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Texas Tech's Incredible Shrinking Linebackers

Does size matter at the linebacker position? How Texas Tech's linebackers some how shrank while Tommy Tuberville was the head coach.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

An excellent discussion broke out in the comments about the Chris Payne post about the size of Texas Tech linebackers. In that post, I found it interesting that Payne was a guy that was at the linebacker spot, on three different levels, high school, JUCO, and college, but a handful of coaches, but has never weighed above 190 pounds. Payne is an anomaly in that he is relatively small compared to other linebackers.

The idea of course is that Payne is undersized, but has competed at a very high level. The question is if Payne, standing at 5'10" and 187 pounds is really big enough to play that linebacker/safety spot, the Raider. Payne is supposed to be sharing this spot with Terrance Bullitt, who is 6-2/220, who seems more normal sized in terms of that Raider linebacker position.

I left out the Bandit spot since that's really an outside linebacker or defensive end spot. Branden Jackson is big enough at 248 for the most part, but Pete Robertson is probably a bit undersized for a defensive end or outside linebacker at 220. These are weights that are from the beginning of the 2012 season and they haven't been updated in over a year. There's a lot that can change with those weights, but it is all we have right now.

What I did is try to pull the 2013 spring two-deep for Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St. and Kansas St. I would have done more, but I just ran out of time and I thought this was good enough. It was more than a handful of players and it was pretty current. Also, I don't know if I messed up the OU data as I think there were only two linebacker spots and could have sworn they were going to a 3-4 type of defense. Rather than try to guess, I just took the two linebacker spots (middle and strong).

Average Linebacker Height & Weight
Team Height Weight
UT 6'2" (74.17) 235.17
OU 6'1" (73.25) 225.25
OSU 6'1" (73.00) 228.67
KSU 6'0" (72.83) 229.67

Now let's take a look at Texas Tech's incredible shrinking linebackers. These are just the starters for the last game of each year and the 2013 is the current depth chart, sans the Bandit spot:

Texas Tech Average Linebacker Height & Weight 2010-2013
Team Height Weight
TTU 2010 6'2" (74.33) 243.00
TTU 2011 6'0" (72.50) 215.00
TTU 2012 6'1" (73.33) 216.33
TTU 2013 6'0" (72.83) 212.00

Before we get to some discussion, I want to acknowledge two thoughts. The first thought is the discussion of that Zach Thomas was undersized, so it's not a problem. This is a similar discussion with Wes Welker and it always seems to be to undermine the other physical attributes that Thomas did have that helped lead him to a probably Hall of Fame career. Maybe I'm in the minority on this, but I do believe that Thomas was a physically gifted human being. Maybe not gifted like we think, but maybe gifted with the ability to read and dissect a play faster than anyone else. That is a real physical attribute that makes football players better.

The second thought is the discussion from the comments from the Payne post was the thought that because the coaching will be better, the linebackers will be better. I am hopeful of that too and from what I saw during the spring game, I think there is a very good chance of this becoming true. With that being said, I don't think that anyone thinks the coaching is bad or doesn't have faith in the coaching staff without having even played a game. I think this is changing the argument a bit. You can believe that the coaches that are in place are going to do a great job, but you can also think that undersized linebackers are problematic. You can also believe that the coaches are going to be great and undersized linebackers are just fine. This particular post has more to do with the size of linebackers rather than the coaching because we really haven't had the ability to review on a game-by-game basis the coaching.

On some level, I think size does matter (TWSS). I don't think there's really any way to avoid that unless schematically, you're just better than your opponent, sorta like what TCU is able to do with their 4-2-5. Still, it is pretty dramatic to see the drop in size from Tuberville's first year to his second year and third year.

I should also point out a couple of things. Texas Tech was 69th in rushing defense in 2010, 120th in 2011 and 74th in 2012. Texas and Oklahoma had the 8th and 9th worst rushing defenses in the Big 12 last year, while the conference was led by TCU, Kansas St. and Oklahoma St.

Theoretically, I think I agreed with what Tuberville was trying to do. I liked the idea of smaller linebackers to try to combat the wide open spread offenses of the Big 12. This made sense to me. I think what happened was that at some point, the Big 12 went from a predominantly passing conference to a conference that is running the ball quite a bit more than when Tuberville arrived. The Big 12 seemingly went from a pass oriented conference with UT, OU, Baylor, Texas Tech and those sorts of teams in the South division that passed the ball a lot to teams that became more balanced over the course of Tuberville's tenure. I suppose this is the theme of Tuberville in that he was always behind the curve.

I didn't have time to do the math on the thought that the Big 12 became a more balanced conference, but it certainly feels that way.

* In 2009 the year before Tuberville became Texas Tech's head coach, the Big 12 didn't have any teams rush for more than 200 yards a game (Oklahoma St. led with 187 YPG).
* In 2010, Nebraska and Kansas St. averaged 200 yards a game.
* In 2011, Missouri, Baylor, Texas and Texas A&M averaged 200 yards rushing per game (that was with 12 teams).
* And finally, in 2012, four teams averaged 200 yards a game, including Baylor, Oklahoma St., Kansas and Kansas St. (KSU was at 194 and I'm counting them because that's really close).

The Big 12 went from zero teams rushing for more than 200 yards a game to 40% of the conference essentially rushing for 200 yards a game during Tuberville's tenure.

It happened right in front of his eyes.

The passing game is still a major factor in the Big 12, but now that I try to reconsider where my thinking was wrong, and Tuberville's too (there really weren't a lot of people criticizing the smaller linebackers at the time if I recall correctly) was that three smaller linebackers is definitely problematic. Having one guy that can maybe fly up and down the field is fine, but maybe the point is that there has to be some size at the middle and weak linebacker spots otherwise a team is just going to be run over by opposing defense.

And now I try to look forward and I'm not sure what to think. I don't think that Matt Wallerstedt and Mike Smith are going to sit back and play smaller guys and I am also sure that the weights of some of those players listed on the two-deep have changed a bit, so maybe these weights will improve. You should know me well enough to know that I don't believe in absolutes and I don't believe that if linebackers are bigger that they will absolutely be better. Case in point would be if you look at TCU's depth chart, they're linebackers are in that 220 pound range and they were tops in the Big 12 in rushing defense in 2012. I would hypothesize that most teams need linebackers in the 235 range, especially in the middle and at the weakside spots. The strongside linebacker can be that rangy linebacker that can get sideline to sideline and could be in that 215 range.