Going into Texas Tech's 2009 spring camp it was considered almost a foregone conclusion that the team's backup safeties would be mere placeholders until a trio of talented freshman arrived in August. It was a given that at least one of those freshmen would figure into the two-deep almost from the moment they donned the pads and helmet. Now, however, the situation is a bit more complex.
During the spring a bit of position shuffling took place and the depth at safety was much improved. Jared Flannel, as expected, moved from cornerback to safety. Andre McCorkle, a running back who transferred from Texas State, joined Flannel at safety. And Julius Howard, formerly a weakside linebacker, requested and was granted a switch to safety.
Suddenly safety depth looks quite adequate and the competition for playing time at the position looks to be fairly fierce. And that means that those incoming freshman will have to be pretty darned good indeed if they hope to see meaningful snaps in 2009.
Fact or Fiction? A true freshman will be in the two-deep at safety by season's end
The three freshman safeties who have many tongues a-wagging are Will Ford of Abilene, Daniel Cobb of Killeen, and Terrance Bullitt of Garland. All three are talented and there's no reason why they should not have excellent careers in scarlet and black. Ford and Cobb, however, are probably more physically ready right now for the challenge of Big 12 level football.
Cobb and Ford bear a fairly strong resemblance on the field of play. Both are in the 6-foot-1, 190-200-pound range; both are instinctive players; both tackle well, and neither is afraid to deliver a lick.
If forced to choose which one of those two players is most likely to crack the two-deep next year, however, I would point to Cobb. The Killeen product's athleticism causes him to jump off the film when you watch video of him. Cobb is simply all over the field and looks like an intimidating, dominating defensive back. The fact that he wears the storied No. 42 doubtless reinforces that impression. Thing is, Cobb looks like he belongs in the number that Ronnie Lott made famous.
There's little doubt that Cobb, and probably Ford too, are talented enough to jump right into the mix at safety for the Red Raiders. But leapfrogging the guys already on the depth chart will not be easy.
Cody Davis had a stellar spring (especially early on) and is not going anywhere but up. He's the closest thing to a sure thing among the safeties on the roster.
Franklin Mitchem slowly improved throughout the spring and will almost certainly be in the two-deep throughout the fall. He is currently penciled in as a starter.
Brett Dewhurst is a cagey, heady player who is cut from the same cloth as another walk-on, Jordy Rowland, who contributed strongly in 2008.
Jared Flannel is slightly undersized but is fast, athletic and surprisingly physical. He has the potential to push strongly for playing time in the fall.
Andre McCorkle has the ideal combination of size and speed, and showed a bit of a ball-hawking penchant in the spring. He's another player who could surprise.
The jury is still out on Julius Howard, but given his toughness and knowledge of the defense (if not the safety position), it would be foolish to write him out of the picture in the competition for playing time at safety.
Ultimately, the key for the three freshmen as they seek to make a big splash next season will be to learn the defensive scheme quickly. Safety is one of the more cerebral positions in the Tech defense, and the play-calling responsibilities, not to mention the assignment responsibilities, are huge. Safeties coach Carlos Mainord will not suffer a freshman blowing calls or missing coverages that result in big plays for the opposition.
That said, the talent is there for Cobb and Ford. Moreover, Howard, McCorkle and Flannel are in much the same boat as the true freshmen when it comes to learning the position.
Fact. One of the 2009 safety signees will be in the two-deep by season's end.