Even though Texas Tech went 7-6 in 2015, the entire season was still a net win for the Red Raiders. They didn't shatter expectations, but they did beat them. Many publications had the Red Raiders at 9th in the Big XII, and even though they finished 7th, that's still improvement. However, the thing about improvement is that you have to continue to improve. Here are the biggest questions for Texas Tech coming into Spring Football:
Who Will Step Up To Replace Jakeem Grant?
The Kliff Kingsbury Offense has typically relied on a receiver to make plays on third down for it to function. In the past, that role was filled by Jace Amaro, who passed the torch to Bradley Marquez, who handed it off to Jakeem Grant in the latest edition of the Air Raid.
Jakeem Grant's explosiveness was the difference for the Red Raiders many times, wether it was on insane trick plays or in the screen game. He commanded attention and freed up the rest of the Texas Tech receiving corps to make plays as well. In a post Jakeem Grant world, the biggest question for the receiving squad is figuring out who will step up into that role.
The potential playmakers are already with the squad. Ian Sadler is coming into his own in the slot position, Dylan Cantrell is back on the outside, and both will have an impact in the passing game. Tony Brown and Keke Coutee and a couple of young men who could have an impact as well. However, the biggest improvement could come from Cameron Batson. Batson mostly served as a return man, but he has the speed and frame to be that stereotypical Texas Tech receiver in the machine that is the Air Raid offense.
Will The Young Linebackers Continue To Improve?
Those who followed VTM's football coverage last year know our love for Dakota Allen and D'vonta Hinton. Both of these freshmen gave great individual efforts on a statistically awful defense. Texas Tech saw some improvement in the second year of the David Gibbs Experience, but now comes the hard part: continuing to improve.
I'm not sure of the ceiling of Allen and Hinton, but I don't think that they've hit it yet. They're two very solid young players, but right now that's all they are... solid. A lot of Texas Tech's defensive woes have come partially due to linebackers missing reads and tiring out, so both will need to improve their game significantly if we are going to continue to improve on defense.
I'm still riding high on Hinton and Allen, and I will do so until I see a reason not to. For freshmen, they were arguably our most solid defenders in 2015. Spring practice will tell us a lot about their physical progress, but we'll have to wait until the fall to get a solid read on how far they've progressed.
Where Does Patrick Mahomes Go From Here?
2015 saw "Patrick Mahomes" become a household name. Part of his sky-high potential was realized with his performance, throwing for approximately a jillion yards and breaking the hearts of dang near everyone who tried to tackle him. With all of the accolades and hype heaped upon him, where does Patrick Mahomes go?
In order for Texas Tech to improve, Patrick Mahomes will have to be even better than he was last year. He's losing his best pass blocker and his vastly underrated running back (Le'Raven Clark and DeAndre Washington, respectively) to the NFL draft. These losses mean even more of the focus will be on Mahomes to perform. So, our question is, how far up does Patrick Mahomes go?
Honestly, he's going to need some help. I'm not doubting the ceiling of Patrick Mahomes, I just don't know what else he could do better. His footwork and decision making struggled the more his knee was tweaked, but with his aggressive decision making came a lot of success. I'm really uncomfortable asking more of Patrick Mahomes, because we asked a lot of him last season. This isn't me saying that Mahomes is trash, it's me saying that his progress will mean nothing if the team doesn't progress next year.
Can Breiden Fehoko Lead A Young Defensive Line?
Breiden Fehoko will mature into a dominant defensive tackle. That much I know. Beyond that, looking at the defensive line, I have no idea. Nearly every single person we're going to play up front is going to be young. I expect Houston Miller to step into at least a starting role, if not a huge part of the rotation.
Another guy to look out for is Zach Barnes. He has the frame to be a dominant pass rusher, but will he hone his technique? We need someone to step into Pete Robertson's physical role, and Barnes could be the guy. He needs to hone his technique and get his mind right, because David Gibbs could be leaning on him in a big way come fall.
This is the position group that frightens me the most. The past two years have seen the defensive line play a tad selfish and unorganized. Nothing seemed to work in tandem, and in the 4-3 system we run we need to be able to gel together. I think that this eventually becomes a very, very good defensive line, but it's going to take some time before all of our young players get up to speed. If it does happen this year, Fehoko will be the catalyst. He's going to play in the League for a long time. Right now we don't need a dominant player, we need a leader up front. Fehoko has that potential.
How Patient Will We Be With David Gibbs?
I will more than likely always be a stalwart defender of David Gibbs and the scheme he runs. It's proven to work well against the types of offenses we'll be facing in conference, and he has a track record of turning around bad defenses. The only question I have here is mainly for the fans.
Will we be patient with something that is still very obviously a work in progress? We know that Texas Tech's defense has played less than ideal. Anyone who has the cognitive ability to read knows that. Will we give Gibbs the time to turn this struggling unit into something formidable?
Honestly, I don't know. Fans are fickle. We've been burned by outside circumstances before, but this is an area I will passionately defend. We need to be patient with this defense. It might not be any better than last year. It might be a top 20 defense. We have no clue, but Gibbs's track record and the film-based improvement last year have earned him the benefit of the doubt.