Big 12: Sam Eguavoen

Big 12 morning links

September, 3, 2014
Can someone tell James Harden what's going on please?
  • Kansas expects to play the seven freshmen listed on its depth chart, reports Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital-Journal. After creating some preseason buzz with their practice performances, it's no surprise to see running back Corey Avery and linebacker Kyron Watson on the list of true freshman set to play when KU faces Southwest Missouri State on Saturday. But keep an eye on receiver Derrick Neal, a 5-foot-10, 155-pound dynamo who has displayed early playmaking ability and could eventually emerge as another offensive weapon alongside Tony Pierson and Nick Harwell.
  • The Oklahoman's John Helsley introduces you to Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who burst onto the scene as the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week with his stellar two-sack performance against Florida State. Ogbah showed flashes of his ability a year ago, recording four sacks as a redshirt freshman. The sophomore started to emerge during the spring as a potential breakout performer and didn't disappoint against the Seminoles. Now the challenge facing him will be his ability to handle the increased attention from opposing offenses and continue to be productive along the Cowboys' defensive front.
  • The stinging disappointment of Texas Tech's 42-35 win over Central Arkansas remains in the minds of Red Raiders players. "I felt better about some of the losses we had last year than the game on Saturday night," linebacker Sam Eguavoen told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. The numbers aren't as bad as the actual performance and lackluster intensity from the Red Raiders. This could be where the Red Raiders' hope of having better depth in 2014 could really be tested. If the current starters can't or don't approach the game with the right mindset, limit mistakes and focus on the little details, better depth would mean those players could be replaced without hesitation.
  • Iowa State running back Aaron Wimberly and Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters will be reunited when the Wildcats and Cyclones meet on Saturday. The pair were roommates at Iowa Western, writes Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register. It's interesting that Waters, an Iowa native, was never really on the priority list for the Cyclones during their forays on the recruiting trail, with Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads saying his program wasn't looking to sign a junior college quarterback when Waters decided to play for K-State.
  • Kansas State could be looking at a two-back system, writes Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star. DeMarcus Robinson and Charles Jones were each productive in the Wildcats' season-opening win over Stephen F. Austin. Robinson finished with 96 all-purpose yards (49 rushing, 47 receiving) while Jones had 72 all-purpose yards, including 55 rushing yards and two touchdowns. If both players continue to be productive, there's really no reason to hand the bulk of the carries to one or the other. Even though it's good to have a bell cow in the backfield, it's even better to have multiple productive running backs that can complement each other or carry the load.
Sam Eguavoen is entering unfamiliar territory.

The Texas Tech linebacker will have the same defensive coordinator for the first time in his Red Raiders career as Matt Wallerstedt returns to run the defense for the second straight season under Kliff Kingsbury. The continuity on that side of the ball is one reason Kingsbury believes his defense can reach higher heights in 2014.

"That's big for them," Kingsbury said. "Two years having the same defensive staff in place with the same terminology. I can tell this spring they weren't thinking as much. They were actually flying around with the football."

A key member of Tech's defense since his freshman season, Eguavoen started five games for Chad Glasgow as a true freshman in 2011 and 10 games for Art Kaufman as a sophomore in 2012 before starting all 13 games after Wallerstedt arrived alongside Kingsbury a year ago. It will be the first time since 2009 that the Red Raiders program returns the same defensive coordinator.

"It helps a lot, we all have the scheme down," said Eguavoen, who enters the year with 152 career tackles. "Just because I'm a senior does not mean I know the defense better than someone who was a freshman last year. I was new to that defense just like he was."

The senior insists that with the continuity comes the removal of any excuses for his returning teammates on the defensive side of the football. Even though Tech loses defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre Porter, who joined him in the top four in tackles for Tech last season, Eguavoen expects the Red Raider defense to be as good or better in 2014.

"People talk about we have key losses but it's really like we haven't lost anybody," Eguavoen insists. "Because those young guys were learning the scheme at the same time those guys were. They're coming into this season knowing twice as much as those seniors knew about the defense, so I have full confidence in the people behind me, to the left and right of me."

Tech's defense had plenty of struggles in 2013, finishing in the bottom half of the Big 12 in points allowed (30.5, seventh), total yards allowed (418.5, seventh) and rushing yards allowed (201.5, ninth). But Eguavoen believes the defense's performance in Tech's 37-23 win over Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl can be a spring board for this year's unit.

"If we just pop on the game tape of the bowl game, that just showed what we're really capable of," he said. "That's the expectation this season, we've increased our standards. Incoming freshmen, juco guys, they all know what we expect of them."

