From Christian Scott's suspension to Adrian Phillips moving to cornerback and Bryant Jackson sliding to wide receiver, the Longhorn safety position has seen a number of bodies leave its ranks. And this week, even with Scott's return, the situation doesn't get any better because Nolan Brewster has elected to end his football career after a series of migraines.
But while that has made things tough sledding in terms of depth, there isn't any doubting the performance of those safeties on the field. Kenny Vaccaro has been one of the defense's top players, ranking second in tackles, tying for second in interceptions and passes defended and placing third in quarterback hurries. His performance has opened a lot of eyes with regard his potential as an NFL Draft early entry candidate.
Then there's Blake Gideon. Gideon has missed tackles a few times, but has cut down his poor plays from a year ago, and has largely been in the right spot at the right time. A lot of that probably has to do with the play of Vaccaro — Gideon showed as a sophomore that he can be effective when paired with an elite safety (then Earl Thomas). He'll always give you a hitter in run support, and he forced an interception with a tipped ball against UCLA.
Scott's return opens up some questions with regard to how he'll be used. He's mostly effective as a run support player, while Brewster's intelligence allowed him to be an effective player in nickel situations. The problem is that both Vaccaro and Gideon give plenty in run support, meaning that there isn't necessarily a need for Scott's talents, as much as the depth that an extra body can provide. You could be looking at a mostly three-man rotation with Vaccaro, Gideon and Phillips, based on the situation.
Speaking of depth, expect players like Mykkele Thompson or Sheroid Evans to see more time as well. Brewster's departure leaves a giant hole at the position for next year, especially with many expecting Vaccaro to leave early. And while the staff is confident that Phillips can slide back to safety full-time, he'll need to be paired with somebody, and hopefully somebody with a bit of relevant experience.
Quick Hit Analysis: Vaccaro's play has been outstanding, and Gideon is improved from a year ago. Now, there's just the problem of adding quality depth behind those players, especially depth that could be used in 2012.