Among the three starting offensive linemen the Texas Longhorns lost following the 2018 season, the biggest loss of all was experience.
Patrick Vahe was a four-year contributor at guard who played in 48 career games and made 45 starts, including 10 as a true freshman. Elijah Rodriguez joined the Longhorns program in 2014 as a true freshman, played in 34 games and started 18, 14 of which came last season as a fifth-year senior at guard and center. And Calvin Anderson, a grad-transfer recruited in 2018 to fill the hole left by former incumbent Connor Williams, also started all 14 games as a senior at left tackle last season.
With the departure of those three linemen, Texas will now look to senior Zach Shackelford, junior Derek Kerstetter, and redshirt sophomore Samuel Cosmi for leadership as the trio returns with the most playing time as Longhorns.
Departures: LT Calvin Anderson (graduated), OL Patrick Hudson (retired – medical). RG Elijah Rodriguez (graduated), LG Patrick Vahe (graduated)
2019 Offensive Line Roster:
Seniors: Zach Shackelford, Parker Braun (grad transfer)
Juniors: Tope Imade (redshirt), Derek Kerstetter, Denzel Okafor (redshirt), J.P. Urquidez (redshirt),
Sophomores: Samuel Cosmi (redshirt), Willie Tyler (juco transfer)
Freshmen: Junior Angilau (redshirt), Rafitti Ghirmai (redshirt), Isaiah Hookfin (true freshman), Tyler Johnson (true freshman), Christian Jones (redshirt), Reese Moore (redshirt), Javonne Shepherd (true freshman)
The Starters: A glass half full approach would tell us that two of the most important positions across the offensive line should be set.
Shackleford will start at center, the position he’s held down the past two seasons, and Cosmi will make the transition from right tackle to left tackle after receiving Freshman All-American honors last season while starting 13 games.
The expectation, of course, is both will be up to the task again in 2019, though Cosmi’s transition from right to left could come with some amount of challenges and growing pains.
As for Kerstetter, a junior who has played in 24 games and started 15, he’ll likely take one of the guard positions. Talk outside of the program has assumed Kerstetter will play right guard, the position he started four games at last season. Personally, I wouldn’t count out left guard by the time September roles around.
To fill the other two starting positions, the remaining guard spot and right tackle, co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Herb Hand has a few options to consider.
Incoming grad transfer Parker Braun, a first team All-ACC recipient last season, will get a serious look at a starting guard spot when fall practice begins. There has been some chatter a red shirt year could be applied, though that likely won’t be determined until Hand gets to work with him in person during fall practice. For now, odds are Braun starts in 2019.
Another option to consider at guard is redshirt freshman Junior Angilau. Though Angilau hasn’t played in a collegiate game yet, he did start at left guard in the Longhorns’ spring game this year. Of course, Braun wasn’t yet on campus at the time.
Other options at guard such as J.P. Uriquidez and Tope Imade are likely reserves that would only get a serious shot at the job should neither Braun nor Angilau win it over.
The biggest question mark across the offensive line could be right tackle. Conventional wisdom would say junior Denzel Okafor will likely get the nod. Though after receiving some playing time in his first two seasons, Okafor was given a red shirt last season with the goal of developing him into a viable lineman.
If Okafor doesn’t lock down the starting right tackle position, then Hand may be forced to look at other inexperienced options like redshirt freshmen Reese Moore or Christian Jones, or possibly sliding Kerstetter back out to right tackle, the position he started 10 games at his freshman year.
Though 2019 won’t be a complete overhaul of the starting five, an inability to fill a starting spot or two with the initial options will likely leave Hand and the Longhorns reaching for players they’d prefer to designate as reserves for the season.
The Reserves: Outside of finding a suitable starting five for 2019, the other concern is finding key reserves.
Assuming the starting five is some combination of Cosmi, Kerstetter, Shackelford, Braun, and Okafor, The list of key reserves is still a work in progress, and the theme of inexperience rings loudly for linemen behind the starting unit.
The key reserves are likely as follows:
Tackle: Reese Moore, Christian Jones, possibly Derek Kerstetter
Guard: Junior Angilau, J.P. Urquidez, Rafiti Ghirmai, Tope Imade, possibly Denzel Okafor.
Center: Rafiti Ghirmai
As for the true freshmen (Isaiah Hookfin, Tyler Johnson, & Javonne Shepherd) and Juco transfer Willie Tyler, Hand likely prefers to redshirt all of these players as he did with last year’s class of freshmen linemen.
2019 Projected Offensive Line Depth Chart (One’s & Two’s):
Left Tackle: Samuel Cosmi. Reese Moore
Left Guard: Derek Kerstetter, Junior Angilau
Center: Zach Shackelford, Rafiti Ghirmai
Right Guard: Parker Braun, J.P. Urquidez
Right Tackle: Denzel Okafor, Christian Jones
On one hand, the Longhorns could form a solid offensive line. Cosmi, Shackelford, and Kerstetter have all shown that they can contribute at a reliable level for Texas.
Braun will bring skills and a work ethic that should fit in nicely with the players already on campus. And Okafor has the athleticism to lock down the right tackle position should he be able to showcase it consistently.
The concerns begin to creep up if one of the holes struggles to get filled prior to September or if one of the more experienced players misses extended time during the season.
Regardless of how the offensive line shakes out in 2019, to this point, Herb Hand has done more than enough during his time at Texas to receive the benefit of the doubt in putting together a unit that will allow Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns offense to put up points in the fall.