- Offensive line coach Herb Hand hopes to develop depth similar to what UT enjoyed in the mid-2000's.
- From left to right, Texas' probable starting line: LT Samuel Cosmi, LG Junior Angilau, C Zach Shackelford, RG Derek Kerstetter and RT Denzel Okafor.
- In UT's 2005 title year, Vince Young was sacked only 11 times in 13 games. Last year, Texas gave up 27 sacks in 14 games.
A nasty offensive line makes for a happy quarterback and happier coaches.
If Texas is destined for a return to elite bowl competition, then the Longhorns have to experience a return to yesteryear up front.
Back when Vince Young was making headlines as the most dangerous quarterback in college football, he told me he kept his big uglies up front happy by taking them out to eat whenever he could. That group was called the Trench Hogs back in 2004 and 2005, and Kasey Studdard, Lyle Sendlein, Justin Blalock, Jason Glynn, Will Allen and Jonathan Scott spent their Saturdays feasting on the opposition.
When they weren’t protecting VY, they were opening holes for the likes of Selvin Young, Jamaal Charles and, yes, the late, great Cedric Benson.
“Their nastiness and physicality was a reason those teams were so successful,” UT center Zach Shackelford said. “We want to follow in their footsteps.”
Texas offensive line coach Herb Hand has brought the right mix of nasty and smarts to a group that’s not only expected to keep Heisman Trophy hopeful Sam Ehlinger clean behind center, but also provide enough running lanes for young backs Keaontay Ingram and Jordan Whittington. And all that even with the loss of three starters from last year. Hand wants his Mack trucks to be Mack trucks.
“What I want them to do is go hard. I don’t want them to go easy,” Hand told the American-Statesman earlier this month. “They’re kind of programmed to go easy because they’re the biggest people around and don’t want to hurt anybody, but on the football field there is a different mentality.”
The biggest question about this line is depth. Can the group somehow avoid major injuries to let the young bucks develop during the season?
In 2004 and 2005, Texas’ line had depth in spades. So deep were the recruiting lines that players arrived in Austin with the full understanding that they wouldn’t play as freshmen and that their redshirt freshman season would be spent on backup duty — if they could crack the rotation.
Blalock was the lone exception. He started from the day he arrived from Plano until the day he left for the Atlanta Falcons, for whom he started all 125 NFL games he played, including a streak of 102 straight from 2007 through 2014.
Long-time line coach Mac McWhorter would famously substitute entire lines in the middle of a game. Backups like Mike Garcia, William Winston, Brett Valdez, Dallas Griffin and Tony Hills were allowed good playing time because Texas was in the midst of some of the best offensive fronts in school history and the blowout wins afforded them playing time.
That was then. Hand doesn’t have that wealth of riches, but he’d take having close to eight dependable linemen given the physical nature of the position. UT coach Tom Herman called Mack Brown’s line depth “Nirvana.”
“I’m happy that he got to live that life for all those years,” Herman said. “I think we’re at probably six right now, with the five guys that started camp and Parker Braun.”
Barring injury, Texas’ starting line for the opener would be left tackle Samuel Cosmi, left guard Junior Angilau, Shackelford at center, right guard Derek Kerstetter and right tackle Denzel Okafor. It’s a young group; Shackelford is the only senior, Kerstetter and Okafor are juniors, and Cosmi’s a sophomore and Angilau’s a redshirt freshman. With experienced linemen Patrick Vahe, Calvin Anderson and Elijah Rodriguez no longer around, the depth will have to come from Braun — a two-time all-conference graduate transfer from Georgia Tech — and young lions like Tope Imadi, Reese Moore and Christian Jones.
Herman is pleased with the group’s trajectory.
Goal No. 1: Keep Sammy clean. Goal No. 2: Keep Sammy clean.
History tells us that a clean quarterback is a winning quarterback. During Texas’ 2005 national championship season, Young was sacked only 11 times in 13 games, an average of just once every 29 dropbacks. By comparison, in 2018 the Longhorns gave up 27 sacks — once every 17.6 pass attempts — and that was a nice improvement from 2017, when they gave up 34 sacks, or once every 14.6 attempts.
Any line coach will tell you that the group strives to operate as one machine, not a bunch of individual parts. Hand is working toward that goal even if this year’s line is more inexperienced than last year’s.
“I love the way they work,” he said. “They want to be coached. They love each other and they’re great guys. I’ve got a great room. We have a tremendous culture here as a team, but we also have great culture in our offensive line unit.”
And if Hand has his way, an extremely nasty culture.