Heading into 2014, Adrian Phillips will graduate from the secondary, marking the end of a senior year that was better than so many gave Phillips credit for. Not only was he much more of a sure tackler, but Phillips was a key lynchpin in Greg Robinson's defense, performing every task from playing centerfield on passing situations to blitzing and supplying an extra man in the box.
Now, who can fill that spot? Could it be Mykkele Thompson, who seemed to find more of a role as an in-the-box safety? Thompson is an interesting player in that he has the speed and athleticism to play over the top, but has struggled instinctually there (especially from an angles standpoint). He fared better when lining up in the box, but his size at 185 pounds and the fact that he's not a mashing tackler means that he's not ideally suited for that role either. The current Texas staff has toyed with the idea of trying him at cornerback, and that might be a better spot. But him moving up a level defensively would also leave the Longhorns scrambling to fill both safety positions next year.
Not that there isn't talent at those spots. Adrian Colbert was an impact safety as a late-blooming player in high school, and the coaches are impressed with the way his speed can impact a game. And Chevoski Collins, who redshirted this season before bouncing from wide receiver to safety, is said to have the traits needed to be an ideal free safety. In high school, he played both offense and defense, and wasn't afraid to get his jersey dirty.
Two of the other options are more experienced. Josh Turner has been a key rotational piece for the last few years, while Leroy Scott emerged this year for his heart and toughness. Could Scott use that time to propel himself into the starting lineup?
Erik Huhn could potentially play an in-the-box role, though with his size — he reported at more than 210 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame — he could be headed permanently into the box as a linebacker. And Kevin Vaccaro will be back from an injury as well. Freshman John Bonney is an instinctive player, though he doesn't blow you away in any one phase of the game, while Jason Hall is more toolsy.
The best thing would be for the Longhorns to somehow lure one of the elite safeties in the Class of 2014 to campus. Jamal Adams has said he's eliminated the Longhorns from his list, but will he still feel that way if there's a home run hire? Edward Paris and Dylan Sumner-Gardner wouldn't seem to be real possibilities.
That puts more stress on the 2015 class, particularly with Turner, Scott and Thompson all entering their senior seasons. Johnny Shaw is in the fold, but he's not even starting for his high school team. With Deionte Thompson (Alabama) and Justin Dunning (Texas A&M) already committed, that puts more pressure on the Longhorns to land either Larry Pryor or look out-of-state for other targets.
Additionally, Texas has already extended an offer to 2016 safety Deionte Thompson, of Manvel.