Big 12 media days roundtable: Day 1

July, 21, 2014
It was an action-packed day as Big 12 media days opened in Dallas, Texas. Baylor carried itself with the look and confidence of the defending Big 12 champion, while Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby made it clear that change is on the horizon for college athletics. Big 12 reporters Jake Trotter, Max Olson and Brandon Chatmon answered four questions in our roundtable to conclude the first session, which was comprised of Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech.

What stuck out to you most?

Trotter: The confidence Baylor carried throughout the day. The Bears are the defending Big 12 champs, and they walked and talked like it Monday. Defensive end Shawn Oakman even took issue with Oklahoma getting voted as the preseason favorite, saying Baylor's 41-12 win over OU last season showed that the Sooners' "product was nowhere near as good as the product that Baylor was putting on the field." Bears coach Art Briles said the preseason seeding was fair because OU beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, while Baylor fell to UCF in the Fiesta. But there’s little doubt the Bears will go into this season with the swagger of the league's best team.

Olson: Other than Bowlsby's scorched-earth, "Winter is Coming" assessment of today's NCAA, I enjoyed Briles' presence at this event, as always. He had his usual great lines -- when Baylor was called a heavyweight, he said "I try to eat as healthy as possible" -- and Texas charm, but unlike last year he's not out to play hype man for his program. He was resolute in saying he's aiming for the College Football Playoff and that OU deserves to be the Big 12 favorite considering how last season ended. He also seems to have taken it personally that QB Bryce Petty wasn't a Heisman finalist last year. With former Texas coach Mack Brown now out of the picture, it appears Briles is the guy reporters love to gravitate toward. He seems as confident and relaxed as ever when it comes to his team's chances in 2014.

Chatmon: Bowlsby didn’t mince words at all Monday. He kicked off Big 12 media days with a bang, talking about the need for restructuring in the NCAA, the possibly bleak future of some Olympic sports, and the potential for cheating in college football nationwide. The cheating discussion was easily the part that stood out to me, as Bowlsby’s candor was unexpected. “The infractions committee hasn't had a hearing in almost a year, and I think it's not an understatement to say that cheating pays presently,” he said. He went on to say he didn’t think it was rampant and didn’t have any concerns “on a local basis” when asked specifically about the Big 12.

What's something new you learned?

Trotter: TCU added Texas A&M transfer quarterback Matt Joeckel in the spring. But Trevone Boykin is not going to relinquish the job and slide to receiver without a fight. “He wants to be the guy,” coach Gary Patterson said. Whether at receiver or quarterback, Boykin is going to help the Horned Frogs offensively. But he’s going to try to help them at quarterback first.

Olson: I was hardly surprised, but Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy loves Tyreek Hill. OSU will play Hill at running back and receiver, and Gundy said his goal is to get the speedster the ball 15 to 20 times a game. Hill was voted Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year, and Gundy admitted that the blueprint for how to maximize Hill's talent hasn't completely come together yet. But the guy has a chance to be a Tavon Austin-type playmaker all over the field. Gundy would be wise to put the keys to the offense in Hill's hands, and it's good to see that the coach gets that.

Chatmon: Sam Eguavoen is a confident guy … who doesn’t like spiders. The Texas Tech linebacker has a lot of confidence in the Red Raiders’ potential this season, pointing to Tech’s narrow road setback to Oklahoma as a key moment in 2013: “If it wasn’t for the out route to a slot receiver, we had that game. The bowl game showed what we’re capable of. That’s the expectation for this season.” Eguavoen went on to say he’d pick Tyrese Gibson, Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant to kick it with if he could hang with celebrities. He was then asked about Tech cheerleader Kendall Jones, who gained national attention for posting photos of her hunting exploits in Africa this summer, and responded with this gem: “I’ve killed a couple of roaches before, but she’s out here killing bears and tigers, and I’m scared of spiders. I respect her. If I ever see a lizard in my backyard, I’ll have to hit her up.”

Your favorite exchange of the day?

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsAccording to Baylor coach Art Briles, Bears quarterback Bryce Petty has "name recognition" all the way up to Salem, Oregon.
Trotter: Briles was in fine form Monday. Besides verbally tussling with Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher about the Big 12 not playing a conference title game, Briles explained why QB Bryce Petty has a better chance to win the Heisman this season. “Go to Salem, Oregon ... and talk to the guys at the Dairy Queen that follow college football and say, ‘Bryce Petty.’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s that quarterback from Baylor.’ That’s why. Because he’s got name recognition.” Petty certainly has more name recognition, though maybe not so much in Salem. A Portland radio station called all six Dairy Queens in Salem to see if anyone had ever heard of Petty. The results for Petty weren’t good.

