A focal point for the Texas Longhorns offense heading into the 2023 season is improving interior line play after using two first-year starters last season, including true freshman Cole Hutson.
“I think when you just look at our offensive line — we’ve said this before — we need to play at a more consistent level in the interior of our offensive line,” Texas offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Kyle Flood said this month.
The natural development of junior Hayden Conner, who has reshaped his body since arriving on the Forty Acres, should help that group play at a higher level more consistently this year, as could the growth of sophomore DJ Campbell.
A consensus five-star prospect in the 2022 recruiting class ranked as the No. 23 player nationally and the No. 1 interior offensive lineman, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Campbell arrived on the Forty Acres with high expectations as the highest-rated signee in the class, but facing a challenging path to playing time as a summer enrollee.
Hutson earned the starting job at right guard after benefitting from enrolling in January — the other five offensive line signees arrived with Campbell in the summer — and managed to hold off Campbell despite playing through a torn labrum.
But Campbell still surged into the rotation late in the season, playing in each of the last three regular season games and the Alamo Bowl while showing flashes of the athleticism and heavy hands that made him an elite prospect.
Now listed at 343 pounds, Campbell is up 20 pounds from his listed weight last season, just above the coaching staff’s preferred playing weight for him, and taking more reps with the first-team offense as the team approaches a crucial second scrimmage on Saturday that will help set the depth chart in preparation for the season opener on Sept. 2.
For Campbell to take the next step and lock down the starting job at right guard, it’s all about trust.
“I think two things for DJ when he’s going to be at his best,” Sarkisian said on Monday. “One is trust in his own ability. He’s a big, physical man, he’s very athletic, and when he knows and really cuts it loose down after down after down, he’s a problem, because he can move people.”
The need for trust extends to Campbell’s belief in his teammates, too.
“Second, he’s not as experienced as the two guys he’s playing next to in Jake Majors, a three-year starter, and Christian Jones at right tackle, who is also a three-year starter. They have a lot of experience, so trust in those guys — when they’re calling something and they want to block something a certain way, just trust them and go cut it loose and try to remove some of the doubt or the wondering,” Sarkisian said.
“When he does that consistently all the time, you see what we see every day now, and more and more each day, it gets better and better of him just playing. And when he does that, he’s really good.”