Palmer develops as leader in Texas secondary

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Experience does matter. Just look at the Texas secondary if you don't believe it.

With all of the young talent roaming the field on the Longhorns' talented secondary, there still needs to be an emotional anchor. And senior cornerback Ryan Palmer has provided that for his team.

Palmer has become an ex-officio member of the Texas coaching staff this season as he has helped guide a group of six freshmen defensive backs to grow up quickly.

"It's been fun being around with all of the young guys," Palmer said. "It's kind of like I'm the big brother around here. It's a challenge to make sure that we are doing the right thing."

Despite struggling with an assortment of injuries this season, Palmer has been a key producer for the Longhorns when he's been able to play. And he's served in a bigger role with his leadership and versatility, playing a variety of positions thanks to his experience with Texas' defensive philosophy.

The secondary was expected to be Texas' weak link this season but Palmer -- a connection to the program's storied past that featured back-to-back Thorpe Award winners in Michael Huff and Aaron Ross earlier in his career -- is helping them get there.

"Ryan has been a solid piece for us," Texas secondary coach Duane Akina said. "He's had a chance to see all of those guys before him. It's been nice to see him emerge and to pass on the things that were passed on to him. This young group has a chance to be really good down the line because of their talent and what he's helped them with."

And he's provided some key plays in the process. Palmer produced a pivotal interception in last week's game against Baylor.

After jumping to a quick 14-0 lead, the Bears stormed back with two quick touchdowns and appeared to have snatched momentum away after a missed Texas field goal early in the second quarter.

"We were sitting on the bench wondering if somebody could step up and give us a play," Akina said. "We needed somebody to give us a spark."

That's when Palmer stepped up. On the next play from scrimmage, Palmer grabbed a ball that was deflected off the hands of Baylor receiver Kendall Wright and scooted untouched 22 yards for the touchdown. The Longhorns never trailed after that and went on to claim a definitive victory to keep their BCS hopes alive.

"It was fitting for him to make that play," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "He had helped Duane Akina hold that secondary together this season. It's been hard, but he's done everything right. He's been here after overcoming knee operations, a pulled hamstring and his dislocated elbow. And he's played well for us."

Palmer and the young secondary will face another challenge Saturday at Kansas. The Jayhawks' aerial attack, featuring Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe, will test them again.

It's just another week in the Big 12 with the Longhorns still harboring serious national championship hopes if they can keep winning.

"We just have to be focused every week because we're still in it," Palmer said. "If we win out, we'll be fine. That's just how we have to approach it."