Dallas Colleges: D.J. Johnson
2012 Big 12 record: 4-5
Returning starters: Offense: 5; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2
Top returners: WR Eric Ward, RB Kenny Williams, TE Jace Amaro, DE Kerry Hyder, DE Branden Jackson, LB Will Smith, CB Tre Porter, DE Dartwan Bush
Key losses: QB Seth Doege, S Cody Davis, S D.J. Johnson, WR Darrin Moore, OL La'Adrian Waddle, RB Eric Stephens
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Passing: Seth Doege (4,205 yards)
Rushing: Kenny Williams* (824 yards)
Receiving: Eric Ward* (1,053 yards)
Tackles: Cody Davis (101)
Sacks: Dartwan Bush*, Kerry Hyder* (5.5)
Interceptions: Cody Davis (3)
1. Springing to safety. Replacing Johnson and Davis at safety was a huge concern since that kind of experience and talent isn't easy to find. But J.J. Gaines and Tre Porter, had a strong spring and that position looks to be in good hands. There may be some trouble with inexperience, but defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt has to feel pretty good about the group.
2. More depth at quarterback. I don't buy that there's competition between Michael Brewer and Davis Webb. Brewer was consistently praised all spring, and coach Kliff Kingsbury remarked at how quickly he picked up the schemes and how well he kept the up-tempo pace. Webb, a true freshman, adds comfort as a backup, but this is Brewer's job.
3. A spring miracle in Lubbock. Injuries have just been a constant for the last few years. Every spring and fall, it's been surgery after surgery, injury after injury. Not this year. Apparently the Red Raiders' practice fields are not, in fact, cursed. Getting through the spring without any serious losses is a huge deal considering the school's recent bad luck.
1. Can they weather the storm? I've written about this in the past, but I'm curious to see how the young coaching staff handles the inevitable crises and issues that will come with a season of college football. Kingsbury's a first-time head coach in a big job and stocked Tech's staff with a ton of Red Raider alums. It's an interesting approach, but adjusting on the go in a season full of learning experiences will be interesting to watch.
2. Is there an identity crisis? Tech will air it out plenty, but the full identity on both sides of the ball is still forming and Kingsbury is still getting to know his team. The defense will play some three and four-man fronts and has a lot of strength on the defensive line, but both sides of the ball will adjust on the go to what works and what doesn't next season. Both sides could look different in December than it does in August.
3. Where will the running game factor in? Tech has a ton of strength at running back in Kenny Williams and SaDale Foster, along with DeAndre Washington and Quinton White adding some additional depth. The big question for any post-Mike Leach coach in Lubbock is how much they plan to run the ball. Kingsbury will throw it plenty, but can Tech break its streak of well over a decade without a 1,000-yard rusher? And how much will Brewer be asked/allowed to run? He's no Johnny Football, but he's got wheels and can keep Big 12 defenses on their toes.
Schedule: The first of Texas Tech's 15 NCAA-allowed spring practices begins today. They will conclude with a spring game on April 20. Between now and then, just two practices will be open: April 6 (in Midland, Texas) and April 12.
What's new: Pretty much everything. Tech does return 13 starters from last season's eight-win team, tied for fourth-most in the Big 12. Beyond that, though, it's a whole new ballgame on the sidelines. More on that later.
New faces: Besides the coaches, Texas Tech is welcoming a new quarterback to the practice field this spring: Davis Webb. The 6-foot-5, 205-pounder is the nation's No. 24 pocket passer.
All eyes on: Kliff Kingsbury and his new staff. He's added six alums to the Red Raiders' sidelines. Kingsbury will be calling the plays for the Red Raiders. He handed the keys to his defense over to Matt Wallerstedt, who followed him over from Texas A&M. How will the 33-year-old Kingsbury run the program? As a program legend, he has the support of the city, and he'll have to learn on the job as a first-time head coach, the youngest among AQ conference teams. He inherited a talented team capable of making some noise immediately, but he'll have to take them there. That journey begins today.
Breaking out: Big 12 blog readers voted quarterback Michael Brewer the breakout player of the spring across the league. He's my pick, too. Kingsbury's not handing the sophomore the job right out of the gate, but it doesn't look like he has a ton of competition. The 6-foot-1, 183-pound native of Austin, Texas, hails from the same powerhouse Lake Travis program as Garrett Gilbert. Brewer lost just one game in high school, helping his coach, Chad Morris, take his first steps to being a major conference offensive coordinator. He's now at Clemson.
Question marks: I've written about the safeties a lot this spring, but the Red Raiders have a lot of work to do in replacing starters Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson. New position coach Trey Haverty has his work cut out for him, and any weakness in this area come fall will be exposed quickly.
On the mend: Tight end Jace Amaro. He became something of an afterthought during Big 12 play last season sue to a rib injury, but he's the cure for what has ailed the Big 12's tight ends these past couple of seasons. The position has been really, really weak, but if he's healthy, Amaro is the league's best at the spot. He had a forgettable night in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, catching two passes for 15 yards and getting ejected after throwing a punch. But shortly after taking the job, Kingsbury was already talking about how Amaro pops off game tape.
