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Why Texas Tech Has Defensive Line Problems and How to Fix It

Texas Tech has been wrestling with a defensive line problem since 2010 and now it's time to figure out how to fix it.

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

One of the things that we, as Texas Tech fans, are attempting to solve the problem at defensive line. We have to start pretty far back, at least to 2011 because recruiting doesn't affect the year that you recruit, it starts three or four recruiting classes ago.

Let's Start with Tuberville

In the 2010 class there was one high school defensive end that stuck with the program, Jackson Richards, that became a defensive tackle and zero actual defensive tackles that made it to campus in a meaningful way. Anyone else that contributed was a JUCO or defensive end (Dartwan Bush, Lawrence Cayou, Scott Smith, Coby Coleman, Mike Jones, Donald Langley, Lawrence Rumph). In 2011, there were two high school defensive tackle recruited, Delvon Simmons and Donte Phillips. The rest were JUCOs or defensive ends (Kindred Evans, Desimon Green, Branden Jackson, Leon Mackey, Cooper Washington, Dennell Wesley). In 2012, there were three defensive tackle commits, Michael Starts, J.J. Lollar and Anthony Smith, the other two were JUCO's and defensive ends (Lee Adams, Chase Robison).

And yes, I think it is important that we distinguish between JUCO tackles and high school tackles. JUCO tackles are, almost always, guys that can contribute for a year at the most on a high level. Doing this for one or two at a time is fine, but taking three or four in a given year almost always leaves you in a tough situation and it becomes a treadmill of having to recruit more and more each year to fill the gaps. At some point, you have to rip off the band aid.

So, in three classes with Tuberville, he effectively recruited five high school defensive tackles, and that doesn't include Richards who was really a defensive end, so if it were me not trying to give Tuberville the benefit of the doubt, I'd have Tuberville recruiting four high school defensive linemen.

Let that sink in for a bit. Five high school defensive tackles. true defensive tackles (and truthfully, you could argue that Starts might have been a defensive end, but whatever) for three years.

Let's Get to Kingsbury

Now, we get to Kliff Kingsbury, who arrived in December of 2012 to recruit the 2013 class. I don't think it was ever the intent of the coaching staff to recruit but one defensive lineman, Demetrius Alston, but as you can see, this problem didn't start in in the 2013 class and now the coaching staff is trying to put a band-aid on a problem that started a handful of years ago.

In the 2014 class, the coaches knew that there would be a shortage of defensive linemen for the 2014 season. Just looking at the players that appeared on the roster, there were few players that the coaches felt like could play at the level that they wanted. That means that guys like Anthony Smith and Donte Phillips, the two main holdovers from Tuberville's recruiting, just weren't simply not looked at as real solutions at defensive tackle. So, the coaching staff put an emphasis to sign four JUCO players, knowing that one or two of the would make an impact.

And to back up just a bit further, Texas Tech really found itself in this hole as a result of Michael Starts being unable to stay on campus to actually play football and Delvon Simmons not wanting to play for Kingsbury. I don't know what you do about that, but there it is. If Starts and Simmons had stayed, I think we would have a much different impression about the defensive line and the coaches wouldn't have reached in 2014 for JUCO players.

It's Not Easy, But You Have to Be Consistent

The other thing to consider is that top-level defensive line talent is really hard to recruit. If a defensive line player commits, then that should be pretty well celebrated more so than a quarterback because talented defensive linemen are very rare. Defensive linemen usually take the longest to mature as a player as that combination of strength is pretty rare. The best defensive linemen are the ones that are already mature. They already have the size, speed and strength to compete immediately. It is why Breiden Fehoko is so well-regarded.

But, if a program is consistent then more likely than not, you'll hit on some guys that can really contribute. When you take just five defensive tackles, then your margin for error is very small. Very small.

