A while back, I mentioned to MikeTTU that I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at recruiting overall, not a player-by-player look, but at the general philosophy of the coaching staff and what they are looking for in terms of types of players. Last week, we talked about the offense and this week, we're talking about the defense next week. Please join us for our email conversation.
Seth C: Now, let's move to the defense and talk about the secondary first. The thing that maybe made me think about how it appears that this staff has a certain athletic profile for a certain position group was the recruitment of Justis Nelson and Michael Coley. Give me your general impressions about the cornerbacks, from Nelson, Coley, Bethel, Johnson and Madison
MikeTTU: Tech really got their share of defensive backs this past year, didn't they? From the speedy defensive backs of Bethel, Johnson and Dixon to the big physical backs of Hendrix, Keys and Wilson. I wasn't quite sure how these parts all fit in until I read DoubleTFaithful's post about Texas Tech secondary and connected the dots. Those speedy backs will be used on the wide side of the field (Field Corner and Field Safety) to keep up with the receiver running all over the place, while the bigger backs will cover the narrow side of the field (Boundary Corner and Boundary Safety) and use their height help defend the target better. I was impressed with Nelson during the bowl game and spring game, and believe that he has a chance to be a special player for our squad this year. I also believe that Bethel has a pretty good chance to come in and beat out a couple players for the Field Corner spot. Not only was he a two time state champion at Booker T Washington HS, he also has NFL caliber speed and has been training hard during the spring to be ready to compete in the fall. I would bet that Bethel becomes a mid to high draft pick in a few years. My favorite player Kingsbury has gotten so far though is Payton Hendrix, with his big frame and hard hitting body. I don't think he'll start right away, but will be a big impact player in years to come.The other newcomers will likely sit out a year or two before making an impact, but we could see Johnson contribute in special teams with his elusive speed. There is a reason Texas tired to after Johnson last minute.
One position that hasn't been addressed that much is the Linebacker core. In the 2014 class, our lone Linebacker was Dakota Allen, and our only commit thus far in 2015 is D'Vonta Hinton. What type of linebackers do you see Texas Tech recruiting this time around, and do you think we could see some of the more physical DBs convert to linebackers?
Seth C: Things tend to fall apart for me as I try to look at the linebackers and defensive line because sometimes, there really aren't just a lot of "types" like you would maybe recruit. You typically want to recruit a certain size and then hope for the best with speed. If a player doesn't fit the criteria for size, then you try to recruit a guy that's undersized in one area and then hope that the player gains weight.
Maybe the best thing to do here is to take a look at what Tuberville recruited at the linebacker spot, which were essentially lighter high school linebackers that could run. The ones that come to mind are Sam Eguavoen and Micah Awe. I actually very much like Eguavoen and Awe, but they have never really gained any weight. Not enough to take on linemen. Eguavoen is at that 220 range while Awe is at the 210 range. Sometimes I think I make too big a deal about size, but being fast is only going to get you so far playing linebacker and without a decent amount of size to take on a lineman or a fullback each and every play is going to wear on that player.
But Texas Tech is unique in that they can recruit players that don't fit into other systems. If Texas Tech recruits a smaller, but faster player, then they can play the Raider. If there's a linebacker that's maybe too small to play defensive end, but not enough quickness to play inside, then there's the Bandit. Then Texas Tech can also recruit the traditional linebackers.
I tend to think this is the one thing that Wallerstedt can sell to players is that it doesn't matter what type of linebacker you are, Texas Tech can find a spot for you. Wallerstedt's decision to go with the 3-4 makes that possible. Wallerstedt is essentially the king of misfit linebackers and he can make them fit in his system.
So, looking at a guy like Dakota Allen, assuming his height and weight are pretty accurate, he is already at 6-1/220, which is the size of Eguavoen without having stepped foot on to campus and taken part in any offseason program. To me, he screams inside linebacker, as does D'Vonta Hinton.
And this goes back a bit to the secondary topic, which is that I think the coaching staff will make adjustments based on production. For example, Derrick Dixon isn't a prototypical safety. He just doesn't have the size to play safety, but he does two things incredibly well. He makes plays and he hits really effing hard. You could make a similar case for Hinton. He doesn't have the prototypical size as he's a bit short, but he makes plays. A ton of plays. And this is a good thing, that the coaching staff is willing to overlook certain attributes that aren't what you want for guys that produce and make plays.
Now, we have the defensive linemen and for me, I think it starts with the fact that this is a one-gap 3-4 defense and each position is actually pretty specific in what you need.
MikeTTU: You hit it right one the head. Looking at what Tech currently has at those positions and what this coaching staff has recruited, we can tell what kind of linemen we'll see
There are three type of linemen I see Tech looking at. First we have the big boys, the gap stuffing nose tackles that will challenge the interior offense linemen in the middle. This is where you will likely see recruits like Rika Levi and possibly Marcus Smith with his size, guys that will sit in there and cause a problem for the linemen. They will be key when trying to stop the run this year. Some other recruits Tech is looking at that could fit here are Kahlil McKenzie and Darrion Daniels. Next we have the more athletic tackles, ones that could use more of a speed and spin factor along with strength to get backfield and stop the run. This is where we could see recruits like Brandon Thorpe and Breiden Fehoko, guys who are quicker and more athletic then most big men. Recruits like Zach Abercrumbia could fit well here. Lastly are the Defensive Ends, the linemen that aren't quite big enough to be tackles, but can use various moves to get to the quarterback. Texas Tech hasn't really got any commits that would really work well here, but they have recruiting some player that could help with this area, like Jalen Bates and Reggie Walker.
The defensive line has been the most important position to recruit the past two years because of Texas Tech's struggles against the run and getting in the backfield. However, with the additions Kingsbury made last recruiting class and guys he's looking at for this class, that problem won't be around much longer. The JUCOs this coaching staff got will help provide much needed depth that this staff lacked last year and helped lead to the struggles we had. Now with 4 additional bodies in the trenches, we won't have that problem again this season. That''s the main reason why I expect a better defense than next season.
How do you think these additions on the defensive side of the ball will improve our struggling defense from a year ago?
Seth C: Like everybody else, I'm really worried about the defensive line. I think that's the key and there's really no getting around that. JUCO defensive linemen usually need at least a year or so to get acclimated and the current crop doesn't have that luxury. They're going to have to be productive and make plays almost immediately. That's not to say that there aren't capable players, but since they haven't played a down, I don't think that we can really count on them just yet. Truth be told, I think the defense might make a marginal improvement, but it won't be anything significant if the defense does improve. I think there is better depth and I think in a year, I'll be pretty confident about the state of the team and the defense. I think a two year time period to make an improvement is reasonable. If Levi, Smith and Thorpe are all the real deal and Mike Mitchell transfers to Texas Tech then I think we're throwing a huge party.
Same question to you. Overall, what's your prognosis for the defense this year.
MikeTTU: I agree with everything you said above. The defense will improve from last season, but the jump won't be huge and we'll still be frustrated at times. While I believe that our depth will improve, and some of those running issues will be solved, it'll still be another year before we'll really see what this defense is capable of. That being said, I personally have faith this these JUCOs and think they can make an instant impact right away, even if it's not a huge one. Red Raider fans won't have to worry about our D-line struggles for long, as we currently have a commit from one of the top DTs in the nation and are having several top D-linemen looking at us. If Tech can grab a few of those guys, get a play making linebacker like Mike Mitchell, and develop these young DBs we have, we could be looking at a great defensive and championship caliber team in a couple years. Maybe when my senior year comes around.