Don't forget about: Wide receiver Eric Ward. He's one of the Big 12's most underrated players, and all he's done in his career is lead Tech in receiving in each of the past two seasons and became the first Tech receiver to top 1,000 yards receiving and return to campus since Michael Crabtree in 2007. Ward's a big-time player in the passing game who doesn't get enough respect across the conference. Among returning players, only Oklahoma State's Josh Stewart had more receiving yards.
Big shoes to fill: TBD at safety
Quarterback Michael Brewer will get lots of attention when he steps in to replace Seth Doege this spring, but Texas Tech might have a bigger issue replacing the safeties. Cody Davis was a four-year starter who showed major progress for an improved defense in 2012, and so did fellow senior D.J. Johnson. Tech loses a ton of experience at the position, and new coach Trey Haverty will have his work cut out for him this spring. With a new staff and a lot of turnover at a position, I'll stop short of trying to predict who will fill in for Davis or Johnson. Might we see a converted cornerback?
Defensive shortcomings have been a common theme for Texas Tech. It fielded a lot of great teams under Mike Leach and never won that elusive Big 12 title. Having great play in the secondary is a must in the Big 12. Offenses can and will beat you over the top. Haverty didn't spend a lot of time at TCU before coming back home to his alma mater, but finding replacements for Davis and Johnson will have a big impact on where Tech falls in the Big 12 pecking order in 2013.
Best surprise: OL Levy Adcock (Claremore, Okla.)
Adcock came to Oklahoma State as a juco transfer but had a quiet beginning to his career. He was the Pokes' No. 4 tight end in 2009 but moved to the offensive line and won the right tackle job, emerging as one of the Big 12's best lineman, and certainly the league's best in 2011. He was a first-team All-Big 12 selection and an All-American as a senior.
Biggest bust: RB Dexter Pratt (Navasota, Texas)
Pratt came as the only ESPN 150 member of Oklahoma State's 2009 class, but left the team in the spring of 2010. He was the nation's No. 15 running back and No. 139 overall recruit, but redshirted his first season on campus. He transferred to a junior college but was arrested in April 2011 on drug charges. That came less than two years after Pratt was arrested on a misdemeanor drug possession charge in July 2009.
Best surprise: S Kenny Vaccaro (Brownwood, Texas)
Vaccaro was just the nation's No. 42 safety and entered Texas more highly ranked than just two of the Longhorns' 20 signees. Still, he emerged as a playmaker throughout his career. He was a three-year starter and a two-time All-Big 12 selection, earning All-America honors as a senior. It's not as tangible of an honor, but for my money, he's been one of, if not the hardest hitter in the Big 12 the past two years.
Biggest bust: QB Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas)
Gilbert might be one of the biggest busts in Big 12 history. He was a hometown talent and the nation's No. 2 quarterback and No. 11 overall recruit, rated higher than guys like AJ McCarron and just behind talents like Matt Barkley and Manti Te'o. He showed big promise in the 2009 national title game against Alabama when Colt McCoy was injured, but threw 17 interceptions in Texas' 5-7 nightmare season in 2010. He returned in 2011, but threw two quick interceptions as Texas fell behind BYU. Gilbert was benched as fans booed him off the field, and he never saw any more time. He underwent shoulder surgery later that year and transferred to SMU, where he started and threw for 15 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2012.
Best surprise: DE Stansly Maponga (Carrolton, Texas)
Maponga came to TCU as the nation's No. 111 defensive end and ranked higher than just a handful of TCU's high-school recruits. He was a freshman All-American in 2010 after redshirting and became a full-time starter, earning all-conference honors. In 2011, he was a first-team All-Mountain West honoree and was TCU's only preseason representative on the All-Big 12 team. He battled injuries, but still had 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, a year after making nine sacks.
Biggest bust: OLB Justin Isadore (Beaumont, Texas)
Isadore redshirted in 2009 but left the team after the season and transferred to Stephen F. Austin. He was the nation's No. 38 outside linebacker and the Frogs' second-highest ranked recruit. After transferring to the FCS level, he still has yet to record more than 20 tackles in a season.
Best surprise: S D.J. Johnson (Austin, Texas)
Johnson was a middle-of-the-road recruit in a Texas Tech class that was just OK, but he emerged as a huge contributor and a three-year starter for the Texas Tech defense. He was an All-Big 12 honoree in 2010 and 2012 and racked up 90 tackles in 2012 for a much-improved Texas Tech defense under coordinator Art Kaufman.
Biggest bust: OLB Brandon Mahoney (Keller, Texas)
Mahoney was the class' highest-ranked signee and the nation's No. 13 outside linebacker. At one time, he was committed to Oklahoma, but Texas Tech made a swipe on the recruiting trail, but Mahoney didn't pan out. He left the team in August 2010 after redshirting in 2009.
Best surprise: S Darwin Cook (East Cleveland, OH)
Cook was the nation's No. 89 safety and didn't attract much attention on the way into Morgantown, even though he's got a pretty crazy backstory. He emerged to be a two-year starter at safety for the Mountaineers and a three-year contributor, providing the biggest defensive highlight of 2011 when he returned a fumble 99 yards for a touchdown in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson.
