Offensive line brings back four starters


Tamir Kalifa

Dominic Espinosa, who started every game at center last year as a freshman, is one of four returning starters on the Longhorns offensive line, joining junior guard Mason Walters, sophomore offensive tackle Josh Cochran, and senior guard Trey Hopkins.

Lauren Giudice

Junior college transfer Donald Hawkins has entered the offensive line brotherhood at Texas.

Being the only starter on the line who did not start last year, he had a lot of catching up to do. But with fellow starters Mason Walters, Trey Hopkins, Dominic Espinosa and Josh Cochran, he assimilated quickly.

“The offense was a little different to what he had done. He had to adjust to it, adjust to the coaching staff, adjust to our style of play,” Walters said. “The jump he made from spring ball to now is extremely encouraging that he is definitely going to be a force on the line.”

Hopkins says it took a little time for him and the other offensive linemen to get to know Hawkins. But now he is one of them. And with an animated leader like Walters, it couldn’t take very long for Hawkins to open up.

“At first he didn’t let us see all of himself and into his personality,” Hopkins said. “But now he’s really become a brother of the offensive line and he’s a great guy. He’s funny and he keeps us laughing.”

The brotherhood of offensive linemen, led by coach Stacy Searels, boasts versatility. Each players has the skills to play both tackle and guard, which could be beneficial in case of an injury.

Hopkins, who has played both right tackle and left guard, said understanding every position on the line is helpful if they want to play in the NFL. But it also helps with cohesiveness and chemistry among players.

“If I can know not only what I’m doing but what my center and my left tackle are doing, it makes me move better within that framework, not get tripped up with the guys, and not have any miscommunications,” Hopkins said.

Head coach Mack Brown said Hopkins, Walters and Espinosa are important team leaders. The three of them made it a goal to help the freshmen.

Bringing back so many returning starters has helped create a solid line and provides learning opportunities for the younger players. But in helping the younger players, Hopkins believes the veterans are learning themselves.

“It’s a great thing [having four starters return],” Hopkins said.

“Just because we’re able to help the young guys. In helping them, we’re able to re-instill what we already know and that gives us the confidence. I can say, ‘hey I know this,’ so I know it well enough that I can teach someone else.”

Walters agrees that the impact of bringing back returners will be extremely beneficial for the offense, especially with an offense that is so reliant on the run game.

“A lot of time you’re working double teams, techniques to get to people and if you’ve worked with a guy enough, little nuances that can sometimes thwart a play, you don’t have to worry about because you know you can adjust on the run with a guy that you have played with for a year,” Walters said.

Brown said the line is in a much better position than it was at this point last season. Last season, the line allowed 28 sacks. Running back Malcolm Brown has witnessed the growth of the line firsthand.

“The offensive line is great,” Malcolm Brown said. “As a whole, we weren’t all there last year. We had a new system and everyone was still learning. The offensive line looks really great.”

The linemen brotherhood has been spending more time together outside of practice and they have become closer as a unit. Their favorite thing to do together isn’t much of a surprise.

“We like to eat,” Walters said.