In spite of a group that potentially returns four of five starters, the Texas Longhorns have a lot of questions to answer along the offensive line as the head into spring practice.
Perhaps the biggest question to answer is the status of Derek Kerstetter.
After Samuel Cosmi opted out ahead of the Kansas State game, the Longhorns experimented with a new lineup in the trenches. Sophomore Christian Jones shifted from right to left tackle to fill the spot, Kerstetter moved from center to right tackle — where he spent the 2019 season — and true freshman Jake Majors stepped into the starting lineup at center.
The experiment seemed to work as Texas found success on the ground, but the experiment was short-lived after Kerstetter left the game in the first half due to injury.
Following surgery for a dislocated ankle and a broken fibula, he remained relatively silent while many other seniors were announcing decisions about their additional years of eligibility. With a potential five-month recovery from the injury, it’s likely we won’t know the full answer to that question until fall, so the true look of the offensive line will likely remain cloudy ahead of fall practice.
However, he is reportedly set to return for 2021 and as a player with NFL aspirations, a year to show he’s healthy and can play will go a long way for his professional future.
Kerstetter’s likely return means that Texas can look to freshman Jake Majors to take over in the middle.
Prior to last season, it seemed like Majors had a shot at taking the job, but former offensive line coach Herb Hand opted for experience in the middle of the line. It seems as if Majors not only came to campus with a higher floor than many expected, he also showed up ready to compete, passing redshirt sophomore Rafiti Ghirmai on the depth chart at center.
Majors came to Texas as one of the earliest recruiting wins for Hand; coming in at No. 195 nationally in the 2020 recruiting class, the Prosper product was the second-highest player Hand secured in his time on the Forty Acres. Majors hoped to get up to speed earlier than expected as an early enrollee, but COVID stopped the spring season. So with a full period of spring conditioning and practice, the hope is that Majors can fulfill the talent that earned him a top-200 ranking by building on his success late last season.
The other three positions, left tackle, left guard and right guard, have plenty of talent to sort through.
Fourth-year player Junior Angilau, who made the move from right guard to left guard a year ago, sits with 22 starts under his belt heading into spring practice. The new coaching staff will likely start with a clean slate, but Angilau obviously has a leg up in the experience department as well as talent floor heading into the competition. Angilau managed to hold down the left guard position for the entirety of the 2020 season, so a change there would be surprising.
Christian Jones was another 11-game starter from a year ago, starting the first nine games of 2020 at right tackle, before shifting to left for the Kansas State experiment and then back to right tackle following Kerstetter’s injury. To his advantage, of all of the linemen vying for position during the spring, he has the most positional versatility, meaning he has an opportunity to compete both at guard and at tackle. But with Kerstetter likely to miss part or most of spring practice, expect Jones to remain outside. At least for now.
If Jones does eventually compete inside, he will take on sixth-year senior Denzel Okafor, who chose to take advantage of the additional year of eligibility for that guard spot. Although listed as the starter on the depth chart heading into the Alamo Bowl game, Okafor was not available and redshirt freshman Tyler Johnson got the start in the bowl game.
Perhaps the most intriguing player to watch in the battle is redshirt freshman Andrej Karic, who was another young lineman to come in and make waves a year ago.
As a part of the 2020 class, Karic was a relatively late addition for Hand, but was eager to be a Longhorn, taking his first visit and committing all within 60 days. He was an early enrollee and another young player that may have competed for playing time early had he not lost out on the entirety of his early enrollee spring practice.
His frame and skillset has drawn comparisons to another under-recruited tackle who became an NFL prospect — former Texas left tackle and current Dallas Cowboy Connor Williams.
When Kerstetter returns, Texas will have a solid core of four players with significant experience now and two young players in Karic and Majors who look like potential multi-year starters if they continue developing.
As Flood enters his first spring on the Forty Acres, one of the important storylines is whether any other young or inexperienced players step up from a group that includes Johnson, Ghirmai, and redshirt freshman guard Logan Parr.
As Flood takes over the group with a blank slate, Texas needs to sort out the offensive line quickly to aid the installation of a new offensive system, as well as breaking in a new quarterback, because when the 2021 season opens, the offensive line will likely be the group with the most to say about the early success of the Texas offense.