Football

Now at a new position, Cosmi becomes a building block for Texas’ new-look offensive line

Posted April 2nd, 2019

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Story highlights
  • Samuel Cosmi started 13 games at right tackle as a redshirt freshman last fall, but is now playing left tackle.
  • Center Zach Shackelford, who'll be a senior this fall, leads all linemen with 27 career starts.
  • Cosmi will be UT's third starting left tackle in as many years (Connor Williams in 2017, Calvin Anderson last year).

Texas linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch was asked about the offensive line on Tuesday. The soon-to-be senior praised the unit while referencing both Star Wars and a band.

If you’ve watched the Longhorns’ defense, McCulloch said, than you’d know that “it’s like Star Wars when we blitz. We’re all over the place.” This spring, however, Texas’ new-look offensive line has done a good job of diagnosing those blitzes and holding its own.

“They’ve gotten so much better,” McCulloch analyzed. “I’m really enjoying watching them play as one band.”

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The lead singer of this so-called band? Center Zach Shackelford, who’ll be a senior this fall. After all, one gets top billing after starting 27 times and being established as a vocal leader. Samuel Cosmi, though, has switched instruments and may get a few solos this season.

The redshirt freshman started 13 games at right tackle last fall. This spring, Texas has slid the 6-6, 295-pounder over to left tackle. The Longhorns got 14 starts from graduate transfer Calvin Anderson, who’s currently trying to catch the eyes of NFL scouts.

Texas offensive lineman Zach Shackelford (56) and defensive lineman Gerald Wilbon (94) run through drills at the Frank Denius practice fields in Austin on March 15, 2019. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Cosmi, who was a three-star recruit from Humble Atascocita, was one of three Houston-area recruits who flipped to Texas in 2017 following Tom Herman’s hire. Cosmi, though, did not play a down in 2017. Under Herman, Texas has been hesitant to play true freshmen on its offensive line. All four freshmen in UT’s 2018 recruiting class redshirted last year.

Cosmi said it was frustrating to sit during his first year. But he conceded that he wasn’t ready to unseat upperclassmen like Connor Williams or Tristan Nickelson. During the year off, he learned the offense and worked on his technique, hand placement, footwork and fundamentals.

“Staying out that first year, kind of getting down the speed of the game really, really helped me develop as a player,” said Cosmi, who practiced as a left tackle during his redshirt season. “Sitting out my first year was really crucial in my collegiate career so far.  I think it really helped a lot.”

Cosmi was named the starter at right tackle ahead of last season’s second game. He remained in that role through the Sugar Bowl. Those 13 starts make him Texas’ third-most experienced lineman behind Shackelford and Derek Kerstetter (15 starts).

Texas needed only six linemen through much of the 2018 season, but Anderson, Patrick Vahe and Elijah Rodriguez have moved on. Junior Denzel Okafor has four career starts and Tope Imade has emerged as an interior option this spring. Help is also on the way in the form for Georgia Tech graduate transfer Parker Braun and junior college signee Willie Tyler.

“I’ve got crazy confidence. I trust in those guys, they know what they’re doing,” running back Keaontay Ingram said. “Having those guys in the room and running behind those guys, man, there’s nothing to worry about.”

Texas quarterback Roschon Johnson hands the ball to running back Kirk Johnson (28) at the Frank Denius practice fields in Austin on March 15, 2019. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Last year, the 1.9 sacks allowed per game by Texas ranked third in the Big 12. Only eight FBS-level players had more rushing touchdowns than quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s 16. The Longhorns’ rushing attack, however, averaged a lackluster 3.8 yards per carry and 153.1 yards per game.

How UT stacks up statistically this year remains to be seen. The linemen, though, will be mean. The word “nasty” has previously been used as a compliment for Shackelford. Additionally, Cosmi says he likes the mental makeup of Kerstetter, Imade and Okafor.

As for Cosmi? “I don’t like to take crap from anybody,” he said. “You’re not going to see me out there taking anything from anybody.”

Injury update: Ehlinger (illness) was limited in Tuesday’s practice and sophomore defensive back B.J. Foster (concussion) was a non-contact participant. Slowed previously by a shoulder injury, freshman receiver Bru McCoy was full-go at practice. Junior safety Chris Brown did not practice because of a lung issue that needed attention over the weekend. Senior running back Kirk Johnson left with a stinger.

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