For the first time as the head coach of the Texas Longhorns, Tom Herman issued a thinly-veiled challenge to current players by criticizing his defensive linemen on Monday in his pre-spring press conference.
“We’ve gotta find some D-linemen,” Herman said. “I’m not sure about the types of bodies we have there. We’ve gotta find some length.”
Despite the defensive linemen spending the last several months in the offseason program of strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight and under the watchful eye of the team’s nutritionists, Herman still wasn’t happy with the conditioning level of those players.
As Herman attempts to instill a higher level of accountability in his players, he didn’t mince words when asked whether the issue was with the body types of his defensive linemen or whether the effort simply isn’t there.
The Longhorns head coached indicated that it was all of the above.
“The effort, as a group, has not been to our... requirements here in this program. The body types, again I think we’d know a lot more if some of these fat guys lost some weight. What does their body look like? Right now I don’t know. The last time I checked, you’ve gotta play with a defensive line.”
The problem now is different than it has been in the past, when Texas was struggling to build depth at the position by putting a substantial amount of weight on players like Poona Ford and Chris Nelson, who entered the program weighing 288 and 280 pounds, respectively.
"Whether you are big or not, we are trying to develop guys to become big," former defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said last spring. "If you look at our defensive line right now, most of those guys were not naturally big guys. Poona [Ford] is not a naturally big guy, we had to put weight on him. Chris Nelson is not a naturally big guy, Jake [McMillon] is not a naturally big guy."
The defensive tackles who arrived in the 2016 signing class were naturally big — redshirt freshman Chris Daniels was listed at 335 pounds on last fall’s roster, while sophomore Gerald Wilbon checked in at 329 pounds.
Since Wilbon is down to 320 pounds now, he’s not the most likely culprit of Herman’s dissatisfaction.
However, Ford gained weight, Daniels is at 330 pounds, sophomore Jordan Elliott is up to 330 pounds from 318, and sophomore D’Andre Christmas gained 20 pounds and is now at 315. Elliott and Daniels were both at their most effective in high school when they kept their weight down, but Daniels simply hasn’t been able to drop much weight since arriving in Austin.
Players like Ford, who is generously listed now at 6’0, also don’t have the length that Herman seems to prefer, though the staff did find some in junior college signee Jamari Chisholm, who goes 6’5 and 280 pounds.
Likewise, defensive end Max Cummins has plenty of length in the 2017 signing class at 6’6, as do redshirt freshman Andrew Fitzgerald (6’6) and junior Charles Omenihu (6’7), who is now up to 270 pounds.
Herman noted that while the tight end position can come off the field and the offense can still have a chance to succeed through scheme adjustments, the same isn’t true for the defensive line — every good football team has good players in the defensive trenches, even if those players are heavily reliant on the scheme to help them.
“It’s what we’ve got,” Herman said. “They are who we’ve got and you’ve gotta make players out of them.”
Ultimately, unless the players put in the effort to keep in better shape and maximize their athleticism, the pressure will be on defensive line coach Oscar Giles and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando to get the most out of them and put them in positions to succeed schematically and with technique.
“We could go out and practice and make it the best position, I don’t know,” Herman said. “I’ve seen things like that happen. But it is a concern knowing the league we play in. But I also know we’ve got four defensive coaches that are as good as there are in the country; I’ve seen Todd Orlando make chicken salad out of some lesser parts. So I have a lot of confidence in the staff and what they’re able to do with whatever talent we’ve inherited.”
Whatever happens, consider the public challenge issued to the Longhorns defensive linemen.