A team is only as good as its front line, a wave of experienced starters ready to supply leadership in the offseason and in the locker room, while providing the difference between winning and losing close games. But a program is only as strong as the next men up, the players who will be called upon after those front-line the year that those experienced players leave.
One-by-one, we're taking looks at each position on the Texas team, looking only at the sophomores, freshmen and committed recruits for the future. Texas has some talent, but is lacking experience, at safety.
Interestingly enough, the most experienced player of the young safety crop is Kevin Vaccaro. While it appears that Vaccaro may have a way to go before seeing the field, his aggression and athleticism was good enough to earn him a spot on special teams as a true freshman.
Originally a grayshirt offer, Vaccaro earned a full offer by displaying an ability to play bump-and-run. He was a bit of a 'tweener as a prospect … a player who was cornerback-sized, but who had more of a safety-type skill set. But there were some hopes that he'd hit a late growth spurt — as older brother Kenny Vaccaro did — that would leave Texas with a real steal. Vaccaro did, in fact, grow, but stopped at 5-foot-10, not ideal size for his natural safety position. That could leave him fighting an uphill battle to be a major contributor at the position, meaning he'll have to excel at the mental side of the game to get ahead.
If Vaccaro is a bit less than ideal physically, Adrian Colbert is exactly what each team looks for. A late-bloomer, Colbert was actually considering a Texas track offer in the summer heading into his senior year. But a huge senior season left Colbert as one of the top 15-or-so players in the state, and gave him several offers to choose from. After initially committing to Baylor, Colbert switched his commitment late in the process to the Longhorns.
Of the young safeties in the Texas pipeline, Colbert is far-and-away the most intriguing. He has really high-caliber speed, which he displayed multiple times this spring in running down players from behind. And he's not afraid to lower the boom on players head-on either. He still has a little bit of polishing up to do, but he could very well win a spot on the two-deep this year, as a redshirt freshman, then play a much bigger role in the next few seasons.
Erik Huhn was an outstanding safety at Cibolo Steele, and he's flying somewhat under-the-radar because he tore his ACL on the second play of his senior year. How'd he do on those two plays? He had a tackle-for-loss on the first play, and made a leaping interception on the second. He landed wrong on his knee when coming back to the ground and didn't play again. But as a junior, he was arguably the state's top safety, a playmaker who helped Steele to the state title game.
The physical tools are certainly there: Huhn is currently 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, and logged a 4.47 40-yard dash time, though Huhn is perhaps best known for his instincts and solid tackling. Texas defensive backs coach Duane Akina noted that Huhn played zone most of his career, and asked him to come to camp and prove that he could cover man-to-man. Huhn did just that, and earned a scholarship on the spot. The only dangers with Huhn are two-fold: 1) that he could be a bit injury-prone and 2) that, with his current size and frame, he could out-grow his safety spot. That wouldn't be a bad deal overall, just not a great deal for a safety group trying to improve its young depth.
Chevoski Collins was recruited to Texas as an athlete, and he could get a shot at both wide receiver and safety, though most seem to agree that he'll end up at the latter spot, where his speed, range and ball skills will be tremendously helpful. Collins is a prototype safety in the Akina system, somebody with the versatility and athleticism to play multiple spots, while he's also not afraid to play physically.
But with so few proven players, and with the bulk of the current two-deep set to graduate in a couple years, 2014 became a big recruiting class for the position. And it just so happens that the 2014 in-state class is loaded with talented safeties. True, Texas lost some of its bigger targets with guys like Nick Harvey and Dylan Sumner-Gardner (Texas A&M) and Ed Paris (LSU) calling it for other schools.
But arguably the best safety in Texas, Jamal Adams, remains, as does top target John Bonney. Because of Texas's need at the position, and Adams's ability level, he stands as potentially the biggest "must-get" recruit of the 2014 class. He's the complete package, somebody who is physical enough to be a mashing hitter over the middle, and a player athletic enough to play cornerback in a pinch, and who can excel at Texas's all-important nickel back spot.
Texas also sits in a great spot for one of the state's top two 2015 safeties in Larry Pryor of Sulphur Springs. Deionte Thompson of West Orange-Stark is a good-looking guy as well, and though he's an Alabama commitment, he'd have to be considered a soft one, as he's still visiting schools and trying to find the right fit.
There are some safeties that I really like in the pipeline, especially Colbert and incoming freshman Collins. Huhn is a wonderful talent at the position, but at 6-3 210 before he even hits a college weight program, he could spin down to linebacker. As usual, these grades are figured for talent, but also for proven talent, and Texas just doesn't have a young player who has taken formative reps at the position as of yet. Vaccaro saw his action on special teams, Colbert redshirted a year ago and Collins and Huhn haven't even hit campus yet. That means that while there's some ability here, there's no proven stock as of yet. Because of that, it's nearly impossible to give a higher grade than a C here.