The season is just right around the corner and I don't know a single fan who doesn't wish it could start tomorrow. Although the season is almost here, there's still a few things that are left unknown for the roster. Today we'll take a look at the top 5 questions heading into the 2016 season.
5) How many snaps will Derrick Willies see? Cantrell/Davis competition?
Derrick Willies was basically the best JUCO wide receiver recruit last season and many teams would've loved to have landed him. Willies ultimately landed with the Red Raiders and is currently listed with Devin Lauderdale at the X position. The key thing about the Media Day 2-deep depth chart is that it says Lauderdale or Willies. Will the coaching staff have a short leash on Lauderdale? Will both have equal playing time? Will Willies ultimately be named the starter? This will be a great story to keep an eye on. Another WR battle is Dylan Cantrell and Reginald Davis. Cantrell was out last season and Davis showed some flashes of what he can do. To me, I think these two split snaps pretty evenly.
4) Who will the backup quarterback be?
At the moment it seems as though Nic Shimonek will be the backup quarter behind Patrick Mahomes. Shimonek redshirted the 2013 season at Iowa and then transferred to Texas Tech and sat out 2014. Last year he saw limited action against UTEP and Iowa State but with no Davis Webb he should get more snaps (in blowouts) this season. Even though it appears that Shimonek is the backup, I've heard nothing but good things about freshman QB Jett Duffey. He's bulked up since high school and has been learning the offense quickly. Duffey enrolled early back in January and it looks like that's paying off. Ideally, Duffey will be redshirted but this will be something to be on the lookout for.
3) What will the offensive line look like?
I've seen several 2-deep depth charts over the spring and then we got one from Media Days. It seems like there's three linemen who are locked in the starting lineup, Baylen Brown, Tony Morales, and Justin Murphy, but who will the other 2 guys be? The Media Day roster has Jack Reichel listed at LG and Terence Steele at RT. In previous lineups I've seen Madison Akamnonu penciled in with Jack Reichel being left out. This will be a good competition to keep an eye on. They may end up using Akamnonu as a swing tackle but we'll have to see.
2) Is Luke Stice the real deal? Who steps up on the d-line?
Luke Stice transferred from Houston as a grad transfer and is available to play immediately. Stice didn't play last season (redshirt) but he did appear in all 13 games in 2014 for the Cougars. Although he appeared in all 13 games, most of that playing time was on special teams. Stice is listed as the starting WILL linebacker for the Red Raiders according to the Media Day roster. Can Stice help out with the depleted linebacking core? Breiden Fehoko is the only known for the defensive line. Zach Barnes and Notre Dame transfer Kolin Hill are listed at one of the defensive end spots. These two are listed as "or" so I expect them to rotate series or switch when the ball is at a certain spot on the field. Former 5-star Ondre Pipkins is listed at the 1-technique and behind him is redshirt freshman Broderick Washington. I like this setup, you have the veteran Pipkins and the younger guy Washington. Fehoko is a lock at DT and Gary Moore is listed as the starter at RUSH. RUSH is the position Pete Robinson played. The Red Raiders need to have these guys step up as a unit to improve on defense, pretty much the simplest way to say that.
1) Who will start at cornerback?
It seems as though Justis Nelson is a lock at one of the corner spots, so with the departure of Nigel Bethel who else starts? As of now it looks like D.J. Polite-Bray will be the other starting corner. Polite-Bray came to Texas Tech as a wide receiver and then transitioned to the defensive side of the ball in 2014. He was redshirted last season and hopefully he has now learned all the ins and outs of the corner position. Others that will be competing with Polite-Bray will be Paul Banks and Thierry Nguema. Banks played in 7 games last season and started against Kansas, he also contributed on special teams. Nguema made 4 starts last season and had 28 tackles. Hopefully one of these guys will lock down the spot so the Red Raiders don't have to deploy a different starting corner every game.