Kheeston Randall a dominant force at defensive tackle

Christian Corona

Editor’s Note: The Daily Texan will introduce one more important Longhorn each issue. Here is No. 3 of Texan’s 10 Most Important Longhorns.

Last year, Texas was 0-5 when its opponent ran for more yards than it did. This offseason, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz stressed how important stopping the run will be. That starts with Kheeston Randall.

Randall may be the Longhorns’ most dominant defender this season. The senior defensive tackle registered 39 tackles in 2010, 13 of them for loss, which is the most by any returner this year. The terrific junior season was good enough to make the 6-foot-5, 305-pounder a consensus first-team preseason all-conference choice. Despite Randall’s stellar season, Texas allowed 138.6 rushing yards per game, more than they had given up in seven years.

“We don’t want anyone to be able to run the ball on us like what happened last year,” Randall said. “That’s something we need to constantly improve. We’re going to be working on it this week, next week, and all through the season.”

Until the release of the depth chart Monday morning, there was some uncertainty surrounding who would line up beside Randall as the second starting defensive tackle. Sophomore Calvin Howell won the starting job, but others like Ashton Dorsey and former running back Chris Whaley, both sophomores, should see the field as well. Don’t count out Desmond Jackson, who Randall called “one of the best freshman defensive tackles I’ve seen.”

“I’m proud to finally see Calvin playing,” Randall said. “He stepped his game up. He did everything [defensive tackle] Coach [Bo] Davis has asked him to do, along with the other guys. It’s allowed us to have some depth.”

Whoever is playing, they will have a considerable amount of freedom thanks to Diaz. Starting defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor have claimed they can switch sides at their leisure. Diaz has talked about how he will send safeties to rush the passer and drop defensive linemen into coverage.

“It’s controlled insanity,” Randall said. “This defense with Coach Diaz gives us so much freedom, whether we shoot an A-gap or shoot a B-gap or cross over and play defensive end. It’s a lot of fun.”

What isn’t a lot of fun, however, is going 5-7. The defense took a step back last season, allowing a whopping 28.1 points per game over its last nine contests. The Longhorns started the season 3-0 with victories over Rice, Wyoming and Texas Tech but there were red flags from the beginning, even in the season opener against the Owls, who Texas plays in its first game again this year.

“I wouldn’t say we didn’t put forth a great effort, we just didn’t win the way we were expected to,” Randall said. “We had too many mental mistakes, too many busts, and like Coach [Mack] Brown said, it started in those three scrimmages we had. But this year, those scrimmages we had were totally different. We had great effort. It’s just a totally different team.”

Texas has an excellent history of line-clogging defensive tackles such as Shaun Rogers, Casey Hampton, Frank Okam and Lamarr Houston. If Randall plays the way he did last season, his name could soon be mentioned among those greats. Maybe he could help Texas win a few games while he’s at it as well.

Printed on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 as: Randall's run stopping ability key to defense.