AUSTIN, Texas -- Mack Brown knows what an NFL defensive back looks like. He's coached plenty. From Michael Huff and Cedric Griffin in 2006, to Michael Griffin and Aaron Ross in 2007 to Earl Thomas in 2009; the Longhorns' secondary has been home to a handful of early draft picks in just the last few years.
That hasn't kept Brown from heaping praise on his 2010 defensive backfield.
"We feel like we’re as good at corner right now, potentially, as we’ve ever been," Brown said.
His three reasons for smiling at the thought of that potential are Curtis and Chykie Brown, along with Aaron Williams.
"We’re really fortunate right now," Brown said. "All three are potential NFL guys to me."
That means trouble for Big 12 quarterbacks. Though Texas loses Thomas, a safety and finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back, the Big 12's second-best pass defense a season ago plans to challenge for the top spot in 2010. If Brown's senses are correct, they should be able to do it, and improve on their NO. 19 national ranking at defending the pass.
"We’re more comfortable with [defensive coordinator Will] Muschamp’s scheme; I know I am," Williams said. "A lot of guys are returning guys who are coming back and are more knowledgeable about what he wants to do."
Blake Gideon returns at safety, and Kenny Vaccaro and Nolan Brewster will compete for Thomas' freed-up spot.
"We had high expectations last year, but we’re probably going to have more expectations this year," Williams said. "Our goal right now is to be physical, we’re trying to be one of the most physical DB corps in the nation."
In the Texas spring game to close practice on Sunday, Williams and Vaccaro took steps to establishing that identity. Williams broke up a deep pass early by going over the intended receiver to swat the ball away. Vaccaro unleashed the biggest hit of the exhibition on running back Tre Newton, driving through his teammate on a short pass in the flats.
"We don’t want a team to be like 'Okay, well he’s that one physical person.' We want a team to be like 'Whoa, we’ve got that team coming through,'" Williams said. "As a team, we want to be more physical."
But even in praising them, in the same breath, their coach can't help but think like a coach.
"We’re really pleased with those corners, we just have to find the younger ones, because two of those are seniors and they’ll be gone," Brown said.
Not to mention Williams, a junior who enters 2010 with a legitimate case as the Big 12's top defender and whose future could includes an early entry into the 2011 NFL draft. That would leave Brown without any of his three future pro corners. But he's already picked out a few successors, including A.J. White and Eryon Barnett.
"We’ve got to find somebody to step up," Brown said.