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Todd Orlando Talks Defense

Todd Orlando spoke with the media about his defensive charges and Texas’ kickoff opponent in Maryland, earning a 17/10 score for candor.

Take a listen:

Some interesting notes:

Holdovers Stepping Up

Orlando had some particular praise for three defensive veterans who’ve underperformed to this point in their Longhorn careers - Charles Omenihu, Naashon Hughes and Anthony Wheeler.

He called Omenihu a “natural pass rusher” - something that we saw in flashes last season when he got to attack the B gap against the guard but that he struggled to pull off while not being physically ready for a 4i role. But now, Orlando also says that he has a much better idea how to use his length and newfound strength in the run game. His strong camp earned him an “OR” designation with the explosive Malcolm Roach, bringing home the “fourth starter” prediction that we told you about a while ago.

Orlando gave Hughes credit for adjusting well to the new staff (his second such adjustment since he was here at the end of the Mack Brown era) and for recognizing that he has to be more productive with his reps.

Anthony Wheeler earned praise for fighting through a number of bumps and bruises in camp while never relinquishing his stranglehold on the starting Mac job. Wheeler is “probably the top guy in the linebacker room in terms of football IQ.” While longtime Longhorn defensive viewers could justifiably wonder if that’s just a tallest-midget situation, there’s been enough positive buzz about Wheeler and Orlando’s got a strong enough training pedigree at the position to sip a few Skyy Vodka cap-fuls of Kool-Aid. I’m choosing to believe that Wheeler just had a Manny Diaz/Steve Edmond-caliber disconnect with the prior staff but that he’ll be ready to roll with better training and clearer pictures in front of him.

Our Long National Run Defense Nightmare May Be Over

Speaking of those clearer pictures, the strong reports that we’ve gotten on the Longhorns’ Fearsome-esque Foursome up front (Omenihu, Roach, The Poonatrator and Chris Nelson) raise the likelihood that we’ve got guys who can stand strong against the double team and (even more importantly in this scheme) be disruptive shooting and looping into gaps. That means O-linemen are either turning them loose to wreak havoc or taking an extra beat to get them contained and controlled before climbing, and that extra beat and Front Six cohesion should be a boon for linebacker recognition.

Everything in Orlando’s history and verbiage says that he treats stopping the run with near-religious reverence. It’s why Hughes will “start” at B-backer for most of the season and it’s why he mentions gang-tackling as Texas’ likeliest means of forcing turnovers. Maryland is an ideal early test, and I’m thinking we pass.

JUCO Alignment

The JUCO Fairy tends to bring tricks far more often than treats, but it looks like she’s served us well with linebacker Gary Johnson and D-lineman Jamari Chisholm. Orlando said that Chisholm had to undergo the same adjustment period from junior college to Camp Herman that proved a bit bumpy for Johnson at first, but both guys are now bought in and bringing it.

Gary Johnson is FAST - clocked at 20mph in practice with the team’s wearable GPS monitors, which is ass-hauling for a 225-pound dude - and capable of playing either inside linebacker spot as well as starring in sub packages. If I had a prop bet on the Longhorns’ leading tackler in 2017 that read like:

Anthony Wheeler +225

Malik Jefferson +400

DeShon Elliott +500

Gary Johnson +750

I’d be giving Johnson a loooooong look.

For Chisholm’s part, he’s showing his talent now that he’s “doing the 14 or 15 things” that the staff asks of players every day. He profiles as a crucial 7th guy in the DL rotation to backstop injury and should see 10-15 snaps a game if we’re able to rotate as we’d like.

Who’s First In the Secondary

Kris Boyd is our best corner and “probably” the fastest guy on the team. A boundary corner who can play true lockdown coverage and who also has the versatility to play an aggressive press Cover Two or an aware active Cover Three is a Godsend for a college DC, and it feels like Boyd is ready to fill the bill.

Orlando said that he could “put a blanket over” all his safeties, declining to name one as the top guy but saying that all of them (DeShon Elliott, Brandon Jones, Jason Hall and John Bonney) make him “excited about the position.” Given the consistent good word about Elliott and Jones coming out of camp, it’s reasonable to make the optimistic appraisal that Jones and Bonney have raised their respective games and are ready to provide quality reps.

Reacting To A Physical Challenge

Orlando was candid in saying that he doesn’t really know how the team will react to getting punched in the mouth, but echoing Tom Herman’s Monday presser he was confident that they’ve been well trained for it. He likened the Longhorns’ physical practices to fight training, but averred that “there’s only one way to know if you can take a punch, and that’s to get in a fight.”

We’re a touch more than 48 hours from the first-round bell.