While Texas fans are focused on what the Longhorns may get out of injured freshman RB Donald Catalon or Armanti Foreman at WR, the rumor mill suggests that there's an unexpected freshman on defense that has been asserting himself of late - Grand Prairie's Jason Hall.
Hall has been getting snaps with the 1s this week and the young safety - up 17 pounds to 207 from his senior high school weight of 190 - has been holding his own.
The biggest member of the Longhorn secondary class, the Nebraska de-commit Hall has ideal safety size, long arms, and a frame still waiting to be filled out in the weight room. Playing at a solid 6-2, 210 is a legitimate expectation in two or three years. Despite lacking top level athletic ability, Hall has a wide coverage radius, defending surprisingly well in man coverage with anticipation, wingspan and excellent hand use to offset average speed. His big frame, long arms and a natural ability to locate the ball make him an interesting long term developmental prospect in zone concepts and he has tangible upside if S&C can transform him into a more explosive, powerful athlete who can create additional value forcing turnovers, shutting down TEs, and filling the alley in the run game.
I obviously liked him as a longer term project, but clearly thought he'd take time to grow into his frame and get more explosive. Apparently Hall responds well to training because 6-2, 210 is happening now. Hall has also demonstrated aggression, showing a glimpse of it during Sunday's 1 on 1's when he planted fellow freshman Lorenzo Joe. Go to 0:40.
What's most impressive is that he's not overwhelmed by the speed of the game, the complexity of his assignments and the various looks he'll have to deal with. At least not yet. Baylor trotting out five wide receivers running verticals may be another story.
So what does all of this mean? Well, it could mean a lot of different things.
1. Strong likes to give different DB groups a look before cementing his starters for North Texas and that includes mixing and matching 1s and 2s. This is a look.
2. We're biding time until Josh Turner is reinstated. Or not. Turner may reclaim a starting job at some point or he could remain on the roster as a courtesy and quietly finish out his senior year having already demonstrated to the coaches that he can't be relied upon. I'm favoring the latter judgement.
3. Walk-on Dylan Haines isn't providing the physicality the coaches want. Adrian Colbert is still waiting instead of reacting. This is an open audition meant to light a spark or find the attributes they want.
4. Maybe we're just looking at big nickel or big dime personnel.
5. Jason Hall is amazing.
6. Hall is not amazing, but is our best option and Strong doesn't care about seniority.
While a true freshman potentially starting is always exciting, it's not always the right kind of exciting - particularly when you know it's a positional weakness. This could be shades of 2008 - Blake Gideon wins the starting job because of a lack of other options and his intelligence not necessarily because he's a fantastic player. By contrast, if a true freshman RB beat out Malcolm Brown - rejoice. He's awesome.
But a freshman starting of necessity is a different animal.
What do you think?
Two weeks from kickoff. Time to learn your stuff. Read the reviews on Amazon and iTunes. Buy. Learn. Laugh.