Andrew Beck and Elijah Rodriguez will be making up for lost time this season.
Rodriguez, who’s penciled in as Texas’ starting right guard, missed nearly the entire 2017 season. He injured his ankle during an August practice and was unable to play until the bowl game. Beck, expected to start at tight end, suffered a fractured foot and used a redshirt season while serving as UT’s unofficial fifth captain.
Both are nearing the end of their careers at Texas that began when they signed in 2014 as part of Charlie Strong’s first recruiting class.
“The thing that really makes this special this year is for both of us, it’s our last year to play at this level and to play with this group of guys,” Rodriguez said. “We want to make sure that it’s a special year for playing with our brothers.”
Beck arrived at Texas as a linebacker but was moved to tight end during his freshman year. Primarily lauded for his run-blocking abilities, Beck has started 16 times and has 12 career catches. Two of them have gone for touchdowns.
Like Beck, Rodriguez also hasn’t stuck with one position. Earlier this month, UT coach Tom Herman referred to Rodriguez as the team’s most versatile lineman. Rodriguez was working as the first-team right tackle at the time of last year’s injury; his four career starts have come at left tackle, left guard and center. He also was used as a blocking tight end in Tyrone Swoopes’ “18-Wheeler” package.
“I want to help the football team as best I can, in any way I can,” Rodriguez said. “I’m open to whatever the coaches tell me to do.”
Rodriguez and Beck’s absences last year were notable for the Longhorns, and losing Connor Williams for seven games to a knee injury didn’t help. One year after D’Onta Foreman’s 2,000-yard season resulted in a Doak Walker Award, Texas ranked 95th nationally in rushing offense.
Neither Rodriguez nor Beck was a well-known commodity before their injuries, but that didn’t matter to Tom Herman.
“We lost three of our best run blockers in Andrew Beck, Elijah Rodriguez and Connor Williams, and we’re three games into the season,” Herman noted in preparation for a late-September trip to Iowa State. And days after UT was held to seven points in a loss at TCU, Herman mused that “I obviously didn’t expect the struggles offensively. But we had Elijah Rodriguez, Connor Williams and Andrew Beck, too. So that was a big piece of that puzzle offensively.”
When asked last November how much Williams’ injury crippled the Longhorns, Herman said, “A lot. But so did Elijah’s injury and Andrew Beck’s injury. Those were guys at positions that we were not deep at.”
But while Herman sang the blues throughout last season, the Longhorns have been humming a different tune this month.
“We did a little ESPN deal the other day about the culture of this program, which is built on the linemen,” wide receiver Collin Johnson said. “Having these big guys healthy now, having these big guys coming back, is really motivating.”
Said quarterback Sam Ehlinger: “Those are guys that have multiple years of experience and they’ve been at this level for a long time. To have their presence and to have their senior feel around helps out the younger guys, the incoming guys.”