Earlier this week, Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando made an appearance at the THSCA convention in Houston and discussed the state of his defense with preseason camp looming.
With eight starters gone from the 2018 group that ranked No. 44 nationally in S&P+, but struggled significantly in losses to Oklahoma State and West Virginia, Orlando will have to pull off one of the best coaching jobs of his distinguished career for Texas to meet or exceed last season’s results.
Todd Orlando’s opening statement: pic.twitter.com/JA3D3EusEU— Tim Verghese (@TimVerghese) July 22, 2019
Orlando on the ILB spots:— Joe Cook (@josephcook89) July 22, 2019
-Adeoye's "had a great summer."
-Calls Jeff McCulloch a "veteran presence"
-Ossai "has played outside and can play inside"
-"We have a lot of flexibility in this package, especially at the second level."#HookEm
During the spring, head coach Tom Herman and several players alluded to a belief that Adeoye gained too much weight in his first season under strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight and lost some of his speed and fluidity. So the hope is that Adeoye has spent the last several months getting a little bit more lean to maximize his movement ability.
McCulloch can continue to demonstrate leadership ability with the way that he approaches the game — Herman indicated that his practice habits were lacking at times.
“Jeff’s had a really good spring,” coach Tom Herman said following the Orange-White game. “I told him, maybe it was last Tuesday’s practice, that that was as hard as I’d see him go from start to finish of a practice. He never took a play off, was going hard every play.
“I made sure he knew that, that that’s the expectation for him moving forward in every practice. I think he took that to heart and he’s playing a lot more consistent with a lot more effort.”
As the former No. 5 outside linebacker in the 2016 recruiting class enters his final season on the Forty Acres, he needs to bring that type of intensity to every practice to finally maximize his potential and to serve as an example for the younger linebackers.
Ossai is a potential breakout player to watch on the defensive side of the ball, though it might not necessarily be at the B-backer position — he’s been cross-training at the other two linebacker positions and could play next to McCulloch at the Mac position.
How well he performs there during preseason camp could change the calculus for Orlando as he works to get his best 11 defenders on the field, a group that may end up including only two linebackers given the depth and talent in the secondary.
Orlando: "We have a whole bunch of dynamic playmakers. If this guy at LB isn't as good as this guy at S, and the guy at S is one of our better 11 guys, I better and we better do a better job of creating something that has that guy on the field." #HookEm— Joe Cook (@josephcook89) July 22, 2019
Along with linebacker, the defensive line also has plenty of question marks. One of the major questions is in regards to who starts next to senior Malcolm Roach following the departures of all three starters from last season. The leader among the defensive ends is probably junior Ta’Quon Graham, who started two games last season, but only finished with 12 tackles overall.
Texas DC Todd Orlando says he expects a big year from former Temple Wildcat Ta’Quon Graham. He says “we’ve been waiting on TQ”— Jessica Morrey (@JessicaMorrey) July 22, 2019
He says Graham is “freakish” in the weight room and has the opportunity to be one of the best defensive lineman in the Big 12 pic.twitter.com/U8PBVfZYV0
Graham did record two sacks and forced a fumble against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, so there were some flashes. Now it’s time for him to emerge as an impact player by making the leap that is often typical of players entering their junior seasons. And if Orlando says Graham can be one of the best defensive linemen in the Big 12, it’s because he’s seen legitimate ability in practice that Graham hasn’t yet consistently translated to games.
Inside at nose tackle, the most talented option is redshirt freshman Keondre Coburn, who was extremely disruptive at times during the Orange-White game. Now Orlando is calling him “the guy.”
Todd Orlando on NT: "I think Coburn is the guy. I think he gives us the ability to give great penetration, especially if he plays as a 0 or a 1."— Joe Cook (@josephcook89) July 22, 2019
"He's very, very quick. He's very, very fast."
Says it'll come down to how many plays he can play. #HookEm
Since older players like Gerald Wilbon and D’Andre Christmas-Giles simply haven’t shown much disruptive ability so far at Texas and aren’t likely to suddenly do so as seniors, Coburn’s conditioning level is a big storyline. He’s still listed at 340 pounds, so he’s the second-heaviest player on the team behind Tope Imade, but needs to be able to stay on the field for 40 or more snaps per game this season.
Todd Orlando on Jordan Whittington the potential safety: "If you were in our room watching that guy play running back, you would’ve given up on him playing safety too.”— Chris Hummer (@chris_hummer) July 22, 2019
Whittington has clearly found a home on offense, where he’ll have a chance to back up sophomore running back Keaontay Ingram and serve in the hybrid H role that would allow him to split out to create mismatches against linebackers.
Due to the youth on defense, Orlando has had to change his approach to teaching the game, which may mean fewer sub packages and exotic looks like he showed in the Sugar Bowl.
Texas DC Todd Orlando says his unit is losing 8 defensive starters, but a lot of replacements have experience. “When you have younger guys, you really have to take a slow-down approach to your teaching.”— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) July 22, 2019
Overall, the talent level on defense provides some cause for optimism, but Orlando also had an interesting comment about how much speed he can put on the field.
Orlando: "I think you're going to see speed that's probably at a different level than what we've had around here."— Joe Cook (@josephcook89) July 22, 2019
"What I don't know right now is how we all come together." #HookEm
Given the fact that Texas had two of the fastest linebackers in the country playing together in 2017 — Malik Jefferson and Gary Johnson — and how well other players tested at the NFL Combine over the last two years, this is quite a statement from Orlando. And one that bodes well for the defense, even if it takes until 2020 for the young players to truly grow up.