Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville came away encouraged with spring practice despite having to deal with numerous injuries.
Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are the Big 12's only teams without indoor facilities, so Tuberville readily admits the Red Raiders roll the dice every year with weather when they start spring. This year, Tech began practice on Feb. 17, before any other Big 12 team. They only missed two practices, and made up the time before last Saturday's spring game. Tech is already finished with spring practice, but Kansas State hasn't even started.
You know football teams have 22 starters, right? Texas Tech was missing six to seven starters this spring from injuries suffered during the season. Nobody got beat up last year like Tech did. Mizzou was a distant second. Oklahoma had big-impact injuries (Ryan Broyles, Dominique Whaley), but had nowhere near the volume Tech did.
Texas Tech has hauled in top 25 recruiting classes in each of the past two years, two of the best in school history. But for the players even in the 2011 class, it's easy to forget most are entering their first spring. Tuberville thought this spring was really valuable for guys like DL Delvon Simmons, LB Branden Jackson, DE Kindred Evans, QB Michael Brewer, RB Kenny Williams and OL Le’Raven Clark. "They didn’t know what to expect but that’s where you can get better. That’s where you work on a lot of fundamental techniques, so that was the main objective, trying to bring up the level of the young guys on the team," Tuberville said. "Some ended up playing, but we didn’t have a lot of time to spend with them on fundamentals because of game planning in the fall."
Tuberville loved what he saw from juco transfer Rashad Fortenberry out of Mississippi. "He’s going to be a real solid left tackle behind LaAdrian Waddle, and that was a big concern with him coming out of junior college," Tuberville said. "He had a very good spring, but I think we really readied ourselves there in terms of depth on the offensive line."
There was plenty of hype around Brewer at quarterback this spring, and Tuberville loves what he's seen from the apparent heir to the Red Raider QB throne. "He’s got the ability and the luxury of playing behind [Seth] Doege and learning from him and how he handles himself and how he’s worked through adversity. Seth’s been a very good coach," Tuberville said. "He’s got a lot of room for improvement, but the main thing is his leadership and his knowledge of the offense were much, much better this spring."
The offense had a rough spring at times, but Tuberville pointed to his reliance on a lot of different players and combinations at receiver and on the offensive line that produced some short-term struggles he hopes are long-term advantages. "We’ve got so many receivers that we’re looking at," Tuberville said. "There wasn’t one day that we had the same guys playing the same position at the same time, so timing was off a little bit, but that’s a luxury for us." Among the receivers who made great strides during the spring: Javon Bell, Tyson Williams and Derek Edwards.
Art Kaufman is Texas Tech's fourth defensive coordinator in four years, but Tuberville says his scheme isn't much different from the 4-2-5 Texas Tech ran under Chad Glasgow in 2011. "We’re pretty much running our same things, we just changed a little of our philosophy and some of our techniques that we’re playing in the secondary and at linebacker," he said.
From my estimation, Texas Tech may have the best special teams duo of any squad (outside of do-everything Quinn Sharp at Oklahoma State) in the Big 12 next year. New kicker Ryan Bustin "picked up right where Donnie Carona left off." Tuberville estimates he made 90-95 percent of his kicks in game action this spring. Punter Ryan Erxleben averaged about 48 yards on his eight punts in the spring game, and Tuberville called it some of the best punting he'd ever seen. "I think Ryan has finally bought into the situation that golfers and basketball players and a lot of skill guys finally come to the conclusion of, 'I’ve gotta get stronger.' A lot of kickers and punters don’t believe that," Tuberville said. "They believe in more flexibility, but Ryan’s bought into the fact that he’s got to get his leg stronger and in the last eight or nine months, he’s worked on that, and I’ll tell you, he had a really good spring."
Tuberville was disappointed in his secondary for good reason in 2011, but likes what the unit showed during the spring, especially after moving receiver Cornelius Douglas to defense and keeping him there. "We’re much better with him and Eugene Neboh and Derrick Mays who, I think, is making a lot of progress. We still don’t have the depth we need at defensive line," Tuberville said. "It’s a work in progress, but we’ve got two more coming in from the high school ranks."