Biggest bust: WR Logan Heastie (Chesapeake, Va.)
Heastie was the nation's No. 19 receiver and only Geno Smith (known by recruiting services as "Eugene Smith" ... awesome) was rated higher in the Mountaineers' class. Heastie, though, never caught on with the Mountaineers and reportedly didn't take to offseason workouts and didn't do much to impress coach Bill Stewart. Heastie transferred in April 2010.
1. Get used to new faces, terminology and schemes. Texas Tech's offense hasn't changed much since Mike Leach's exit, and new coach Kliff Kingsbury will throw it around, too, just as offensive coordinator Neal Brown did in three seasons in Lubbock. Still, the Red Raiders are preparing for their fifth defensive coordinator in five years in Matt Wallerstedt, who came over with Kingsbury after coaching linebackers at Texas A&M. Tech won't look markedly different, but it's still going to be an adjustment for everybody involved. Different coaches do things different ways and use different terms and approaches. Getting those relationships off to the right start is imperative.
2. Develop Michael Brewer. There doesn't appear to be much competition at quarterback next season in Lubbock. Brewer looked solid in spot duty and his potential is sky-high. Still, in this offense, he needs to be great for Texas Tech to succeed. As a first-year starter, Brewer will be a redshirt sophomore in his third year in the program, but he'll have to weather that transition, and a new offense, too. The basic principles will be similar, but expect Brewer to get a lot of opportunities to use his impressive wheels, too.
3. Fill out the secondary. Tech's secondary finally figured it out last season and made some huge strides, but now it's back to being gutted. Safeties D.J. Johnson and Cody Davis, the team's leading tacklers in 2012, are gone. Cornelius Douglas and Eugene Neboh are gone, too. I'd expect Wallerstedt and secondary assistants Kevin Curtis (cornerbacks) and Trey Haverty (safeties) to go into spring with an open mind. If unheralded players are going to emerge, those 15 practices will be the time to do it. All bets are off with that group.
More offseason to-do lists:
Best offensive performance: Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia. West Virginia got stuck in a snowstorm in New York City, and producing offense in that wasn't easy. Still, Bailey put together the best performance, grabbing seven passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns in the Mountaineers' loss to Syracuse.
Best play: David Ash, QB, Texas. Ash was nearly dragged down in the backfield, but somehow slipped out of a sack and rolled to his left to extend the play. Running back Johnathan Gray leaked out of the backfield, and Ash threw a perfect strike across his body and hit Gray in the hands for a 15-yard touchdown pass to get the Longhorns to within three points midway through the fourth quarter. Honorable mention: Ash's 36-yard bomb to Marquise Goodwin to take the lead with 36 seconds to play.
Biggest impact play: D.J. Johnson, S, Texas Tech. The Red Raiders hadn't forced a turnover since Oct. 20, but Johnson intercepted a pass in the final minute, returning it 39 yards to set up a game-winning field goal. Minnesota was driving in a tie game, but the Red Raiders' late flurry produced an unlikely comeback win.
Best catch: Isaiah Anderson, WR, Oklahoma State. Anderson caught five balls for 78 yards, but his crazy, spinning, aerial catch in the back of the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown put OSU up 45-0 and provided the best highlight of the Big 12 bowl season.
Worst play: Cornelius Lucas, OL, Kansas State. Kansas State faced a fourth-and-1 at Oregon's 18, but tried to draw Oregon offside and probably planned to go for it anyway after taking a timeout. The Wildcats trailed 15-10, but Lucas inexplicably moved early on a play that probably never would have happened. It backed up Kansas State five yards, and the powerful short-yardage offense couldn't go for it. Anthony Cantele missed the 40-yard kick that ensued, and Oregon answered with a quick touchdown before half to go up 12.
Most boneheaded play: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech. Amaro, who might be Tech's most talented player, missed half the season with a rib injury. He finally got to return, but he didn't seem to take that privilege very seriously. Right in front of an official, he pinned a Minnesota defender and threw a punch. He drew a flag and was ejected, but that flag backed up Texas Tech from the Golden Gophers' 1-yard line to the 16. The ensuing field goal was blocked, and Tech needed a late-game rally to win.
Craziest reaction to a boneheaded play: Texas Tech. According to a report from Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Texas Tech officials had to relay a message to Amaro telling him not to tweet about his ejection. Hours later, he tweeted a weak apology: "I want to apologize for being ejected. As bad as it seems, which it does, I had no intention of a punch. But the idea to get off of him," he wrote.
Best moment: Ash gets the win. It was an emotional bowl week full of distractions for Texas' team as two players were sent home after a police investigation into an alleged sexual assault. Texas' offense struggled for much of the first half, but Ash got hot late and capped the game with a 36-yard touchdown pass over the top to the speedy Goodwin. It gave Texas a huge win, the Big 12's best win of the entire season.
