The arrival of David Gibbs as defensive coordinator, ended the long experiment of elaborate defensive schemes (3-4, 4-2-5, 3-4) initially thought to help Tech's defense become as dominant as their offense. Now scrapping the SEC looks and reinstalling the tried and true 4-3 scheme that served them well enough during Texas Tech's rise in the mid-late 2000's. In this scheme you'll see four lineman up front to stop the run with three linebackers in support. Former linebacker Pete Robertson has moved down to the END position to keep his pass rush ability in play and add some dynamic to blitz vs. coverage options.
WILL (Weak Side)
Starter: Kris Williams - Jr. (1L)
-or- Mike Mitchell - So.*
Starter: Micah Awe - Sr. (3L)
2nd String: Dakota Allen - Fr. (RS)
SAM (Strong Side)
Starter: Malik Jenkins - Jr (2L)
2nd String: Sam Atoe - Sr. (1L)
*Notables not listed in the 2 Deep: Really only one... Freshman D'Vonta Hinton. Most likely to keep the Redshirt Option open, but don't be surprised if he plays a role in the LB rotation this year. Especially with Mitchell reportedly moving to DE. This could actually be any one of the other LB's, who have very limited experience, but my money is on Hinton.
Key Returning Starter:
It has to be Micah Awe. Finishing 3rd on the team in tackles (62) and really had a coming out party against Texas, where he had career highs in tackles (12), tackles for loss and sacks in a game. With the loss of Sam Eguavoen (graduation) at the middle linebacker position, it's time for Awe to step up and seize the opportunity.
Player to Watch:
Even with the news this week, ever since the news broke last year, this spot was saved for transfer Mike Mitchell. The former Ohio State recruit, highly touted (4 and 5 stars across various recruiting sites), choose to transfer to Texas Tech and sat out last year per NCAA transfer rules. For a team really trying to find a defensive identity and play makers, Mitchell's arrival seemed to signal a new era of defense on the South Plains, encouraging other big defensive recruits and transfers to come to Tech (which it has). However, with all the excitement around Mitchell, and from all reports, rightfully so, don't expect him to start right away. I expect Kris Williams to get most of the starts, at least early on, and with Mitchell moving to DE to back up Pete Robertson. Both, Robertson and Mitchell, are hybrids and look for them to play both positions depending on the situation and this may open up the door for D'Vonta Hinton, or Sam Atoe to get more playing time as well.
Biggest Question Mark:
How does the front seven adjust to going to a 4-3? The easy answer, it helps tremendously! Though the 3-4 allows for complex coverages and blitz schemes, we know all too well the history of just being a little too clever for their own good. It was no more clear than last year, when teams stopped trying to pass on the defense and just started to run straight at them, daring Tech to stop them. In going to a 4-3, you won't have as many mismatches in the trenches with 230 pound linebackers taking on 300+ pound tackles and you definitely won't have first contact with the rusher being in the secondary. Look for the run game to slow down against Tech and more pressure being put on the secondary as we go.
What to Watch For:
The player rotation Gibbs installs. With Robertson and Kris Williams basically switching spots this spring and three LBs on the field as opposed to four in a 3-4 scheme, there will be more opportunity to rotate players in given situations to keep them fresh and to attack in various ways. Overall, look for better Run-D, and more picks by LBs as they drop in coverage on longer 3rd and distance situations.