Five Things is a handful (i.e., five) of thoughts about a single topic. Hopefully, discussion ensues.
Defensive Players Who Must Improve in 2009
There are a ton of factors that go into a team improving, but I thought that it might be good to take a look at both offensive and defensive players who need to improve their game for Texas Tech to have a successful 2009. This is going to sound more critical than it actually is, but the truth of the matter is that the Red Raiders need these players to step up their games.
Join me after the jump for a look at the defensive players who must improve in 2009.
1: DE/DT, Rajon Henley
Henley was injured for a good chunk of the 2008 season, and as a result, his 2008 season statistics seem very pedestrian. Only 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks and TFL, and this is your starting left defensive end. With Brandon Williams going to the NFL, McKinner Dixon declaring for the NFL Supplemental Draft, the current grade questions surrounding Brandon Sesay and Jake Ratliff graduating, there's a fairly substantial loss (or potential loss) in the ranks of defensive ends. It's strange to me (and I fall into this category) that Texas Tech fans are depending so much on a guy who, admittedly injured, only managed 10 tackles for the entire year.
What Henley does have going for him is a track record prior to 2008. As a junior in 2007, Henley had 45 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 7.5 TFL. That's what Henley is capable of as a full-time starter, and if Texas Tech can get similar production from Henely in 2009, then I think the Red Raiders will be okay at the end position.
2: DT, Chris Perry
For my own safety, I probably shouldn't pick on two defensive linemen, but I had great expectations for Perry, who found his way to Lubbock a little differently. Perry, originally signed with the Miami Hurricanes, decided to transfer to be closer to home and was given a reprieve from the NCAA and was not required to sit out a year due to normal transfer rules. Perry did play last year, relatively speaking. In 2008, Perry registered 7 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 sack. Of course Perry only saw action in 7 games.
Perry is certainly talented, and in fact, he was a Rivals 3 star and Scout 4 star recruit coming out of high school. The talent is there, but the word is that when Perry arrived at Texas Tech he was not quite physically ready for Big 12 play. I'm incredibly hopeful that Perry and strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie got to know each other intimately during the 2008 season and during the summer of 2009 and he's ready to burst onto the scene.
3: CB, Brent Nickerson
Nickerson is one of those incredibly frustrating players to watch. I know he has the athletic ability to play cornerback, but there were too many times last year where I felt like he got behind a receiver. I can't say that I'm privy to everything that's going on in Ruffin McNeill's defense meetings, but I have to believe that one of his tenants is not to get beat deep. Granted, part of the problem may be the safety not getting beat deep either, but Nickerson has his responsibility as well.
There may have been a couple of things that were working against Nickerson, the first being that he wasn't the full-time starter at the right corner spot, which initially went to L.A. Reed. Reed was injured, and then somewat back, but never made the impact considering his potential. The big statistic for me is the passes broken up, which was only 2 for the year, for Nickerson. For comparison purposes, Jamar Wall had 11 and Darcel McBath had 7. The numbers play this out, but there just weren't enough times that Nickerson was busting up a play, and that's a big part of playing cornerback.
Right now, Nickerson, along with Taylor Charbonnet and LaRon Moore, are battling for that right cornerback job. There are pluses and minuses with all three of these guys, and then you have the six freshmen defensive backs arriving in Lubbock looking to take someone's job.
4: LB, Bront Bird
I have a feeling that I may catch some flack for this pick, in part because it's tough to look at Bird's numbers from last year and complain very much. Bird was 4th on the team in tackles and 4th on the team in tackles for a loss. The biggest problem I have with Bird is that there were games where he would absolutely disappear (1 tackle vs. TAMU; 0 tackles vs. Texas; 2 tackles vs. Baylor). Granted, much of this can be attributed to match-up problems, i.e., Bird may not be quick enough to cover certain opponents due to match-up, and that's at the heart of the problem for me. Bird, while wonderful at certain things, has almost gotten to the point due to the increase in size where he's not able to be as versatile as I had hoped, especially because he was a safety coming out of high school. This may be a pipe dream, but the one thing that I'd love to see change on this defense is more speed at the linebacker position. I have a feeling that McNeill is headed that way and as mentioned above, it's hard to complain with the production of the three starters, Brian Duncan, Marlon Williams and Bird, but with the evolution of spread offenses in the Big 12, the more speed that you can have on the field, no matter position, I think the better you are. In fact, if you take a look at the linebackers from the 2009 recruiting class, the two commitments at linebacker that are in Lubbock are Dion Chidozie and Brandon Mahoney, both guys that can fly up and down the sidelines. I'm afraid that because of Bird's increase in size, he is a step slow to be useful in pass coverage and as more teams pass, especially in the spread offense, that's his fate.
5: DE/DT, Brandon Sesay
I hesitated putting Sesay's name here, but there's not doubt that he belongs here. There was a ton of hype following Brandon Sesay from junior college and whether this is a case of Sesay adjusting to a major college conference level or play, or adjusting to a new position, defensive tackle, but 8 tackles and 1 sack for the entire year just isn't going to cut it. Sesay is an absolute physical specimen at 6-6/278 and I think that McNeill made the right call last year, moving Sesay to defensive tackle, especially considering the overall depth at the defensive end position last year (Brandon Williams, McKinner Dixon, Jake Ratliff, etc.). But this year is a bit of a different story. With defections, graduations, and dismissals, Sesay becomes an integral part that defensive end rotation.
This spring, Sesay wasn't at spring practices, he was in the classroom working on his school work. If we can assume anything about Leach, it's that he will give you plenty of opportunity to get your grades up and if a guy is off the team, Leach won't hesitate to announce the move and go forward. Sesay did play in the spring game and finished the day with 3 tackles and 2 sakcs. I get the feeling that Leach wanted to keep Sesay motivated.
With that being said, Leach hasn't made any announcement, and I think it's safe to say that so long as Sesay working on his issues, then he'll be dressed and ready to play in 2009. There's no doubt that with Sesay's attributes, he's got visisions of NFL contracts dancing in his head, and he should. He's that type of talented, but the only way to prove to NFL draft folks that you're worthy of a pick (8 tackles and 1 sack will not do it), then be the guy this year. There's going to be opportunity to play and it's up to Sesay to prove it.