When Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian interviewed with athletics director Chris Del Conte to replace Tom Herman, he’d already identified one of the program’s biggest issues.
“We need bigger humans in our program,” Sarkisian recounted last summer. “And we need more of them.”
Entering Sarkisian’s first spring, the Longhorns had a serious roster imbalance — the wide receiver room featured 12 players on campus (and two more signees), but Texas had only 11 offensive lineman after signing just two recruits in the 2021 class, including one early enrollee.
It wasn’t just a long-term problem with serious implications for what would become the program’s eventual move to the SEC, a decision still months in the making. It was a short-term problem for Sarkisian and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Kyle Flood, too.
With a large offensive line class looming in the 2022 cycle — both in quantity and physical size — Sarkisian and Flood opted for a long-term build instead of settling for short-term fixes from the NCAA transfer portal. The plan worked as Flood landed seven of his top targets, including consensus five-star prospects DJ Campbell and Kelvin Banks.
In total, the group represented 2,265 pounds in the trenches, a full 1.13 tons, averaging 6’5 and 324 pounds with Duncanville product Cam Williams looming as the biggest human of them all at 6’7, 374 pounds.
Banks emerged as a starter and freshman All-American at left tackle, the lone early enrollee, Cole Hutson, earned a starting job, and the other five all appeared as backups on the Alamo Bowl depth chart.
The huge 2022 class allowed Flood to build depth in the 2023 class, signing five players with a mix of size and upside.
Now Texas will have 16 scholarship offensive linemen on campus this spring compared to nine wide receivers (not counting Savion Red) while returning 101 starts with the decision by right tackle Christian Jones to return for a sixth season.
Despite dropping in the rankings late in the recruiting cycle and then enrolling during the summer, Banks showed up on the Forty Acres with a no-nonsense work ethic and quickly earned the starting left tackle job, holding onto it for all 13 games despite playing through several injuries. Banks earned honorable mention Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year and Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year recognition while cementing himself as a potential first-round draft pick in 2025.
Banks dominated as a pass protector. His 3.5% pressure rate allowed on true pass sets ranked sixth among Power Five tackles. His 98.4 pass-block efficiency score was also second among Big 12 tackles, behind only Oklahoma’s Anton Harrison — a top-25 prospect on PFF’s big board. Banks could become one of the best offensive linemen in the nation next season if he continues developing as a run-blocker, where he earned a 64.9 grade.
Improved strength and technique with a full offseason in the Texas program should produce significant jump from Banks as a run blocker.
At 6’5, 324 pounds, Conner is the second biggest starting offensive lineman for the Longhorns in height and weight. And considering the mess that was the 2021 offensive line recruiting class, in which Conner was only one of two signees as former offensive line coach Herb Hand missed on Tommy Brockermeyer, Donovan Jackson, Bryce Foster, and Rueben Fatheree, getting an early contributor out of that group is a significant win for Texas.
The 6’3, 314-pounder from Prosper hasn’t always felt like a guaranteed starter, but his leadership and ability to communicate from the center position has kept him in the starting lineup, aided by the season-ending injury to Junior Angilau in preseason camp. While there are still questions about Major’s size and strength, he’s now a 27-game starter entering his third season in that role full time, so it’s unlikely anyone displaces him.
Since Hutson underwent shoulder surgery following the Alamo Bowl to repair a torn labrum suffered in high school, Campbell has a big opportunity this spring to take Hutson’s starting job, which he was pushing hard for late in the season.
The No. 10 prospect and the No. 1 interior offensive lineman in the 2022 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Campbell has the athleticism to work to the second level and the remarkable punch to dominate defensive linemen, linebackers, or anyone else who happens to get in his way.
As with Banks, this is the first offseason at Texas for Campbell, so expect a big step forward.
A developmental prospect in the 2018 recruiting class, Jones initially struggled at left tackle after Flood arrived before moving back to the right side and turning in a strong 2022 season that turned him into a fringe NFL Draft prospect before he opted to return for a sixth year on the Forty Acres.
Given Flood’s reputation for developing players and the limited experience that Jones had at the position when he arrived, there may still be some upside left to tap into — surely that was part of the calculus for Jones when he made his decision about the 2023 season.
Hutson is the only offensive lineman expected to miss spring practice, although center Connor Robertson also underwent postseason surgery. Otherwise, Neto Umeozulu will remain in his backup role at left tackle, Cameron Williams at right tackle, and Malik Agbo on the interior. In the 2023 class, Jaydon Chatman, Payton Kirkland, Andre Cojoe, and Connor Stroh all enrolled early with one spot on the two-deep open due to Hutson’s rehabilitation.
The pass blocking last season was elite for the Longhorns despite starting two true freshman and a true sophomore. In average line yards and standard down line yards, Texas ranked among the top 35 nationally. Aided by the experience gained in 2022 and another offseason under Flood, the outlook is bright for a group that was in major disarray only 26 months ago. And considering the departures of Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson, the Horns can’t rely on the running backs to make the offensive line right as often this season.
Perhaps the best news? For the first time in years, the Longhorns are now in position to develop young players without forcing them onto the field before they’re ready. That achievement alone has made Flood’s salary money well spent.