Texas secondary recovers after losing top players

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After losing its three best cornerbacks, the Texas secondary needs to rebuild somewhat. But a strange offseason trip by Duane Akina landed the accomplished defensive backs coach in Austin after a month-long stint in Arizona, and the Longhorns are now confident they can still field one of the conference’s better pass defenses.

“Coach Akina coming back, that was crazy,” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “He’s a father figure to us, so it helps having the continuity.”

Position leader —Blake Gideon

The senior from Leander is long removed from a star-crossed 2008 freshman season, when his 13 starts were overshadowed by a game-changing dropped interception in a loss at Texas Tech, the Longhorns’ only loss that year. He learned from it and has become one of the top safeties in the country. He was named to the Thorpe Award watch list and a first team preseason All-Big 12 selection.

“That [Tech game] made me grow up quickly,” he said. “Anytime you can go through some adversity and come out clean on the other side, it’s going to make you a better person and player.”

Stock Rising —Kenny Vaccaro

Two years of fantastic special teams play and one season of extended action has Vaccaro looking like the next special playmaker in the secondary. The junior hits like a junkyard dog and can play the pass just as well.

“Kenny is probably the best cover guy we have,” Gideon said.

Most to Prove —Christian Scott

Scott had Texas fans excited in 2008 when, as a redshirt freshman, he saw action in each game. But he missed his sophomore season because of NCAA academic eligibility issues, and turned in a so-so season last year in his first as a starter.

He made 53 tackles and forced two fumbles, but his pass defense was suspect with just one interception and one pass broken up. Entering his senior season, Scott has a chance to live up to the hype he generated three years ago, but he’s going to have to fight for playing time.

Top Backup —Quandre Diggs

It looks like sophomores Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips, a former safety, will be the starters at cornerback this season, but that doesn’t mean Diggs won’t make an impact. The younger brother of former Longhorn cornerback Quentin Jammer, Diggs was an early enrollee last winter and made waves in the spring game with a pass breakup to go with the hardest hit of the afternoon. If he’s anything like his brother, watch out.

Position Battle ­—Vaccaro vs. Scott

With Gideon firmly entrenched at free safety, and Byndom and Phillips on the corners barring a change, the starting job at strong safety is the only position truly up for grabs. Scott has experience on his side but isn’t as instinctive or as complete a player as Vaccaro. If what the players had to say at Big 12 Media Days is any indication, it might be Vaccaro’s job to lose.

“Kenny has been the defensive standout of the summer,” said linebacker Emmanuel Acho. “He has looked really good.”

Printed on Monday, August 8, 2011 as: Secondary rebuilding after key losses