There is no truth that the extensive renovations of the Texas locker room include a revolving door.
While first-year coach Tom Herman and his staff have been gaining recruiting attention by cajoling verbal commitments from several four and five stars for the 2018 class, Thursday the exit sign was blinking a bright red.
The Longhorns lost two defensive linemen who announced they were transferring. Sophomore-to-be Jordan Elliott and Marcel Southall, who was a redshirt freshman last season, announced they were leaving the program.
Two players. No big deal, right? Happens all the time, players decide to transfer, correct?
Yes but for Texas it’s the loss of two players at a position where the depth was already in question. Texas’ updated roster lists eight defensive linemen. Four members of the 18-member recruiting class are listed as defensive linemen.
“We’ve gotta find some D-linemen,” Herman said.
That comment wasn’t made in light of losing two players to transfer. Herman said that in March before spring practice.
At that time, Herman singled out the defensive line unit for criticism that was a veiled threat to the entire team. He wasn’t happy with the winter workout habits of his new charges and he used the big uglies on defense to make his point.
“The effort, as a group, has not been to our… requirements here in this program,” Herman said in March, noting that most of the defensive linemen were 300 pounds or heavier. “The body types, again I think we’d know a lot more if some of these fat guys lost some weight.
“It’s what we’ve got. They are who we’ve got and you’ve gotta make players out of them.”
Following spring practice, Herman was more kind and supportive when asked about the defensive line. He said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the progress in both conditioning and how they adapted to new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s attacking 3-4 scheme.
In Malcolm Roach – a sophomore who could be a breakout star this season – Poona Ford and Chris Nelson, the Longhorns have an outstanding threesome. In its post-spring positional breakdowns of Big 12 teams, ESPN.com ranked the UT defensive line as tops in the conference.
Southall missed most of spring practice dealing with academic issues so it’s questionable how much he could have contributed. Elliott, however, played six games as a backup last season. He was ranked No. 115 in 247Sports.com’s composite overall rankings in the class of 2016 and appeared to have a bright future in Austin.
Perhaps Elliott didn’t click with the new coaching staff (he was part of Charlie Strong’s last recruiting class). He was a four-star recruit and he committed and de-committed from four schools before finally settling on Texas.
Elliott and Southall were part of what was considered an outstanding group of defensive tackles signed in 2016. The remaining trio of D’Andre Christmas, Chris Daniels, and Gerald Wilbon will need to become productive and remain healthy.
The Longhorns are about two weeks from starting what Herman calls critical conditioning workouts in June. Those will be followed by more offseason conditioning in July before training camp.
In terms of the defensive line, all that Herman and his staff can do is make sure they’re in the best shape possible. What they can’t do is find more bodies. It appears that 12 defensive linemen will have to do for this season.
“The problem is defensive linemen can’t play 70 to 80 snaps a game,” Herman said. “They just can’t. They get worn down, they get tired and the pass rush becomes non-existent at the end of a game.”