Texas returns seven DBs who logged meaningful snaps on game-day last season, combining for 35 starts and/or 64 appearances. In fact, the most interesting defensive battles for playing time over the next few weeks will take place in the secondary. Senior Phillip Geiggar has FS nailed down but the other three spots listed co-starters for top dog coming into camp a week ago.
Fifth-year senior Geiggar is the old man in the secondary. The 2003 Honorable Mention All-Big selection will turn 24 this November, and in the eyes of his peers, that's old enough to die. He started seven games at FS (following the season-ending injury to Dakarai Pearson), one at SS and one at nickelback. Geiggar turned in the biggest defensive play of last season against Kansas State. You may recall that with Texas trailing, 20-17, in the fourth quarter, Vasher mishandled a punt and KSU took over on the Texas 16. A TD here puts Texas down by two scores in a game where the Horns had done nothing offensively since halftime. Two plays after Vasher's miscue, Geiggar forces a QB Ell Roberson fumble that he recovers on the 20. It led to the game-winning drive in that 24-20 win over the eventual Big 12 champs. Geiggar's 90 tackles last season trailed only All-American WLB Derrick Johnson. Just as important, Geiggar and Johnson established themselves as the vocal leaders of the defense last spring.
RS-sophomore Matt Melton is Geiggar's primary backup. He saw action in eight games, totaling 13 tackles, but Orangebloods are more likely to remember Melton's fumble return for TD to complete the scoring in the 55-16 route at Oklahoma State. He also blocked a punt against Baylor.
Versatile Michael Huff will likely hold down SS but could slide over to RCB (as he has already done some in practice) if some of the youngsters don't step up. He started all 13 games as a RS-freshman in 2002 at both SS and CB. Now, the experienced junior has 25 starts and has recorded 136 career tackles. Here's a stat you don't see every day: all four of Huff's career interceptions have been returned for TDs (including a 55-yarder against New Mexico State and a 27-yarder against Iowa State last season). That's a school record and one more return for TD ties the NCAA mark. He also blocked a punt (that FL Tony Jeffery recovered in the end zone) to open the scoring against Kansas State last fall. He added a career-high three TFLs against Nebraska.
Sophomore Michael Griffin is the primary backup at SS and started the last two games of 2003 when Texas opened in the nickel package. If Huff starts at strong safety, he will again be the Horns' nickel back this fall. He registered a career-high 10 tackles against Texas A&M and Washington State. Griffin posted a team-best 21 special teams tackles, and 65 tackles overall, last season.
Thing is, if Huff slides over to CB, it also leaves open the door for Parade All-American Drew Kelson to make his move as a true freshman. Depending on who you talk to, some say the Houston Lamar product was the jewel of the 2004 recruiting class. The 6-2, 210-pounder is considered a prototype at SS. He notched six INT last season, returning three for TDs, and averaged 37 yards per return.
Coming out of spring, Aaron Ross was listed as a co-starter alongside junior Cedric Griffin (at left corner), which clearly was a signal that coaches sent to the incumbent. The hamstring injury to Aaron Ross last week, though, probably seals Griffin's spot in the starting line-up come opening day. Griffin started all 13 games last year and six as a RS-freshman, but his second season was often forgettable. He looked dazed and confused against Arkansas and OU as the Texas pass defense was shredded. Griffin made his first (and only) career INT against KSU last season. He came up with some exciting plays as a frosh, forcing a key fumble against Texas A&M and returning a blocked FG 56 yards for TD against Tulane (the first time it's happened in school history).
RS-freshman Brandon Foster, a high school sprint star, has worked as the No. 2 at both right and left corner. Freshman Steve Richardson is working behind Griffin and Foster and is a probable redshirt.
Huff's status will be uncertain until (or unless) Ross or sophomore Tarell Brown stake a claim at left. (And so far, that hasn't happened.) There's still a learning curve for Ross, but this is an otherwise savvy 22-year old sophomore who brings the wood to a defense that has (shall we say) shown lapses in aggression. Ross lost his 'shirt early last season, registering a tackle in the home opener against NMSU. He contributed 27 tackles on the season, including 11 on special teams (and he's also a back-up to junior RB Selvin Young at PR). Parade All-American Brown played in all 13 games as the primary backup at RCB but failed to show enough separation in spring from fellow sophomore Ross for the starting assignment. The contest between Brown and Ross was expected to be one of the most heated during spring drills. Both played well at times, Brown told me last spring, while expressing gratitude for Huff's versatility. Huff slid over to RCB during the last few practices of spring ball and again over the most recent August workouts.
Overall, Huff is the ace in the hole for a unit that is charged with creating more turnovers by a) mixing in more zone defense; b) doing a better job of disguising coverage schemes and c) blitzing more, especially with Geiggar.