Nearly two years ago following an August scrimmage, Tom Herman declared that Texas was going to win with “great defense.” But as the Longhorns head into their third year under Herman, the biggest question mark surrounding the Sugar Bowl champions is not their offense but their defense.
With eight starters gone from last year’s squad, Herman and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando will turn to a new group of young but talented players to fill in the holes. Growing pains are almost certain, but with the return of seniors Brandon Jones and Malcolm Roach, Texas will have the leadership and talent necessary to compete for a conference championship.
“Young and talented is better than young and not talented,” head coach Tom Herman said at Big 12 Media Days at AT&T Stadium. “I have no doubt that we will get better simply by infusion of talent and another year of development in our system.”
The only expected returning starters for the Longhorns are Jones, Caden Sterns and Jeffrey McCulloch. Meanwhile Roach is set to line up at defensive end when Texas faces Louisiana Tech in the season opener. Besides those four, the Texas defense will put out familiar names and faces, but this time with the label “starter” attached to them.
“Even though we’re young, we are very experienced in my opinion,” safety Brandon Jones said. “We’ve had a lot of people, even if they don’t start, that have gotten into the game and got that experience. If you have that game experience, it kind of builds your confidence.”
Some of those players include sophomores B.J. Foster and Joseph Ossai, who combined to play in 27 games and started in eight total. Sophomore Jalen Green and redshirt freshman Ayodele Adeoye have seen limited action but are expected to start.
Regardless of how many snaps they have seen or games they have started, Jones and Roach know it is up to them to provide leadership on a defensive lineup filled with newcomers.
“I’ve taken the (leadership role) upon myself because we’ve lost so many seniors,” Jones said. “Not only seniors but leaders on the defense that were a huge success and a big part of what we did and how we did it. I take a lot of pride being that role model for them.”
While Herman has expressed concern about the lack of starters, Roach is confident there will not be a drop-off in performance once Texas takes the field.
“Everybody in the media is saying there’s gonna be a dip in the defense, but everybody that’s stepping up and playing a starting role has played a lot of football,” Roach said. “I don’t think there’s gonna be a big dip.”
Regardless, for Texas to take the next step and compete for a national championship this season, it will need to do so with eight new starters and the help of Jones and Roach.
“If we play our best and we develop the way that we think, we can … compete for a championship,” Herman said.