A little bit less than three weeks ago, Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman addressed the biggest remaining need in the 2018 recruiting class by landing five defensive linemen.
Last week, Herman discussed those new defensive signees on the Longhorn Network.
The segment led off with arguably the most important addition, Houston Westfield defensive tackle Keondre Coburn, who opted not to sign during the early period. Then he caused some concern about he took an official visit to Miami and scraped his Twitter profile clean of references to his Longhorns pledge.
In the end, however, Coburn stuck with his longtime pledge. Now the ‘Horns want him to eventually replace departed Big 12 Co-Defensive Lineman of the Year Poona Ford.
“We needed a guy like Poona who can be disruptive in our defense — you’ve got to have great nose guard play,” Herman said. “We feel like Keondre was — is — the best nose guard in the state of Texas and probably in the country. I haven’t watched ‘em all, but I would argue that he is, and so he’s going to be counted on to come in and produce for us quite early.”
With Chris Nelson returning for his senior season and Gerald Wilbon also in the mix, Coburn will have some competition, but there’s no question that Texas will need him in 2019. And Coburn can certainly earn his way onto the field this fall with his combination and size and quickness, which is rare for a 330-pounder.
“From a skill-set standpoint, he’s got he ability to come in and compete for that starting job, certainly,” Herman said.
One player who technically fits into the defensive lineman category as the state’s top weak-side defensive end is Conroe Oak Ridge’s Joseph Ossai, who will start out at B-backer, according to Herman.
“The best pass rusher, probably, in the class. He’s got tremendous length and tremendous explosion — he’s a really, really good athlete,” Herman said. “He’s gonna start out at outside linebacker for us. You know, he’s a bit thin to play end in our scheme, but we’ll see how he continues to grow. When you see him rush the passer and you see the length and the twitch, as we call it, his explosiveness of the ball, you can see why he was one of the top 100 or 200 players in the country.”
Since Naashon Hughes is now off the graduation, Ossai will compete for playing time with junior Jeffrey McCulloch, who was sidelined late last season by an ankle injury. In part because of that injury and the ineffectiveness of Hughes, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando opted to play with six defensive backs and smaller defensive linemen — the so-called Lightning package.
Whether McCulloch ever lives up to the potential that made him the No. 5 outside linebacker nationally remains to be seen. Based on Ossai’s film and upside since he was late coming to football, he’s a more proven pass rusher, as McCulloch played standing up on the edge in high school.
And it’s even possible that Ossai will see the field early if the Longhorns end up needing McCulloch at Rover or Mike now that Malik Jefferson is off to the NFL.
The tallest and longest defensive lineman signed by the Longhorns early this month is Daniel Carson, the Missouri product who stands 6’5 and weighs 260 pounds.
“Really, really big guy. Got a great frame. He plays big, too, and he’s played on both sides of the football,” Herman said. “He’s played at tight end and offensive line, and on defense. This is a kid that the sky is the limit because God has blessed him with a tremendous frame, with a tremendous amount of athletic ability, and it’s going to be up to him how he puts it to use and how he gets developed.”
With an assist from Assistant Director of Player Personnel Bryan Carrington, defensive line coach Oscar Giles was able to get Carson on campus. Now he’ll have to mold Carson into a high-motor player with better technique all around. As evidenced by 21 sacks in high school, the talent is there, as Herman said, but Carson is still a little bit raw.
Less raw now is Katy defensive tackle Moro Ojomo — he’s just young. The late-rising standout made a big jump from his junior to his senior seasons, in large part because he doesn’t turn 17 until this spring. In other words, Ojomo won’t be able to vote this fall as a college freshman.
“This guy has had the best improvement from junior to senior year I’ve ever seen in recruiting,” Herman said. “He was not a bad player as a junior. He was a good player. As a senior? He was a great player. I mean great player. He was the district MVP on defense, he was a finalist for the Touchdown Club Defensive Player of the Year award. Just the tenacity and the strength that he played with...”
Herman also maintained his declaration from National Signing Day that Baton Rouge (La.) Dunham school athlete Mike Williams could be the sleeper in the class. Where he ends up eventually will depend on where his body takes him — his head coach wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up weighing 290 pounds with a quickness. On the flip side, Williams could also find himself at tight end.
The key is finding the weight that Williams can carry most comfortably, while still maintaining the athleticism that makes him special, especially the fluidity that comes from his flexibility.
“When you’re watching him, he’s doing things on the field that someone 6’3 and 260 pounds shouldn’t be doing,” Herman said. “It’s gonna be exciting watching his development.
In all, Herman succinctly described the significance of the five defensive line signees as “monumentally important,” citing the pending graduation of numerous players, a group that includes Nelson, Charles Omenihu, and Breckyn Hager. Basically, three of the line’s top four players, a number that jumps higher if former junior college transfer Jamari Chisholm can hold off sophomore Ta’Quon Graham in the rotation’s pecking order.
Coburn is probably the most ready to play, while Ossai has the quickest path to playing time if McCulloch moves to different linebacker position. Ojomo could also factor into the rotation if he can continue his progression. Carson and Williams are the most likely to redshirt.
After a year of development, the numbers will dictate that multiple 2018 signees see the field.
“We needed guys who could come in and contribute as freshmen, but definitely we need them to contribute as sophomores.”