Texas Football: 3 possible UCLA transfers UT could target

Texas football needs to address a positional need at defensive tackle in the transfer portal entering the spring window.
Jay Toia
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The biggest recent head coaching departure around the Power Five this offseason that could impact the Texas football program in some ways involved the UCLA Bruins losing Chip Kelly.

Late last week, the Ohio State Buckeyes reportedly (per ESPN's Pete Thamel) hired Kelly from UCLA to replace Bill O'Brien as their next offensive coordinator. O'Brien was named the head coach for the Boston College Eagles just a couple of weeks after he was hired to head coach Ryan Day's staff at Ohio State early this offseason.

Hypothetical UCLA transfers Texas football could pursue after the Chip Kelly news

Day will no longer be calling plays for Ohio State's offense, which is why O'Brien was hired in the first place in January. Kelly will now be assuming that role for the Buckeyes for the foreseeable future at least.

Ohio State reportedly agreed to a three-year deal with Kelly to be their next offensive coordinator.

The move for Kelly to leave UCLA to take the offensive coordinator job at Ohio State took some by surprise. Kelly did have his fair share of ups and downs in his six years as UCLA's head coach. But it is a step down in title and pay for him to leave a Power Five head coaching position to be an offensive coordinator for another P5 school.

Moreover, UCLA did find their next head coaching hire to replace Kelly. UCLA announced on Feb. 12 that it promoted running backs coach DeShaun Foster to be the next head coach.

Promoting from within is probably a good way for UCLA to minimize any late-cycle roster attrition, at least compared to what it would've been with an outside hire. Nonetheless, there is still the possibility that UCLA loses some key players to the portal, depending on what happens with the Bruins' coaching staff in the next couple of months.

UCLA losing its head coach does open up a 30-day transfer window for any players on the roster to enter the portal.

Here are three possible UCLA transfers that would make sense for the Longhorns to target in the portal this offseason.

Gary Smith III, NT

The biggest position of need that the Longhorns are targeting in the portal entering the spring is defensive tackle. Texas needs another defensive tackle or two with proven Power Five experience who can shore up the interior defensive line rotation entering the SEC this upcoming season.

Texas lost multiple key defensive tackles to the NFL Draft and the transfer portal this offseason. The Longhorns' top two defensive tackles, Byron Murphy II and T'Vondre Sweat, both entered the NFL Draft. Texas also lost senior defensive lineman Trill Carter to the portal and lost its highest-rated DL signee from the 2024 class early this offseason, D'antre Robinson, after Bo Davis left for LSU last month.

New defensive line coach Kenny Baker and the Longhorns added a key piece at defensive tackle via the portal late last month, former Arizona junior defensive tackle Tia Savea. But Texas will need more than one defensive tackle who can give them good snaps in the IDL rotation this fall.

One potential option to add depth at defensive tackle for the Longhorns entering the spring would be if UCLA lost some of its top defensive linemen to the portal in the next few weeks after Kelly's departure to Ohio State.

If Texas hypothetically had its choice of any UCLA defensive tackle to add to the roster early this offseason, a good candidate would be redshirt senior Gary Smith III. The big 6-foot-2 and 320-pound nose tackle has multiple years of proven experience as a rotational defensive lineman at Duke and UCLA.

While Smith's impact as an interior pass rusher was limited at UCLA in the last two seasons, he was a stout run defender who anchored that defensive line on run plays. Smith was UCLA's highest-graded defensive tackle in run defense in each of the last two seasons. He also ranked among the three best interior defensive linemen in the PAC-12 in run defense.

Texas is losing its two best interior run defenders this offseason in Sweat and Murphy. Adding a big human who can play zero or one tech with multiple years of high level proven experience as a P5 run stopper would make sense for the Longhorns to shore up the defensive line rotation for the upcoming season.

The biggest potential question mark with Texas hypothetically pursuing a DT like Smith is his injury status. Smith suffered a serious injury that ended his season last fall and he's got a long rehab process in front of him.

If Texas believed that Smith can successfully rehab in time to be ready for the start of the 2024 season, and to get comfortable with the defensive scheme in practice, he could be a quality possible portal target this offseason.