Five Things is a handful (i.e., five) of thoughts about a single topic. Hopefully, discussion ensues.
Biggest Questions Heading into Fall Practice
Practice is mere days away (Saturday actually) and I thought that it might not be a bad idea to ask what are my biggest questions heading into fall practice. These are obviously my biggest questions, but I'd like to know what's bothering you as we start the season?
1: Who will play left tackle?
I think we've discussed the options ad naseum, but it appears that the two options will be reshirt freshman Terry McDaniel (6-7/335) or junior Chris Olson (6-5/296). From my very untrained eye, I think McDaniel is ready to be the guy this year, but I can understand, especially with some early games against difficult opponents, that Olson may be the safer option. McDaniel has all-conference talent, right now, but there's no doubt that Olson knows the blocking schemes backwards and forwards, perhaps better than anyone on the team as Olson is prepared to play a number of positions this fall if he doesn't lock into the left tackle spot.
2: Who will step up as the third and fourth receiver options?
Looking back in past years, the top four receivers usually account for about 69% of the yardage and 72% of the touchdowns in the Texas Tech offense. A lot of this talk about fifth and sixth guys stepping up sounds nice, but history tends to lean towards four guys. Right now, we're looking at Ed Britton at the split end, Tramain Swindall and Detron Lewis at the inside receivers and a mix of Jacoby Franks, Alexander Torres or Lyle Leong at the flanker position. I'm pretty comfortable with thinking that Detron Lewis is more than capable of being the lead guy and I'm slightly torn that as to whether or not the second guy is going to be Britton or Swindall, but I'm thinking that Swindall has a break-out year. That means Britton has to be the guy that steps up the consistency of his game. He's great at a lot of other things that make this offense click, but the dude needs to catch four to five passes a game. That leaves the flanker position completely up in the air, at least right now. And don't get me wrong, I'd love to see guys like Austin Zouzalike or Cornelius Douglas or someone else get some burn at any receiver position, but history is not on their side.
3: How quickly will the inexperienced safeties adjust?
It's not a stretch to think that Cody Davis is going to be pretty damned good for quite some time. He has good size, not great speed, but all you hear about the defense rave about with Davis is his ability to take good angles making tackles. If anything, this somewhat demonstrates his ability to understand how the game is played. I must say that I'm a bit concerned about Davis' counterpart, Franklin Mitchem, only because he's really not getting the same type of recognition that Davis is. Mitchem didn't do anything during the spring game to make me think that he couldn't play, but he didn't stand out either. If it's not Mitchem, then you can look for one of the freshmen defensive backs to make a splash, and if I had to guess right now, it would be Will Ford or Terrance Bullitt.
4: Will Ruffin McNeill be more creative in his defensive philosophy?
This is the $64,000 question, isn't it? I think Ruffin is at a crossroads with the defense and he's slowly but surely building it into what he's envisioning, which is lots of speed, and then some extra speed, just in case. The lone remaining position that needs some upgrade is the linebacker spot, and there are guys that have speed, but they haven't quite yet cracked the top three spots . . . yet. And although this bit is focused on the linebackers, I think there is something to be said about how the defensive line and the defensive backs are athletically and how McNeill perhaps changes scheme to be more aggressive. This is going to be a big spring for guys like Bront Bird and Marlon Williams. They're going to need to step up and make some plays, all over the field, if they're going to keep their jobs on a full-time basis. That means moving sideline to sideline, and McNeill has recruited guys that can do this in Brandon Mahoney and Dion Chidozie. That's not to say that guys like Sam Fehoko, Tyrone Sonier or Blake Collier are positioning themselves to be right in the mix as well, but the philosophy is changing, it's just a matter of time.
5: Will a second cornerback step-up?
Another defensive back question, and much like the safety position, there's the incumbents and then there's the freshmen. Last year, the hasty L.A. Reed experiement failed, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because he couldn't stay on the field. Brent Nickerson struggled to keep receivers in front of him, which I think is one of McNeill's big tenants in playing his defense. During the spring, it was a neck-and-neck-and-neck race between Nickerson, LaRon Moore and Taylor Charbonnet. I'm almost at the point that I know what Nickerson can do and I know what Moore can do, but I'm getting to the point that I'd like to see more out of Charbonnet. I know that he's a bit undersized, however, he has put on about 15 pounds since last fall and is up to 175. That's respectable and if speed is his biggest attribute, then perhaps that speed can be a bit of a neutralizer. Then again, if none of those three can step up opposite Jamar Wall, then perhaps you see one of the freshman back here. Maybe Yashua Williams is the best choice, and D.J. Johnson is probably too raw at this point.