2012 Texas Tech Preview - Defense
Texas Tech LB Terrance Bullitt
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Texas Tech Red Raider Defense
Texas Tech Red
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Up next to try to find and the right fit is new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman, and while he has the athletes and speedsters to work with, he doesn't have much depth. The Red Raiders played a 4-2-5 last year, but with cornerback a major question mark and linebacker a potential strength, the D will likely go with more of a 4-3. The safeties should be solid, and the linebackers can fly, but there needs to be some semblance of a pass rush from a shaky line that desperately needs Branden Jackson and Dartwan Bush to produce from the outside.
Star of the defense: Senior S Cody Davis
Tackles: Cody Davis, 93
Sacks: Dartwan Bush, 2
Interceptions: D.J. Johnson, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DE Dartwan Bush
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Will Smith
Best pro prospect: Senior S D.J. Johnson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Davis, 2) Smith, 3) Johnson
Strength of the defense: Speed, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Deep Passes
With top pass rusher Scott Smith gone, the line that failed to get any push into the backfield needs junior Dartwan Bush to become a major factor. The only Red Raider other than Smith to come up with more than one sack, Bush came up with two with five tackles for loss and 28 tackles. At 6-1 and 255 pounds he's build like a squatty linebacker, but he's quick off the ball and he has all the tools and talent to quickly become exactly what the defense needs.
Ready to step up and star is 6-4, 255-pound redshirt freshman Branden Jackson, who bulked up this offseason and now appears ready to shine after coming to Texas Tech at 225 pounds. A great recruit who could end up moving to outside linebacker, he needs to be the speed rusher right away that the team appears to be missing.
Back at his starting spot on the inside is junior Kerry Hyder, a 6-2, 275-pound steady rock up front on a line that needs more consistency. He might not be a big space-eater, and he might be a bit of a tweener, but he was extremely productive finishing fifth on the team with 42 tackles with 1.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. Ideally he's a 3-4 end, but he'll start at left tackle along with senior Leon Mackey, a 6-5, 255-pound former JUCO transfer who made 28 tackles with three tackles for loss as a starting right end. This year he'll start out working in the tackle rotation to try utilizing his quickness and athleticism on the inside.
Taking up space on the right side is 6-5, 282-pound sophomore Delvon Simmons, a top recruit and came up with a nice true freshman season making 13 tackles with a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. He could've gone just about anywhere but he's built to be the anchor of the line for the next three years. While he's quick, he's strong and athletic enough to do a little of everything at right tackle.
Brought in to play a big role from the start is JUCO transfer Lee Adams, a 6-1, 269-pound bowling ball who started his career at Arizona State before going to Riverside Community College. Quick, he can be a pass rusher as well as a run stopper on the inside, while 6-2, 285-pound junior Denell Wesley is back in the rotation after starting the final three games, including the Oklahoma win and the final two games of the season, finishing with 21 tackles with a 1.5 tackles for loss.
Sophomore Kindred Evans is back on the end after seeing a little bit of time as a true freshman making two tackle and a sack in his limited time. At 6-3 and 239 pounds he's not all that big, but he can move, while 6-3, 248-pound sophomore Jackson Richards has been a nice part of the mix making 16 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. He's a pass rusher who came in as a top prospect and needs to start doing more to get into the backfield.
Watch Out For … Jackson. He bulked up in the weight room and he started to look the part of a Big 12 end this offseason. If all goes according to plan, and with Bush the main man on the other side, Jackson should shine.
Strength: Quickness and youth. This is one of the biggest areas of improvement talent-wise in the post-Mike Leach era. The Tuberville staff has done a great job of bringing in the talent, and there's athleticism and quickness at all four spots.
Weakness: Proven production. The Red Raiders weren't just awful last season up front; they had one of the least productive lines in college football. Tech finished last in the nation against the run and came up with just 16 sacks. Scott Smith had 5.5 of them.
Outlook: There should be a huge improvement with a slew of very young, very promising prospects and the potential for a great rotation to keep everyone fresh. Mackey is the only senior on a line that should be great at making plays behind the line and better at getting to the quarterback, but the beef isn't there to hold up against the running teams that can blast away.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The linebackers have to be much stronger against the run and far, far more active. Looking to add more speed and athleticism to the corps is junior Terrance Bullitt, a starting strong safety who finished fourth on the team with 56 tackles with four broken up passes and 9.5 tackles for loss. He bulked up getting to 217 pounds after playing last year after around 195, and while he looks like a big wide receiver instead of a strongside defender, he can hit.
Trying to solidify the middle after five different players got starts last year is Will Smith, a JUCO transfer out of California who moves well with great range. Really, really fast, he has cornerback wheels and will be used in a variety of ways, but he's not huge at a thin 6-3 and 226 pounds.
Backing up Smith will be sophomore Blake Dees, who came up with a nice first season making 32 tackles with a pick and four tackles for loss in eight games. At 6-1 and 226 pounds he has decent size in a light corps, and he can be used in a variety of spots.
6-1, 225-pound sophomore Sam Eguavoen got five starts in the middle and a look on the strongside. This year he'll get the first look on the weakside after making 30 tackles with a tackle for loss. Potentially strong in pass coverage with good quickness and athleticism, he's extremely versatile and has the potential to be a good stat-sheet stuffer.
JUCO transfer Chris Payne got plenty of offers from other schools but now he'll be a versatile part of the back seven. Part safety and part linebacker, the 5-11, 188-pound sophomore will work on the strongside but will be used like an extra defensive back, while 6-0, 219-pound redshirt freshman Justin Cooper stepped up his play this offseason and will be a part of the outside rotation.
