In the aftermath of an offseason exodus that saw more than half of the Texas Longhorns 2018 starters graduate or depart for the NFL, the coaching staff had plenty of shoes to fill this spring. Among the numerous roles now requiring a fresh face is at field cornerback, which Davante Davis manned last season en route to All-Big 12 honorable mention recognition.
After beginning the spring as a backup to redshirt sophomore Kobe Boyce, sophomore Jalen Green has seemingly taken control of the field corner position down the stretch, earning the bulk of the first-team reps opposite of fellow true sophomore Anthony Cook. Unlike Cook, though, Green’s freshman campaign didn’t provide much film to evaluate his immediate future at field corner, but that changed on Saturday, and if the spring game was a sign of things to come, that recently-opened job is now Green’s to lose.
On the very first play from scrimmage, Green benefitted from confusion on the blocking scheme by 6’6 receiver Malcolm Epps and paired with nickel B.J. Foster to deliver an impactful stop on running back Keaontay Ingram after a gain of just one yard.
Seconds later, Sam Ehlinger slung it to the short side of the field to Epps on a curl route, but the attempt fell incomplete after Green jarred Epps to the turf with a perfectly-timed and imposing hit.
Was probably most impressed with Jalen Green yesterday. Here the physical sophomore delivered a perfectly timed hit on Malcolm Epps to knock the ball loose. The Orange drive ended on the following play. pic.twitter.com/A8VdlXCOEp— Cody Daniel (@CodyDanielSBN) April 14, 2019
At the tail end of the first quarter, Green’s presence became apparent yet again, albeit as the beneficiary of a missed blocking assignment from by freshman Bru McCoy.
On a quick screen dump off pass from Ehlinger to running back Jordan Whittington, Green immediately read, recognized, and reacted to the screen and arrived at the point of attack with perfect timing, delivering another jarring hit to the early enrollee that was one of, if not the most notable defensive play of the entire scrimmage.
Tom Herman said the staff challenged Jalen Green to be more physical, so they have to love this play. Green recognizes the screen immediately and again separates the ball with a huge hit, this time on Jordan Whittington. pic.twitter.com/4J3RHez3z7— Cody Daniel (@CodyDanielSBN) April 14, 2019
“We’ve challenged Jalen to get more physical,” Herman said after the Orange-White scrimmage. “He’s a big, long guy that’s got excellent ability. Really, really athletic. That’s something he needs to continue to do. I think he’s taken that to heart. I think he really wants to improve that part of his game, and you saw a little bit of that tonight.”
Physicality and forceful hits aside, though, playing cornerback, especially in the pass-happy Big 12, requires at least some semblance of polish is pass coverage.
Green impressed to that end, as well.
All told, Texas’ quarterbacks targeting Green nine times. Of those nine attempts, only three connected, and each of those three completions netted minimal gains. On one instance, Green smothered Epps on a crossing route that resulted in just one yard to force a 3rd and 7. On another, Green was again all over Epps, forcing a 4th and 1 following a short completion on a curl route on 3rd and 5. Faced with a similar situation late in the third quarter, Casey Thompson connected with Epps on a curl route to move the chains, but those five yards were all Green allowed, bringing his total to approximately 10 yards allowed on three completions.
That latter completion allowed proved to be Green’s last, as he arrived as soon as the ball did to force a drop from Epps later in the scrimmage.
When his entire effort is evaluated, Green put forth arguably the most impressive spring game performance of any Longhorn, which is especially encouraging considering how essential it is to have quality corners in the Big 12.
That said, will Green go through some growing pains as a sophomore? Certainly.
But there’s also reason those behind the scenes such as senior safety Brandon Jones see the upside the former high school All-American owns.
“Jalen Green really hasn’t gotten the playing time this year but I know for sure he’s one of those guys that I’ve seen in practice in fall camp, he’s one of the best corners we have, in my opinion,” Jones said earlier this year in an interview with Longhorn Network. “He does a really good job of just being able to find the ball wherever it is. He’s long, too, on top of that, which really helps him out in his position. So I think he’ll have a breakout year this year.”
For the sake of a tremendously young and inexperienced Texas’ secondary, the Horns will have to hope Jones’ praise is on point, but with spring now in the rearview, Green’s most significant outing to date suggests that Texas will be just fine at field corner.