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Sure, Texas has offensive linemen, but it’s the seven freshmen who have Longhorns buzzing

Sark on current situation: ‘Like we’ve said ad nauseum, we don’t have the depth up there right now that we would like.’

Brian Davis
Austin American-Statesman
Center Jake Majors should be a key part of Texas' offensive line this fall, but the Longhorns signed seven of the nation's top line prospects in the class of 2022, each of whom should have a chance to impress when they are all on campus this summer.

The quarterback battle is moot if Texas' offensive line can’t block anybody.

Bijan Robinson’s sizzling style is worthless with no running room. Xavier Worthy’s incredible athleticism means nothing if he can’t get the ball. Nothing works if quarterbacks are constantly running for their lives.

“I keep telling my guys, ‘Finish your block. Tighter hands.’ We need to be violent,” senior right guard Junior Angilau told reporters Thursday.

The trench is no place for politeness. With 34 career starts, Angilau, a 6-foot-6 giant, is practically another coach.

“If I see something wrong, I'm going to let you know,” Angilau said. “If I feel like you loafed on a block, you need to finish the block. And just encourage them. Bro, you’re a big dude. We want big humans, right? You’re a big dude. Move him; he’s small. You've got to move him.”

If the Longhorns won’t move people around this spring, the coaches won’t hesitate to move them to the sideline this summer. Freshman Cole Hutson is already on campus, and six more signees will be here for August practice. 

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Texas' offensive line was a liability for most of the 2021 season, but position coach Kyle Flood has reinforcements on the way. Texas signed four of the top 30 interior line prospects in the nation and three of the top 32 tackles in its 2022 recruiting class. Six of the newcomers will arrive in August.

“Christian Jones has got to figure it out,” defensive tackle Moro Ojomo said. “Andrej Karic and Jaylen Garth need to grow up. It’s time. It’s time for them to figure out if it’s something they’re going to do. You’ve got seven guys coming, and they’re all hungry.”

Ojomo would know. He lines up opposite the offensive linemen every day. And yes, he’s fully aware Texas has more defensive linemen coming, too. Everybody wants to play. “They all want positions,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it. There’s food on the table.”

If the season opener were held today, offensive line coach Kyle Flood could cobble together a starting five. Angilau’s in, for sure, along with Jones, Karic, Garth and center Jake Majors. There you go — one, two, three, four, five. Is it the best five? Ah, well, those players have only a few more weeks to prove their case.

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“They’re getting a lot of valuable reps,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “Like we’ve said ad nauseam, we don’t have the depth up there right now that we would like. So they’re getting a lot of reps. They’re getting to move around. I think Coach Flood has done a nice job of moving them around and trying to find some flexibility for all these guys.”

Texas offensive lineman Junior Angilau lifts Brennan Eagles after the wide receiver's touchdown catch against West Virginia in 2020. The veteran right guard is excited about the team's incoming flood of offensive line talent but suggested this week that redshirting is always a good idea for those playing up front.

Sarkisian did highlight Garth as someone who “maximized that eight weeks” of winter offseason conditioning. But he hasn’t gone in depth on others. 

“Can you consistently do what you're asked to do?” Sarkisian said. “What they’re doing right now is trying to earn trust of their coaches that we can count on you and that we can count on you at critical moments.”

Texas was second in the Big 12 in rushing last season (199.3 yards per game) and seventh in passing (225.4 ypg). The Horns were seventh in sacks allowed (27). Essentially, Robinson and Roschon Johnson could run around defenders, but quarterback Casey Thompson wasn’t Houdini. The blocking simply wasn’t consistent.

When people inside the program talk about these freshman linemen, it’s unmistakable how their eyes light up.

Hutson, a four-star recruit from Frisco, got a head start on his fellow signees by enrolling in January. The 6-5, 309-pounder was the nation's No. 23 overall interior line prospect, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

“Cole Hutson, to be honest, he reminds me a lot of me when I was a freshman,” Angilau said. “I like it, man. He’s physical, quick learner. I yell at him, and he’s like, ‘OK, I got it.’ Next play, he’s perfect. Maybe better than me.”

Said Ojomo: “Cole has the ability to grow. He doesn't look as freshmany as he possibly could.”

The six other incoming freshmen, who are finishing out their senior year of high school, are players anybody would covet. There might come a day when everyone can look back and realize this collection of recruiting talent was a major turning point.

Five-star lineman Devon Campbell was the nation’s No. 1-ranked interior lineman, according to 247Sports. Four-star prospect Neto Umeozulu was right behind, at fourth. Hutson was No. 14 nationally, and Connor Robertson was No. 28.

Five-star signee Kelvin Banks was the nation’s No. 3 offensive tackle recruit. Malik Agbo was No. 22, and Cameron Williams was No. 32.

Think about the overall haul. Texas signed four of the top 30 interior line prospects in the nation and three of the top 32 tackles. 

“I keep thinking to myself, well, we’ve got six of them coming in,” Ojomo said. “One of them has got to be a really great player. They legitimately have a chance to come in and play and really, really contribute.”

What are the chances that some or all of these players contribute immediately — like maybe against Alabama in week two? Frankly, it’s hard to tell. 

Take Banks and Agbo, for example, In high school, those two were probably the biggest players on the field. It’s easy to push around smaller high school players. But in college, everybody is big. Everyone is strong. 

What if they are lined up against an edge rusher like TCU’s Ochaun Mathis? One of the Big 12’s best pass rushers is still in the transfer portal and still on Texas’ radar.

“If you get that redshirt year in, then you’re really focusing on banging out the weights and then you can really focus on football, too, and getting your technique down and try to slow the game down so it's not too fast,” Angilau said. “If you get a redshirt, I highly recommend it.”

Texas simply doesn’t have the luxury — and Sarkisian doesn’t have the runway — to redshirt all seven. The Horns need them to contribute this fall.

It’s a bottom-line business, and given Sarkisian’s professional approach, those who can’t perform will be replaced with someone who can.

“There’s definitely a lot of room for growth in the O-line room,” Ojomo said. “Excited to see how they figure it out.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or follow on Twitter via @BDavisAAS.