Texas football adds quality field CB in Wake Forest transfer Gavin Holmes

Gavin Holmes Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Gavin Holmes Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

Texas football was able to nab a big commitment out of the NCAA Transfer Portal on the first Early National Signing Day for the 2023 cycle with the former Wake Forest Demon Deacons redshirt sophomore cornerback Gavin Holmes. The third-year former Wake Forest DB announced on social media on the afternoon of Dec. 21 that he is committing to Texas out of the portal.

Holmes also signed with the Longhorns after committing to the Burnt Orange out of the portal on Dec. 21.

The Longhorns hosted Holmes on an official visit to Austin last weekend, along with the former Syracuse Orange redshirt sophomore transfer safety Ja’Had Carter. And the early returns we heard coming out of that official visit for Holmes to Austin were pretty much all positive.

The relationship that cornerbacks coach Terry Joseph was able to build with the Louisiana native Holmes was a key to nabbing this commitment out of the portal. Joseph is doing good work out of the portal recruiting for the cornerback position. Last offseason, he nabbed the former Ohio State Buckeyes redshirt sophomore boundary corner Ryan Watts.

Joseph has now added another impact transfer that can come in and start right away in Holmes as part of the 2023 portal class.

It was originally anticipated that Holmes was going to be making the official trip to State College to see the Penn State Nittany Lions in early January. But that clearly won’t be taking place after Holmes committed and signed with Texas this week.

Moreover, Holmes is a former three-star recruit that signed with Wake Forest out of Metairie Archbishop Rummel (LA) in the 2020 class.

The 5-foot-11 and 175-pound corner took more than 1,100 defensive snaps over the course of three seasons at Wake Forest. Most of the key live-game reps that Holmes took for this Wake Forest defense came in the last couple of seasons as a rotational starter in the secondary.

Texas football adds a disruptive and productive transfer CB from Wake Forest in redshirt sophomore Gavin Holmes

Holmes had his most productive campaign with the Demon Deacons this fall. He registered two-dozen combined tackles, four stops, seven missed tackles, and nine pass breakups. And over the course of his three years at Wake Forest, Holmes raked in 45 combined tackles, three tackles for loss, no sacks, 10 stops, 15 missed tackles, two interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown), 13 pass breakups, and one forced fumble.

Holmes will be coming into Texas with two years of eligibility remaining, so he can make a longer-term impact than most grad transfers you’ll find on the market.

What Texas is getting out of the productive third-year DB Holmes is a quality corner that can compete for starting reps right away at the field spot with the anticipated departure of senior D’Shawn Jamison.

Holmes was one of the more productive and consistent corners in the ACC during the regular season, evidenced by his career-best nine pass breakups.

It’s worth noting that a report from Jason Suchomel of Orangebloods (subscriber content) indicates that Joseph and the Longhorns didn’t guarantee Holmes a starting spot at field corner when they offered him a few weeks ago. But it looks like Holmes is ready to fight with the likes of freshman cornerback Terrance Brooks and incoming four-star South Oak Cliff corner Malik Muhammad for the starting field spot in 2023.

Deep ball coverage ability is a big part of Holmes’ game

What Holmes is going to bring to the table for the Longhorns that is different from what we know about Brooks and Muhammad is his proven ability to cover the deep ball against Power Five receivers.

Holmes was the highest-graded FBS cornerback in pass coverage during the regular season among the players that had an average depth of target of at least 18 yards. That is a pool of around a half-dozen corners that fit into that category, so Holmes really was effective in defending the deep ball.

In fact, the only FBS cornerback that had a higher average depth of target during the regular season than Holmes (who was at 18.6) was Texas Tech redshirt senior Rayshad Williams (19.3).

That ability to defend the deep ball effectively is something that likely appealed to Joseph and DC Pete Kwiatkowski. Texas did a nice job during the regular season of defending the deep ball, evidenced by Jamison allowing just three receptions of at least 20 yards.

You could argue that Holmes is an even more effective corner at covering the deep ball than Jamison, though. Holmes was targeted deep nearly twice as many times during the regular season as Jamison. But he did just about as well in terms of the counting stats on the deep ball and was a lot more disruptive in coverage than Jamison.

That ability to cover the deep ball combined with the ball skills that Holmes brings to the table will make him a really formidable field corner in this PK defense.

Breaking down the film

When you watch Holmes’ film during Wake Forest’s regular season this fall, it’s easy to come away extremely impressed with his closing speed, ball skills, and timing in pass coverage.

The ball skill and timing really translate very well to deep pass coverage for Holmes. Watch the play above where Holmes is able to stick with Duke wideout Jordan Moore the entire way in one-on-one man coverage, resulting in a pass breakup. That also prevented a touchdown.

Holmes also brings some real closing speed and ranginess to the table, evidenced by the pass breakup he’s able to generate on the sidelines on this key third-down play also against Duke.

The ball skills do go back a ways for Holmes, which shows up in the lone interception he reeled in last season as a redshirt freshman. He showed tremendous anticipation and timing to jump the route in the end zone and help flip momentum for Wake Forest in their bowl game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

We also should mention the play diagnosis and closing speed that Holmes can occasionally put on display when he’s tracking down the ball carrier in the screen game. Check out how quickly Holmes is able to find the ball and bring down the receiver for no gain on the screen pass.

In watching his high school film, Holmes shows a lot of the coverage skills that translated in his first few seasons at Wake Forest. Holmes still is able to stick with the deep ball while not letting the receiver get behind him too often.

What is also interesting about Holmes’ high school film is that he played more zone and press coverage during his time at Archbishop Rummel. Holmes was mostly playing in man coverage schemes during his time at Wake Forest.

That should translate well in PK’s defense since the Longhorns were mostly playing man coverage during the regular season. And that is the ideal coverage scheme to execute PK’s style of defense.

But it’s still nice to know that Holmes has the versatility and experience to still effectively play closer to the wideout at the line of scrimmage.

Areas of improvement for Holmes

The two main areas of improvement I would like to see from Holmes in 2023 have to do with his open-field tackling and coverage skills against some of the quicker slot receivers between the numbers.

Holmes was one of the lowest-graded corners in terms of tackling the Power Five during the regular season. He missed at least one-quarter of his tackle attempts in each of the last three seasons.

There are times when Holmes takes bad angles when he’s in front of receivers with the ball in their hands downfield. That is reminiscent of the pass-play tackling issues that Jamison had at times in the last few seasons.

A good example of the pass-play tackling issue that plagues Holmes at times shows up around the 2:20 mark of the Louisville vs. Wake Forest video.

The other issue I mentioned above was the inconsistencies matching up with slot wideouts between the numbers. I will say that Holmes doesn’t usually line up in slot coverage, so this isn’t the area where he’s most adept at thriving in pass coverage.

Two of the last four touchdowns that Holmes allowed in pass coverage came out of slot matchups, one of which came between the numbers. Considering that fewer than 20 percent of Holmes’ targets in pass coverage came out of the slot, that’s not a very good clip.

Holmes will wind up in slot coverage, or at least facing slot-type wideouts between the numbers, at Texas out of the field spot. So, he’ll need to make some strides in terms of his coverage fundamentals in the slot.

Texas can also help Holmes between the numbers with a shadowing linebacker underneath or help from the nickel.

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Holmes is the second portal addition for the Longhorns as part of the 2023 transfer class. The other is the former Stanford Cardinal senior punter and grad transfer Ryan Sanborn, who committed to the Longhorns last week.