Orlando being cautious with key reserves, Hand names top offensive linemen

Ross Burkhart

As the Longhorns prepare to travel to Manhattan, Kansas, for Saturday’s game, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and offensive line coach Herb Hand shed some light on the current state of the team.

Here’s a rundown of what the two Texas coaches had to say leading up to the matchup in Manhattan:

Orlando hesitant to declare second unit finished product

In the last two games, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s unit has been the pulse of the Longhorns.

The victories and late game stops can’t merely be attributed to the defensive stars, though. Texas has relied on a number of key reserves to step up during the two big games.

Many reserves such as sophomore defensive end Ta’Quon Graham and freshman cornerback Kobe Boyce have answered quickly when their number has been called, but Orlando isn’t quite ready to say they’re as talented as the starters.

“There is a gap there,” Orlando said during an availability session on Wednesday. “I’m sure when you looked at (Breckyn) Hager and (Charles) Omenihu when they were puppies or sophomores, you’d probably say there was a big gap to the guys they were behind too.”

Though Hager and Omenihu, a pair of senior defensive ends, have now earned their positions as elemental pieces in Texas’ defense, Orlando said that patience with the up-and-coming athletes is important to their future success.

“We’ve got to catch up on that and continue to push those guys along because that’s a long, long road,” Orlando said. “If you burn the wheels off those guys, you’re going to get nothing in November.”

Hand grades offensive line performances

So far this season, the Texas offensive line has dealt with injuries to a number of different players.

Hand said Wednesday that while the team is still being forced to shuffle around players as a result of absences, there are still some athletes that are standing out above the rest.

“It’s funny, because we have a grading system,” Hand said. “At 85 percent, you get a championship level grade. I think in the last few games, we’ve only had about three guys who have graded out at that level. We’ve had a lot of guys who are close to it, they’re in the 80s … so hopefully we’ll have some more guys grade out.”

Unsurprisingly, Hand said that three of the line’s veteran members are the players who have graded out at a championship-contending level.

“(Elijah Rodriguez), (Derek) Kerstetter and (Patrick) Vahe,” Hand said. “We’re just scratching the surface with how good they can be. When we do things well, we’ve got a chance to be really good. When we don’t, we don’t. We’ve got to execute all the time.”