Worst moment: Michigan State takes the game back. TCU inexplicably blew a 13-0 lead when Michigan State's offense came alive, but Jaden Oberkrom gave the Frogs hope with a 53-yard kick to get the lead back, 16-14. It didn't last long. Michigan State strung together a drive and with 61 seconds to play, Dan Conroy boomed a 47-yard kick to take the wind out of TCU's sails after a difficult, emotional season.
RB: Lache Seastrunk, Baylor: Seastrunk helped Baylor rout UCLA with 138 yards and a score on 16 carries in the Bears' Holiday Bowl win.
RB: Glasco Martin IV, Baylor: How many rushers did the Big 12 have this bowl season who had at least 95 yards? Two, and both played for Baylor. Martin scored three touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl and carried the ball 21 times for 98 yards. Heck of a night for the Bears backs.
WR: Darrin Moore, Texas Tech: Moore was the most consistent receiver in the bowl season with 11 catches for 84 yards, keeping the chains moving for the Red Raiders in their Meineke Car Care Bowl win against Minnesota.
WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia: Despite playing in a snowstorm, Bailey had the best performance of any Big 12 receiver. He caught eight balls for 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It wasn't enough to get the Pinstripe Bowl win, but no other Mountaineer scored a touchdown.
WR: Marquise Goodwin, Texas: The track star's touches were limited, but he had a huge impact. His 36-yard grab with 2:24 to play proved to be the game winner, and he finished with four catches for 68 yards. He also had one carry -- which he turned into a 64-yard touchdown, looking as fast as any player in college football while streaking to the end zone.
TE: Ernst Brun Jr., Iowa State: Brun caught four passes for 102 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown, to get the first-quarter party started for the Cyclones, which scored 17 points in the quarter. The rest of the game was forgettable, but Brun had one of the longest plays of Iowa State's season.
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor: The Bears' left guard was a big reason why Baylor had so much success running the ball. Baylor racked up 306 yards on the ground against UCLA.
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State: Purdue's Kawann Short is a stud and arguably the team's best player, but Taylor helped Oklahoma State rack up 58 points and helped hold the Boilermakers defensive tackle to just one tackle and one sack. Short had minimal impact throughout the game.
OL: LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders ran the ball well -- on the few occasions they did -- and Seth Doege had plenty of time. Waddle was a big reason why for both.
OL: Lane Johnson, Oklahoma: Texas A&M wrecking ball Damontre Moore declared for the NFL draft before the Cotton Bowl, but credit Johnson at tackle, who helped hold him to five tackles, one tackle for loss and zero sacks, despite Landry Jones throwing 48 passes.
OL: Ivory Wade, Baylor: Those 306 yards rushing for the Bears didn't come easy. Most of them came on the interior, and Wade was a solid presence in the middle of the line.
DL: Chris McAllister, Baylor: He was one of a handful of guys to hold UCLA's Johnathan Franklin to 34 yards on 14 carries, had five tackles, including two sacks, and batted down a pass to help keep UCLA's passing game grounded.
DL: Alex Okafor, Texas: Okafor is my defensive MVP of the Big 12 bowl season. He gave Oregon State's offensive line nightmares and helped the Longhorns stage a late comeback with 4.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and eight stops. He also forced a fumble.
DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State: The Wildcats had a rough night against Oregon, but Williams played pretty well with nine tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.
DL: Terrance Lloyd, Baylor: Lloyd was part of the Baylor gang who helped UCLA have its worst running game of the season. He had four tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack. No zone read for you.
LB: Terence Garvin, West Virginia: Garvin was everywhere for the West Virginia defense, which largely struggled in a blowout loss to Syracuse. He forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, broke up a pass, had two sacks, made three tackles for loss and had 15 tackles.
LB: Tyler Johnson, Oklahoma State: Johnson blew up what Purdue likes to refer to as its "passing game." He made six tackles, had two sacks and forced two fumbles, including a huge hit on Purdue quarterback Robert Marve.
LB: Eddie Lackey, Baylor: Lackey was another part of Baylor's defense that put together one of its best games of the season. He made 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and five tackles.
DB: Jason Verrett, TCU: Most of Michigan State's night was frustrating in the passing game before some late success, and Verrett was a big reason for those struggles. He broke up two passes, made a tackle for loss and had 12 tackles.
DB: D.J. Johnson, Texas Tech: Johnson made 14 tackles and is on this team for one of the biggest plays of Texas Tech's season. The defense hadn't forced a turnover since Oct. 20, but Johnson picked off a Gophers pass in the final minute with Minnesota driving and the game tied. He returned it 39 yards, helping to set up the winning field goal as time expired.
DB: Jeremy Reeves, Iowa State: Reeves returned a Cody Green interception 31 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter of the Liberty Bowl loss. He had six tackles with a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.
DB: Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma State: No second-half comebacks for Purdue. Lowe opened the half with a 37-yard fumble return for a score and made seven tackles with half a tackle for loss.
KR: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech: This one is pretty simple. Grant returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score, giving Texas Tech a 7-3 lead early in the first quarter of its Meineke Car Care Bowl win.
