Defensive star sees room to improve
Ed Oliver was going through a recent workout when he abruptly stopped and had the urge to grab his cellphone.
From there, in what he called a “reflection moment,” the University of Houston All-American defensive tackle posted a message on social media that resonated well beyond 140 characters.
Oliver’s impulse tweet was in response to an unidentified person who once told the former five-star recruit from Westfield that signing with the Cougars — after being offered scholarships by most major programs in the nation — was “career self-destruction.”
“(Some) said I wouldn’t be nothing if I came here,” Oliver said. “Look at me. I was kind of reflecting in the middle of my workout and just tweeted that.” Oliver put down his phone. “And then, I kept on grinding.” As the Cougars opened preseason camp Monday, all eyes were again on Oliver and how he can follow up a dominating freshman season that produced 23 tackles for loss, five sacks, nine pass breakups and lots of headaches for opposing quarterbacks. Just ask Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
Now a sophomore, Oliver is being called one of the best defensive players in the nation. Sports Illustrated rates him as the fourthbest player in college football, regardless of position. He’s on every major preseason award watch list, and he is already being mentioned as a top-five NFL draft pick when he becomes eligible after the 2018 season.
“Age has never been a factor,” Oliver said when asked about his quick rise as a freshman. “I used to play with my brother and he’s 2 years older, and I was just as good as him. Age has never deterred me. I’ll play with anybody.”
Although his stats were fine, Oliver said he was mostly unsatisfied after several games last season.
“Actually, I was upset after a lot of games,” Oliver said. “I didn’t think I played good in a lot of games, especially the Oklahoma game,” in which he had two sacks and two tackles for loss while facing mostly double-team blocks.
“A lot of people just see the big picture and don’t break down the film. But I got better throughout the year and began to become satisfied with how I was playing.
“After a lot of games, I went and broke down the film: ‘You could have had this, you could have had that.’”
On national TV against Louisville, Oliver had two of the Cougars’ 11 sacks of Jackson, three tackles for loss, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. He did not finish the game after suffering a knee injury, so it’s not his favorite.
Taking another step
What does Oliver plan for an encore? During the spring, the 6-2, 290-pounder set goals in the “30 tackles for loss region ... probably 60-70 tackles and 10 sacks.”
“He’s never satisfied,” junior safety Garrett Davis said. “He wants more out of himself.”
Oliver said he continues to soak up knowledge.
“Every year, the game gets slower and slower to me,” he said. “I’m able to see a lot more during the plays. It just comes with experience, you get better.”
The Cougars plan to move Oliver around the line this season, including as a pass rusher off the edge. While he was offensive coordinator at Texas, first-year Houston coach Major Applewhite saw how that strategy can work with Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska), Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma) and Lamarr Houston (Texas).
“It’s a little bit harder to put your head around where he might be each snap based on down and distance,” Applewhite said.
Tom Herman’s peers believe the new Texas coach will turn things around, apparently. The Longhorns debuted at No. 23 in the preseason coaches poll released Thursday.
The Associated Press Top 25 poll, the one given more credence, doesn’t come out until later this month. But the coaches poll is a sign that Herman’s arrival may rejuvenate the UT brand.
In fact, Texas is the only school in the preseason top 25 that had a losing record last season. The Longhorns were 16-21 the last three seasons under former coach Charlie Strong. The program hasn’t finished in the final AP Top 25 poll since 2012 when the Horns were 19th.
The top of the coaches poll offered few surprises. Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State were listed 1-2-3, respectively. USC, which hosts Texas at the Coliseum on Sept. 16, is fourth.
As for Big 12 schools, Oklahoma was eighth, Oklahoma State was 11th, Kansas State was 19th and West Virginia was 20th. Strong’s new team, South Florida, checks in two spots ahead of his old one, at No. 21.
New locker room: The Longhorns have finally moved into their new locker room, one that includes state-of-the-art lockers that cost $8,700 each. The school posted videos of awestruck players shouting and running around with giddy excitement.
A locker room upgrade was long overdue. Now, UT can show recruits a facility that’s on par with anything at Alabama, Ohio State or even Texas A&M.
“It’s great that we had it, and now those programs can look at us and say, ‘Wow, look at Texas,’” tight end Andrew Beck said. “I know a bunch of guys last night said thank you and will be throughout the week.”
Social media changes: School officials announced a new policy on Wednesday not allowing reporters to live-tweet any information gathered at post-practice media availabilities. The backlash nationally was almost instantaneous.
After Thursday’s practice, however, Herman said it was his “preference” that reporters wait until after the media session ended before tweeting. “It was absolutely no disrespect to how you guys have to do your job,” he told reporters.
Injury update: Herman said wide receiver Reggie HemphillMapps left practice early on Thursday after feeling dizzy. “They took him in and they’re examining him right now,” Herman said. “The last I heard was maybe a migraine, which he’d never had any prior to this so it might have scared him more than anything.”
The Longhorns will hold their first practice in full pads on Friday.
UT officials hope the new video board gives fans a better view at Royal-Memorial Stadium, which also is getting an audio upgrade.
Ed Oliver had 23 tackles for loss and five sacks as a freshman last season.