For every confident statement that can be made about Texas Tech's prolific offense, a question can be asked about the lackluster defense. The 2015 Red Raiders were by far the most lopsided team in the nation and defensive coordinator David Gibbs is looking to narrow that gap during his second year in charge. For the team to make the leap that many fans are expecting, this unit must improve to something between "not quite terrible" and "passable." Several new transfers and some continuity in scheme should help each of these groups improve.
For the defense in 2016, everything starts up front. Sophomore standout Breiden Fehoko and Michigan transfer Ondre Pipkins, along with impressive redshirt freshman Broderick Washington, will hopefully be able to plug more holes and provide some resistance to opposing rushing attacks. Notre Dame transfer Kolin Hill and converted wideout Gary Moore are intriguing as edge pass rushers, but they, along with most of the other defensive ends on the roster, give up a lot in the weight and strength departments. Overall, depth may continue to be an issue up front, but the bottom-line talent level of this group could be slightly better than Tech had last season.
Like the guys in front of them, the linebacking crew looks to feature a transfer in the middle. Former Houston Cougar Luke Stice will join D'Vonta Hinton and Malik Jenkins in a group that must make up for the production of Dakota Allen, who was dismissed from the team this spring. Nearly every other linebacker on the roster is a freshman, so this could be a position that experiences some growing pains early. True freshman Johnathan Picone seems like the most likely to make an impact this season.
The secondary will bring back the most experience this year with four upperclassmen cornerbacks and ballhawk sophomore Jah'Shawn Johnson. The defense managed 15 interceptions last season and this secondary has a good shot to at least match that total this year. Tech's defensive backs can't out-muscle many wideouts, but better open-field tackling will go a long way in improving the pass defense. The defensive backs have the ball skills required to make plays and Gibbs knows how to coach up a secondary. Corners Justis Nelson and Tevin Madison should see plenty snaps on the outside.
Overall, the defense could end up starting 5 players that weren't originally signed to play defense at Texas Tech (3 transfers, 2 converted wideouts). Nobody should expect this makeshift mix of misfits to set the world on fire this season. However, the 3 transfers projected to play big minutes all transferred from teams in the top 15 of the preseason AP Poll; they've obviously got some natural talent. The returning starters will also have the benefit of Year 2 in a defensive system, something that has evaded many who've come before them recently. The offense will continue to alleviate some of the pressure the defense puts on itself, and small but steady improvements at each level could make the difference between a .500 team and one that heads into November with Big 12 title hopes.