In the two months since the Texas Longhorns hired co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Herb Hand, one of the biggest questions surrounding the program has been the extent to which he will influence an offense that ranked No. 99 nationally in S&P+ and No. 89 in success rate.
On Monday, head coach Tom Herman made it clear that he didn’t hire Hand to completely revamp the offense — “we have an offense that we believe in.”
Don’t expect Hand to call plays next season, either. In February, Herman defended offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s performance last season and said that Hand will influence game planning, a point he reiterated on Monday.
“We hired Herb Hand to coach the offensive line really, really well, to provide quality ideas that can enhance our offense, to provide great experience and knowledge of the game and game planning during the season, and to recruit his butt off,” Herman said.
So far so good on the recruiting trail, as Hand was the critical factor in landing graduate transfer offensive tackle Calvin Anderson over Auburn, Michigan, and Oklahoma and has also made an impression on talented in-state tackles like Kenyon Green, Tyler Johnson, and Javonne Shepherd.
As for the offense, Herman didn’t go into specifics about how Hand will alter it in terms of scheme, but did say that there will be some changes.
“He’s provided some great ideas in the couple of months that we’ve had to talk ball,” Herman said. “We’ll implement some of the things that he feels he’s really good at and we’ll improve some things where he kind of studied what we were doing.”
The Orange-White game in April could provide some evidence of those changes, as Hand could be extremely beneficial to Texas in helping Beck adopt a more sequence-based approach to play calling and finding a base set of concepts dressed up with shifts, motions, and different formations.
And Guz Malzahn was also known for having a number of trick plays at his disposal every game — given how rarely those plays worked under Beck, being able to consistently execute a trick play once or twice per game could provide the Texas offense with a significant boost.
The areas of trick plays and sequence-based play calling won’t show up in the vanilla environment of the spring game, but there could be more shifts and motions than last season.
One specific that Hand has brought to Texas is a blitz pickup drill that Herman will use in practice. The offensive linemen have also been going through position-specific drills to prepare for spring practice with their new coach. And adding the 10th assistant allowed Herman to split wide receiver coaching duties between Drew Mehringer and Corby Meekins — now one coach takes the field side in practice and the other coach takes the boundary, which makes it easier for the coaches to communicate with players.
As Herman mentioned, however, the top priority is improving the offensive line play. Hand likes to use a matrix instead of a depth chart as he cross trains players at multiple positions to find the best five linemen for the starting unit and can then determine the next five best in the event of an injury.
So far, sophomore right tackle Derek Kerstetter and senior swing man Elijah Rodriguez have both worked at the center position in winter conditioning to potentially back up junior Zach Shackelford. Rodriguez is also working at right tackle and right guard, while Kerstetter could potentially swing inside. So could junior Denzel Okafor when Anderson arrives this summer.
Until then, Hand will work to find the best combinations this spring, which could eventually include redshirt freshman tackle Sam Cosmi.
“He’s raw, but strong and powerful,” Herman said. “He’s got length and aggressiveness. Again, even at this level, offensive linemen aren’t supposed to play probably until their third year, until their redshirt sophomore year. I definitely don’t want to put any unwarranted expectations on Samuel Cosmi, but he’s somebody that has impressed in the winter offseason and excited about his trajectory.”
Then there’s the complex interplay of technique, fundamentals, physicality, and aggression.
“I think coach Hand does a great job of mixing the ‘Hey, we’re going to do it more better and fundamentally sound than anyone in the country, but we’re also going to do it with more physicality than anyone in the country.’”
Regardless of whether Herman has to take a larger role in play calling again, as he did in the Texas Bowl, what Hand does with the offensive line will ultimately be as important, or perhaps even more important, than any small tweaks to the offense or what he adds to the game-planning element.