Eventually, junior Daniel Cobb will find a spot after finishing third on the team with 70 tackles with 7.5 tackles for loss. More of a safety than a pure linebacker, the 6-0, 227-pounder gets all over the field and he's a sure tackler, but he'll have to work his way through the depth chart with several promising prospect pushing ahead for time.
Watch Out For … Smith. The Red Raiders don't always use a middle linebacker, but Smith could solidify a position that was never quite settled last year. He has the upside to stay on the field no matter what the alignment.
Strength: Options. It's not a bad thing when the third leading tackler – Cobb – might be buried on the depth chart. The Red Raiders have a slew of young athletes who can get all over the field. Quickness and athleticism shouldn't be a problem, but big improvements are needed on the …
Weakness: Run defense. The line didn't help the cause by not doing its job, but the linebackers didn't exactly make a slew of big plays. The linebackers aren't big enough to hold up against the stronger running games. It's a stretch to call this a finesse group, but it's not going to beat anyone up.
Outlook: There will be some moving around between a 4-3 and a 4-2-5 alignment, but there's enough athleticism and versatility to keep most of the top linebackers on the field no matter what the situation. Swarming around the ball won't be a problem, but more production against the run is a must and more big, game-changing plays would be nice.
Unit Rating: 6.5
How bad are things in a secondary that was destroyed by anyone who could throw a forward pass? 5-9, 197-pound senior Cornelius Douglas was a dangerous receiver who carved out a niche as a decent target in the H slot, and now he's likely going to start at one corner job He followed up a 20-catch year with 29 grabs for 329 yards and a score, making six catches against Oklahoma. However, he worked at cornerback this offseason and could stick on the defensive side. If needed, he'll come back on offense and could end up playing both ways in a pinch.
Senior Eugene Neboh got five starts last year , and now he needs to be the No. 1 cover-corner after making 11 tackles. However, he didn't come up with any picks or broken up passes. At 5-10 and 188 pounds he has decent size, and could be a safety if needed, but he has to be a consistent corner.
For good and bad, the leading tackler last year was a free safety. Senior Cody Davis came up with 93 stops with five broken up passes and three tackles for loss after making 87 stops two years ago. At 6-2 and 203 pounds he has great size, great range, and a nose for getting around every play and making the stop, especially in the open field. However, he has to do far more against the pass and he has to be the sheriff of a secondary that gave up too many deep passes.
6-0, 198-pound senior D.J. Johnson is back at free safety after starting moving from the weak safety job early on. A great tackler, he made 83 stops with a team-leading two picks with three broken up passes and three forced fumbles. Extremely fast, he gets all over the field and he's one of the Big 12's surest tackling defensive backs. While he might be better in nickel and dime packages, he's great against the run and handles himself well.
Junior Tre Porter is the main backup at both safety spots and will step in as a third safety after seeing a little bit of starting time at corner. At 6-0 and 207 pounds he has good size and is a good tackler, making 76 stops two years ago. Last year he only played half the season, getting banged up with a hip injury finishing with 24 tackles with a pick and two broken up passes.
The top corner in the rotation will be junior Jarvis Phillips, a veteran who made 57 stops as a freshman but saw his role diminished last year making 16 stops with three broken up passes. He has decent size at 5-10 and 196 pounds and he has the wheels and athleticism, and the former high school quarterback knows what he's doing.
The Red Raiders are going to the JUCO ranks for more help. Junior Olaoluwa Falemi is a tremendous athlete who can play just about everyone, but might turn into a whale of a nickel and dime defender. Bruce Jones steps in from Riverside CC and might be the team's fastest player with 4.3 wheels. A terrific corner option, he'll get his shot right away, while 6-2, 200-pound Austin Stewart from Pierce JC in California is a safety who can bring the pop.
Watch Out For … Douglas. The team needs corners, and while Douglas might need time and seasoning, the former receiver has the athleticism and speed to handle himself well. It's his job to take over.
Strength: Speed. Wheels haven't been a problem over the last few seasons and this group of defensive backs can fly. There's no question that the Red Raider secondary can move, however, it has to prove it can stop giving up …
Weakness: The big play. The Red Raiders didn't get any help from the pass rush, and it showed getting bombed on allowing a whopping 14.3 per catch with just five picks. The Tech defensive backs have to make more big plays.
Outlook: The secondary could be the team's biggest weakness without a little bit of help. The safety situation is fine, but the corners are suspect and it's going to be trial by fire. There's plenty of speed and plenty of athleticism to go around, but the defense might have to go to more of a 4-3 than a 4-2-5 until the untested options prove they can come up with a stop.
Unit Rating: 6
The kicking game has to replace Donnie Carona, who nailed 14-of-18 field goals last year with three of the misses being blocked. Sophomore Ryan Bustin had a great spring and appears ready to be even better and with a bit more range.
Junior punter Ryan Erxleben has a terrific leg and is coming off a big season, averaging 41.7 yards per kick while forcing 15 fair catches and putting 19 kicks inside the 20. He's even stronger this year and should blast away.
The punt return game needs to be stronger after Austin Zouzalik averaged just 6.9 yards per try, while Ben McRoy is back at kick returner after averaging a nice 25 yards per try.
Watch Out For … Bustin. Carona was terrific, but the coaching staff couldn't stop raving about Bustin, who was nailing everything this offseason.
Strength: The punting game. Erxleben should be among the Big 12's best, helping a fantastic coverage team that allowed just 5.2 yards per try.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. The kick return game needs to be better, but the coverage team was the biggest problem allowing 23.2 yards per attempt with two scores.
Outlook: The special teams should be fine. The kicking game will be rock-solid, and could be one of the team's bigger strengths, while there are veterans for the return game.
Unit Rating: 7
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