Texas Football: New DL Coach Mark Hagen Wants to Bring 'Attacking' Style

Chris Dukes

Texas sacked the quarterback just 27 times in 2019, finishing 69th in the country. Of those sacks, only 9.5 came from defensive linemen. 

While it's not the only factor, the team's inability to get pressure on the quarterback - particularly with its defensive line - was a major reason Chris Ash is now coaching the defense and Todd Orlando is in Los Angeles with USC. 

Ash wants to implement a more aggressive one-gap scheme that allows his defensive linemen to get upfield, create penetration and affect the quarterback. 

When he was looking for the person to help teach this new style to his interior linemen, he turned to Indiana's Mark Hagen. Hagen will coach defensive tackles, allowing Oscar Giles to concentrate solely on handling the defensive ends in the Longhorns' new four-down-lineman scheme. 

During his first meeting with the media, Hagen was eager to talk about football. He comes across like the quintessential 'ball coach'. A man with stops at Indiana, Purdue, Texas A&M and back to Indiana, this Hoosier State native is all too happy to share some of his coaching philosophies. 

"What I've always kind of hung my hat on in an even front is, it's an attacking one-gap style of defense," Hagen said. "Where as a d-lineman, you and those linebackers are working together. So as you're penetrating and trying to knock guys back and create a new line of scrimmage, those linebackers are attacking downhill."

In a three-man front, like the kind Texas played last year, each defensive lineman is responsible for two gaps. That involves engaging the offensive lineman, reading which direction he wants to take you and fighting the blocker back into that gap. 

In a four-man, or even front as Hagen described it, each lineman focuses on a single gap, allowing players to come off the ball faster and get into the backfield. 

"I think when players start hearing that, they start to get that smile on their face," Hagen said.

Keondre Coburn is expected to move from a straight-up noseguard position to a defensive tackle. Alongside him, Ta'Quon Graham will likely come down the defensive end spot he played last year to play the other tackle. At 6-foot-3, 300 pounds and mobile, Hagen believes Graham has a chance to stand out in the new Texas defensive system. 

We'll see how the spring progresses, but to me, he (Graham) looks like that athletic, two-way going pass-rusher you're looking for," Hagen said. "That guy that can really make life difficult for centers and guards."

While the Longhorns will employ an odd four-man front most of the time, it's not the traditional 4-2-5 look. One of the defensive ends (most likely Joseph Ossai) can actually function as a hybrid outside linebacker.  His ability to drop off the line and into coverage will allow Texas to shift into a three-down look on occasion. 

"You've got to sprinkle in some odd front right or people are gonna going to gash you after a while," Hagen said. "So you've got to have change-ups."