AUSTIN, Texas — Throughout the offseason, Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman identified the linebacker position as one of his biggest areas of concern thanks to a lack of ideal experience and concerns about depth.
Injuries and attrition hurt the position last year, forcing Joseph Ossai to play inside linebacker at times instead of on the edge. A year later, four of the 14 players on scholarship at the position are former walk ons.
Two part-time starters are back — junior Juwan Mitchell and redshirt sophomore Ayodele Adeoye, but Ash wanted more speed at the position, so he moved junior safety DeMarvion Overshown down to weak-side linebacker. Overshown adjusted quickly enough to the position to earn the starting job.
Ash discussed the importance of those two inside linebacker positions during a Zoom conference call with media on Wednesday.
“Well I really like the way that we’re built defensively here and I kind of revert to basic baseball a lot you want to be strong up the middle just like you do in baseball,” Ash said. “And we want to be strong up the middle starting with our two inside guys at Mike backer and Will and our safeties.”
During preseason camp, Herman said that the linebackers “are playing well and getting better every day,” mentioning redshirt freshman David Gbenda as a player who has impressed. Gbenda’s development was slowed last season when he was forced to move to running back thanks to the catastrophic injury situation early in the season. Then injuries and ineffectiveness forced him into the starting lineup at linebacker against Kansas, the last game he played in 2019 to preserve his redshirt.
Herman also mentioned true freshman Jaylan Ford, the lowest-rated member of the 2020 class and a late addition just after Early Signing Day when he flipped from Utah. He’s “proven that he’s going to be a solid player for us at some point,” Herman said, adding that he wants to accelerate Ford’s learning curve.
Gbenda is the backup to junior DeMarvion Overshown at Will, with Ford on the depth chart as the third-string player.
Some minor injuries have made it more difficult for Herman and Ash to properly evaluate their players — Mitchell suffered a stinger and Adeoye lost out on potentially earning the starting job when he missed time with a shoulder injury suffered in a collision with sophomore running back Roschon Johnson.
The result is a position that Ash called a work in progress ahead of the season opener against UTEP in Austin on Saturday.
“The Mike and the Will position, specifically, I’ve seen some really good things out of all of those guys but there’s a lot of unknowns — you’ve got DeMarvion, who’s a guy that, again, we moved positions,” Ash said. “He’s done some great things in practice, really fired up about him.”
In fact, Herman said that Overshown made the transition seamlessly.
“That was evident the very first time we put pads on and he was in the box,” Herman said. “(Overshown) made a bunch of plays early in training camp that you realize that was a good move for him.”
The result is a group that Ash believes has the tools necessary to succeed this season, but need to prove it on the field, especially Overshown, who missed five games as a freshman in 2018 and then four more games in 2019 — he needs to stay healthy.
“Things happen faster on gameday,” Ash said. “There’s things that come up on gameday that we haven’t practiced. Can they adjust and adapt and manage it, so close to the line of scrimmage there at linebacker? But one of the areas that it’s going to be really important to our success is getting good linebacker play both in the run game and in the pass game.”