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Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Dixon's suspension creates huge hole for Tech defense

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Earlier this week, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach commented that the "rebuilding question" is vastly overrated for his team.

"Sure, we're going to lose [Michael] Crabtree and [Graham] Harrell, but the fact is we've done it about seven times before," Leach said.

Which is true. But the transformation will become a lot harder if Leach carries through with his plans to suspend pass-rushing threat McKinner Dixon for failing to keep up with his academic demands.

Leach is adamant about education and particularly for Dixon, who was given a second chance after flunking out of school after a sterling freshman season in 2005.

Dixon got his grades back up at Cisco Junior College and returned to Tech last season to become the same kind of transcendent defensive threat he had been before he left the first time. In the process, he notched nine sacks and 11 tackles for losses -- both leading totals for Tech returnees this season.

I've got to believe that Leach will try everything he can to get Dixon back into class and his grades up. He's that good of a defensive player and his return would keep the Red Raiders at a level that could enable them to challenge the likes of Oklahoma and Texas in the Big 12 South Division.

The Red Raiders' defensive front with Dixon involved is one of their biggest defensive strengths. And that position is of paramount importance considering players like Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Todd Reesing and Robert Griffin on the Red Raiders' upcoming schedule.

Even after Brandon Williams declared early for the NFL draft, the return of projected starters Rajon Henley and Brandon Sharpe for Tech led to Dixon and Brandon Sesay cross-training at defensive end and defensive tackle this spring. Dixon likely would have been even more valuable for the Red Raiders by his ability to play two positions than merely one.

The Red Raiders already are solid inside with Colby Whitlock, Chris Perry and Victor Hunter at nose tackle and Richard Jones, Myles Wade and Britton Barbee at defensive tackle.

But Dixon was clearly the best pass-rushing threat they had and along with Whitlock, one of the Red Raiders' top two defenders in the trenches.

Leach told reporters Monday that he didn't see much hope in Dixon being able to come back.

That might have been his spin to try to get him back into class. But something tells me that a clearer indication of the Red Raiders' needs will be seen over their next few practices by Leach.

Even with the needs of doing everything possible to keep a standout pass-rushing threat, I'm guessing that Leach might not be willing to give Dixon much rope considering his earlier educational transgressions. And that might be a tough doghouse for Dixon to extricate himself from, after the allowances that Leach has already made for him earlier in his career.