After the weeklong break in schooling, Spring Football is back. Kliff Kingsbury had a fair amount to say in Tuesday's media availability. Let's talk about what it could mean.
First off, Kliff starts off by talking about how the first practice after Spring Break is difficult due to being "out of shape and rusty", and follows up by acknowledging that to some extent, it was. That's a difficult thing to escape with the break, but it looks like Kliff and co. have weathered it well. Kliff didn't really give us much here, so it's safe to assume that while it was a little bit of an issue, it wasn't a practice breaking one.
Kliff also talked about the D-Line, an area of interest for most Texas Tech fans. I've been on record saying multiple times that the DL was not the biggest area of concern for the abysmal Tech defenses of the recent past, but next year with all the freshmen and transfers, it very well could be. We lose 3 multiple year starters on the line and several more that have contributed, and replace them with youth. That youth can go several directions, but it's safe to say that they might struggle heavily.
In a Gibbs-style defense, the DL is mostly there to eat space against the run game, something our DL slightly struggled to do. They were used to an attacking/blitzing style of play, and it showed. There were many times when the nose would zero in on the center and allow the guard to come straight up the field and block the MLB. That isn't a problem necessarily, but when it happens, someone has to beat the block and make the play. Texas Tech's biggest defensive issue recently has been shedding blocks, so for us, it ended poorly. We won't have any film until the Spring Game in Midland, but after that we should be able to get a fair gauge on how the DL is progressing.
Cameron Batson is apparently the guy who will take over in the slot for Jakeem Grant, with Zach Austin or Keke Coutee backing him up. All of these guys are decidedly not Jakeem Grant, but then again no one really is. I like what Batson and Austin bring to the table, and if they can establish a healthy rotation, could bring some major productivity to the table in terms of healthiness and freshness in the 4th quarter.
Derrick Willies didn't play in the team-on-team competition portion of practice, and is struggling with a hand injury. Willies is a great prospect, but if he can't stay healthy, he'll likely be on the sidelines for a fair portion of next year. Spring Football injuries have nothing to do with the regular season, but it would be nice to have him healthy so we can see what he'll do at the Spring Game in April.
Nigel Bethel is focusing entirely on academics this semester, which will either be a very good thing or a very bad thing. Bethel can use this time to get healthier, stronger, and faster, or when he comes back he'll be unused to playing football. I'm leaning towards the side of this being a good thing, as our Spring Football is so far from the regular season. Essentially, how Bethel wants to use his time is up to him and him alone, and if he decides to improve himself it will be of great benefit to the team.
Kliff Kingsbury then talks about Patrick Mahomes and his progression in the offseason, and hits a point I think many, including myself, have missed: this is his first offseason where he will be entirely focused on football.
Kliff says that his footwork has improved, which is amazing, seeing as how towards the middle of the season when fundamentals waver, his footwork seemed to be less than desirable. Don't get me wrong, he could probably throw a 40 yard pass from the supine position with his arm strength, but improving your footwork as a quarterback is always a blessing. Kliff says it all here, stating,
"I think he'll be a much better player, which is scary"
It's completely terrifying that he could be getting even better after a record breaking year. If Pat can iron out the few kinks in his form, he will be throwing the ball better than he did last year.
Kliff also talked about Ian Sadler, who is not participating in Spring Football. I like Ian Sadler a lot, not just because he's the next trademarked Texas Tech White Slot Receiver, but because of his intelligent route-running. Sadler routinely breaks off his routes in order to get others open in scramble situations, and having him around and healthy will be huge for us.
Ondre Pipkins is apparently progressing very well for us. Pipkins is a guy that I'm really interested in, especially given the fact that he was a former 5* DT recruit at Michigan. Pipkins was perpetually hurt there, so if he can stay healthy, he gives us that star power that we can use next to Breiden Fehoko. If Ondre Pipkins progresses well, I feel very confident in saying that we will be the best we've been on the interior defensive line since Dartwan Bush and Kerry Hyder manned the middle.
When pressed about Texas head coach Charlie Strong's comments on how they were going to steamroll everyone, Kliff said:
"He said that? Is it April Fools yet?"
I have one last comment on this: Dang I love my coach.