PR: Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State: Purdue faked a punt to keep its opening drive alive but punted on its next set of downs. The always-shifty Stewart delivered a 64-yard punt return, giving Oklahoma State the ball on the Purdue 19-yard line. The Cowboys scored for a 7-0 lead to kick off the Heart of Dallas Bowl rout.
K: Jaden Oberkrom, TCU: He edges out Texas Tech's Ryan Bustin, who kicked a 28-yard winner, for making all three of his attempts, including a crazy 53-yarder for a 16-14 lead with 2:42 to play. He also made kicks of 47 and 31 yards.
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State: He narrowly edges out Oklahoma's Tress Way (five punts, three inside 20, long of 58 yards, average 49.4 yards) for this award after pinning Purdue inside its 20-yard line on two of his three punts. He boomed a 65-yarder and averaged nearly 53 yards on his three punts. He was more valuable for Oklahoma State because field position mattered to Purdue. It didn't to Texas A&M.
The latest came at home against Kansas, with the defense forcing a game-winning stop for a 41-34 win in the final home game of the season for the Red Raiders.
"I don't know what it is about overtime games and this football team, but it almost seems like we relax even more. I know for me, personally, it's like I'm in my element," quarterback Seth Doege told reporters this week. "Especially that last drive, I just felt comfortable. Maybe it's because we trust each other and like each other as a football team that we know we can get it done."
The win sent Texas Tech to 7-3, snapped a two-game losing streak, avoided an embarrassing loss to Big 12 cellar-dweller Kansas and kept the Red Raiders in the BCS Top 25, all at once. Running back Eric Stephens tossed the game-winning score on a jump pass to Darrin Moore after getting the ball on a toss play to the right sideline.
"Everybody was excited for him," Doege said. "Eric's one of our leaders and a likeable guy and has a lot of guys that respect him on this football team. It was one of those things that we knew once the play call was called, if it's in Eric's hands, it's going to get done."
Stephens also scored on a dive in the first overtime.
In a triple-overtime win on the road against TCU, Doege played the hero, finding Alex Torres for the game-winning score. Three of Doege's seven touchdown passes on the day came in the extra three periods.
"The will to win. It's that simple, man," safety D.J. Johnson told reporters this week. "We have that passion and desire to win. We knew what our goal was coming into this game and coming into this season. Though we may not achieve it, we're still going to fight for it and fight for each other."
Texas Tech heads to Stillwater this weekend to face an Oklahoma State team that beat it 66-6 in Lubbock last season, and the Red Raiders haven't beaten Oklahoma State on its home field since 2001.
"Wish we started in overtime. We play looser for some reason," coach Tommy Tuberville told reporters, adding that his team hadn't been penalized in overtime this season. "I think we've got more confidence in each other, for some reason. Offense and defense we feel like we can play looser. I think we focus better. ... If you look back at it, this is red zone all the way. Our offense, for some reason, we scored six points in three quarters Saturday against a team that hadn't played very good defense and we get the ball in the red zone two times in overtime and score very quickly. I think there is a common denominator there that we've got to focus better and rely on each other more and play, and play a little looser."
Tuberville's eight-win 2010 season, capped by a win in the brand-new TicketCity Bowl, preceded a nightmarish 2011 campaign that featured just five wins, the first sub-.500 season in Lubbock in nearly two decades.
Then they met Iowa State, and nobody gave the Cyclones a chance.
"It was sort of a perfect storm for us in that they had just upset the No. 1-ranked team in the country and took it ‘em until about 4 or 5 in the morning to do it. Then they had to travel back and start a new week with that kind of sleep pattern and euphoria," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "That’s not good."
It wasn't good. By night's end, it was clear that Texas Tech was the team without a chance. Iowa State handed Texas Tech an embarrassing 41-7 loss that had the suddenly ranked Red Raiders causing plenty of folks around the country to scratch their heads.
It was the beginning of the end for Texas Tech, who didn't win a game the rest of the season and suffered losses of 32 and 60 points in the next two weeks.
Yet, here we are again. Texas Tech has racked up a spotless 3-0 record against an overmatched set of cupcakes, but it's time for the Red Raiders to prove last year was an abberation. The first step? Beating Iowa State on the road in the conference opener for both teams. Tuberville is 0-2 against his former defensive coordinator.
"By far this is our best team. The thing about college football is depth. You have to build depth. Everybody’s got to play at some point during the year when you’re taking about your first, second and usually third-level players on your team," Tuberville said. "We’ve barely had once since we’ve been here. We had about one and a half last year. This year, we’re closer to two deep at every position."
Even that weak nonconference schedule served a long-term purpose for the Red Raiders, who suffered an avalanche of injuries on both sides of the ball last year, racking an already thin team. The starters have played little, if at all, in the second halves of the Red Raiders first three wins. That game experience could prove valuable as the season progresses.
"We’re getting ready to start a nine-game stretch, and we need to call on a lot of the kids that are backups and maybe even true freshmen to possibly, like we did last year," Tuberville said. "What we’ve been doing is posture ourself in the last few weeks to get as many of those guys experience as we can."
