Altering the bodies in defensive line coach Oscar Giles’ position group was one of Tom Herman’s first big undertakings as head coach at Texas. In his first spring, Herman called out the players in Giles’ group for being too big and needing to drop weight.
Since spring, most of the reviews coming from Herman, Giles and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando about the defensive line have been positive, with players like senior Poona Ford, juniors Chris Nelson and Charles Omenihu and sophomore Malcolm Roach receiving most of the accolades.
Ford, it seems, has done everything right for Herman’s coaching staff, earning praise almost every single time his name is mentioned.
“Best playmaker is probably Poona, who’s been here for a few years and being a senior and really the anchor of our defense, along with just being a guy that’s playing hard every snap,” Giles said. “He’s probably the guy that I put a lot of stock into.”
On one side of Ford is Nelson, who mans the 4i position in the Orlando defense. This is a position Nelson is familiar with, as he played end in three-man fronts for Charlie Strong’s defense last season.
Nelson, who finished with 45 tackles and 1.5 sacks, has impressed Giles with his play this preseason.
“The thing that I can say about Chris Nelson is that he’s consistent,” Giles said. “He’s one of those guys I saw in the spring who continued to get better and better each and every day. He comes in. We meet one on one. That just tells me this guy here is trying to better his craft. He’s a guy I’m very excited about.”
At the other defensive end spot there is a rotation of Roach and Omenihu. Herman, Orlando and Giles have repeatedly said throughout camp that they consider Roach and Omenihu starters on defense. The problem is there are normally only two defensive ends on the field at one time.
With Roach currently nursing a turf toe injury, Omenihu has received a lot of reps with the first team. It’s part of one of the fiercest competitions currently happening in fall camp.
“The neat thing about it is Malcolm Roach and Charles are competitive,” Giles said. “They want to walk out first.”
Giles praised some of the linemen behind those four top guys, including sophomore D’Andre Christmas, freshmen Chris Daniels, Andrew Fitzgerald and Tope Imade.
Imade, who was recruited as an offensive lineman, made the switch to the defensive side this preseason. So far, he’s impressed his position coach.
“Tope has brought more depth,” Giles said. “Of course you guys have known, you guys have publicized it, we lost a couple guys to attrition. I think Tope, who’s really an athletic guy that is probably gifted in the sense that he’s 6-foot-5, 6-foot-5.”
Part of the reason for the switch was the fit his body had for the position.
“When you’re looking at 4is, you try to find length and he’s got that,” Giles said. “He’s got some quickness about him. I’m excited about him. He played a little o-line and d-line in high school, so it’s not new to him.”
With Strong’s recruiting making big bodies a point of emphasis, Giles has several young linemen who he can go to in order to stop the opposing team.
One of the guys that Strong got to join the fold, but Giles and Herman helped convince to stay in it, was freshman Ta’Quon Graham. The standout defensive end from Temple can plug into a lot of different spots for Giles.
“He’s a guy who can probably play the 4i, play the 9 technique, 7 technique and possibly nose,” Giles said. “He’s a guy that’s a multiple, four or five position guy for us.”
Being multiple is a big deal to Giles. When asked about whether his defensive lines would be in three or four man fronts, Giles said both were necessary.
“We try to mix it up so we’re not all three down and we’re not all four down,” Giles said. “To me, in today’s game, you’ve got to be multiple. In this conference, if you don’t you’re in trouble.”
For Giles, the key to being stout on defense starts with stopping the opponent’s rushing attack.
“I think getting after the quarterback is important, but I think what’s more important and very important for our defense is stopping the run,” Giles said. “We stop the run and we do our job up front, and that front seven, not just the d-line. It’s got to be a combination of linebackers, safeties, and corners. We do our job, we can stop the run and we can get after the quarterback.”
This is not Giles’ first time at Texas. He was an assistant under Mack Brown coaching defensive ends before joining Tom Herman at Houston. He’s seen how successful camps operate at Texas, camps that can lead to national championships.
With this being his first year at Texas under a different leader, Giles was asked what stands out about Herman’s camp compared to Brown’s. The difficulty and the intensity were what came to mind.
“I think with Coach Herman leading the charge, every camp is different,” Giles said. “This camp, we take a lot of pride in these kids saying that this camp is the hardest one they’ve ever been through. Once they’ve been through something that’s as hard as it’s been this year, it’s going to be satisfying for them when they walk through that tunnel, they have a chance to say ‘they haven’t been through what I’ve been through.’”