The Texas football team lost nearly its entire starting defensive line after the 2018 season. Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year Charles Omenihu, starting defensive tackle Chris Nelson, and fan-favorite defensive end Breckyn Hager all graduated, leaving several spots open for competition. The Longhorns had to rely on their young players to continue their dominance on the defensive line in 2019.
Second-year defensive tackle Keondre Coburn was the man for the job. A four-star recruit out of Houston, Coburn redshirted his freshman season. 2019 was his first year consistently seeing snaps at Texas after only appearing in three games the season before. Coburn’s position came with the pressure to live up to the recent success of other Tom Herman-era defensive tackles. Poona Ford was named the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2017, and Nelson was previously a team captain. Before the season, Coburn’s teammate, senior defensive end Malcolm Roach, compared him to Ford.
“To be honest, I want to be myself,” Coburn said during an interview in August. “But to be compared to Poona, to me, I felt pride. That was amazing to me.”
There were two big questions about Coburn heading into 2019. The first was about how well his body would hold up. Coburn is listed at 6-foot-2 and 340 lbs. The season can always take a major toll on someone that size, especially since it would be his first as a starter. The second question was about how well his game would transfer to the collegiate level. Thrust into a starting position, Texas would have to see if Coburn could be the future on the defensive line.
Coburn answered all questions. He started eight games and appeared in every game of the season. Coburn’s consistency in the lineup was a bright spot for a Texas defense that suffered many injuries throughout the season.
Coburn finished the season with 26 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks. All of those numbers were better than those Ford put up in his first season. While individual numbers hold some meaning, a defensive lineman should be judged by how disruptive they are on the field.
Teams were forced to account for Coburn in their game plans. When offenses chose to double-team him, they were forced to leave the rest of their blocking matchups one-on-one. One example of this occurred in Texas’ 36-30 win over Oklahoma State in September. With about three minutes left in the third quarter, the Cowboys were in the red zone. Coburn drew a double-team, but even with the two blockers he closed the running lane. The runner was forced to the outside, where Roach and junior defensive back Josh Thompson were waiting. Each of them only had one man to beat and dropped the runner before the line of scrimmage.
The best attribute about Coburn is his motor. Head coach Tom Herman spoke after the Oklahoma State game about how much he recognized Coburn’s energy.
“He’s got two speeds: full and off,” Herman said. “When he’s on the practice field or game field, it’s full.”
Coburn never gives up on plays. He had what could have been a touchdown-saving tackle in Texas’ 34-27 loss to Oklahoma last October. Toward the beginning of the second quarter, Oklahoma senior quarterback Jalen Hurts took off on a scramble. Coburn took off after him and ran him down in the open field.
Coburn can most improve his game by more successfully rushing the passer. He has an effective swim move, but when he tries something else, he’ll sometimes get stood straight up and can’t make progress. With more time, Coburn will be able to diversify his moves.
2019 was an excellent year for Coburn to build on. He is already a disruptive force, and with more game experience, he could eventually dominate lines of scrimmage across the Big 12.