When fall practice opens up for the Longhorns next Friday, D’Shawn Jamison and Joseph Ossai will both take the field as starters. It won’t be the first time either one has started for Texas, nor the first time Jamison and Ossai have played next to each other given that both were consistently used on special teams last year. But it will be the first time the two sophomores will line up together defensively, with Ossai starting at linebacker and Jamison moving from wide receiver to cornerback.
At last week’s Big 12 Media Days, Texas head coach Tom Herman and his players openly praised the progress Jamison and Ossai both made this past spring. With eight defensive starters gone, including both cornerbacks and two linebackers, Texas will need every man to step up if it hopes to build upon last season's success.
“We’re definitely young as a defense, but I don’t think we’re inexperienced,” senior safety Brandon Jones said. “A lot of them have had really good springs, the biggest is probably Jamison adjusting from receiver to playing corner.”
Even though Jamison appeared in 13 games last season on offense, the sophomore was originally recruited to play cornerback.
“(Jamison) has done a great job of coming over from defense to offense,” senior linebacker Malcolm Roach said. “We’ve seen his high school film and we could tell he was able to play defense, but actually seeing him in action doing it, he’s a guy that opened up a lot of eyes.”
After early-enrollment last spring, Jamison was given reps on both sides of the ball before he was officially moved to offense. While he excelled on special teams as the primary punt returner, including his 90-yard touchdown return against Kansas State, he was largely underwhelming at receiver, finishing the season with only four receptions totalling five yards.
The move back to defense makes sense for both Jamison and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who will be without Kris Boyd, Davante Davis and P.J. Locke III, all whom departed as seniors. Anthony Cook is also expected to compete for a starting job, but his hamstring injury held him back in the spring, allowing Jamison to shine.
“He has very much impressed,” Herman said when asked about Jamison’s switch. “I think he had a really good spring. I think he earned the right to jog out if my player personnel manager allows me to. He’ll jog out first practice and be the starting corner alongside Jalen Green.”
If Jamison and Green end up starting in the Longhorns’ first game against Louisiana Tech, it will mean two cornerbacks playing with zero combined starts between them. But while Jamison has caught the eyes of his teammates, he’s not the only one.
“Joseph Ossai is a guy I’m really impressed with,” junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “I think he can be an incredible defensive player.”
Making two starts in his freshman campaign, Ossai will most likely open the season as the Longhorns’ starting buck linebacker alongside Ayodele Adeoye and Jeffrey McCulloch. Ossai’s teammates got a look at what the Conroe, Texas, native could do against Georgia, finishing with five total tackles in the Longhorns’ Sugar Bowl victory. Yet what he does on the field is not what impresses his teammates the most.
“(Ossai is) an emergent guy that’s been doing really well for us leadership-wise,” senior center Zach Shackelford said.
With just three returning starters on defense, the lack of leadership is something that concerns fellow teammates, including senior wide receiver Collin Johnson.
“It’s always nice to have a lot of leaders, but we don’t have that right now on the defensive side of the ball,” Johnson said. “(There aren’t many) seniors in regards to the number of underclassmen, so the leaders we do have kinda have a lot of expectations.”
From now until the opening kickoff, the idea of losing eight previous starters will almost certainly linger in the minds of Texas coaches and players. But if Jamison and Ossai excel like many are confident they will, those concerns will quickly be alleviated.