With just over two months left before the start of the Texas Longhorns’ football season, we continue our position preview series by taking a look at how the Texas defensive line could shake out in 2019.
Similar to the offensive line, the Texas defensive line finds itself down three starters from last season. Charles Omenihu, Breckyn Hager, and Chris Nelson depart the program via graduation after each played in all 14 games last season.
Fortunately, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and defensive line coach Oscar Giles have more than a handful of options to consider when filling out this year’s depth chart. The question will be whether or not the coaches can find options that can consistently disrupt opposing offenses.
2019 Defensive Line Roster
Seniors: Jamari Chisolm (redshirt) Malcolm Roach, Gerald Wilbon
Juniors: Marqez Bimage, D’Andre Christmas-Giles (redshirt) Ta’Quon Graham, Jacoby Jones (juco transfer)
Sophomores: Rob Cummins (redshirt)
Freshmen: Daniel Carson (redshirt), Keondre Coburn (redshirt), Peter Mpagi (true freshman), Moro Ojomo (redshirt) T’Vondre Sweat (true freshman), Myron Warren (true freshman)
The biggest shoes to fill on the defensive line will be those of strong side defensive end Charles Omenihu. The 2018 Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year is now on the Houston Texans roster after recording 45 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and 9.5 sacks in 2018.
As for Hager and Nelson, the two combined for 70 tackles and 13 tackles for a loss in 2018, and Hager added two and a half sacks, as well. Though neither player filled the stat sheet quite like Omenihu did, both provided leadership on defense during their time at Texas.
With that in mind, one goal for the defensive line moving forward will be to get more production, including more of a pass rush, from each spot across the defensive line.
Unlike the offensive line that essentially had one reserve lineman play meaningful snaps, the 2018 defensive line fielded a second unit that played about a third to half of the snaps the starters did. The group consisted of defensive ends Malcolm Roach and Ta’Quon Graham, and nose tackle Gerald Wilbon.
As the season went on, the staff also mixed in other defensive linemen, most of which were kept out of games prior to maintain their redshirt status by playing in four or fewer games. Nose tackle Keondre Coburn was an example, as the former highly-touted recruit didn’t step onto the field until November, playing in just three games.
Regardless of who earns the starting spot at each position across the defensive line, expect to see a portion of snaps going to reserve linemen this fall, similar to the rotation seen in 2018.
Malcolm Roach returns for his senior season with the most playing time of the group and will look to take control of the snaps at weak-side defensive end. After bouncing around the defense between defensive end and linebacker in previous seasons, Roach found his way back to defensive end in 2018, though he did miss much of the year with a fractured foot.
Since recording 33 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, and three sacks as a freshman, Roach’s production has trended down the past couple of seasons, and the aforementioned injury didn’t help to that end. Nevertheless, the goal for Roach in year four will be to produce at a level that keeps him in the starting rotation and ultimately on the radar of NFL teams prior to next year’s draft.
If Roach can’t lock down the starting weak-side defensive end spot, the staff will look to Marqez Bimage, who likely gets a fair share of snaps in 2019 whether he starts or comes off the bench.
Other options on the weak side include redshirt freshman Daniel Carson and true freshmen Peter Mpagi, T’Vondre Sweat, and Myron Warren. It remains to be seen if one of the newcomers works his way into the rotation early in the season or if all take a redshirt year.
Taking on the challenge of replacing the production left by Omenihu at strong-side defensive end will be junior Ta’Quon Graham. The third-year lineman has plenty of game experience under his belt, playing in 26 career games, and will look to improve his production after finishing with 12 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble in 2018.
At about 6’4” and 295 pounds, Graham has a chance to be a nice surprise for the Longhorns this season. Now an upperclassman, the former high school All-American will also likely be called upon to be a leader among the defense up front.
Pushing Graham, and possibly other linemen, for snaps will be redshirt freshman Moro Ojomo. Like Coburn, Ojomo played in just three games his freshman season but has shown a lot of potential since receiving high praise and a flurry of Power 5 offers as a senior at Katy High School in 2017.
Both Coburn and Ojomo should be expected to receive a fair amount of snaps as both have potential written all over them heading into the fall.
Other options to consider on the strong side would be Jamari Chisholm and Jacoby Jones, though their value will probably come in the form of added depth in 2019.
At nose tackle, the top two options are expected to be Gerald Wilbon and Keondre Coburn. While Wilbon provides a high floor, low ceiling outlook, Coburn could showcase enough play-making ability early to secure the starer’s share of snaps in the middle, and that appears to be the case following the spring.
And at some rate, fourth-year lineman D’Andre Christmas-Giles, who Texas still lists as a junior, is expected to see game action throughout the season, as well. It appears Christmas-Giles could have been granted a redshirt retroactively from his sophomore season in which he played in just two games.
When looking at rotations and snap counts, the other factor to consider are the various sub-packages Todd Orlando deploys during the season. A sub-package like the “Lightning Dime package” inserts a mix of linemen onto the field who substitute size for speed.
There’s also the possibility that Orlando mixes in some schemes with four-down linemen, a look that emerged in a handful of game-situations in the latter half of last season.
With all of the starting spots looking to have new faces across the defensive line, along with most of the defense overall, the coaching staff’s goal early in the season will be to find the most effective and reliable rotation of defenders. Fortunately for the Longhorns, the defensive line has substantial depth and an assortment of linemen to consider for the starting roles.