So, to recap, we have two key defensive linemen that decided not to be a part of the program in Starts and Simmons. Smith and Phillips were looked at as not quite being ready to play. and I almost forgot that the coaching staff did not decide to honor the greyshirt that J.J. Lollar was promised by Tuberville. Just in case you were wondering Loller finished this past year with 5 tackles on the year. That's five defensive linemen, and I'm sure there are more, that didn't make it to the 2014 roster in a meaningful way.

What was left were bits and pieces. Jackson Richards, Branden Jackson and Demetrius Alston were the only players that were really left to contribute for the 2014 season.

And that where you get the JUCO's.

Let's Work on a Solution

You don't start recruiting 4-star or 5-star talent without showing that you can develop that sort of talent. That's the benefit of having a track record. It is the reason why Texas Tech has a terrific record in recruiting receivers and quarterbacks (usually) and offensive linemen. There is a track record of development. Right now, Texas Tech and Kingsbury has to earn that. I think that they will eventually earn it, but it also starts with a spark. Just one guy can change a lot of things. The hope is that Breiden Fehoko creates that spark, that avalanche that creates something special.

Look Inside the Program

The coaching staff has at least started this process by moving Josh Outlaw to defensive tackle. I think this is a move in the right direction. It's a start. Outlaw is going to be a sophomore in 2015 and he'll have an entire spring to work at defensive tackle. Not only that, but the other idea is that at this point, Smith and Phillips will be juniors and I've always felt like there's still something there. Smith dealt with the death of his sister last year about this time, was essentially out for the entire spring and he concentrated on academics in the spring. So Smith essentially lost an entire year. With Phillips, I think there is still something there. He's a hard worker and I think he gives good effort. I think he's a replacement level player, but the problem is that he will be a senior in 2015.

The other player that could make the switch to defensive tackle is Cody Hayes (and yes, I do realize that he is not currently on the roster, but was said to be given an opportunity to return this spring). And not, not Poet Thomas. Everything I've heard is that Thomas doesn't have the demeanor to play defense and that's not really on the coaching staff's radar. That may change with a new defensive line coach and a new defensive coordinator, but for now, that's not an option. For the record, I'd fine with Thomas moving. Right now, there is lots of bodies and talent that are on the offensive line. Clark, both of the Morales Brothers and Kaster will all be seniors with Murphy and Castaneda being redshirt freshmen next year and Baylen Brown as a junior. Not only that, but Texas Tech is replenishing the line with four fairly highly rated offensive linemen.

Looking to 2016

So, if things fall properly, Texas Tech will have at least two or three defensive linemen for 2016, Smith will be a senior, Outlaw will be a junior, and maybe Hayes or Outlaw will be juniors as well. That's three. Now, the 2015 class already has three sophomore defensive linemen and the thought is that Fehoko will definitely see time as a true freshman, while Broderick Washington and Courtney Wallace, Jr. will hopefully redshirt. And maybe the coaching staff isn't done with defensive line, but you get the idea. Washington and Wallace don't have to be world-beaters, but they have to be solid. Most defensive linemen in college just have to be solid.  We're not even talking about getting drafted, we're really just talking about being a good player.  We're talking about the defensive equivalent of Reshod Fortenberry or Terry McDaniel. They don't have to be perfect, but they have to contribute and be good for two or three years.

I can't fix the hand-wringing and worrying about what is going to happen, but I think that the coaching staff is making all attempts to correct the situation moving forward.  Three defensive tackles and a defensive end in the 2015 class is a really terrific start.

I think we see the solution in the 2015 class and, like anything else in the world of college football, the hope is that the current staff is around to reap the benefits of trying to recruit this in the correct manner. And it has to continue for 2016 and 2017 and so on. The medicine could be really painful in 2016. It could be similar to the 2014 season in that the defense is going to be really inexperienced, but I would much rather be inexperienced with redshirt freshmen and sophomores getting time that have two or three more years to develop rather than a JUCO player that is going to give you one decent year.