Olson: Patterson elicited a lot of confused frowns when he said, regarding his changes on offense, "I like Gatorade. When you have to beat people 17-13 just drinking water, you'd like to be able to go back and find out what the different Gatorades are and do everything, you know, for a few years, Rose Bowl year and all that when you score a lot of points." Makes no sense, right? What Patterson was getting at is that, when you're coasting at the end of a blowout win, there's plenty of time for sports drink taste-testing on the sideline. That's a luxury the Frogs rarely enjoyed last year. So, uh, his new offense wants more points and more blowouts. At least, I think that's what he meant ...

Chatmon: Anything Oakman-related was gold. As the hashtag #OakmanisSoBig began to make waves during media days, the Baylor defensive end said his favorite was “#OakmanisSoBig his cereal bowl has a lifeguard." The Bears’ beast of a defender went on to question Oklahoma’s win over Alabama and its preseason favorite status in the Big 12. “It’s kind of disrespectful. You have your starting QB back, most of the front line back, and you’re still ranked No. 2. That doesn’t make sense to me. We beat OU,” he said.

On Tuesday, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia will take over the stage in Dallas. What are you looking forward to Tuesday?

Trotter: The newcomer to the league, Texas coach Charlie Strong, will be in the house. Mack Brown was always great in the media days setting. How will Strong acquit himself in his Big 12 media days debut? A good first impression can go a long way.

Olson: Gee, I wonder if Strong is going to face any scrutiny? He's the Big 12's only first-year head coach and he's hoping to change the perception that he's not a savvy public speaker. Plus, Mack was kind of the king of soapbox speeches and offering his take on college football issues at media days. So I'm guessing the many reporters who crowd around Strong will be practically waiting for him to slip up. He's always said he's OK with the media responsibilities of being Texas' head coach, and his performance Tuesday is truly inconsequential to the big picture, if you ask me. But can Strong make a good impression and inspire some believers on Tuesday?

Chatmon: I’m looking forward to what West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen will say as a huge year looms for the Mountaineers. The veteran coach is hitching his future, to begin the season at least, on the shoulders of senior quarterback Clint Trickett. The Mountaineers have plenty of skill-position talent and could have an explosive offense with good quarterback play, but people tend to forget WVU had superb quarterback play with Geno Smith in Year 1 in the conference and still finished 7-6 in 2012. So I’m interested to hear what Holgorsen has to say about his defense and the changes on that side of the ball, as well.
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): While the future of inside linebacker Frank Shannon remains unclear, the Sooners have a tailor-made replacement in Jordan Evans ready to go. Shannon was OU’s leading tackler a year ago, but Evans was the defensive MVP of the spring game in his place. Blitzing outside linebacker Eric Striker had a huge spring coming off his three-sack performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. And the Sooners had another blitzing linebacker in juco transfer Devante Bond emerge in March, which could give them flexibility to move Striker around. Dominique Alexander, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, solidifies OU’s perch atop this positional ranking, even with Shannon’s future in limbo.

2. Texas (2): Steve Edmond sparked controversy with his Baylor comments, but he also impressed coach Charlie Strong this spring with his knack for making tackles. Edmond and Dalton Santos team up to give the Longhorns a reliable combination on the inside. Athletic sophomore Timothy Cole took advantage of his opportunities with the first-team defense during the spring but should fall back into a spot role once Jordan Hicks returns this summer from a second consecutive season-ending injury. This will be a good group of linebackers, but Hicks playing up to his five-star potential is what could make it great.

3. West Virginia (3): After struggling at the “Spur” linebacker spot in 2013, Isaiah Bruce moved back inside this spring, where he starred as a freshman All-American two years ago. Bruce said he didn’t feel as comfortable playing outside and that showed, as he didn’t record a sack last season despite playing off the edge. Taking over in the Spur is converted safety K.J. Dillon, who was as impressive as any West Virginia defender this spring. With the ability to drop back in coverage, attack the run and rush the quarterback, Dillon seems to be a much better fit at the Spur. If he continues to progress at his new spot and Bruce gets back to his old self playing alongside tackling machine Nick Kwiatkoski inside, the Mountaineers will be stout at the second level.

4. Kansas (5): If the Jayhawks finally climb out of the Big 12 cellar for the first time in six years, it will be on the back of Ben Heeney and a Kansas defense that returns nine starters. One of those nine returners is Heeney’s linebacker wingman, Jake Love, who delivered a strong spring game with a scrimmage-high 10 tackles. The Jayhawks have several weaknesses, but the tackling of their linebackers is not one of them.

