So we're two weeks into the fall practice campaign and being overly pessimistic, I'm still worried about a few things. Let's go in order of position, I did the offense on Monday and the defense is today.
Defensive Tackle Depth and production. I know that most of these guys are returning starters, and I get that they were improved, but I want to see it for myself. I want to see these guys consistently put guys down for a loss and occasionally get to the the quarterback. I'm pretty comfortable with Colby Whitlock, although there were times he was pushed around pretty good, but he was a true freshman playing a position that's incredibly difficult to have any success at such a young age. I'm guessing that he's gotten bigger and stronger, has an even better idea as to how to use his leverage and can consistently make plays. Henley bothers me a bit because of his size. I get that he's quicker than most of his counter-parts, but size matters on the defensive line. I actually like Richard Jones backing up Henley and feel pretty comfortable with him there. I am still a little worried about Chris Perry and perhaps this is a case where I need to temper expectations rather than a player, who redshirted all of last year, exceed those unrealistic expectations. My hope was, when Perry transferred, was that he might just be an immediate starter behind Whitlock, giving Texas Tech a formidable and physically imposing defensive front. That may not happen, at least not this year and I should be okay with that. The point being, is that behind Whitlock, Henley and Jones there's not that much there, and just remember, as painful as it is, that this is the same defensive tackles that gave up 177 yards a game last year. I know, these guys were a year younger and have had a year to mature, but it was 177 yards. David Neill and Joey Fowler are complete unkowns at this point. Neill, was recruited as a defensive end, redshirted last year and has bulked up to play defensive tackle. Fowler has been on campus for the spring workouts, but I believe he's also nursing an injury, so he's not a factor at this point.
Defensive Ends I really want this to be a collective effort this year. I want all 6 or 7 guys who are going to contribute, to play a part in creating a special defense. I worry a little bit about egos, but more than anything, much like with the defensive tackles, I worry about production. If these guys are as talented as we all think, and the defensive tackles are improving as well, then there's no excuse for this group not to perform. Statistically speaking, these guys were 5th in the conference last year in total sacks at 26 (OU led the way with 32.5), but it appears that the biggest difference maker is total sack yardage where defensive leaders Oklahoma had 239, Mizzou had 260 and Texas had 245. Meanwhile, Texas Tech had 188 as did Kansas State. Pushing in that pocket and pushing back that quarterback, that's where the difference is made. There's a chance that this is where it all comes together, Ratliff, Howard, B. Williams, Riley, Sharpe, Sesay and Dixon are all going to contribute this year and perhaps that's the problem. There isn't one absolutely dominating player that can take over a game (at least we haven't seen it on the field yet), but that might be the catch. If you can't beat the opposing offensive lines with just one guy then three guys at each side going full speed isn't a bad option. Especially when you consider that Sesay and Dixon might be that third option and I'm interested to see what those two can do once opponents have to wrestle the other five for a while.
Linebacker I'll say the same thing about these guys that I did about the defensive line . . . 177 yards a game. There seems to be a little bit of chirping from this group, whether it be Bront Bird and Marlon Williams having something to say to or about Mr. Crabtree or Marlon Williams questioning Brandon Sesay. My two cents, do it on the field and you can talk all you want. And that means playing as a team and as a group . . . together. The relative youth bothers me quite a bit, although the top three guys do have plenty of experience, which is most important. There's plenty of guys to fill lots of rolls and I would guess that if one guy isn't getting it done, no matter who it is, there's a capable back-up ready to take your place. I'll say it one more time . . . 177 yards. You are all better than that.
Secondary With the recent injury to L.A. Reed at cornerback, it appears that Marcus Bunton will get the nod at the right cornerback. I feel the same about this group as I do the receivers, these guys have a pretty good track record of stopping the pass and 188 yards a game through the air isn't bad. Granted, a big part of that equation is that opposing offenses were able to run the ball efficiently, but this group is solid. Darcel McBath is underrated while Jamar Wall is really good. Not to mention, Daniel Charbonnet is going to surprise a lot of fans if he gets the opportunity to start, which it looks like he will and Anthony Hines, Jordy Rowland, Brent Nickerson and Pete Richardson aren't bad players and could start for a number of Big 12 teams. Add an athletic freak like L.A. Reed, who hopefully stays healthy through the rest of the year and you've got a really diverse group that can do a lot of different things on defense.
Special Teams Inexperience. At least in the kicking game. After the year that Jonathan LaCour had punting the ball away, espcially some dicey situations in the Gator Bowl, I'm not worried about him in the least. But I am worried just a tad about the kicking game, especially consistency. Although I normally don't like to talk about it because Trlica was so good at the end of games, he only made 13 of 21 field goals (62%) which was only good for 7th in the conference. On the sunnier side of things, I suppose we could say that if either Carona or Fowler make that percentage of kicks Texas Tech will be fine.