Halfway through spring practice, Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando is happy with the development of sophomore defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham, who contributed last season, but is poised to play a much larger role in 2018.
In fact, when Orlando was asked on Thursday about the depth along the defensive line, Graham was the first player he mentioned.
“I think TQ is doing a really good job,” Orlando said. “I’ve been really impressed with him. Sometimes you look the part and have great strength numbers then you don’t go out there and play the part. I think he’s been playing the part.”
The 6’4, 290-pounder arrived at Texas last summer somewhere south of 260 pounds, but has since added a significant amount of weight and strength.
Getting Graham to campus wasn’t an easy task, either — though Graham was a longtime Longhorns pledge, other Big 12 schools were in pursuit when new position coach Oscar Giles arrived with Tom Herman. Oklahoma and TCU made strong pushes, in particular, with the Horned Frogs landing an official visit from the Temple product, while the Sooners were hoping to get him on campus, but were unable to do so.
So when Graham inked his National Letter of Intent with Texas in early February of 2017, it was a big coup for Giles at the beginning of his second tenure as a Longhorns coach.
As a rotation player at defensive end, Graham flashes at times during the 12 games in which he appeared as a freshman, recording six tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack against Texas Tech in the regular-season finale.
This spring, he’s taken the next step, even moving inside to play some at nose tackle with senior Chris Nelson held out of contact due to the elbow injury he suffered during preparation for the Texas Bowl.
“He came in at 250 pounds,” Orlando said. “We knew he was athletic, could run, was a big-bodied, big-shouldered guy. We knew that Yancy (McKnight) could put some weight on him, and he could still keep his speed. Those are the guys that when we look at recruiting, that’s what we want right there. If you grab somebody like Charles who is a little beat leaner but longer, you can move him in different spots. TQ, to me, has the versatility to play all three spots.”
Orlando loves the flexibility that Graham provides him with — he can play all three spots in an odd front, but can also play all four spots in an even front. Still athletic enough to rush the passer as a defensive end, Graham also has the strength to play over the center and hold the point of attack.
For the type of defensive front that Orlando wants to run, Graham is a perfect fit. So look fro Graham to have a big-time sophomore season is he can turn his potential into production.