Posted: 12:37 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013
By Wescott Eberts
The Texas Longhorns are dangerously thin at the offensive tackle position with junior college transfer Desmond Harrison held out of practice because of eligibility concerns and junior Josh Cochran also out for the last several days because of a sore shoulder.
As a result, senior offensive guard Trey Hopkins has been working at right tackle some, the position that he played during the 2011 season for similar reasons. The problem is that as good as Hopkins has been during his career, his natural position is guard and he doesn't possess the pure height or the ideal length to play a tackle position.
Texas could swing senior Donald Hawkins over to the right side of the line if Cochran has to miss any more time, then move sophomore Kennedy Estelle to left tackle, but there are serious concerns that Estelle isn't yet ready for serious playing time. Behind Estelle, redshirt freshman Camrhon Hughes doesn't look like he's back from his ACL tear last summer yet, perhaps leaving true freshman Kent Perkins as the next-best option with sophomore Garrett Greenlea taking a medical redshirt and sophomore Taylor Doyle's ability to play tackle a major question mark. Then there was the loss of Paden Kelley last summer, a player who would now be a fifth-year senior and contender for a starting job.
In other words, the situation has quickly become dire and while Cochran should be back in short order, the prognosis on Harrison is much less optimistic at this point, leaving Texas unable to withstand any more bad luck at the position.
Hopkins has also been getting some time at center during practice, which led to a pretty intense focus on his ability to play there during his media availability after Saturday's workout.
The Galena Park North Shore product is one of the smartest players on the team regardless of position and believes that he has transitioned well to his work at center:
It's been great at center. They've been teaching me. I already know a lot about defenses. At offensive line, there's really not that much difference from position to position because everyone needs to know what each other is doing so the o-line can be successful. (Assistant head coach/offensive line) Coach Searels makes it clear every day to each one of us that he's going to put the five best linemen out there. If that means everyone has to flip positions, or run somebody else in, or if somebody goes down and you have to step up to a position that's new to you, that's what has to happen. I think all of us are intelligent enough and know enough about the offense.
Since fifth-year senior Garrett Porter isn't really a legitimate option there, if Hopkins doesn't have to pull duty at right tackle, he could give way on some series to a young player like sophomore Sedrick Flowers at guard, then work with the second team at center.
Playing center isn't much different than playing guard, according to the longtime starter:
I'm pretty comfortable at center because it's not a very big adjustment from guard. The biggest thing at center is just getting the snap and I've been working on that a lot. That's that only big difference really besides being a little bit ahead of the other lineman.
The good news as it relates to the offensive line is that Hopkins sees the unit learning more quickly now:
Just how quickly we've picked everything back up. Seeing the multiple blitzes from our defense and the different looks that they've been giving us, I think we've done a great job handling that so early in camp. I know a lot of times when we were younger we struggled with things and would have to have repetition over and over and over again. Now when we see something one time we pick it up.
As heartening as that is, it won't mean nearly as much if Texas can't put the most talented line possible out there, a reality looking increasingly likely with the odds now reasonably high that Harrison won't be able to play this season. It's a major advantage to have a player like Hopkins capable of playing three or four positions along the line, but offensive line coach Stacy Searels is trying to build a unit where cross training is a luxury. It looks like he hasn't quite made it yet.
Want to know more about why the Texas defense fell apart last season and how Manny Diaz can fix it? What about insight into Major Applewhite's influences and how they will impact the new Texas offense? Or why you should believe in David Ash making the jump this season? Get all the answers in 2013 In the Huddle: Texas.