5. TCU (6): They get overshadowed by the units in front of and behind them, but linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet simply fulfill what’s asked of them. The Horned Frogs were surprisingly solid at linebacker last year. They should be even better in 2014.

6. Texas Tech (7): The Red Raiders received a huge boost in the spring from Kenny Williams, who made a seamless -- and voluntary -- position switch from running back to the “Raider” linebacker position. With honorable mention All-Big 12 pick Pete Robertson on the other outside spot and veterans Sam Eguavoen and Micah Awe and Utah transfer V.J. Fehoko manning the middle, the Red Raiders have a solid foundation. Ex-Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell, who attended Tech’s spring game, could give the unit another boost in the summer. He was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and could be eligible immediately at his next school.

7. Kansas State (8): Coach Bill Snyder seemed to be reasonably pleased with returners Jonathan Truman and Will Davis, who have locked up two of the linebacker spots. If D'Vonta Derricott, who was in the ESPN Junior College 50 and had offers from Miami, Wisconsin, Arizona State and a host of Big 12 programs, can make an impact at the third linebacker spot, the Wildcats could quickly solidify their biggest question spot defensively.

8. Baylor (4): Middle linebacker Bryce Hager will be fine once he finally recovers from a groin injury. That means Aiavion Edwards, who exited spring as the starter on the weak side, will be the key as the Bears attempt to overcome the graduation of All-Big 12 performer Eddie Lackey. Baylor, though, still has big expectations for juco transfer Grant Campbell, even though he finished spring as a backup on the depth chart. After a shaky first few practices, Campbell began to come on late in spring drills.

9. Oklahoma State (9): The Cowboys picked up a valuable transfer during the spring in former Michigan safety Josh Furman, who will be eligible immediately after getting his degree. Furman isn’t a star, but he has plenty of experience and could be a real asset teamed with juco transfer D'Nerius Antoine at Oklahoma State’s “Star” linebacker spot. On the weak side, fellow juco transfer Devante Averette really shined before suffering some mild injuries at the end of spring ball. The Cowboys will be even better there if 2012 four-star signee Seth Jacobs emerges.

10. Iowa State (10): The Cyclones remain in transition mode at linebacker while working to replace the production of departed All-Big 12 performer Jeremiah George. Redshirt freshman and former QB Alton Meeks was one of the defensive surprises of the spring; he currently sits atop the depth chart at middle linebacker. The other big defensive surprise was walk-on senior Drake Ferch, who beat out returning starter Jared Brackens on the strong side. Jevohn Miller is the third starting linebacker, but he figures to be a placeholder on the weak side until Luke Knott returns from last year’s season-ending hip injury.
Since last week, we've been analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. Monday, we continue with the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who released an official two-deep after finishing up spring ball last month:

OFFENSE (starters in bold)

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb had a great spring and returns to lead the offense.
QB: Davis Webb (So.)

This one is pretty simple. Webb, who broke out in the bowl game, is loaded with potential and had a fabulous spring with 13 touchdowns and no turnovers over three open scrimmages. With no other QB on the roster, incoming freshman Patrick Mahomes will assume the backup spot by default.

RB: DeAndre Washington (Jr.), Quinton White (So.)

With Kenny Williams taking over as the starting “Raider” linebacker, Washington takes over as the starting running back. Washington has two seasons of experience and was just as productive out of the backfield as Williams was in 2013. White will have to perform in a backup role to fend off incoming four-star freshman Justin Stockton.

WR: D.J. Polite-Bray (So.), Devin Lauderdale (So.)

IR: Jakeem Grant (Jr.), Brent Mitcham (Sr.)

IR: Bradley Marquez (Sr.), Jordan Davis (Sr.)

WR: Reginald Davis (So.), Derreck Edwards (Jr.)

The playmaking potential is boundless in the speedy trio of Grant, Marquez and Davis, who combined for four touchdowns in the National University Holiday Bowl. Polite-Bray can fly, too, and made a living hauling in bombs downfield during the spring to emerge as the fourth starting receiver. With bulky tight end Jace Amaro and Eric Ward (who ranked 29th in the Big 12 in yards per catch), the Red Raiders struggled at times last season to stretch the field. With a major upgrade in speed across the board at the position, that won’t be an issue in the fall. Jordan Davis gives Tech a reliable fifth option inside when Kliff Kingsbury goes to his five wide receiver sets.

LT: Le’Raven Clark (Jr.), Poet Thomas (RFr.)

LG: Alfredo Morales (Jr.), James Polk (Sr.)