Tuberville reeled in the two best recruiting classes in school history the past two seasons, and the common thread between both of them is clear: speed.
Speed on offense. Speed in the pass rush. Speed in the secondary. Speed at linebacker.
Freshman receiver Jakeem Grant has already made that speed evident, grabbing 10 balls for 106 yards in just three games. He's one of 13 Red Raiders with at least four catches this season, and six players already have at least 100 yards receiving.
Converted safety Terrance Bullitt and juco linebacker Will Smith offer more speed at linebacker.
The offense is back into a groove, ranking second nationally in total offense. That newfound speed and depth has helped the defense, though the schedule's been soft, rank No. 1 nationally in total defense, up a shocking 113 spots from a year ago.
It's finally in place. Now's the time to mature and prove Texas Tech is ready to climb back up the Big 12 ladder in the middle of a wide-open league.
"We’ve got more speed than we’ve had, and that usually makes up for a lot of mistakes you make in a ball game or a season. That’ll help us on our special teams," Tuberville said. "We’ve definitely got more athletes on both sides of the ball. Speed and athletic ability is definitely going to make us better, and if we can add some coaching to that, we might even be able to take a few steps past that."
2011 conference record: 2-7
Returning starters: Offense (9), Defense (10), P/K (1)
Top returners: QB Seth Doege, S Cody Davis, WR Alex Torres, S D.J. Johnson, S Terrance Bullitt, RB Eric Stephens, WR Eric Ward, WR Darrin Moore
Key losses: DE Scott Smith, TE Adam James, DB Brett Dewhurst
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Eric Stephens* (565 yards)
Passing: Seth Doege* (4,004 yards)
Receiving: Eric Ward* (800 yards)
Tackles: Cody Davis* (93)
Sacks: Scott Smith (5.5)
Interceptions: D.J. Johnson* (2)
Three spring answers
1. An answer in the middle: When you recruit junior college talent, you never quite know what you're going to get. That was a good thing for Texas Tech this spring, which found a starting middle linebacker in Will Smith. He's already the team's best at the position, according to coach Tommy Tuberville. They found him while recruiting running back SaDale Foster in California, but Tech found a hidden gem that made a huge impact.
2. Depth developing at running back: Texas Tech was thin at running back during the spring with DeAndre Washington and Eric Stephens sidelined by knee injuries. Stephens' return in 2012 isn't guaranteed, but the spring gave Tech a nice chance to see what it had at running back. Newcomer SaDale Foster played well, as did Kenny Williams. The position's in good shape, even though Ronnie Daniels transferred.
3. Familiar unfamiliarity on defense: Art Kaufman arrived in Lubbock this spring to install his 4-3 defense, which on its own wouldn't be all that notable. What makes it notable? He's the fourth defensive coordinator in four years at Texas Tech. The biggest task in front of him is building depth and developing his linebackers, who were among the Big 12's worst in 2011, ranking dead last nationally in rush defense.
Three fall questions
1. Will Eric Stephens be back in time? Stephens' dislocated knee against Texas A&M looked ugly, but the impact was even bigger than anyone could have imagined. Stephens had tons of experience, and was not only the team's best runner, but was the best pass-blocking back (a huge deal in Tech's offense) and pass-catching back. Tech is hopeful he'll be back by the beginning of the season, but he'll be limited in fall camp.
2. Who's the top receiver? Is Eric Ward the most talented receiver on the team? I'd vote more for Alex Torres and Darrin Moore. Still, you can't deny Ward's production in Torres' and Moore's absence with injuries in 2011. They'll be in a derby this fall to catch passes from Doege, and look out for guys like Tyson Williams and Marcus Kennard, too. Hyped freshmen Dominique Wheeler and Reginald Davis are on the way, too.
3. Can Texas Tech stay healthy? Nothing's hurt Tech more the past two seasons than injury. They've been everywhere on defense, and last year, the team's top two receivers and running backs both suffered big injuries. There hasn't been a clear reason Tech seems to have been snake bitten so badly, but the injuries exposed the lack of depth in 2011. Reasons aside, Tech has to stay healthy to get back into a bowl after ending a nearly two-decade streak of winning seasons with the 5-7 campaign in 2011.
He had plenty more to say, though.
- 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."
- Looking for leadership? Tuberville feels like he identified it during the last 15 practices. Defensively, S Terrance Bullitt, S D.J. Johnson, S Cody Davis and DE Kerry Hyder emerged this spring. For the offense, Tuberville saw leadership out of offensive linemen Waddle and Deveric Gallington.
- 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."
At this position, depth is a major factor in these rankings. Additionally, I included nickelbacks in this grouping. Hybrid defensive end/linebackers will be grouped with defensive lines.
2. Texas: The Longhorns will sorely miss an outstanding duo of their own with tons of experience. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho are both NFL-bound after combining for 215 tackles.
3. Oklahoma: The Sooners weren't quite as good as expected in 2011, but part of that was because of a Travis Lewis preseason toe injury that slowed him for much of the season. Lewis, Tony Jefferson and Tom Wort all topped 70 tackles in 2011, and are a solid group.
