True freshmen Blake Gideon and Nolan Brewster share top billing at the other safety spot. Collectively, they’ll all have to grow up in a hurry.
Florida Atlantic junior QB Rusty Smith, a pro-style pocket passer who threw for 3,688 yards last season, is a daunting opening-day test for Texas’ kiddy corps in the defensive backfield. Smith tossed 32 touchdowns against just nine INTs in leading the Owls to the 2007 Sun Belt Conference championship and a win in the New Orleans Bowl.
It’s a “real concern” that has challenged defensive coaches, Longhorn head coach Mack Brown said Monday. But if it’s any consolation to Texas fans, the new kids on the block are reminiscent of recent Longhorn greats who also played as freshmen.
“They (current safeties) are very talented and much like the group we lost to the NFL a couple of seasons ago,” Brown said. “They’re very much like the Michael Huffs and Cedric Griffins who played as redshirted freshmen. We’re back to that again. They had some growing pains.”
Texas has nixed the rhetoric of ‘free’ and ‘strong’ safety, listing Earl Thomas and Christian Scott as ‘right safeties’; Gideon, Brewster and RS-freshmen Ben Wells occupy the ‘left safety’ position. The intent is to simplify matters for Texas’ inexperienced DBs.
“You’ll get a lot more multiple looks when we get into (Big 12 play)”, Brown said. “Where it gets you with young guys, and this where we feel the ‘right’ and ‘left’ (distinction) will help, is you just play two-deep. You don’t get into all the adjustments. Let’s let the linebackers adjust and all the other people adjust, and (the safeties) will just help them. You (safety) will just play your side of the field. We’re not asking them to check to a lot of different coverages or a lot of different looks.”
Each safety has been cross trained at both positions. As such, Brown intends to play the two most productive safeties regardless of ‘left’ or ‘right’.
Thomas was considered the only lock for a starting spot; the West Orange Stark product reinforced a breakout spring season with an outstanding August camp. Gideon raised some eyebrows when he opened with the Ones at left (‘strong’) safety during the first practice session opened to the public. Gideon got a leg up on competition by enrolling early last spring.
There was some preseason talk of moving Brewster to SLB, but RS-freshman Keenan Robinson enjoyed a solid camp as Sergio Kindle’s understudy. Brewster’s late surge, however, earned him a spot on the two-deep at safety.
“Nolan Brewster has really come hard in the end,” Brown noted. “He’s been really interesting for us. He’s doing a good job.”
The depth chart took a hit when junior safety Ishie Odueqwu underwent surgery Monday morning to repair the same left should injury that sidelined him during spring football. No timetable has been set for his return. Even so, Brown is still looking for more separation at safety.
“Very honestly, since there’s any experience in any of them, and since they’re all talented, we’re having trouble separating them…(DB coach) Duane (Akina) has a problem this week in that he has to start working fewer guys just so he can focus on some,” Brown concluded, “but they’re good players. We’re excited about them for the future.”
The future arrives Saturday for Texas’ freshmen safeties.