We're halfway through Texas Tech's Spring Break, and all the players are out of school, so we don't have anything new, persay. This isn't aided by Kliff Kingsbury's knack of saying many words while not truly saying anything of substance. This phenomenon in interviews is called "coachspeak", and it's smart to utilize in interviews so none of the battle plans and strategies are given away and no one accidentally creates locker room fodder for any opposing teams, but it makes extrapolating on points very difficult.
While Kliff didn't really say much in the last media availability, he did talk specifically about 3 separate things of note. Payton Hendrix and the DBs, Justin Stockton and the RBs, and Patrick Mahomes's leadership.
1. In terms of the defensive backs, I think we have two spots solidified: Jah'Shawn Johnson at Free Safety and Nigel Bethel at one of the Cornerback positions. Outside of that, I think that it's a wide-open race. I think that bodes well for Payton Hendrix and the other members of our secondary to have these two slots wide open for the taking.
Competition during Spring Football will always make young players better, and I don't think that there's a more competitive position battle than for the Strong Safety spot between Keenon Ward and Payton Hendrix, per Kliff Kingsbury's words. In my opinion, this competition will come down to a very simple litmus test. The kid who can tackle better in Spring Football will likely get the start. David Gibbs's coverage systems are simple and fairly easy to run, they don't call for many uber-complex man/zone combo coverages, and when they do, they're divided horizontally, not vertically. Let me explain what I mean by this.
NOTE: This is all predicated on usage against a very base offense. Sometimes these declarations and defensive formations will switch. Here, I have Texas Tech declaring to the WRs. This will not always happen. Against Arkansas, we declared to All-American TE Hunter Henry, and it worked out amazing for us. What I'm trying to say is that this is not universal, and is a very, very basic alignment.
You'll notice that right here, we're declared out to the WRs. There are many coverages we can throw against this, but Gibbs's system simplifies the matter extremely. The base Gibbs Cover 2 looks something like this:
This is essentially what we'll play 24/7, provided it works. I didn't have enough room on the paper, so the safeties are going to be playing a little deeper than that, and there definitely won't be that massive of a hole in the middle deep 1/3rd. My art skills are bad. Bear with me. In this coverage, I have the DE/LB hybrid rushing the passer, because against Big XII offenses I figured that we'd need all the help we can get putting pressure on the QB. Pressure causes more picks than great coverage, as most QBs at the level of play we want to be at can put the ball pretty much anywhere within reason, and make great decisions. This is a very safe coverage scheme. When Gibbs flips it up, it looks something like this.
As opposed to this.
Gibbs is far more likely to split the field horizontally than he is vertically. If pulled off correctly, the vertical man/zone combo can be lethal. It's also incredibly difficult to do. Splitting the field horizontally allows for less confusion with alignments and declarations, it helps with playing fast, and it give the all-important safeties freedom to help where it's needed.
This simplified and drilled to pseudo perfection defense is a big reason why fundamentals will be key in who gets the starting nods. Which Cornerback is going to have better hips? Which Linebacker will keep his shoulders square to the field? Which safety is going to break on the ball quick, and wrap up? Most of the defensive starters will hinge on these fundamentals specifically because this defense is easier to grasp than a wonky man/zone/blitz scheme like you'd see out of Rex and Rob Ryan or LSU. When we hear Kliff talking about them gelling together, this means that they're getting more comfortable in the roles each of them will play in the fall. This is a huge extrapolation based off of a 30-second soundbite, but it adds to the old coachspeak statement, "he's playing fast, wrapping up well, and making plays".
2. When pressed about the RBs, Kliff talked about Justin Stockton and knowing his role specifically. This is the most wide-open RB competition we've had at Texas Tech in a long time. I'm personally really high on Corey Dauphine, but according to Kliff everyone's going to get a shot at it.
I think we'd be best off with a Running-Back-By-Committee approach, especially given Kliff Kingsbury's comments on Mahomes later on in the video. Each of these guys has something specific that they bring to the table, and if we can get to being unpredictable with them, (it killed me to see linebackers shifting ever so slightly outside the tackle box when Justin Stockton entered the game last year), I think we have a chance at a repeat performance on the ground.
3. A big reason why I believe we can pull off a Running-Back-By-Committee approach is Patrick Mahomes's surge in leadership. Last year, DeAndre Washington was one of the big vocal leaders on this team, so you can be reluctant to switch him up for Stockton, even when Washington was visibly tired and teams were keying on him. The offense is just different with a different weapon in the backfield (duh).
I'm not sure what this means right now, but we might go into the opening game with the exact same situation that we had at QB last year. We don't know who the heck is going to get the starting nod, or if they'll stay the starter. If Stockton, Felton, White, or Dauphine break out, then they'll have the spot, but we might see a huge shuffling of personnel based on the style and skill level of the defense of the current week.