With much of the focus on Sam Cosmi at left tackle, Texas Longhorns senior Derek Kerstetter turned in an outstanding junior season playing right tackle in 2019 — PFF ranked him as the top returning pass blocker at the position with a grade of 91.6.
The best pass-blocking OL returning in 2020 pic.twitter.com/XDzeVQM4M6— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 22, 2020
Considering that Texas struggled overall in pass protection, particularly on standard downs, Kerstetter’s ability on the edge stands out even further. And he also did it in relative anonymity — in fact, as voted on by the Big 12’s coaches, Kerstetter wasn’t named first-team All-Big 12, wasn’t named second-team All-Big 12, and didn’t even receive honorable mention recognition.
Some of that was a result of the competition level in the conference and across the country — even PFF had Kersetter as third-team All-Big 12.
The more relevant conversation regards Kerstetter’s merits as an excellent pass protector on the edge and his pending move inside to center for his senior season.
The San Antonio native who was once an Oklahoma State commit has cross trained at the position enough that offensive line coach Herb Hand knows what he’s capable of inside, where Kerstetter will have to make line calls and anchor against nose tackles in pass protection instead of stonewalling edge defenders.
Listed at 310 pounds, Kersetter has the mass to keep the pocket from collapsing and enough movement ability that he should be able to combo block to the second level effectively.
However, will he provide more value inside than he would outside, where senior Denzel Okafor is slated to take over at right tackle despite previous issues in pass protection?
Perhaps that isn’t the operative question here, either. More accurately, then, does Texas have any other options at the position?
Redshirt sophomore Rafiti Ghirmai moved to center last spring, but struggled in the Orange-White game with his shotgun snaps. Presumably that’s less of an issue after a year of practice, but given the continued struggles of Zach Shackelford in that regard after four seasons as the starter, there’s hardly any guarantee.
The other option is early enrollee Jake Majors, ranked as the No. 5 center nationally in the 247Sports Composite rankings. Like the other two players, Major doesn’t have much experience at the position, either, since he played tackle at Prosper.
In the fourth year of the Tom Herman era, reprising 2016 by inserting another true freshman at center would represent some serious regression for the program — Majors needs to redshirt unless there are multiple injuries across the offensive line.
So the unfortunate reality is that even if the team would benefit tremendously from having Kerstetter spend another season playing tackle, he’s the best option at center and will have to battle through whatever growing pains occur there when the season starts.