C: Jared Kaster (Jr.), Tony Morales (Jr.)

RG: Trey Keenan (So.), Baylen Brown (So.)

RT: Rashad Fortenberry (Sr.), Josh Outlaw (RFr.)

The offensive line two-deep could undergo a transformation once junior-college transfer Dominique Robertson arrives in the summer. Offensive line coach Lee Hays has said that he would consider swinging Clark to guard to boost the run game, should Robertson show up ready to play. Hays was given this option after Fortenberry was awarded another year of eligibility in the spring. At the moment, right guard is the biggest question up front, but if Clark were to slide inside, he and Morales could team up to give the Red Raiders a powerful run-blocking duo at the guard spots.


DE: Branden Jackson (Jr.), Zach Barnes (So.)

NG: Jackson Richards (Jr.), Donte Phillips (Jr.)

DT: Demetrius Alston (Jr.), Keland McElrath (Jr.)

This appears to be the biggest question on the entire team. Jackson is coming off a solid sophomore season, with nine tackles for loss and four sacks. But Tech, which finished next-to-last in run defense in 2013, got pushed around in Big 12 play with the unit its currently projecting to start. That’s why Tech signed four juco defensive linemen -- Brandon Thorpe, Marcus Smith, Rika Levi and McElrath – in its 2014 class. To toughen up their front, the Red Raiders will need at least a couple of those jucos to pan out.

BANDIT: Pete Robertson (Jr.), Kris Williams (So.)

WLB: V.J. Fehoko (Sr.), Malik Jenkins (So.)

MLB: Sam Eguavoen (Sr.), Micah Awe (Jr.)

RAIDER: Kenny Williams (Sr.), Austin Stewart (Sr.)

This is a unit that really came together over the spring. What started as an experiment could result in the Red Raiders uncovering their answer at the “Raider” linebacking spot vacated by Terrance Bullitt. Even though he sat out the spring game, Williams had a tremendous run of practices at the position and was rewarded with a spot atop the depth chart. Elsewhere, the Red Raiders are in good shape. Robertson was an honorable mention All-Big 12 performer last season, and Eguavoen and Awe were third and sixth on the team in tackles. Some big-time help could be on the way this summer, too. Former Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell, who was an ESPN 300 recruit last season, attended Texas Tech’s spring game and could be in line for a hardship waiver to play immediately at his next school.

BC: Justis Nelson (So.), Thierry Nguema (So.)

FS: J.J. Gaines (So.), Jalen Barnes (RFr.)

SS: Keenon Ward (So.), Dorian Crawford (Sr.)

FC: Dee Paul (So.)

The Red Raiders have reason to be cautiously optimistic about their young secondary. Gaines was performing at a high level last fall before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury five games into the year. He was a limited participant during spring ball and should be good-to-go again for the fall. Ward had an MVP spring, laying out several receivers with big hits to solidify the other safety job. Nelson returns after starting as a true freshman, essentially leaving the field cornerback spot as the only lingering competition. Nigel Bethel II, the four-star gem of the 2014 recruiting class, has the talent to vie for that job when he arrives on campus. Even though he didn't appear on the depth chart, safety transfer Josh Keys, who did enroll early, could add valuable depth once he settles into coordinator Matt Wallerstedt’s scheme.
This week, we continue breaking down the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12.

These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus yet. Rather, they will include only the players currently on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now.

Next up, the Texas Tech Red Raiders:

[+] EnlargeLe'Raven Clark
John Albright/Icon SMILe'Raven Clark is one of the best linemen in the Big 12.
1. OT Le'Raven Clark: Clark was a second-team All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore, one of only two Big 12 offensive linemen to earn all-conference recognition as an underclassman last season. While the rest of the offensive line struggled, Clark was rock-solid, protecting the blind sides of Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb and Michael Brewer. Over the next two years, Webb will have no better friend than Clark.

2. RB/LB Kenny Williams: Second place on this list was a bit wide open. But Williams is one of the clear leaders for the Red Raiders, and a valuable piece to the offense -- and perhaps the defense, too. After rushing for 1,321 yards the last two seasons, Williams asked for a shot this spring at outside linebacker, where he has been taking first-team snaps. Whether it be offense, defense or both, Williams will be a big part of the team next season.

3. QB Davis Webb: No QB had a better bowl-game performance than Webb, who shredded Arizona State for 403 yards, four touchdowns and a completion percentage of 68.3. Webb had some struggles as a true freshman but showed what he was capable of with the reins of the offense. If Webb builds off his Holiday Bowl performance, he could develop into one of the best QBs in the Big 12 -- if not the country.

