Indispensable: absolutely necessary.
This is not a team's most valuable player or a team's most important player, but players on a team that we can't live without. We're going to run through the top 10 most indispensable Texas Tech Red Raiders. Here's the countdown:
Player: Jake Ratliff
Position: Defensive End
Just like most players on this list there are some players where the success of one or two of these guys will greatly affect the success or failure of Texas Tech, and Jake is one of those guys. Ratliff is the lone returning starter and he finished last year with 3.5 sacks to go with 50 tackles, 4 pass break-ups, and 4 quarterback hurries. All of those stats means that he's a pretty versitle player and can do a lot of things well and the reality is that Ratliff is going to need to step up his game this year as much as he did last year. I'd love to see 16 more tackles, 5 or 6 more quarterback hurries and 4 or 5 more sacks. I don't think those are lofty expectations, but certainly an improvement over last year's numbers.
The same thing that we discussed with Shannon Woods can be said for Jake as well as the rest of the list, the list of players behind them is inexperienced. It's not that I don't think these players are talented, but they are unknowns for the most part. I know that not all of these players are fighting for this one position, but rather a list of potential candidates.
I don't think there's any doubt that the coaches love Tyler Yenzer. Yenzer was the back up on both the pre-spring and post-spring depth charts so there's something there that the coaches like. Despite playing in 12 games last season, Yenzer didn't register a tackle, sack or assist so there's not much to go on in terms of playing time. I believe that Yenzer was projected to get quite a bit of time last year, but it just never happened. Yenzer will be one to keep your eyes on throughout the spring.
Sandy Riley was originally recruited as a linebacker, but has slowly morphed into a solid, rush defensive end. During the spring game, Riley really stood out in terms of getting to the quarterback, which is a lot of what Texas Tech needs. I thought he did a solid job and could envision Riley coming in during definite passing situations. Also, although he was recruited as a linebacker, Riley is almost at 260, so he's not exactly an undersized defensive end.
I think that Daniel Howard is the surprise player here. I don't know a thing about him other than he was damn effective in junior college. From what I recall his JUCO coaches saying, Howard has a motor that just won't quit which seems to be the M.O for recent players on this defensive front. Evidence is his 12 sacks last year for Butler County C.C. I like the fact that he's played a considerable amount last year on a great JUCO team. I know, it's a JUCO team, but success breeds success and hard-working players from successful programs are players I don't mind having on my team.
Phillip Jones is the one guy who was poised to be the backup at the strong side defensive end, but for whatever reason he hasn't quite pushed through. I thought that during the spring game he was effective, so hopefully he's going to be a motivated player in a few weeks. Jones was a well-regarded recruit coming out of high school so I don't think there's any reason why he's not play, but if he could step up, that would be great for the Red Raiders.
Brandon Sharpe is the 2nd JUCO recruit and finished last year with 36 tackles, 9 sacks and 7 pass break-ups. I don't know what to expect from Sharpe, I haven't heard as much about him, so I'll plant my expectations fairly low, but hope to be pleasantly surprised if he's part of the rotation.
There are other players who could potentially see some playing time, but they simply haven't been discussed as much as some of the other players, including sophomore Sean Estelle and freshmen David Neill, Sam Fehoko and Tyrone Sonier. Of those three, give me Sonier to be a difference maker, but I'd rather see him sit for the entire year, as well as the other 2 freshmen.