s backpedal and transitions looked as clean and quick as expected given his reputation coming out of high school.
That reputation now has Cook primed to replace Boyd as the Texas boundary cornerback; a role in which confidence, competitiveness, and of course, competency in coverage are all required. Cook’s preference to play physically and press at the line of scrimmage suggests that he checks the former two boxes, while his footwork, fluidity flipping his hips and running step-for-step with receivers, and ability to read, react, and make plays on the ball point to his proficiency in the latter.
Generally speaking, a field corner enjoys the luxury of additional safety help over the top of the larger portion of the field. A boundary cornerback, on the other hand, is often left alone on an island, so the need for Texas’ top coverage corner to fill that role is obvious.
“Cook has the size, he has the length, he has the competitive side of it,” former Houston Lamar defensive backs coach and current Houston North Shore defensive backs coach Theadis Reagins previously told BON of Cook. “He’s a student of the game. He’s going to be a playmaker. I think he can take a guy out of the game, the top receiver, I believe he can take that out of some games.”
Beyond the heightened aptitude the team’s next boundary corner must have in coverage, though, is the added responsibility that comes with being physically able to help set the edge against the run on the shorter side of the field.
To that end, the once-168-pound Cook has now bulked up to a solid 190 pounds, which falls just five pounds short of Boyd’s 2018 playing weight of 195 pounds.
Austin, TX... UT Jr. Day!— Coach Reagins (@CoachReagins) February 16, 2019
always good visiting with these guys @D_JAMISON5 & @_ACook21 seeing their growth/development is impressive #SugarBowlChamps pic.twitter.com/1XvHr0u2Cw
Given Cook’s physical development and truly elite upside as a coverage corner, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he received the bulk of the first-team reps at corner to begin spring practice before suffering a minor hamstring injury, nor should it come as a surprise that senior safety Brandon Jones projected Cook will breakout as a sophomore.
Of course, he’ll almost certainly suffer through some growing pains as he grows into a considerably heightened role, but the expectations that Cook would be filling someone’s shoes in the secondary sooner than later surfaced as soon as he signed with Texas over Ohio State and LSU.
In only his second spring on the Forty Acres, it appears those shoes he’ll be filling will be Boyd’s at the boundary corner.