As is the case throughout every area of the Texas Longhorns defense, the secondary is hurting for experience entering the spring.
Thanks to graduation, the Longhorns lost 90 cumulative starts, 473 tackles, and 80 passes defended, as the tenures of Kris Boyd, Davante Davis, and P.J. Locke III are each now in the rearview. Thankfully for Texas, there is some experience at the back of the secondary, as the Horns return both of 2018’s safety starters in Caden Sterns and Brandon Jones, who will be a sophomore and a senior, respectively. In spite of that continuity at the safety position, though, the Longhorns new-look secondary will feature three new faces at both cornerback positions, as well as at nickel back.
Furthermore, another fresh face will find the field a bit earlier than anticipated as Jones, who was one of the first draft-eligible players to announce his return to Texas for one final season, announced that he underwent a procedure to fix a high ankle sprain experienced early in the 2018 season. Consequently, Jones will miss all 14 practices and the Orange-White Game, though his temporary absence opens the door for another young safety talent to develop.
When fully healthy, Sterns and Jones will be one of the best safety combinations in the country, with an incredible mix of size, range, and physicality. Then the question becomes, who fills in the other spots for Texas as they fill in their defense?
The name fans may be most familiar with is sophomore defensive back B.J. Foster. The big defender was a recognizable name before coming onto the Forty Acres and lived up to his No. 24 national ranking in his first season. Foster started six games for Texas in 2018, including the big Sugar Bowl win over the Georgia Bulldogs, in which Foster made highlights for laying some big hits, including a second-quarter forced fumble.
The 6’2, 210-pound sophomore is able to play multiple roles in the secondary, which makes him a dangerous tool for defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. He started six games as a true freshman due to injuries and should be set to contend for reps at nickel back and returning to his late 2018 role as the hybrid Joker safety. In 13 total appearances, Foster notched 46 tackles, one interception, and two forced fumbles.
Joining him in competition for the vacancy at nickel back, and potentially the favorite as Foster is an ideal fit at Joker, is the only other upperclassman, junior Josh Thompson, who should be one of the primary defenders in the secondary.
The 6’0, 200-pound, physical defender from Nacogdoches appeared in 13 games as a sophomore at both corner and nickel, starting three at nickel. With 22 appearances and three starts, he will bring experience and seniority to a group in need of both, though his potential role this spring would mark a new norm for Thompson.
Anthony Cook and Jalen Green, a pair of highly-coveted defenders from the 2018 class, appear to be the most likely options to replace Boyd and Davis at cornerback.
Cook was an early enrollee as part of the RevolUTion18 class, formerly ranked as the No. 10 cornerback and the No. 64 player overall, per the 247Sports Composite. Throughout the 2018 season, Cook played in all 14 games and was a big contributor when the defense was banged up against the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Now more than ever, the spring will provide Cook with an opportunity to flash the elite technician reputation that he earned among the high school ranks.
Green, on the other hand, came in as the No. 6 cornerback and appeared in 11 games, primarily as a special teams contributor.
A high school All-American, he has the size, speed, and coverage skills to become a cornerstone defender on one side of the field. Green was a lockdown cornerback for Houston Heights High School and could potentially have as much upside as any defender from the 2018 class, as evidenced by his extensive offer list out of high school and quick rise up the depth chart.
As Texas looks to reload defensively, what the secondary lacks in experience, it accounts for with raw talent and potential.