4. Kansas State: Arthur Brown reinvigorated this group, finishing eighth in the Big 12 with 101 tackles, but the Wildcats linebackers were more than just Brown. Tre Walker and converted safety Emmanuel Lamur combined for 135 stops and helped lead one of the league's most underrated units and a much-improved run defense.
5. Texas A&M: The Aggies' backers were big pass-rushers, though they struggled in coverage this season. Sean Porter was the Big 12's sack champion with 9.5, and Caleb Russell and Jonathan Stewart combined for six more. Damontre Moore is the rawest talent of the bunch, but built on that in 2011, making 72 tackles.
6. Oklahoma State: OSU's group was good, but not great. Alex Elkins' crazy story came to an end with 90 stops in 2011. He showed up everywhere for the Cowboys, but reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year Shaun Lewis didn't quite have the sophomore season some had hoped. Caleb Lavey added some solid play for the turnover-hungry unit, producing 74 tackles and five tackles for loss.
7. Missouri: Zaviar Gooden wasn't quite the impact player Mizzou had hoped, but he was solid alongside a group that's been injury prone over the past two years. Sophomore Andrew Wilson emerged as the team's top tackler with 98 stops, and Luke Lambert added 82 more. A high ankle sprain in the season opener kept Will Ebner off the field, but he'll be back in 2012 after the NCAA granted him a fifth year of eligibility.
8. Kansas: Steven Johnson led the Big 12 with 119 tackles, but the rest of the unit left a lot to be desired. Darius Willis has some potential, but the rest of the team's linebackers have their work cut out for them in 2012. Tunde Bakare also returns from a unit that ranked ninth in the Big 12 in rushing defense.
9. Baylor: The Bears needed help just about everywhere. Elliot Coffey was solid, and finished tied for fourth with 114 stops, but Baylor was eighth in the Big 12 in rush defense. Baylor has solid athlete in the secondary and on the defensive line, but at linebacker, Rodney Chadwick and Brody Trahan leave a bit to be desired. Ahmad Dixon was better in 2011, but still has a lot of potential that needs to be filled.
10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are looking for a new defensive coordinator and the 4-2-5 made a short stop in Lubbock. The Red Raiders were awful everywhere on defense, but especially up front. Nobody in college football was worse at stopping the run, and D.J. Johnson, Daniel Cobb and Cqulin Hubert turned in forgettable performances. Time to get better for 2012.
Here's what we've covered so far:
The group of safeties across the Big 12 isn't fantastic, without any truly elite groups, but it's decent. There aren't any teams that look really hopeless at the position in the immediate future.
I haven't given it real close examination so far on the positions we haven't covered yet, but this is by far the closest gap between 1-10 of any position so far.
Here's how I ranked them. (Remember, I lumped in nickel backs with linebackers, so Ahmad Dixon and Tony Jefferson won't be found anywhere in this post.)
2. Texas -- Blake Gideon takes his share of criticism, a good deal of it fair, but there's a reason he's starting for Texas for a fourth season this fall. He knows what he's doing. Kenny Vaccaro will challenge OSU's Martin, among others, for the title of the Big 12's biggest hitter and Nolan Brewster and Christian Scott are strong reserves at the position. The Longhorns lose a lot at corner, but all the safeties are back from a defense that allowed just over 170 yards a game through the air in conference play last season.
3. Texas A&M -- The Aggies' Steven Terrell and Trent Hunter are solid, and Hunter is a big playmaker who made 62 stops and picked off two passes last year. Toney Hurd Jr. is the backup and was one of the most impressive freshmen in fall camp last year, joined by Steven Campbell in the rotation.
4. Kansas State -- Tysyn Hartman has loads of experience and is one of the Wildcats that Bill Snyder loves to rave about. Ty Zimmerman was one of the Big 12's best freshman last year, and picked off three passes. They should be solid again next year, and for as much criticism as K-State's defense faced last year, they were fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense. Logan Dold should be in the rotation, too.
5. Oklahoma -- Reserve Sam Proctor has starting experience, but Javon Harris and Aaron Colvin enter fall camp as starters. That says plenty about how Bob Stoops and Brent Venables feel about them. In a word: confident. Colvin has the most potential in the group, but the two starters will have to learn on the go. Proctor, a senior, should be able to help. James Haynes will also be in the rotation.
6. Missouri -- Jasper Simmons is gone, but Missouri's safeties might be a bit underrated in this spot. Kenji Jackson has loads of experience and should be solid, and Tavon Bolden and Matt White are a pair of promising sophomores who should compete at free safety. Kenronte Walker should be in the rotation, too.
7. Texas Tech -- Injuries were a problem last year for the Tech secondary, but Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson will hold down the traditional safety spots away from the line of scrimmage in new coordinator Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5. The unit gave up lots of big plays in 2010 (151 over 10 yards, 46 over 20, and 25 over 30, all the most in the Big 12), but I'd expect that number to drop under Glasgow if the secondary stays healthy. Davis is the team's leading returning tackler, with 87 stops. Brett Dewhurst and Giorgio Durham should be in the rotation.
