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Longhorns confident that young, but speedy defense has chance to be special

Texas is tasked with replacing eight starters on defense, and the Horns are largely doing so by placing tons of speed on the field.

NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, the Texas Longhorns will feature a fairly young defense in 2019 as the staff aims to replace eight senior starters. But games aren’t played on paper — they’re played on the field, and with a few on-field preseason practices now complete, those suiting up in burnt orange and white are especially encouraged by what they’ve seen from Todd Orlando’s side of the ball.

The most confidence-inspiring comment to surface thus far came on Saturday from the Longhorns team leader, quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who wasn’t bashful about the speed the 2019 defense appears set to boast.

“Our defense has a chance to be elite,” told the media after practice. “The speed that they have over there is unlike we’ve ever had before and just because they’re younger, don’t underestimate them.”

On Sunday, senior defensive end Malcolm Roach echoed Ehlinger’s sentiments, noting not only that the 2019 Longhorns are “way more experienced than what it shows on paper,” but raving of the speed that Texas will feature throughout all three levels.

“I think we’re going to be a special group just because of the way we can run,” Roach said. “We got a lot of fast guys on our side of the ball. We can run very well at all positions. There’s a few things we’ve got to work on, but just the way we picked up everything so fast… we’re out there like a mature group already.”

Continue down the list of Longhorns and you’ll hear much of the same.

Senior safety Brandon Jones, who noted during Big 12 Media Days that “experience-wise, I think it’s all there,” added on Sunday that, “We have a lot of speed.”

Fellow safety Caden Sterns, who’s only a sophomore, yet is already regarded as one of the nation’s elite talents at his position, chimed in by simply saying, “We got dudes who can go,” placing emphasis on the speed of true freshman safety Tyler Owens, who recorded a 10.29-second 100-meter sprint just months ago.

Sharing the secondary with Sterns and Jones will be young, yet speedy talents including sophomore cornerback D’Shawn Jamison, who’s now pushing for starting reps after his explosiveness saw him emerge as a special teams factor in 2018, and true freshman cornerback Kenyatta Watson II, who boasts 4.5 40-yard dash speed. Similarly, though it’s their reputations as punishing tacklers that precede them, Sterns described hybrid sophomore safeties B.J. Foster and DeMarvion Overshown as “missiles.”

Gary Johnson’s truly elite speed won’t grace the Longhorns linebacking corps in 2019, but Tom Herman and Todd Orlando have each recently alluded to the likelihood that Texas may often implement a Joker safety such as Overshown or Foster into the scheme in place of a linebacker. The primary idea behind this is to simply ensure that Texas gets its 11 best players on the field, but of course, the move would allow the Longhorns to feature even more speed — having as many as six defensive backs sharing the field at once can tend to have that effect.

Even up front, redshirt freshman Keondre Coburn has garnered praise for his exceptional quickness in the trenches, despite his 340-pound frame.

At least throughout the coming weeks, the largest looming question will center around how well the Longhorns defense can rebuild after losing eight starters.

The reality remains that nothing can replace experience except, well, experience, even though the Horns feel they do feature more to that end than what’s placed on paper with potential starters such as Jeffrey McCulloch, Ta’Quon Graham, Josh Thompson, and the aforementioned Foster having played their fair share of football on the Forty Acres.

In the meantime, it seems as if Texas’ solution to rebuilding and revamping its defense is to field speed and then some more speed.