4. WR Jakeem Grant: Besides Antwan Goodley and Tyler Lockett, there might not be a better playmaker at receiver than Grant, who finished sixth in the Big 12 in receiving yards last season despite missing two games. Grant was benched late in the season but responded the way Kliff Kingsbury had hoped he would with two touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl. Even with Eric Ward and Jace Amaro gone, the Red Raiders could boast a formidable receiving corps with Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis leading the way.

5. WR Bradley Marquez: Marquez, along with Williams, is one of the team’s leaders and its most reliable returning pass-catcher. In the last three seasons, there have been only two games in which Marquez did not have a reception.

6. OLB Pete Robertson: Robertson is Texas Tech’s top returning defensive player after earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors anchoring the “bandit” role in Matt Wallerstedt’s 3-4 scheme. Robertson was one of several Red Raiders to have a tremendous showing in the Holiday Bowl, collecting a career-high 11 tackles, including two for loss against the No. 14 Sun Devils. Wallerstedt is counting on more of those performances from Robertson in 2014.

7. WR Reginald Davis: The potential of this former high school quarterback is boundless. Davis spent the last two seasons learning the nuances of playing receiver, but finally began to break out late last season. In the Holiday Bowl, he hauled in a 38-yard pass and returned a kick for a touchdown that eradicated some momentum the Sun Devils had built in the second half. Davis will step into a more prominent role in 2014, and with more chances to make plays downfield, he’s capable of delivering a monster season.

8. ILB Sam Eguavoen: Eguavoen started every game at middle linebacker last season and finished third on the defense with 70 tackles. He will likely end up sliding over to the weak inside linebacker spot with Will Smith gone. Eguavoen might not be a flashy playmaker, but he’s a steady tackler at the second level. Teamed up with Micah Awe, who is expected to take over for Eguavoen in the middle, the Red Raiders should be solid again on the inside.

9. CB Justis Nelson: This freshman had his redshirt removed in the 10th game of the season and played admirably down the stretch opposite veteran Bruce Jones. Nelson closed out the Holiday Bowl with a fourth-quarter interception that sealed the victory for the Red Raiders. With Jones gone, Nelson will take over as Tech’s primary corner.

10. DL Branden Jackson: In his first year in the starting lineup, Jackson held up well and finished the season with nine tackles for loss. With Dartwan Bush and Kerry Hyder gone, Jackson will be Tech’s top returner along the defensive line.
Texas Tech kicked off its spring ball Wednesday. Here’s a preview of what to look for from the Red Raiders during their spring practices:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Reginald Davis flashed what he’s capable of while taking a kick to the house in the bowl game. Davis, a former smaller class quarterback, has been picking up the nuances of playing wideout the last two years and seems primed for a breakout campaign. With Eric Ward gone, the Red Raiders will be looking for another playmaker on the outside. Davis has the speed and explosiveness to be just that.

[+] EnlargeTexas Tech
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsWith his speed and explosiveness, WR Reginald Davis looks poised to have a breakout season this year for the Red Raiders.
Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Cornerback Justis Nelson signed with the Red Raiders last year with an offer list that included Bucknell, Colgate and Harvard. But Nelson proved to be a pleasant surprise as a freshman, starting the final three games for the Red Raiders. He also picked off an Arizona State pass to seal Tech’s bowl win. Nelson doesn’t have top-end speed, but he has the awareness and ball instincts to make plays in the secondary. He figures only to get better, too.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Offensive guard Josh Outlaw was the highest-rated signee in last year’s class. The Georgia native signed with the Red Raiders, despite reporting offers from several SEC powers. Even though Tech returns Alfredo Morales and Baylen Brown at guard, Outlaw is talented enough to break into the rotation after redshirting last season, especially with Beau Carpenter off the team now.

Most significant position battle: The Red Raiders need to figure out how they’re going to replace Terrance Bullitt at the pivotal Raider outside linebacker spot. Despite playing injured, Bullitt led all Big 12 linebackers in pass breakups last season. The Red Raiders have a host of possibilities to fill his role, including seniors Dorian Crawford and Austin Stewart and redshirt freshmen Collin Bowen and Jacarthy Mack. If Tech can find the right answer here, the entire linebacker corps could be very solid, with Micah Awe, Sam Eguavoen and Pete Robertson all back after productive seasons.

