Longhorn D-line proving to be a team strength

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Whether it was the offense’s milquetoast play calling or one of a variety of other reasons, the Longhorn defensive line provided the strongest performance of any position group during Saturday’s Orange-White game. Eight sacks were registered during the spring scrimmage and all but one were recorded by defensive linemen with Moro Ojomo and Jett Bush providing three apiece.

The defensive line is without Joseph Ossai from the 2020 season, and also several other additions via the transfer portal and the high school ranks. The group’s performance on Saturday, however, bodes well for the 2021 season with Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian calling the DL one of the strengths of his team.

“I know we were a little thinned out on both sides of the ball today, but I think we’ve got a pretty good rotation there,” Sarkisian said Saturday. “We’ll get a couple of guys back off of injury. We’ll get some players coming in at the beginning of fall camp or in the summer that will add to that. I think good teams are good up front. I think that we’ve got a pretty good defensive front going right now.”

Several defensive lineman had standout days. Prince Dorbah was active and recorded six tackles, including a sack and an additional TFL. Three of Bush’s four tackles were sacks. Ojomo and transfer Ray Thornton each recorded five tackles. Even Sawyer Goram-Welch and Vernon Broughton added TFLs, with Keondre Coburn calling Broughton the best pass rusher on the defensive line following the game. Jacoby Jones didn’t stuff the stat sheet but still made an impact on the contest.

Ojomo’s performance may be the most encouraging. After bouncing between defensive end and defensive tackle over the past few seasons, the 6-foot-3, 281-pounder from Katy seems to have found a home alongside Coburn. Coburn worked by Ojomo for 15 practices, so his front row view of No. 98 punishing interior offensive linemen was not something that surprised him on Saturday.

“All of spring ball he’s been balling,” Coburn said. “Every time in one-on-ones, he would win. I don’t even think Moro ever lost. He may have lost twice, and it’s probably because he slipped on the grass. Moro was very active this spring ball and he showed it off today.”

This group of defensive linemen is on its second scheme in two years, and many are learning a third defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski after seasons with Chris Ash and Todd Orlando. Each of those defensive coordinators placed different responsibilities on the defensive front. With all those banked reps from various alignments, defensive linemen like Coburn believe they have an advantage.

“The scheme is fun because we really don’t have a set front,” Coburn said. “We’re odd. We’re even. We have a bunch of fronts, and I kind of like that because the first two years I played in an odd front. Last year, I played in an even front so I’m used to both. With PK and how he does the defenses you’re going to get plays out of each front.”

Texas has altered its scheme and brought in a new coach for every defensive position group. Defensive backs like D’Shawn Jamison, who registered a pick-six in Saturday’s scrimmage, are working with new coaches like Terry Joseph to master another scheme and prepare for Big 12 defenses.

Jamison complimented everyone involved with the defensive line on Saturday, from players to assistant coach Bo Davis.

“The D-line, they’re some dogs, man,” Jamison said. “I appreciate them the most because they’re doing all this in the trenches. They’re doing everything for us. They’re some hardworking guys. As we go by with the spring, they worked on a lot of the little things to make sure that whenever we go out there we execute our jobs and make sure we’re doing less mistakes.”

All these compliments showered down on the men in the trenches, but both team’s offenses were still able to move the ball on the ground. Texas’ running backs rushed 33 times for 152 yards and a score during the scrimmage. Sarkisian noticed that, and noted the needed improvement for when the games matter in the fall, while still singing their praises as one of the team’s leading units.

“I think that they provide a real strength to our team starting up front on your defensive line, but their activity in our attacking style is going to be critical to our success,” Sarkisian said.