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What Calvin Anderson means for the Texas offensive line

With the left tackle position secured, Herb Hand now has much more flexibility across the rest of the line.

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Plug. Play.

As a top-40 offensive tackle in college football last season for the Rice Owls, according to Pro Football Focus, new Texas Longhorns grad transfer Calvin Anderson will instantly step in as the team’s starting left tackle when he arrives in Austin this summers.

Of course, all the typical caveats apply about Anderson having to earn the job once preseason camp begins, but let’s be honest here — outside of an injury, there’s virtually no chance that another option currently on campus out-competes Anderson.

So it’s been no secret around the Forty Acres since the Austin native announced his desire to leave Rice back in January that Anderson was the most important target throughout that stretch and now represents the biggest short-term addition to the program in that time.

The 6’6, 300-pounder improved tremendously as a pass blocker during his junior season and will provide an immediate upgrade over Denzel Okafor, Elijah Rodriguez, now-departed Tristan Nickelson. Those three players attempted to fill in for injured All-American Connor Williams during the seven games the potential first-round draft pick missed in 2017 and largely mightily in pass protection.

Head coach Tom Herman hyped up Rodriguez following his preseason injury, but the fifth-year player experienced significant difficulties in pass protection against the strong Missouri edge rushers in the Texas Bowl, especially against the speed rush. Nickelson and Okafor weren’t any better — Nickelson lacked the foot speed, while Okafor doesn’t have ideal size for the position.

So adding Anderson was monumentally important not just because he’ll provide much better pass protection and, at the least, credible run blocking from the left tackle position, but also monumentally important because of the effect his addition has on the rest of the line.

New co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Herb Hand is hardly unique in his desire to cross train his position group during the spring to find the best five linemen, but now the newest Longhorns assistant coach has much more flexibility with Anderson coming to Texas.

Junior Denzel Okafor cam compete against sophomore Derek Kerstetter at the right tackle position, while Rodriguez could also slot there or replace Jake McMillon at right guard. Hand could even give Kerstetter and Rodriguez a shot at playing center, providing some competition for entrenched junior starter Zach Shackelford.

Or Okafor could slide inside to guard, which might be his more natural position.

Then there’s junior college transfer Mikey Grandy, the early signing period coup over UCLA who has the maturity and strength to compete at both guard and right tackle. And the eventual return of sophomore guard Patrick Hudson, who missed much of the 2017 season with an ACL tear.

Throw senior Patrick Vahe into the category of Texas offensive linemen who need to improve this season, but there’s now much better depth overall, to the extent that none of the four high school signees should have to play this season. How’s that for a change?

Beyond the players with actual game experience, redshirt freshman offensive tackle Sam Cosmi, redshirt sophomore Tope Imade, and redshirt sophomore JP Urquidez will provide competition to the more entrenched players. Perhaps none of those three end up on the field this season, but that might simply be a sign of a more healthy program overall rather than cause for concern.

Compared to where Texas was three months ago following the departure of Connor Williams, there have been three really significant developments — the addition of a highly-regarded offensive line coach in Herb Hand, a plug-and-play left tackle in Calvin Anderson, and instant-impact depth in Mikey Grandy.

So while it’s much too early to tell how much better the offensive line will be in 2018, Anderson is a huge addition on his own who will allow Hand to mix and match to find the best four offensive linemen to play next to the coveted grad transfer.