Last year, the Big 12 South had some of the top defensive backs in the entire conference. Texas' Earl Thomas, a first-team all-league selection, left early for the NFL after a solid sophomore campaign as did Oklahoma's Dominique Franks. Baylor lost second-teamer Jordan Lake while Texas Tech lost Jamar Wall. Among the top returnees are second-team all-league performers Quinton Carter from Oklahoma and Texas A&M strong safety Trent Hunter.
The Bears lost standout free safety Jordan Lake and starting "hero" safety Jeremy Williams to graduation but have a number of possible replacements. Among the candidates at the free spot are sophomores-to-be Mike Hicks (29 tackles) and Anthony Moore (6 tackles). At the hero spot, senior-to-be Byron Landor (46 tackles, 1 sack) figures to have a leg up after starting three games there last fall.
Baylor is fairly squared away at the two corner spots. At the right corner, Chance Casey (36 tackles, 2 INTs) returns after a solid freshman campaign where he started the last six games. Clifton Odom (33 tackles, 1 INT) made four starts there last fall as a junior and returns as the backup. At left corner, Tim Atchison (42 tackles) is back after starting all 12 games as a junior. Backup Antareis Bryan (7 tackles) made two starts as a junior at right corner. Six members of the BU freshman class were defensive backs: Tuswani Copeland (6-0, 175), Ahmad Dixon (6-1, 190), Sam Holl (6-1, 185), Prince Kent (6-1, 200), who is going through spring drills, TC Robinson (5-10, 175) and Tyler Stephenson (5-11, 160).
With the early departure of Dominique Franks and the graduation of Brian Jackson (4 INTs), OU will have a pair of new starters at cornerback. Sophomore-to-be Demontre Hurst (14 tackles, one sack) is the top candidate to start at field corner along with Gabe Lynn, who redshirted last year. At boundary corner, Jonathan Nelson (46 tackles, one sack, 3 INTs), who made two starts at strong safety last fall as a junior, gets a look there along with junior-to-be Jamell Fleming.
The Sooners look pretty set at both safety spots. On the strong side, junior-to-be Sam Proctor (44 tackles) made 10 starts there in 2009 with sophomore-to-be Joseph Ibiloye his likely backup. At free safety, Quinton Carter (88 tackles, 4 INTs) returns after a solid junior campaign. Marcus Trice should be the backup after a solid showing as a freshman. OU added five DBs in Bob Stoops' latest recruiting class: Aaron Colvin (5-11, 175), Quentin Hayes (6-1, 175), James Haynes (6-1, 185), Tony Jefferson (5-11, 196) and Julian Wilson (6-2, 180).
All-conference corner Perrish Cox is gone as are fellow starters Lucien Antoine, OSU's fourth-leading tackler in 2009 and other starting cornerback Terrance Anderson. However, Markelle Martin (45 tackles, 4 INTs) returns at strong safety, where he made 11 starts as a sophomore. Junior-to-be Johnny Thomas (25 tackles) could be his backup but could also compete at free safety. Sophomore-to-be Brodrick Brown started in the Cotton Bowl in place of Cox. He and Andrae May, who showed flashes as a true freshman, could compete for that spot.
Safety Daytawion Lowe (10 tackles) should also see time at safety. Junior college transfer Malcolm Murray (6-2, 205), who will have three years of eligibility, is expected to come in and have an immediate impact. OSU's 2010 recruiting class included safeties Lavocheya Cooper (6-1, 185) and Deion Imade (6-0, 175). Two corners were also signed: Zachary Craig (6-3, 180) and Larry Stephens (6-0, 180).
Sure, losing Thomas (77 tackles, 8 INTs) is big, but the Longhorn DBs that do return are a pretty solid group. Safety Blake Gideon (62 tackles, 6 INTs) was an unsung member of the secondary last year as a sophomore. Seniors-to-be Curtis Brown (53 tackles, 1 INT) and Chykie Brown (48 tackles, 2 INTs) are two consistent corners. Nickel corner Aaron Williams (44 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 INTs) is another key contributor. Sophomore-to-be Kenny Vaccaro (19 tackles) or junior-to-be Ben Wells (10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) could vie for Thomas' old spot.
Sophomore-to-be Marcus Davis (10 tackles) also got solid experience last fall as a true freshman. UT added four defensive backs in their latest recruiting class. Carrington Byndom (6-0, 175) and AJ White (6-0, 175), who enrolled early and is going through spring drills, are the two corners. Bryan Jackson (6-2, 186) and Adrian Phillips (5-11, 199) round out the group.
With the trio of Hunter and fellow returning starters Terrence Frederick and Dustin Harris at the two corner spots, the A&M secondary looks like a pretty solid unit. The only glaring hole is at free safety, where Jordan Pugh has graduated. He led the team with three interceptions last fall. Sophomore-to-be Colton Valencia, who played in every game last year as a true freshman, could be Pugh's replacement.
Another sophomore-to-be to watch is Steve Terrell, who figures to again back up Frederick at corner. Terrell also played in every game last fall for Mike Sherman's Aggies. A&M added two corners in their latest recruiting class in Toney Hurd, Jr. (5-9, 184) and Tramone Mickens (5-11, 170). However, Mickens has double signed with the Aggies and Navarro College, meaning A&M fans might have to wait a year or two to see him between the lines at Kyle Field.
Tech returns three of four starters in their secondary and all three returnees are seniors, bringing a wealth of experience to that unit. At free safety, Cody Davis (81 tackles) is back with fellow senior-to-be Julius Howard (29 tackles) backing him up. On the strong side, Franklin Mitchem (57 tackles, 2 INTs) returns along with junior-to-be Brett Dewhurst. At right cornerback, Laron Moore (42 tackles, 2 INTs) will again start with junior-to-be Taylor Charbonnet (15 tackles) as the backup.
However, there is a void at left corner where starter Jamar Wall and backup Brent Nickerson have both graduated. Sophomore-to-be Will Ford (22 tackles) could get a look there as could DJ Johnson, who had 24 stops as a true freshman. The Red Raiders have nine DBs in their latest recruiting class. The four safeties are: Desmond Martin (6-1, 177), Russell Polk (5-10, 185), Tre'Vante Porter (5-11, 185) and Zac Winbush (6-1, 205). Incoming corners are: Urell Johnson (6-0, 175), Benjamin McRoy (5-9, 159), Brandon Smith (6-1, 170), Phillip Warren (5-9, 180) and Levaughn Whigham (6-1, 175).
Ranking the Secondaries of the Big 12 South
1) Texas: Blake Gideon, Chykie Brown, Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams all return.
2) Texas A&M: Safety Trent Hunter is back along with fellow starters Terrence Frederick and Dustin Harris.
3) Oklahoma: Losing Franks and Jackson hurts but Quinton Carter is a solid performer at free safety.
4) Texas Tech: Tech returns three starters in safeties Cody Davis and Franklin Mitchem plus corner and Laron Moore.
5) Oklahoma State: Markelle Martin is the lone returning starter in the OSU secondary, which was hit hard by graduation.
6) Baylor: Bears have big holes at both safety spots. Tim Atchison is an anchor at left cornerback.For more information about the Big 12 South, check out FoxSportsSouthwest.com