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Sophomore linebacker Joseph Ossai has a lot on his plate.
In Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s defense, he’s been asked to do so much more than be a threat off the edge.
Ossai does still find himself in that role, one that he excelled at in high school, but because of what he brings to the field physically and mentally, his assignment has taken him to new locations on the field. In the words of Texas head coach Tom Herman, he has a “tall order” every week.
“You’re not going to find a guy that plays harder on defense and is more suited to do multiple things like he is,” Herman said Monday.
Originally recruited for boundary linebacker, Ossai began the year there and at the Rover linebacker position. As the season progressed, even more has been added to his list of responsibilities. Now he lines up at multiple spots in the Texas defense; against a tackle, inside the box, and even split out to the field with coverage responsibilities as a Sam linebacker.
Ossai said the defense he plays in is complicated, but that’s something he accepts. He wants something that’s challenging and if it wasn’t, he wouldn’t be growing as a player.
“I’ve known that it’s going to be a challenge to play in this defense since the first day I got in it,” Ossai said. “It’s not really much to me. I just put my head down, study during the week, put in some extra time, and I just hope I can go out there and produce and help the team as much as I can.”
All that he’s asked to do? “It doesn’t faze me too much,” Ossai said.
Prior to the season, Ossai’s ability to learn how to play between the tackles instead of outside of them was an unknown for Texas in 2019. How would the Conroe Oak Ridge standout handle different utilizations in his second year at Texas? His freshman results offered evidence he could handle an expanded role. In seven games, he tallied 20 total tackles, a sack, and a tackle for loss and was the leading tackler in the Sugar Bowl win over Georgia.
In the offseason, he not only trained at B-linebacker but also at Rover. It was a way for him to remain on the field even when Texas utilized its dime package against spread passing teams. It was also a way for Texas to try and get someone capable of making “Wow!” plays on the field.
“The expectation for him is to make the plays he should and then make four or five that are unique,” Orlando said Wednesday. “I think that’s the one thing that can spark a defense, the big time guys.”
Thus far in 2019 Ossai is Texas’ leading tackler with 37 including 6.0 for loss. He’s also added two sacks, two interceptions, and forced a fumble.
Ossai believes he’s “done a decent job” in his role. It took some learning for a player who rarely operated inside the box in high school to learn how to play as an off-the-ball linebacker. According to Orlando, he’s done everything possible off the field to operate in his new duties, working after practice and recovery to “get better at his craft.”
“Joe’s always like ‘give me more, I can do it. Show me what to do,’” Orlando said. “He’s always eager that way.”
Though Orlando’s defense has been gutted several times this season, Ossai’s versatility has been a bright spot. It has Herman excited for what No. 46 can offer this year and in the coming years.
“Really, really proud of him and his development and where he’s come to just be a true sophomore at this point in his career,” Herman said. “Excited about the future with him too.”
There are issues with Texas defense. Ossai’s effort and production in 2019 isn’t among them.