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Todd Orlando discusses the Texas defense at the THSCA convention

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The Horns will be young and relatively inexperienced in 2019, but Orlando believes that he can put a lot of speed on the field.

Todd Orlando last fall
Wescott Eberts

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.