8. Kansas -- Keeston Terry and Bradley McDougald give Kansas a lot of speed and athletic ability at the position, but both of the team's safeties from 2010 graduated and Terry and McDougald are short on experience. Lubbock Smith should add some solid depth to the position.
9. Iowa State -- Iowa State loses their top playmaker at the position, David Sims, but returns starter Ter'Ran Benton. He'll be helped out by some combination of Jacques Washington, Earl Brooks and Deon Broomfield once the season starts. Iowa State's biggest weakness is on the defensive line, so it's hard to get a good read on how good the safeties really are with such a poor pass rush up front.
10. Baylor -- This group might move up the list during the year under Phil Bennett, but the two best raw athletes (Ahmad Dixon, Prince Kent) at the position moved to nickel back and linebacker, respectively. The team's leading tackler, Byron Landor, graduated, and that left Mike Hicks as the other starter. He'll be helped out at safety by Sam Holl, Josh Wilson and K.J. Morton. Last year, the Bears ranked last in the Big 12 in pass defense in conference play, giving up over 300 yards a game. That'll have to change or Baylor won't get past seven wins.
- Junior quarterback Seth Doege threw for 317 yards and four touchdown on 20-of-35 passing. He also had an interception for the only turnover of the day, picked off by Daniel Cobb, who returned it 22 yards.
- Safety D.J. Johnson and linebacker Cqulin Hubert led the team with eight tackles each. Hubert had a sack and led the team with 2.5 tackles for loss. He also broke up a pass.
- Doege's day was highlighted by a pair of long throws. He hooked up with new outside receiver Tramain Swindall for a 55-yard score and hit Alex Torres for a 63-yard gain on Torres' only catch of the day.
- Ben McRoy led the team with 61 yards on seven carries, but likely starter Eric Stephens had 48 yards on seven carries.
- Texas Tech had hoped for 25-30,000 fans, but 12,400 made their way into Jones AT&T Stadium on Saturday. Among them: New athletic director Kirby Hocutt and basketball coach Billy Gillispie.
- As with all these spring games, it doesn't matter much, but the Black team beat the Red team 27-26. It's not out of character for these games, but players switched teams often. Doege, for instance, was 12-of-23 for 231 yards and three scores for the Red team. For the Black team, he was 8-of-12 for 86 yards and a score. Saboteur!
- Doege did everything he could to maintain a stronghold on the starting job over backup Jacob Karam. Coach Tommy Tuberville won't make an official announcement until midway through fall camp, but Doege was receiving the majority of the snaps in practice this spring. It would be very, very surprising if he didn't lock up the job for sure in fall camp. Barring injury, he should finally get his shot next season. "Seth is definitely in front right now,” offensive coordinator Neal Brown told reporters on Saturday. "He’s making better decisions, leading the offense better at this point. Not to a point where he’s the bona fide starter, but there is a difference. Then Jacob and Scotty [Young] are right there duking it out right now to be in that second position and come up and battle Seth."
- Red Raiders fans have to be happy about the contributions from the newcomers. Juco receiver Marcus Kennard enrolled early and caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Doege in the second quarter. True freshman Ronnie Daniels had impressed all spring, and caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Young. Kennard finished with two catches for 32 yards. Daniels finished with 34 yards on 11 carries. The touchdown was his only catch of the day. Another early enrolling freshman, linebacker Blake Dees, had seven tackles and half a tackle for loss.
- The defense still has plenty of work to do, giving up five pass plays of longer than 25 yards, but the Red Raiders are going to be a work in progress on that side of the ball all season. Defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow and Tuberville have been preaching it: It's all about speed for this defense. Part of that comes with recruiting. Part of it comes with making players comfortable with the defense's schemes and playing without thinking. Both of those take time. Glasgow's new scheme puts a heavy emphasis on winning one-on-ones, and the Red Raiders have a lot to prove in showing they can do that consistently in Big 12 play.
"Right now Seth is ahead, but we want to give (Jacob Karam) a chance to throw his name in there. We're not looking for just one quarterback, we're looking for two. We lost both quarterbacks last year. Both of these guys will step up and compete and make each other better." -- Tuberville.
Through two games, Tommy Tuberville's revamped 3-4 defense ranks 80th in the nation in total defense, allowing 380 yards a game and 5.3 yards per play. Not exactly a shut-down unit at this point.
But, what his aggressive, attacking Texas Tech defense is doing quite well is ball-hawking. Tech is tied for seventh nationally in turnover-margin with five interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Texas sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert comes in having thrown no interceptions in his first two games as a starter. Saturday he'll face a difficult night game in Lubbock, a hostile sell-out crowd and a sticky Tech secondary.
Gilbert better get used to looking at these guys, he'll be facing them for the remainder of his career. Tuberville's young secondary is an all-sophomore-and-freshman unit. Jarvis Phillips, a redshirt freshman from Dallas Carter High School, leads the team with two interceptions. Sophomore Will Ford, sophomore D.J. Johnson and true freshman Tre' Porter all have one pick each.
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