How dire is the defensive tackle situation? I think most Texas Tech fans have been greatly concerned about this since Michael Starts and Delvon Simmons transferred, leaving a relatively thin and young defensive front line after the graduation of Dennell Wesley, Dartwan Bush and Kerry Hyder (also included is Chris Knighton, who didn't play all that much).
Of those players, Hyder and Bush were obviously the most important, in part because they maybe didn't have the most quarterback pressures or sacks, but they sure as heck helped. I don't have any hard and fast numbers to back this up, but without the inside presence of Hyder and the outside presence of Bush helped Texas Tech play their best football. The concept of that was on display on Monday night against Arizona St.
Committed and Possible
A fully healthy Bush, who had been sidelined during much of the five game losing streak, was incredibly problematic for Arizona St. and the looked unprepared for what he brought to the table.
The problem is that Bush, Hyder and Wesley are all gone and whoever will replace them didn't really play all that much this year. Whoever it will be, back-ups or JUCO players or maybe even a high school player will be incredibly green.
The only player that returns that really saw valuable time would be Jackson Richards, who started incredibly quickly, but faded as the year progressed. I'd most likely chalk that up to gaining a large amount of weight over a short period of time as part of the reason and maybe having a difficult time maintaining that sort of size, strength and explosiveness for the entire year. Demetrius Alston returns as well and he had a decent amount of time, but little impact. Richards and Alston combined for 26 tackles between the both of them. Those are the two players that will lead this team at the defensive line next year. As you'll note on the right, Richards will be a senior, while Alston will be a junior. I initially thought that Alston was coming in as a junior, but apparently that's not the case.
It wasn't a surprise to see Kliff Kingsbury and Co-Defensive Coordinators Matt Wallerstedt and Mike Smith go hard after some JUCO talent to supplement the graduation of those players.
The problem with trying to make assumptions about any of the returning players, other than Richards and Alston is that it's all based off of what we thought we knew about these players when they were recruited and what we may have seen from them during the spring game.
I'd also add that Texas Tech really only needs a rotation of six players. Of course, that's really simplistic and injuries occur and you would like for the players to be at least two deep, but sometimes, that's not always the case. Texas Tech really wasn't two-deep after the Bush injury. It was a noticeable difference when he played and when he didn't. Of course, that takes time, building a two-deep rotation. And I'd also add that Texas Tech is in a bit of a predicament with the transfers of Starts and Simmons. They were going to be the guys that helped bridge any gap between Hyder, Wesley and Bush.
Best Guess Depth Chart
|Defensive Line Depth Chart|
|Defensive Tackle||Nose Guard||Defensive End|
|Jackson Richards||Anthony Smith||Branden Jackson|
|Donte Phillips||Keland McElrath||Demetrious Alston|
|Marcus Smith||-||Bennett Ofor|
So yeah, this is pretty thin and the addition of Levi or Thorpe would make a significant difference here. Players would get moved around a bit and bumped down to some extent. If Levi were to commit, you have an additional player at nose guard behind an unproven Anthony Smith. And as you all are fully aware, Wallerstedt and Smith move players around, so these aren't static. I think ideally, Jackson would like to play linebacker, but if continues to add weight, then defensive end is his natural position.
You can make a case either for or against any one of these players starting or backing up or anything because we really don't know. This is, by far, the position I'm watching the most in the spring and I'm most hopeful that the guys that might commit will go ahead and pull the trigger.