Five Things is a handful (i.e., five) of thoughts about a single topic. Hopefully, discussion ensues.
The Freshmen Defensive Backs
It would be an understatement to say that I'm excited about the 2009 crop of defensive backs signed to play at Texas Tech. Let's look at these newcomers in a little more detail and project just a bit.
1: The Players
Leach, McNeill & Co. signed four defensive backs, Terrance Bullit, Daniel Cobb, Will Ford and Yahshua Williams, and two athletes who are projected to play defensive back, D.J. Johnson and Jarvis Phillips. Here's the run down on those players:
What I love about this class is that McNeill has previously stated is that if given enough spots, he wants to recruit a team each and every recruiting class. If if this is indicative of what we can expect in the future, then I'm very happy.
2: Forget Position
I included the projected positions of each of these players in the table above, but the truth of the matter is that you can throw out what you perceive to be positions for these DB's. Yes, some of the players may be a little slow to play cornerback, but the truth of the matter is that most, if not all of them could play cornerback in a pinch and other than Johnson's 171 pounds, he may not have the size to play safety right now. That could all change given a year in the system, either redshirting or actually playing.
In other words, I don't want to have any real preconceived ideas about where they should play, but rather, I'm thinking that you want the best four or five on the field at any given time. That's the thing that I think I love about this class of DB's is that they are all somewhat similar in that they are all projectable athletes, who probably have the possibility of playing a number of positions.
In fact, I think offensive line coach Matt Moore has taken this stance with his offensive linemen. I don't really get the idea that he sees a recruit and he automatically believes that a guy is a tackle or a guard. I get the feeling that he sees a guy with good feet, great size or strength and then finds a place for the best five players, regardless of position. Granted, it's a little more difficult at defensive back, but I still like the concept.
3: Who is Ready
If I had to pick some guys that are more ready than others, I think I'd start with Will Ford. Ford is very physical and plays like a guy that wants to hit you. Being one of the fastest of the DB recruits, I don't think it's a stretch to say that he could potentially have an immediate effect on the field . . . next year. I have no idea how the other safety options are going to pan out, other than Cody Davis, who I'm pretty sure is going to be just fine at free safety , but I honestly have no idea about what Franklin Mitchem is going to do and whether or not he's going to provide the type of play that McNeill wants. Granted, during the spring game, I didn't think any of the safety positions played poorly, but Davis was the only player that stood out.
The same could be said for Daniel Cobb, another guy who has a similar size and body-type to Ford, played free safety in high school, but has the ability to play the run. I know that this is getting a little bit repetitive, but similar rangy athletes that have the ability to play multiple positions means that any one of these guys could see some time.
I think Terrance Bullitt knows the game, maybe because his brother is Melvin Bullitt, and coming from a football family, especially one where his brother is playing at a high level professionally, means that I think he should have the football background to play next year. Aside from his NFL ties, I think Bullitt is one of those guys that has the size and speed to cover multiple offensive positions.
Last but not least, I like Yahshua Williams (I'm going to go ahead and admit that I'll probably mis-spell Williams' name at some point in the next four years) for a number of reasons, but mainly in that he might project as more of a corner, but has really nice height for a cornerback and that could be invaluable as more offense employ bigger receivers. The two-deep at cornerback has guys who 6-0 or under (Jamar Wall: 5-9; Nathan Stone: 5-8; LaRon Moore: 5-9; Brent Nickerson: 6-0; and Taylor Charbonnet: 5-10). That's not to say that these guys can't play, but Williams have particular benefit against taller slot receivers or tight ends.
4: Who May Wait
I hate to count guys out of the rotation before a game even starts, but if I had t choose two guys who I think project incredibly well, but may not be ready for the 2009 season, they are Jarvis Phillips and D.J. Johnson. That's not to say that Phillips and Johnson don't look to be great athletes and of similar physical stature as the remainder of their class, but Johnson is coming from a small school where I believe he played all over the field and he may take some time to adjust to just playing in the secondary. Along with Ford, the fastest recruit, and his measurables just screams cornerback with excellent size. Phillips is another guy that mainly played quarterback for Carter last year, which may be a reason why he wasn't as highly rated coming out of high school. Phillips was an adequate quarterback, but may be an even better prospect as a cornerback or safety. The thought being that if you don't have many options at quarterback, you put your best athlete there and let him make plays. Something tells me that if he had played in the secondary last year, he would have received quite a bit more looks from some bigger schools.
5: Moving Forward
I think most Red Raider fans are expecting a bit of a drop-off at the safety position, especially after the entire two-deep graduated in 2008, leaving the cupboard somewhat bare for 2009. The key here is that there weren't guys who were ready to step into the position in 2009, that at the very least had some experience. This recruiting practice has left the starting job to the aforementioned Davis and Mitchem, as well as former walk-on Brett Dewhurst and converted safeties Julius Howard and Jared Flannel competing for spots. I like all of those guys, but Texas Tech should never be in the position (a similar position in 2010 at defensive end) where the back-ups are either untested or incoming freshmen expected to make a difference. If the current commits are any indication that McNeill does not want this to happen again, then I'm happy. Russell Polk (5-11/200) and Brandon Smith (6-1/175) are similar athletes to the 2009 class. I think the 2010 class is going to be at least 25 deep so I think you'll see similar numbers to last year in terms of recruits. That's the way to build a successful program.