How do you replace a Thorpe award winner? You put a preseason All-American and Thorpe Award candidate who actually had more tackles and interceptions than the Thorpe Award winner in his spot.
But who are you going to put in his original spot? No problem…if he's got a twin brother.
The leader of the DBs and, indeed, the entire Texas defense is safety Michael Griffin. Griffin will be moving over to Huff's vacated strong safety spot, which means he'll be moved all over the field during games, creating even more opportunities for tackles, interceptions and even sacks. Free safety was a tough positional battle in spring practice, but coming out of the fray on top is Michael's twin brother Marcus Griffin, who saw significant playing time last year, finishing with 32 tackles.
The backups at free and strong will be senior Matt Melton and redshirt freshman Ishie Oduegwu. Melton has played in 33 games at Texas and should rotate frequently with Marcus Griffin at free safety. Oduegwu redshirted last season and may only be 5'10", but he is as fast as he is unpronounceable.
Tarrell Brown was officially a starter at corner, but he rotated with Aaron Ross and the two saw essentially the same amount of playing time (registering 69 and 62 tackles, respectively) in the spot opposite Cedric Griffin. This year the two seniors will start on either side of the defense. Brown is healthy again after breaking his arm in the national championship game, a game in which he also had a career high ten tackles and two pass break-ups. Ross was tied for the team lead with three INTs last season and will remain as the starting punt returner. He will obviously need to be spelled, but the nickel and dime cornerback spots haven't been settled yet, as Brandon Foster, Erick Jackson and Ryan Palmer will all look for playing time in key passing downs.
The depth in the secondary is there, but not nearly strong or proven enough to give all of the freshmen redshirts. The defensive backfield is where the highest number of true freshmen will get playing time to provide the depth, which will be absolutely necessary considering that Texas has a pair of tough road games against spread attacks (Texas Tech and Nebraska). Three of the true freshmen who could see playing time in the Longhorn secondary have already played in the same backfield before. Ken Beasley, Chykie Brown and Robert Joseph all suited up for the South team Tuesday night in the THSCA All-Star game.
Joseph is a big hitting free safety who reads plays well. He's got good size and, given Gene Chizik's affinity for speed, might move to linebacker like Drew Kelson did. Joseph is also a tenacious player, which means he attacks each play, but can lose his head sometimes (he was kicked out of the All-Star game for getting into a fight after a blocked extra point.
Beasley and Brown are a pair of freshmen corners who will both likely play in '06, but the style with which they play is completely opposite, though they play their respective styles well. Beasley's middle name is Deon and he plays the exact same style as a Deon named Sanders. Beasley is a very aggressive corner who attacks the ball, likes to go for the big pick and has the athleticism to pull it off. Brown, on the other hand, plays like Quentin Jammer, blanketing the receiver and never giving the quarterback a chance to make the throw.
James Henry, another incoming freshman, is a big safety who was a punishing running back in high school and can lay the wood. He still needs to improve his coverage skills, but he a Joseph make up a pair of big safeties with spectacular tackling ability.
It will be exceptionally important that the young guys get experience because three of the four starters in the secondary will be seniors this season. Also helping out in 2007 will be another impressive class of freshmen. Texas has four DBs committed for '07, including elite prospect Curtis Brown. The five-star cornerback is rated No. 3 in the country and has impressive closing speed and great hands. Brown will be joined by four-star corners Earl Thomas of West Orange-Stark and Earl Thomas of Beaumont Ozen. Wide receiver Brandon Collins is a speedster from Brenham and will likely end up playing defense for Texas as well.
Overall, the 2006 Longhorn secondary looks phenomenal in the starting spots, but the depth is very unproven and will have to step up if Texas is going to shut down receivers in this year like they did last.