De­fen­sive star sees room to im­prove

Austin American-Statesman - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Joseph Duarte Hous­ton Chron­i­cle bdavis@states­man.com

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.

Self-crit­i­cism

“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.

CON­TRIB­UTED

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.

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