Halfway There: Cornerbacks

Texas is getting strong play so far from its cornerbacks.

Last season, people wondered "what's wrong with Carrington Byndom?" It wasn't that Byndom was bad, per se. It was just that Byndom showed so much promise as a sophomore when asked to defend receivers like Kenny Stills and Justin Blackmon in man coverage. Because of that, he entered the year as a popular choice for the Big 12's top cover cornerback, only to see that honor scooped up by players like TCU's Jason Verrett and Oklahoma's Aaron Colvin. Many began to wonder, in fact, if Byndom was even Texas's top cornerback when compared to Quandre Diggs, an outstanding player in his own right.

Though Byndom didn't talk about it at the time, and still won't use it as an excuse, Texas coach Mack Brown has said at multiple times this year that Byndom had a nagging injury a year ago, excusing his decent, but not great, season. And it's hard to argue with that assessment, because in 2013, Byndom has re-found his mojo, again showing the athleticism and slick cover skills that

Because of his improved coverage, Byndom hasn't been tested much this year, making 20 tackles and breaking up two passes. Teams would rather throw at sophomore Duke Thomas opposite him. But that hasn't proven to be all that fruitful in recent weeks either. People will bring up the 97-yard touchdown pass to Iowa State's Quenton Bundrage, but Thomas had nearly perfect coverage and was only beaten by 1) a perfect throw and 2) an error in safety help. He has two interceptions on the year, and had both an interception and a pass broken up against the Sooners. Thomas is smart, and an excellent athlete with quick feet who should take Byndom's cover corner spot when he graduates after this year.

One of the more interesting experiments to start this season was the move of Diggs to the nickel spot, which opened up the outside for Thomas. On the surface, the move made sense. Kenny Vaccaro was so tremendously valuable in that role, and Texas needed a physical player who could offer support as a force player against the run and somebody who could lock down the Big 12's talented array of slot receivers.

At first Diggs seemed to struggle with the run support part of his duties, getting locked up by blocks and failing to make a major impact as a blitzer. But in the past two weeks, Diggs has been outstanding at all facets, making 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks over those contests. He obviously lacks Vaccaro's size, but Diggs has the nastiness and mean streak to play that spot … he even seems to walk around campus with a chip on his shoulder. And Diggs will come in even more handy when Texas starts facing teams like Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor, all of whom have deadly weapons in the slot. Though it's also worth noting that Oklahoma's Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard combined for three catches and just 18 yards against the Longhorns, and they are both dangerous slot receivers.

It's always unfortunate when a player getting their first chance at real playing time gets hurt, and that's pretty much what happened with Sheroid Evans. Evans, who had 14 tackles on the year and served as a primary rotational player, tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season. Evans has the tools to be a very good corner. He's tall, long and is one of the fastest players in the Big 12.

With the injury, Bryson Echols would likely be next up to bat to replace the three starters. He's had mixed reviews on special teams this year — he had a horrific roughing the punter penalty against BYU that caused a momentum swing, but he also saved a touchdown by hustling to tackle Roy Finch after a 73-yard kickoff return (though OU eventually scored). He's reportedly developing well as a cornerback, though it would be nice if Texas could jump up in a few games to get him more repetitions.

Leroy Scott has also played on special teams this year, though Scott would seem to sit behind Echols in the current pecking order.


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