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Position Preview: Defensive Line


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The countdown is on as 18 days remain until Texas kicks off the season against Louisiana. After spending the first part of our preview series on the offensive side of the ball, we turn our attention to the defense.

Departures

DT Ta'Quon Graham (NFL)- 24 career starts, 23 career tackles for loss, 7 career sacks

EDGE Joseph Ossai (NFL)- 24 career starts, 30.5 career tackles for loss, 11 career sacks

EDGE Marquez Bimage (Portal)- Sat out the 2020 season. Played in 34 career games with 2 tackles for loss and 1 sack.

EDGE Reese Leitao- 7 career tackles

DE Daniel Carson (Portal)- Played in 4 career games

The biggest departures will be Graham and Ossai, who both are now playing in the NFL. Ossai in particular was the best player Texas had defensively in 2020 and benefited greatly from the move to the 4-man front under Chris Ash, who deployed him as a stand up edge rusher. Graham was a steady presence in the interior of the defensive line and started alongside Keondre Coburn.

Bimage flashed at times in 2019 when given playing time, but opted out of the 2020 season and decided to finish his career at Cal. Leitao also opted to end his playing days early after graduating. Carson was never able to crack the defensive line rotation and is now at Western Illinois. 

Additions

Byron Murphy- #400 ranked player in the country, 50th ranked defensive lineman

D.J Harris- #268 ranked player in the country, 20th ranked EDGE player

Jordon Thomas- #294 ranked player in the country, 38th ranked defensive lineman

David Abiara- #439 ranked player in the country, 55th ranked defensive lineman

Barryn Sorrell- #686 ranked player in the country, 87th ranked defensive lineman

Ray Thornton- Transfer from LSU

Ben Davis- Transfer from Alabama

It can be argued whether a few of these guys should be grouped with the linebackers, but for the simplicity of this exercise we will group them with the DL. Pete Kwiatkowski's system has both a X-backer and JACK position, which include DL and LB responsibilities. 

In terms of the new additions via the high school ranks, Texas did a nice job of adding some late pieces to fill needs in the class both in the interior of the DL and on the edge. Byron Murphy is already earning rave reviews in camp and appears poised to see some playing time as a true freshman at DT. Harris is recovering from a knee injury suffered in high school and is likely headed for a redshirt year, but he figures to factor into the conversation at JACK in the coming years. Thomas is already listed at 273 pounds on the Texas roster and could be destined to move inside as his frame continues to fill out.

Abiara and Sorrell were both late additions to the 2021 class after Sarkisian took over. Both are likely headed for redshirt years. Abiara was once committed to Notre Dame and likely fits into conversation at X-Backer. Sorrell will also factor in at one of the edge positions.

The big story of the spring was the additions of Ray Thornton (LSU) and Ben Davis (Bama). Both come to Texas from big time programs. Thornton is likely the favorite to start at X-Backer and Davis will see plenty of snaps coming off the edge as well after spending most of his career at Alabama as an inside linebacker. 

Returning Players

Junior DT Keondre Coburn- 22 career starts, 4.5 tackles for loss in 2020

Junior DT Moro Ojomo- 13 career starts, 2 sacks in 2020

Sophomore DT Alfred Collins- 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in 2020

Junior DT T'Vondre Sweat- 4 tackles for loss and 1 sack in 2020

Sophomore DT Myron Warren- No career appearances

Redshirt Freshman DT Sawyer Goram-Welch- Played in 3 career games

Redshirt Freshman DT Vernon Broughton- Played in 3 career games

Redshirt Freshman EDGE Prince Dorbah-  Played in 1 career game

Senior EDGE Jacoby Jones- Played in 20 career games, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in 2020

Despite losing Ta'Quon Graham, the Longhorns return a lot of talent at defensive tackle. Keondre Coburn will be entering his 3rd year as a starter and appears poised for a big year. Ojomo and Sweat have been rotational players the last few years and will look to take another step forward under new defensive line coach Bo Davis. Ojomo figures to get the first crack at starting alongside Coburn after a strong spring. Collins was a borderline 5-star recruit in the 2020 class and flashed major potential as a true freshman a year ago. He is likely in line for plenty of snaps in 2021. Warren, Goram-Welch and Broughton will likely spend the reminder of fall camp fighting to get into the defensive tackle rotation.

On the edge, super senior Jacoby Jones is the favorite to begin the season as the starter at the JACK position. The Longhorns will need him to show he can get to the quarterback if the defense wants to reach its fullest potential. Dorbah played in 1 game a season ago while taking a redshirt year and could still be a year away from being ready to contribute.

Outlook

The interior defensive line is far and away the biggest strength on the Texas roster. Moro Ojomo, T'Vondre Sweat and Alfred Collins would be starters almost any other year, but 2 of the 3 will find themselves as "backups". The term backup should be used loosely because all 3 will still play a lot and all 3 have NFL futures.

The biggest question mark will be the production Pete Kwiatkowski able to get from the X-Backer and JACK position, specifically as pass rushers. Ossai was a one man wrecking crew when teams dropped back to pass a season ago. The Longhorns must find a way to replace his production in a league where teams are not afraid to throw the ball. If Texas is able to get consistent play from Thornton and Jones, it is likely Texas has a defensive front that is one of the best in the Big 12 right alongside Oklahoma.

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