Dallas Colleges: Austin Stewart

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.

DEFENSE

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.

Spring primer: Texas Tech Red Raiders

March, 6, 2014
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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.

Spring battle spotlight: Texas Tech OLB

March, 4, 2014
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Competition will be intense to fill the critical “Raider” outside linebacking spot occupied by the productive Terrance Bullitt last season.

Departed: The Red Raiders bring back starters Pete Robertson at the “Bandit” linebacker position. Sam Eguavoen and Micah Awe will man the spots inside in defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt’s 3-4 scheme. But the Red Raiders still have to figure out how they will replace Bullitt at the “Raider” on the outside. Bullitt led all Big 12 linebackers with nine pass breakups, despite playing with a bum arm for most of the season. He won’t be easily replaced.

Spring contenders: Senior Dorian Crawford, senior Austin Stewart, redshirt freshman Collin Bowen, redshirt freshman Jacarthy Mack.

Summer contenders: None

The skinny: Wallerstedt has indicated that he’d like to audition several players at the “Raider” this spring.

Crawford will get the first crack after playing safety last season. Crawford sprained his ankle last preseason, and only appeared in four games. But Wallerstedt likes the potential of Crawford bringing speed to both man up slot receivers and also blitz off the edge.

Stewart will be another player to watch on the outside. Stewart played more than any of the other contenders last season, registering 39 tackles and two sacks last season. But Stewart was up and down at times, and could be used elsewhere on the field or as a spot player.

Mack has plenty of athleticism, too, but might be a year away from being ready to be an every-down player.

The dark horse to watch here is Bowen, who was part of last year’s walk-on class that produced starting QB Baker Mayfield and starting safety Tanner Jacobson. Bowen, a former high school QB, brings intelligence and toughness to the position that has impressed the coaching staff so far.

Prediction: Provided he’s not also needed at safety, Crawford will hold the starting job. But Wallerstedt will rotate in an array of players like Stewart and Bowen in certain situations at what could turn into a deep position for the Red Raiders.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: LBs

February, 25, 2014
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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 is the deepest 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. There’s reason to hope 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.

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