Three and a half years after Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman arrived in Austin, his program possesses fewer potential roster holes than in recent seasons, thanks in part due to consistent post-National Signing Day efforts to fill needs.
However, the Longhorns still lack ideal depth across the board, with offensive line and linebacker looming at the positions causing the most concern for Herman and his staff. It’s the linebackers in particular worrying Herman after losing two players last season — highly-rated recruit De’Gabriel Floyd to spinal stenosis and junior college transfer Caleb Johnson to transfer.
The addition of Juwan Mitchell from junior college last summer and maintaining a redshirt for David Gbenda were important developments, but the position still needed an infusion of talent during the offseason and will benefit from DeMarvion Overshown’s move from safety.
“I think it’s the most nerve-wracking position from a depth stand point on our team right now,” Herman told the Dallas Morning News. “We feel good about the move on DeMarvion Overshown, but he’s inexperienced there. We feel like Juwan Mitchell has shown us in spurts that he can play at championship level.”
The key for Overshown is staying healthy after injuries forced him to miss five games in each of his first two seasons, an area that becomes a bigger question mark with the move into the box. Still, he has the type of hit-and-run ability that the coaches want to provide more range at the position.
As for Mitchell, he may have the best instincts of all the linebackers on the team and flashed ability on the blitz with three sacks. Unfortunately, he was a player who needed more time with strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight, so it’s questionable whether he’s made the improvements necessary to have more success in space as a junior. And he also entered the NCAA transfer portal briefly before coaches convinced him to stay.
Consider those two the leaders to start at the inside linebacker positions in 2020.
Then there’s the developing depth.
“I’m excited to see about David Gbenda,” Herman said. “You know Ayodele Adeoye and Marcus Tillman are both coming off injuries. They’ve been very diligent in their rehab. Marcus Tillman was a guy that was certainly turning heads before he got hurt as well as [Adeoye]. [Adeoye] had started a few games for us as well.”
Gbenda looks like a prototypical Big 12 inside linebacker — a little bit undersized, but with good range and physicality. While a brief move to running back set back his development to some extent, preserving his redshirt was a priority for the staff and an important accomplishment given the circumstances.
How Adeoye fits isn’t quite as clear. An interception in the Alamo Bowl was a promising development for his ability to contribute in pass coverage. The question is whether he can drop some of his muscle mass to join Mitchell in improving his range in that area. Even if he doesn’t, he’s now a 10-game starter who is becoming an established commodity — something the Horns don’t have much of at linebacker.
As for Tillman, he was a contributor on special teams until he suffered a season-ending injury against Oklahoma State. He’ll provide some depth that was lacking this season and had enough upside in high school to earn offers from Clemson, Florida, and Ohio State.
And productive Frisco Lone Star product Jaylan Ford, a late addition to the 2020 recruiting class, will arrive when players are allowed back on campus.
But could the Horns make another addition?
“They’re all young and inexperienced, so if we can find a grad transfer at that position that we feel like can help us win a championship, we’ll look at that,” Herman said. “We’ve had quite a bit of success with grad transfers over the years coming in, but we also feel like we’ve got a great linebacker coach in Coleman Hutzler.”
Once again this season, however, the graduate transfer market at linebacker isn’t particularly strong. The only name to surface in connection with Texas was North Dakota State’s Jabril Cox, one of the top FCS linebackers over the last several seasons. Cox eventually committed to and signed with LSU, though, so he’s off the market.
After Cox, there’s a significant drop off — it’s not clear that any of the other options are good enough to help the Longhorns win a championship. And, in any case, the only five other graduate transfer linebackers ranked by 247Sports all have destinations.
So unless there are any late additions to the graduate transfer side of the portal, Texas isn’t likely to land another linebacker.
“If we don’t, it’s not the end of the world,” Herman continued when discussing a graduate transfer. “The guys that we have on our roster currently will be developed to the point that they’ll be an asset rather than a liability.”