Depth At DB No Longer An Issue

Texas Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik is breathing easier these days now that the two-deep chart for the secondary has materialized.

When August camp began nearly three weeks ago, the biggest defensive issue was finding reliable backups for SS Michael Griffin, RCB Tarell Brown and LCB Aaron Ross. The secondary was thinned when Jackson missed all of the spring with a hamstring injury, and RCB Brandon Foster missed much of last week with a tweaked ankle. (Tarell Brown and Michael Griffin were also held out of contact last spring, shaking off injuries following their goal line collision in the Rose Bowl). Now, Texas' last line of defense has at least seven reliable backs that coaches believe are capable of contributing without there being appreciable drop-off in productivity.

"We've seen Erick Jackson and Brandon Foster show up," Chizik said. "(LCB) Ryan Palmer has done a really nice job, and you see the younger guys (true freshmen) show up. There is some depth coming at that position. Some of it's coming from the brand new guys and some from the guys who have been here a while. The reps are building up right now, and that's why we're seeing some of these guys coming in and making plays."

Junior Marcus Griffin has nailed down the spot once held by his twin brother, but he fought off a stiff challenge from Jackson, who can play either safety or at the corner. Foster has seen action in 22 games but enjoyed a breakout spring. He is expected to be on the field with the Ones when Texas lines up in nickel- or dime-packages. Palmer missed 2005 spring drills due to a knee injury and was still on the mend last fall, seeing action in 10 games. Meanwhile, RS-freshman safety Ishie Oduegwu had an INT Saturday at the expense of walk-on QB Matt McCoy.

It's expected that a couple of true freshman DBs, Robert Joseph and Chykie Brown, will lose their redshirts this season, perhaps as soon as the September 2 home opener. Joseph picked-off QB Jevan Snead in Saturday's scrimmage and has, at times, worked with the Twos this month. Kenneth Deon Beasley is also in the mix of youngsters who could grab playing time this season.

Chizik wants to play seven or eight linebackers, and one of the new kids on the block who reportedly has stated his case for playing-time is all-state MLB Jared Norton.

"One guy that stands out among the new guys is Norton," Chizik said. "Jared's done a nice job for us. We're really trying to give him a lot of reps, especially this week, to see if he can contribute. He has a big, physical body and he showed up in the scrimmage. But it's pretty much status quo at linebacker. We have guys that played a lot last year and they're continuing to progress. Right now, at that position, we're in the process of cross-training."

Really, the only negative on Chizik's side of the ball is that SLB Sergio Kindle, the jewel of this year's recruiting class, has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain suffered on the second day of camp. Coaches continue to say "he'll be fine", that it's a long season, and that they don't want to prematurely return him to contact. The flipside is that RS-freshman Roddrick Muckelroy is expected to be a sudden-impact contributor. Most of his snaps have come at MLB, but his job description this week is to assimilate as much as he can while taking reps at the two outside positions.

"He's really coming along, but his head is swimming a little bit right now because the process of cross-training him has just started. But he's coming along really well, and we're really looking forward to seeing what he does. He has a lot of instincts at Mike. If you play Mike, you have to have a lot of the things that we'd like to say that we coach, but we don't. Roddrick has a knack for playing in there. He's starting to become a physical player in there and, if you're not that, you can't play."

Texas' D-line is being billed as the program's finest in a quarter-century, but Chizik tends to shy away from hyperbole.

"Our goal is to make sure this year's defensive line is as good, if not better, than last year's. They're talented, and they have a chance to be really good. But we've got a long way to go in terms of getting there."

Chizik knows that he has a pair of "explosive" NTs in junior Derek Lokey and sophomore Roy Miller. Coaches believe the pair are undersized only in the sense that it becomes tough for O-linemen to gain leverage on them. In turn, that should potentially unleash pre-season All-American DT Frank Okam in Chizik's Three Technique.

"It frees Frank up to get a lot of one-on-one blocks without so many double-teams, although he will see some just because he's so big and people know about him."

The final scrimmage of August camp is set for Wednesday evening at DKR. The session is closed to the public.

"This week is a very critical week because it's our last chance to evaluate a lot of those guys," Chizik noted. "We're just trying to bring them on and let them continue to develop."

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