Key midterm enrollee: After ranking ninth in the Big 12 in rush defense and losing top inside D-linemen Dartwan Bush and Kerry Hyder, the Red Raiders desperately need a newcomer to emerge at defensive tackle. They have one option already on campus in juco transfer Keland McElrath, who chose Tech over West Virginia and Kentucky. McElrath has reportedly been dealing with a stress fracture, but if he can get healthy, he can give the Red Raiders some much needed beef up front.

Question that could be answered: The Red Raiders will be counting on several inexperienced players on the defensive side next season. Nose guard, defensive tackle, Raider linebacker, cornerback and safety are all positions of contention. Tech needs to build depth on this side of the ball, and with reps going out to numerous players, the competition for time should be intense across the board. Coming out of spring, the Red Raiders should have a decent idea of who they’ll be able to rely on in the fall.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: The Red Raiders really won’t know whether sophomore quarterback Davis Webb will be ready to take the next step until he’s out on the playing field. After an up-and-down true freshman season, Webb was fabulous in the National University Holiday Bowl, giving him plenty of momentum going into the offseason. He has plenty to work on this spring, notably eliminating the big mistakes that plagued him at times as a freshman. But his progress won’t be easily measured until he’s playing in a game again.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: LBs

February, 25, 2014
As we await the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the linebacking corps going into the spring:

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIDominique Alexander was a star as a true freshman and leads a loaded Oklahoma linebacking corps.
1. Oklahoma: After a couple of lean years, the Sooners are loaded at linebacker again. Dominique Alexander was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Frank Shannon led the defense in tackles as a sophomore, and Eric Striker is budding into the most ferocious blitzing linebacker in the country (just ask Alabama). Jordan Evans played extensively as a true freshman, too. This is an athletic group that can cover, stop the run and get to the quarterback.

2. Texas: This will be as deep as any linebacking corps in the league, with starters Peter Jinkens, Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond all returning off a unit that improved dramatically after the rocky nonconference start. After allowing a school-record 550 yards rushing to BYU, Texas had the Big 12’s fourth-best rush defense in conference games. Whether this group can take another step up will depend on what happens with Jordan Hicks, who enters his fifth year in the program after suffering season-ending injuries in back-to-back years. Hicks was the No. 1 linebacker in the country coming out of high school and has played well when healthy.

3. West Virginia: This will be the strength of the defense, as Brandon Golson, Isaiah Bruce, Jared Barber and Nick Kwiatkoski all return with significant starting experience. Kwiatkoski was West Virginia’s leading tackler last season, and Bruce was a freshman All-American the season before. Wes Tonkery and Jewone Snow also have starting experience, and Shaq Petteway, who missed last season with a knee injury, was a key rotation player the previous year. This level of experience and production with give the new defensive regime of Tony Gibson and Tom Bradley a foundation to build around.

4. Baylor: Bryce Hager is one of the best returning linebackers in the league. He was a second-team all-conference pick two years ago and would have earned similar honors last season had he not missed the final three games of the regular season with a groin injury. Grant Campbell, a three-star juco signee, is already on campus and will vie for the vacancy of departing All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Kendall Ehrlich and Aiavion Edwards are the only other players at the position with any meaningful experience, but Raaquan Davis, a former four-star recruit who redshirted last season, could be a factor.

5. Kansas: Middle linebacker Ben Heeney was a second-team All-Big 12 selection after finishing fourth in the league in tackles per game. His wingman, Jake Love, got beat out by juco transfer Samson Faifili during the preseason but took over when Faifili suffered an injury and was solid. As long as Heeney remains healthy, the Jayhawks will be solid here.

6. TCU: Projected to be the Achilles’ heel of the TCU defense last season, Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson actually gave the position stability. Dawson led the Horned Frogs with 91 tackles, Mallet was third with 70 and Anderson was fourth with 66. All three will be seniors in 2014 and should give the Horned Frogs a solid, reliable linebacking unit again.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders and their 3-4 scheme graduate two very productive players in Will Smith and Terrance Bullitt. Smith was second in the Big 12 in tackles, and Bullitt led all Big 12 linebackers in pass breakups. Austin Stewart and Micah Awe go into the spring as the favorites to replace Bullitt and Smith, respectively. Two starters do return in Sam Eguavoen and Pete Robertson, who was honorable mention All-Big 12 thanks to his impact off the edge. Tech also has several intriguing young players, including Jacarthy Mack, Malik Jenkins and Kahlee Woods, who will all be second-year players.

8. Kansas State: The Wildcats lose two stalwarts to graduation in captains Blake Slaughter and Tre Walker. The only returner is former walk-on Jonathan Truman, who was second on the team in tackles from the weak side. The Wildcats will be hoping for big things from D'Vonta Derricott, an ESPN JC 50 signee who had offers from Miami and Wisconsin, among many others. Will Davis, who was Slaughter’s backup as a freshman last season, could thrive if he secures the starting role in the middle.

9. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are somewhat decimated here with the graduations of all-conference veterans Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey. The only returning starter, Ryan Simmons, could move inside, which would open the door for hard-hitting jucos D'Nerius Antoine and Devante Averette to start on either side of him. Seth Jacobs, who was a four-star recruit two years ago, should jump into the rotation, and the Cowboys could get an instant boost from freshman Gyasi Akem, who was an ESPN 300 signee. The potential ascension of this group, though, hinges on what Antonie and Averette accomplish.

10. Iowa State: The Cyclones graduate their defensive cornerstone in Jeremiah George, who was a first-team all-conference performer after leading the Big 12 with 133 tackles. Replacing George won’t come easy. But there’s reason to believe that Luke Knott can become Iowa State’s next cornerstone at the position. The younger brother of Cyclone LB great Jake Knott, Luke Knott started five games as a freshman and quickly racked up 45 tackles before suffering a season-ending hip injury, which required surgery. If he makes a full recovery, Knott has the talent to become the next in a growing line of All-Big 12 Iowa State linebackers. Seniors Jevohn Miller and Jared Brackens, who combined for 19 starts last season, flank Knott with experience.

Tech may have found its new starting MLB

March, 7, 2012
Texas Tech finished the 2011 season at the bottom of our linebacker rankings, but the Red Raiders may have gotten a big boost at the position this spring.

Coach Tommy Tuberville's raved about junior transfer Will Smith since practice began, but his words have become action now.

Tuberville moved the newcomer from the outside to middle linebacker, with one main purpose in mind: keeping him on the field.

From the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal:
“If you play him at an outside linebacker position, there’s going to be some games you might not get 20 snaps,” Tuberville said, “because a defensive back’s going to take your spot (against passing teams).

“After watching the first eight practices and two scrimmages, there’s no doubt he’s going to be one of our better linebackers, maybe the best.”

With Smith moving inside, Sam Eguavoen moved from the middle to the outside. Blake Dees and Zach Winbush patrolled the middle Tuesday in addition to Smith.

Eguavoen, Justin Cooper and Pete Robertson worked strong side, and Daniel Cobb and Chris Payne worked weak side.

Strong words from a man who has shown over the course of his career that he knows a thing or two about defense. It also goes to show you: As well as Texas Tech has recruited under Tuberville, you never know where impact players can come from. It's a little early to toss that designation on Smith, but it's clear he's been one of the league's breakout players this spring.

He began his career at Northwood University, a Division II school in Michigan before transferring to Riverside Community College in California. He helped Riverside go 11-0 last season and was second on the team with 36 solo tackles and 13 tackles for loss. He also added three interceptions.

Now, a few months later, he's making a strong push to start at middle linebacker for a Big 12 team. Quite the story, and quite the needed development for a defense that's struggled the past two seasons.

Change on the way at Texas Tech

September, 14, 2011
Texas Tech opened its season against Texas State and followed it with an off week.

In short, not a physically taxing kickoff, with half the Big 12 off for the season's second week.

Coach Tommy Tuberville took advantage, taking the off week to re-assess his team. He treated it like "spring practice" with three "physical" practices, including a scrimmage during the off week, rather than using the week for rest as others might midseason.

"Our players are glad it's over," Tuberville told reporters this week.

Now, it's 11 consecutive weeks of football for Tech.

A prediction? Variety. Perhaps 31 different kinds, beginning with Saturday's trip to New Mexico, who the Red Raiders beat 52-17 in Albuquerque last season.

"It’ll be a Baskin-Robbins type year for us," Tuberville said. 'We’ll have different flavors every week for our two-deep."

He's not kidding. Already, he added freshman Sam Eguavoen to join fellow freshman Blake Dees as a starting linebacker.

Jackson Richards stepped into a starting role at defensive end. Bradley Marquez and Eric Ward earned starting spots at receiver.

"We won’t look like the same team," Tuberville said. "That’ll change all year long."

Richards' spot came by necessity, after hyped juco transfer Leon Mackey suffered a collapsed lung and had to spend a night in the hospital after Texas Tech's opener.

The Red Raiders experienced plenty of turnover last season thanks to injuries, especially in the secondary. This year, youth and players improving at different paces may but the culprit of a constantly evolving depth chart.

"It did feel like a preseason game," running back Eric Stephens told reporters of the season opener. " Showed us a lot of areas that we need to improve on. So I guess it was kind of a good thing."