Like spring thunder rolling across the plains, the news that former Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets offensive guard Parker Braun will finish his college career with the Texas Longhorns rumbled heavily through the Burnt Orange Nation on Sunday.
Co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Herb Hand even seemed to confirmed the news several hours later:
Hand certainly does have himself a Creature — Braun is known for his motor, toughness, and athleticism. He’s known as one of the best Georgia Tech players in recent seasons and one of the best offensive linemen in the Paul Johnson era. He’s a two-time All-ACC selection.
Crucially, though, Braun won’t just have an impact on his preferred position of left guard. He’ll have an impact on the entire Texas offensive line. So let’s look at how his addition will change things.
Left guard — Parker Braun
Pencil him in right now. Braun played the left guard position at Georgia Tech and despite any talk of him redshirting this season in order to add strength and overall mass, he’s a two-time All-ACC selection for a reason. Not only that, rest assured that head coach Tom Herman and offensive line coach Herb Hand didn’t recruit Braun to sit out for a year.
Texas recruited Braun because it lost a longtime starter at the left guard position in Patrick Vahe and needs someone who can excel in space. Throw in Braun’s toughness and adding him surely wasn’t a difficult decision for Hand — in a game against Pitt in 2017, Braun took a defender to the ground on 22 plays, which accounted for one of every 3.4 offensive snaps.
Redshirt freshman Junior Angilau was expected to compete for the starting job this season prior to Braun’s addition. A former consensus four-star prospect from Salt Lake City, Angilau was ranked as the No. 10 offensive tackle in the 2018 recruiting class, but always projected better to guard after playing that position in high school. In fact, Angilau displayed a remarkable level of nastiness and agility in his run-heavy offense, especially pulling into space.
Last listed at 6’6 and nearly 300 pounds, Angilau looked lean and explosive in a recent video from offseason conditioning, indicating that he has perhaps improved his movement ability since joining the Longhorns program last summer. At least, he hasn’t gotten any slower.
The expectations are still high for Angilau, but it will only benefit the program to have decreased expectations in terms of his necessary contributions in 2019.
On the last depth chart posted by the Longhorns for the 2018 season, redshirt junior Tope Imade was listed as the backup to Patrick Vahe at left guard. The positive here is that Imade didn’t wash out after switching to defense and back in 2017 due to injuries and lack of depth, but he also hasn’t appeared in a game during his three seasons on the Forty Acres.
Imade has all the necessary size at 6’6 and 315 pounds. The question is whether he’s athletic and technically sound enough to contribute. Consider this a huge spring for him.
Center — Zach Shackelford
Already a three-year starter after arriving as the lowest-ranked member of the 2016 recruiting class, Shackelford emerged as a better-than-average offensive lineman during the 2018 season. He still missed several games as a result of a foot sprain he suffered in practice following the Maryland game, so there are still some questions about whether he can stay healthy for a whole season. Perhaps he’ll finally have some luck in that regard in 2019.
When Shackelford was injured in 2018, Elijah Rodriguez served as a capable replacement in his final season of college football. The third-string scholarship option was junior Derek Kerstetter, who is a candidate to take over Shackelford’s starting job in 2020, though center is one of the positions for that season with the least amount of clarity at this time.
Early enrollee Tyler Johnson could take some reps there this spring after head coach Tom Herman indicated that the one-time five-star prospect can play any position on the line when Johnson signed in December. And, in fact, he could see snaps at every position this spring, though left tackle seems least likely.
Right guard — Denzel Okafor
Like Angilau, redshirt junior Denzel Okafor looks lean and mean this offseason after playing only one snap in 2018 when left tackle Calvin Anderson lost his shoe against TCU. At 6’4 and 310 pounds, Okafor has started four games in his career and was forced to play some left tackle in 2017 due to injuries. Okafor struggled in pass protection in that role, in part because he doesn’t have ideal size for the position.
So a move to what may be his more natural role at guard could be a major boon for him in 2019, as he’s the favorite to earn that starting job.
Kerstetter started four games at right guard when Shackelford was injured last season and formed a solid duo with redshirt sophomore Sam Cosmi on the right side of the line. Whatever chemistry existed there likely won’t matter this season, though, as Cosmi is expected to move to left tackle.
Look for the loser of the Okafor-Kerstetter battle at right tackle to slide inside to guard and earn the starting job there. Since the projection here is that Okafor will win the starting right guard job, Kerstetter is the anticipated starter at right tackle, where he held his own as a true freshman in 2017 while starting 10 games.
Another name to know is that of redshirt freshman Christian Jones, a latecomer to football with a soccer background who played in a run-heavy offense in high school. As much as any of the impressive Longhorns offensive linemen currently on campus, Jones looks the part at 6’5, 305 pounds. However, he’s still considered a developmental project at guard or tackle and may not be ready to contribute in 2019.
Another 2018 signee who could be in the mix inside is redshirt freshman Rafiti Ghirmai, a 6’5, 300-pounder whose future is still up in the air. Will he be able to contribute at tackle or will he need to play guard? Spring practice should help provide some perspective on that question, as it will for a handful of players.
The key reality to understand is that landing Braun gives the entire offensive line more margin for error — a player like Imade who has been on campus three years without seeing the field won’t have to compete with a redshirt freshman like Angilau for a starting job.
And that also means that the upside at left guard, along with the upside of the entire offensive line, is significantly improved. Despite the concerns that exist with how well Braun will translate to playing in an offense where he has to pass block more often and will have to change his technique in a way that will put more pressure on his strength and mass, top programs across the country pursued him because all of those projections are so favorable.
Texas made the same projections.
For Hand’s offensive line, that means a higher floor, a higher ceiling, and more opportunity to survive the type of injuries that the 2018 starters avoided a year after getting decimated.