Red vs. Black, Spring Position Battles: Defensive Line

A position-by-position look at the Texas Tech Red Raiders heading into spring practice. "Classifications" are based on entering school next fall. "Probable Roles" are merely guesses and welcome comments, thoughts and suggestions.

After listening to Tech Talk a Friday or two ago, we learned that the defensive line is going to be a fluid thing for quite some time. Chris Level reported that Rajon Henley will work at defensive end, which means that there's as much concern with the staff with the defensive end position with Brandon Williams defection to the NFL, there's plenty of quantity, but the quality may be a question mark.

Thus, we'll talk about generalizations of players and guys like Henley, Sesay and possibly Graves, if he doesn't redshirt, could flip-flop between positions. Honestly, this could be a really interesting situation as players have the ability to move up and down the line of scrimmage, each playing various positions.

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE

McKinner Dixon

Daniel Howard

Sandy Riley

Height: 6-3 6-3 6-0
Weight: 250 239 237
Classification: Senior Senior Senior
Probable Role: Starter Battle for Second String Battle for Second String

Dixon is the unquestioned starter and there's no doubt that he is by far, Texas Tech's best defensive end. The problem of course is Dixon's balky knees, which can limit the time he's on the field. Dixon is solid against the run and had 8.0 sacks to go along with his 33 tackles. Other than Dixon's health, this is one position that I'm not concerned about in the least.

I've always liked Howard's motor and think he's a better than solid backup to Dixon, and in my opinion, could start for Dixon if needed. Howard mostly specialized last year playing the "Joker" linebacker / defensive end position. The problem here was that McNeill would fall in love with this look for a game, and then Howard would get little to no playing time. With Dixon's knees, I'm thinking that maybe Howard gets more time than not, but I could be wrong.

Personally, I think Riley is third-string, but McNeill does tend to utilize Riley as a pure-pass rusher. I don't think Riley has the size to handle the run and considering the movement along the line (Henley to DE, Sesay to DT, etc.) I'm not sure that Riley is a huge factor.

The one thing to keep in mind is classification of all of these players, every one of them being a senior. That's going to be a huge problem in 2010 and this is something that we've talked about before, but someone is going to have to be ready to play immediately after 2009 at the defensive end position, and whoever it is, they're going to have to do it without much time on the field.

NT

Colby Whitlock

Chris Perry

Myles Wade

Height: 6-2 6-3 6-2
Weight: 281 308 311
Classification: Junior Sophomore Sophomore
Probable Role: Starter Second String Third String

Whitlock is as solid as they come. I'd like to see him add a little more weight, but if Perry or Wade pan out, then I could see Whitlock move over to the tackle position rather than nose tackle. We've all seen what Whitlock is capable of, and I think he suffers at times because he hasn't had a capable backup for his freshman and sophomore seasons. If he can get a few series off during a game without the defense missing a beat, then Whitlock is that much more effective. Whitlock should be all-conference his junior year.

I don't know if everyone remembers, but Perry was one of the players suspended for the Cotton Bowl (I think) and the coaching staff has always proven to be forgiving for indiscretions, although it's imperative that Perry make some improvements on both his conditioning and being ready to play every game. Perry would show flashes of being better than average and then quickly disappear. I'm hoping that a year of Bennie Wylie makes Perry a bigger, stronger and faster player.

Wade still has some work to do before qualifying, although I think (this is me crossing my fingers) that he qualifies academically. Once Wade arrives, I'm not expecting a game-changing tackle, but rather a tackle that is very solid, and sometimes spectacular.

DT

Rajon Henley

Richard Jones

Britton Barbee

Height: 6-3 6-1 6-2
Weight: 266 272 282
Classification: Senior Senior Junior
Probable Role: Starter Second String Third String

Henley may work out best at defensive end and we could see both he and Sesay flip-flop, with Sesay seeing most of his time at defensive tackle. For now, Henley is an undersized tackle, but certainly capable. Personally, I prefer bigger tackles and I think moving Henley to defensive end is going to work out nicely. I've always thought that Henley is a little under-rated, by me, and like Whitlock, I think wears down during a game or season.

I thought Jones played really well in place of Henley last year, or perhaps I should say that I didn't have high expectations for Jones, but he certainly surprised me. It wouldn't bother me to see him start in case of injury this year and he's better than you probably think.

Barbee is the wild-card here and the only reason I'm including him is because he was named the Defensive Scout of the Year, which means that although he didn't see a lick of playing time in 2008, he's working hard and he's making an impression on coaches. Barbee is an intelligent guy (pre-med major) and if he's making improvements, then perhaps he sees some time this year and makes a difference.

DE

Brandon Sesay

Brandon Sharpe

Ryan Haliburton

Height: 6-6 6-3 6-4
Weight: 278 244 242
Classification: Senior Senior RS Freshman
Probable Role: Starter Second String Third String

I think Sesay's better position is defensive end, and with Brandon Williams' departure and the overall lack of depth at defensive end, I could see Sesay seeing significant time at this position. Again, there's lots to be figured out, especially if Henley is in the mix, but I thought that Sesay was too tall to be an effective tackle, certainly has the size, but he was better at defensive end. In any event, things will be worked out shortly.

I have Sharpe backing up, although this could be any number of players. I'm not sure that we'll have a clear picture of who this is until after spring practice. My memory of seeing Sharpe on the field is fuzzy, but from what I recall I wasn't just real impressed with Sharpe. He's been injured for the most part the previous two years and with the coaching staff moving Henley and Sesay around, I'm a little concerned about depth

Haliburton is the mystery here and as of right now, he's had two years to put on some weight and work on his game. Haliburton shows up here because there's no other experience behind him. All of the other players are first year players and will be true freshmen. Haliburton is the lone defensive end that's not a senior or a true freshman. Be afraid for 2010.

Redshirts

Pearlie Graves,
DT

Romario Cathey,
DT

Kerry Hyder,
DE

Aundrey Barr,
DE

Chris Knighton,
DE

Height: 6-3 6-3 6-2 6-3 6-2
Weight: 260 275 246 225 240
Classification: Freshman Freshman Freshman Freshman Freshman
Probable Role: Possible Redshirt Redshirt Redshirt Redshirt Grayshirt

I thought I'd include the true freshmen for no other reason than to give you an idea as to the depth at these positions. Considering the depth, I'm not sure that I'd burn a redshirt year on Graves and I could see Cathey moving to defensive end considering the depth at defensive tackle and the relative lack of depth at defensive end. Barr and Knighton are projects, so don't expect much here.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is the group of players that I'm most excited to figure out where guys figure in 2009. I've made a few guesses here and I'm probably wrong on most accounts. There's talent here, but this would have been entirely a different group had Brandon Williams stuck around for his senior season. Lots to figure out here.

Thanks to kayakyar for helping out.

Previous Battles: Quarterback :: Running Back :: Receivers :: Offensive Line :: 

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