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Offensive line struggles and mounting injuries provide early challenges for the Matt Wells era

Matt Wells is laying the foundation for a bright future in Lubbock, but some things just aren’t going his way.

NCAA Football: Eastern Washington at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

After beginning practice with a renewed sense of hope around the program, reports from fall camp haven’t been ideal as we enter into a new era of Texas Tech football.

There are certainly some good things to get excited about—intensity levels are up, players are being held accountable and are becoming infinitely more disciplined than they were in the carefree age of Kliff Kingsbury. But as new head coach Matt Wells lays the grounds on establishing a new culture, he’s faced with some difficult obstacles to manage and very little time to get things in order.

Injuries

Terrence Steele: Tech’s starting left tackle, arguably the most important position on this team outside of quarterback, is dealing with upper body issues and we still have no timetable for his return. Naturally, there’s nobody on the depth chart behind him who’s really separated himself from the rest of the backups. Just what you want to hear from the position that will be protecting Alan Bowman’s blind side.

Gilbert Ibeneme: Tech’s No. 1 recruit in the 2019 class, a four-star defensive end from Houston, is out for the season. He was supposedly a game-changer and would’ve earned significant playing time on the d-line.

Seth Collins: No timetable for his return after surgery on his collarbone. He’s missed all of fall camp. The senior caught 32 passes last season, most among any returning inside receivers.

Jack Anderson: The team’s best offensive lineman is back in practice after recovering from a shoulder injury, but he’s still behind in getting acclimated to the new offense.

Dawson Deaton: See Jack Anderson, but change the position from right guard to center and remove the bit about being the best o-lineman on the team.

T.J. Vasher: The team’s best playmaker has been limited for the entirety of fall camp and we don’t know how close he is to 100 percent.

There have also been reports about multiple running backs getting banged up a bit, revealing a lack of depth at the position.

Having this many injuries before the season even starts is absolutely brutal for a coach trying to install a new playbook as well as a new culture. Fortunately, the Red Raiders open up with two cupcakes in Montana State and UTEP, offering a chance for some of the team’s key players to heal up before the big night game against Arizona on September 14.

Offensive line

With the injuries to Steele, Anderson and Deaton, Tech’s reserves have been give an opportunity to step up and establish themselves as redoubtable backups. This has not been the case. The only non-starter challenging for playing time is left guard Weston Wright, a redshirt freshman. This sounds like a good thing, but it’s really not. That means redshirt senior Madison Akamnonu, who was supposed to be a key component to the o-line this year, hasn’t improved in the offseason as much as the coaching staff expected. Akamnonu has been up and down throughout his entire Tech career and this was supposed to be the season where he put it all together and dominated the left side of that line.

Tech’s identity is the passing game, and that starts with establishing a clean pocket for the quarterback to sling the ball around. Bowman is notably injury prone, and if opposing defensive lineman are slicing through Tech’s o-line like butter, none of us can expect the sophomore quarterback to stay healthy for long.

The positive here is the Red Raiders have two games to sort all of this out. Two games to get everyone back to full health and figure out who on this line can actually play. Tech can roll out its second and third-stringers and go 2-0 to start the year, so no one should be in panic mode just yet. The Arizona game will tell us everything we need to know about what’s in store for the rest of the season. Let’s hope Wells can work some magic in the three weeks leading up to then.