With spring practice just starting, it's impossible to tell just exactly how the Longhorns are going to run their defense. But it seems safe to say that safety play is going to be of vital importance. Strong, of course, is famous for inventing the 30 Stack defense, a version of the 3-3-5 that relies on three safeties on the back end. And though he shifted to four-man fronts when that most suited his personnel at Florida and later at Louisville, the safety remained a key position.
So what is Texas getting in DeShon Elliott? At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Elliott is a bigger safety with the frame to grow into a linebacker, much like recent Rockwall-Heath product Raaquan Davis, who wound up at Baylor. And much like Davis, you don't want to pigeon-hole Elliott just because of that frame. He runs too well, displays ball skills and the ability to make plays over the top in coverage like any top safety. Those talents have helped Elliott land a four-star ranking as Scout.com's No. 13 safety in the country.
But that's not to say that those who want to place bets on Elliott winding up in the box at the next level are wrong, either. Elliott plays all over the place for Rockwall-Heath, spending much of his time in the box as essentially another linebacker. And he plays that role well, showing sideline-to-sideline potential, disrupting plays as a blitzer and perhaps most surprisingly, displaying the ability to take on blocks and shed them with his hands in a surprising fashion. If Elliott does come in and blow up to 220-plus pounds, linebacker certainly makes sense, and he'd be a linebacker with the ability to slide out and cover slot receivers as needed.
It's that kind of scheme versatility that makes Elliott such a tantalizing target. Compare him to 2014 Texas signee Edwin Freeman, and Elliott shows more speed and fluidity than the Arlington Bowie product. What he doesn't quite have is Freeman's raw power at the point of attack, nor Freeman's tendency to explode through ball-carriers. Elliott will make the occasional big hit, but he's more of a wrap-up and take to the ground type tackler, while Freeman is more likely to deliver a blow.
Having said all that, that's also why many think that Freeman's future may well be as a linebacker. And that's why Elliott may project best as a safety at the next level. Either way, the two give Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford multi-talented players to plug into different defensive spots.
Then there's the Texas A&M factor. It's no secret that the Longhorns have been lagging behind the Aggies in 2015 recruitment, with A&M winning most of the head-to-head battles to date. But Elliott represents a step in the other direction, one of the state's most talented and versatile players choosing to play on the 40 Acres rather than in College Station.
While some of the biggest recruiting battles have yet to play out this cycle, Elliott is no small fish, and he certainly represents the ability for Strong and Co. to score a major recruiting victory over Texas's in-state rival.