The truly breakout season that never came together for versatile Texas Longhorns defender Malcolm Roach in 2017 could finally happen in 2018.
Following a freshman campaign that saw Roach post eight tackles for loss and three sacks playing the Fox position in Charlie Strong’s defense, the expectations were high for the former consensus three-star prospect.
Instead of building on those numbers in his first year under defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, Roach posted one fewer sack and half as many tackles for loss as he had the season before.
A turf toe injury that limited Roach throughout preseason camp and into the early part of the season is only part of the story.
When asked about recently Roach and senior defensive end Breckyn Hager, who bounced from the same Fox position as Roach to middle linebacker back to defensive end, Orlando provided a telling quote.
“I think it was a little bit of my understanding more or less,” Orlando said. “I think they probably thought they were something when we got here that probably, from an outside looking in, I probably would somewhat disagree with.”
As Orlando arrived with the new staff under head coach Tom Herman, the focus across the board was on toughness, technique, and fundamentals.
“As we went further along and they showed us those characteristics, we started making schemes for them,” Orlando said.
During Maryland’s game week press conference, Herman also revealed some insight into how Roach has grown off the field over the last year.
“He’s really, really matured as a leader,” Herman said. “He has said some things in team meetings and in front of the team out on the field that, I mean, he sounds like a coach. Which is not surprising based on the fact that his dad is a coach and he grew up in that environment.
“But this is a guy that went from kind of the lovable jokester in the locker room to being the mature leader that deserves to be on our council.”
Now Roach is ready to step into a bigger role this season — while the schemes created by Orlando resulted in a bigger payoff for Hager than for Roach last season, the staff started to move Roach around during the spring to make the most of his unique skill set.
Beyond a move back to the hybrid outside linebacker position in which Roach excelled as a freshman — Orlando calls it the B-backer position instead of the Fox end — the coaches also cross-trained him at middle linebacker.
Now Herman is publicly singing Roach’s praises.
“Guys, we’re talking about a 6’2, 282-pound middle linebacker,” he said on Monday. “So we have no hesitation putting him at middle linebacker, because he can run around, he can bend, he can move, he can shed blocks.”
Playing middle linebacker returns Roach to his high school position and allows him to use his skills in space, as well as his ability to stunt and blitz into the line of scrimmage.
“I mean, you should see, like, when he’s the running back’s responsibility in pass protection and he blitzes and the sea parts and he’s coming at this poor running back full speed, it’s like asking a running back to block a three technique in pass protection,” Herman said. “You wouldn’t do that.”
As scary as that might be for opposing offenses, the bigger concern will be to figure out where Roach is and what he might do. The staff feels comfortable playing him at defensive end, B-backer, and middle linebacker. More importantly, they trust him to take drops in zone coverage or rush the passer from anywhere on the field.
So when the Horns take the field against the Terrapins on Sunday, keep on eye out for where Roach lines up, because he’s ready to showcase his playmaking ability.