With No. 1 right tackle Brandon Hodges currently sitting out for the Texas Longhorns due to academic concerns, and little proven depth on the interior, head coach Tom Herman is looking for young players to step up in the offensive trenches.
Last Thursday, he indicated that redshirt freshman Patrick Hudson and sophomore Denzel Okafor, two members of the heralded 2016 recruiting class, are doing exactly that.
Hudson, the 6’5, 325-pounder from Silbsbee who originally signed with Baylor before the scandal began unfolding in Waco, is a former high school powerlifter who is one of the strongest players on the team despite his youth.
After redshirting due to a foot injury, he’s now in the mix for a back-up position at offensive guard.
“I'm excited about Pat [Hudson], he's got a great motor, which is really good,” Herman said. “He goes really hard when he's in there. He's got to learn technique and assignment right now, but the thing that we demand in effort is there.”
Indeed, there was some speculation last year that Hudson could play right tackle, but his pass protection skills are considered rather raw, which Herman hints at in his comment.
However, the combination of pure strength and consistent effort level from Hudson at guard should help him make up for any lack of technique while position coach Derek Warehime refines that aspect of Hudson’s game.
“Denzel [Okafor], I think, he's got a great shot to provide us either some depth or be the starter at right tackle,” Herman said. “Even though he's a 6-foot-3 guy, he's got probably the reach of a 6-foot-8 guy. That's kind of what you want in an O-lineman. Not too tall so they get out-leveraged, but still has the reach of a tall guy.”
A Lewisville product who drew favorable comparisons to another former undersized, cerebral right tackle in Trey Hopkins, Okafor played sparingly as a freshman last season. Unlike Hudson, he’s more advanced technically in addition to possessing the feet and aforementioned reach to play right tackle.
Herman also seemingly referenced the issues of the current starter at the position — 6’7 senior Tristan Nickelson — who often struggles with getting over-extended due to his height.
With redshirt freshman JP Urquidez passing Jean Delance for the back-up role at the left tackle spot and Hudson and Okafor both impressing Herman, the early returns on the 2016 offensive line group are looking positive at four or five spots, with guard Tope Imade remaining the developmental project he appeared to be when he was taken.
There’s certainly some disappointment in the lack of progression from Delance, but on the whole, the group appears on track to at least provide some valuable depth this season.