Since all three of the primary starters along the defensive line graduated following the 2018 season, the Texas Longhorns need the team’s most experienced lineman, senior Malcolm Roach to take the next step and fulfill the potential he’s hinted at throughout his career.
The best sign is that Roach had the highest run-stop percentage among all Big 12 edge defenders last season, despite missing time with a fractured foot.
Last season, Roach started the first three games before suffering the injury against USC. He returned to play against West Virginia and finished the year with 24 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries, and a pass broken up.
The first task for Roach will be maintaining or improve that run-stop percentage to help provide some stability to a defense that lost eight starters from 2018. After the Horns gave up more than seven yards per carry to Oklahoma and West Virginia last season, the consistency will be key — both opponents ran for more than 200 yards. Overall, Texas finished in the top 40 nationally in rushing S&P+ and average yards per carry, but the performance against the run against the Mountaineers was especially relevant to the outcome.
The second task for Roach will be showing some of the playmaking ability that he flashed as a freshman playing Charlie Strong’s Fox end position — similar to Todd Orlando’s B-backer. During that breakout campaign, Roach posted eight tackles for loss and three sacks, but hasn’t matched either of those numbers in his last two seasons combined, largely due to injuries.
There are also questions about his pass-rushing ability at defensive end compared to the hybrid role he played previously. To get those pass-rushing opportunities, he’ll have to help the defensive line get run stops on first and second down.
And then he’ll have to continue making strides as a leader to make up for the loss of three team captains on defense. Oh yeah, and stay healthy for the first time in three years.
How well Roach can accomplish those tasks will have a significant impact on whether or not Orlando’s defense can meet or exceed last season’s results.