Kelson States His Case at SS

Former SLB Drew Kelson's stint at SS during the first half of Texas spring football, Longhorn coaches say, is just an audition. Don't count on it. The smart money is on Kelson remaining in a defensive backfield that replaces three starters from last year's 10-3 team.

"Right now, I'm just playing safety," Drew Kelson told Inside Texas, "but, in certain situations, they may have me go back down to linebacker. They want to make sure we don't lose anything at linebacker. I'm happy that, over the years, I've kept up with some of the things going on in the defensive backfield. It's helped me that I've learned both (positions). I get excited when I'm back there (defensive backfield) because I haven't done it in a while. It definitely feels innate. I'm just really excited about it."

Kelson was a Parade All-American at SS during his senior year at Houston Lamar, and many expected him to remain at that spot throughout his collegiate career. The only caveat was Michael Huff was nailing down the 2005 Thorpe Award at SS while Kelson tried to fill a void that season at linebacker. Kelson appeared in one game at DB as a true freshman in 2004, but Texas coaches moved him to RB as a stopgap measure following Selvin Young's season-ending injury at Arkansas. Kelson made three starts at WLB in 2005, forcing a late fumble to preserve a 25-22 win at Ohio State and later notched his first (and only) career INT in a tighter-than-expected win at Texas A&M. Kelson's, arguably, best outing that season was his stride-for-stride performance against Heisman winner Reggie Bush in the BCS National Championship game.

But Kelson's tenure at linebacker was short-circuited last season when he suffered a high ankle sprain just before the home opener. He appeared in 10 games and, frankly, is still recovering from the injury. His 18 total tackles last season were exactly half of the 36 stops he notched during the national championship campaign. Yet, it doesn't take much reading-between-the-lines to conclude that SS fits Kelson like an old glove. The biggest re-adjustment seems to be the speed of the game relative to each position.

"It moves faster at linebacker, "Kelson said, "but, at safety, you see so many things at once you have to make sure your eyes are disciplined. You have to make sure you see the right things and react to them properly."

Just before spring drills began February 23, Kelson met with Co-Defensive Coordinator/DB Coach Duane Akina to find where he was forecasted to finish his Longhorn career.

"With the transition and coaches leaving (former Co-DC Gene Chizik), I wanted to talk to Coach Akina about what he wanted to do with me," Kelson said. "We talked about it and decided to experiment and see where it went."

The initial prognosis was that Kelson would re-acclimate himself to SS during the first portion of spring drills while coaches evaluate his performance during spring break.

"He's been a tailback and a linebacker. We've got to be smart, be patient and give him a chance to get somewhere and get good at it," Akina told Inside Texas. "We don't want to make hasty decisions with him. I mean, he's a winner."

Kelson, a two time-member of UT's Athletics Director's Honor Roll, will likely be called on to dissect offenses and direct the secondary despite his recent lack of playing time in the defensive backfield. Then again, experience is a relative term considering Texas is replacing three starters in the secondary.

"We've got him in a position where he's a decision-maker for us," Akina said. "It's kind of what we've done with Michael Huff and Michael Griffin. We gave Huff all of the tough, physical decisions in the job description. We'll do the same thing with Drew where he can make the right calls and get us in the right defenses. The more of that position he can learn, the more he can do. We can get into formation checks. We can get into backfield checks. We can do more things, and that's Drew's upside."

The SS position is one of the most difficult on the defense, Akina added.

"Many times, we're still going to be a pressure team. We're going to come after you and play man-coverage, The strong safety has got that slot receiver. That's (Oklahoma's) Mark Clayton. That's (Ohio State's) Tedd Ginn, Jr. And when we play running teams, we've got to spin him to the box and be physical."

Coaches insist there is no depth chart this early in the spring, even though fifth-year senior Erick Jackson opened with the Ones during the first couple of days of spring football. But Jackson has yet to log a collegiate start while Kelson has already been in the thick of it at Ohio State, at Texas A&M and against USC, during his junior campaign.

The first half of spring football concludes at Denius Field this week. The Horns will be off next week for Spring Break before reporting back on March 18.


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