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The Captain and the Yearly Ritual

There was nothing earth-shattering and I think that's a good thing.  The Big 12 Media Days wrapped up today and I don't know that Captain Mike Leach stole the show, but he was entertaining to say the least, and the rest of the college football world acknowledged that you may not like him, but at least he has something to say.  There were a couple of interesting things that I wanted to point out from Mike Leach's press conference probably aren't as entertaining and won't make the papers tomorrow morning, but I think they're important to the direction of Texas Tech as a football program.

Follow me after the jump.

The first thing that really jumped out at me was this question and answer regarding the loss of DE McKinner Dixon:

Q. With the loss of Dixon, what's your sense of how strong your defensive line's going to be?

COACH LEACH: I think it will help our team. You know, there is a certain addition by subtraction that exists in football. You know, guys that are willing to pull the right direction as a unit I think are more important than, you know, individuals that can strum up some flashes here and there. So I think it makes us a stronger team. I think, to answer the question in general, I think our defense will probably be a little better than it was last year. We certainly have the chance to.

That's an incredibly telling quote from the Captain, and I'm a bit torn by his comments.  The truth of the matter was that Dixon was a spot-player, who didn't start, but the obvious implication is that Dixon free-lanced quite a bit and didn't necessarily play into the team concept.  I can't say that I noticed this type of play from Dixon, but I'm not on the sideline or in the huddle when the defensive calls are made.  I thought that Dixon did an excellent job of stopping the run last year, while being an effective rusher. There's no doubt that Leach recognized Dixon's talent here, but Leach is clear that he thinks with Dixon's absence, he's more than prepared to move forward.

But there's a second element to that, in that he thinks (or at least there's a "chance to") that the defense overall will be better than last year.  I know, this is probably coach-speak, and intended to be taken with a grain of salt, but what if it's not?  I certainly think that at some point during a program's progression, it's not always about replacing talent (more on this later), but I get the feeling that Leach believes that Texas Tech is crossing that hurdle.  Two years ago, to lose a guy like Dixon I think would have been incredibly detrimental to the overall success of the team, but at some point we can't underestimate the returning talent.  I don't think there's the huge drop-off in talent as there may have been in the past.  There's talent and quantity at the defensive end position with Daniel Howard, Brandon Sesay, Brandon Sharpe, Pearlie Graves, Rajon Henley, etc.  Obviously, you wish things would have or could have worked out differently, but I don't think the cupboard is bare.

And to the second interesting question and answer, which is actually fairly lengthy, but copied and pasted for it's effect, regarding the replacement of QB Graham Harrell and WR Michael Crabtree:

Q. Mike, when you have the kind of success and the kind of season you had last year, such an incredible season, talk about the transition you have to go through coming back from that, especially when you're making changes at quarterback and you lose Crabtree.

COACH LEACH: I don't think it's really that dramatic. A lot's been made out of it, but there was a time when nobody had heard of Harrell and Crabtree too. It was a couple years ago where, you know, the questions were a little more along the line of how's this Harrell going to be any good? How's this Crabtree guy? What do you mean he's just a freshman? And all this other business.

You know, it's a yearly ritual, honestly. So, yeah, there's some guys that are going to play that most people haven't heard of. But they've been around our place for a while, and we feel good about them. I think they're going to do well. I don't feel like there's a big letdown this year.

I feel like we've had the best off-season we've had since I've been there. I think we're -- I don't know that we'll have an individual player that's as good as Crabtree was, you know, among the receivers, but I think the overall receiving unit is going to be a little deeper and could very well overall be better.

Quarterback, you know, if Taylor Potts ends up being the starter, which at the end of spring he was our front-runner. He could have started for a lot of teams last year. Could have started for ours except for Graham was ahead of him. You know, which that's -- in Graham's case, you've got a guy who has thrown more touchdown passes than anybody in the history of college football and is the only guy in the history of college football to throw back-to-back 5,000-yard seasons.

So it's not like he was following a guy that didn't have pretty good capabilities.

So I feel really good about it. And I think, to me, everything is very impressive. So regardless of who ends up being our starter, if Potts is our starter, I know we've got a good one.  If somebody beats out Potts, I know we have an even better one. 

So I feel really good about it. And, you know, he's a bigger guy, stronger arm, where's the whole experience, learning curve and all that? I don't know. Probably there will be some things learned along the way, but he's been with us for three years, and he's familiar with all the receivers he's throwing to.

I can't tell you when that tipping point occurred or will occur, but I don't think Leach is just telling us what we want to hear.  Leach calls these types of questions for what they are, the process of replacing players in college is a yearly ritual.  It's part of the process.  But I think that this process has become much easier.  The more you win, the easier it is to recruit players.  The better the players the better the team.  It's not rocket science. 

There's no doubt that Harrell and Crabtree may be once in a generation type of players, but as the talent improves, there's no reason that the likelihood of having impact players who do make their mark on this program increases. 

The easy story to write about the Big 12 Media Days and Texas Tech will be that the Red Raiders have an uphill battle to climb because of the loss of two outstanding players, but perhaps the better story, a story that I think most of you believe, is that the climb, nor the steepness of the hill is as great as it was five years ago.

This is probably the fan in me speaking more than anything else, but I'm excited about the season and I can't wait for the opportunity for these players, all of them, to show you, the Big 12 and the rest of the nation, that they are here to improve on what happened last year.  I could be entirely wrong about where I think Texas Tech is and where we are as a program, but I don't think I am. 

Besides, if I am wrong, you can blame the eternal optimist in me.