What you need to know ... The defense has done more than
just try to hold serve for the offense over the last few years,
but it's going to need a while to jell this season with three
new starters in the secondary, and two new starting ends on a
line that desperately has to figure out how to rush the passer.
The linebacking corps will be the strength with end Keyonta
Dawson moving to outside linebacker and Brock Stratton back in
the middle after missing most of last year hurt. The pass
defense didn't give up many yards, but it didn't pick off many
passes. That will be the biggest work in progress until
safeties, Darcel McBath and Joe Garcia figure out what they're
Kayunta Dawson, 2.5
Interceptions: Several at 1
Star of the defense: Senior LB Fletcher Session
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FS Darcel McBath
Best pro prospect: Senior LB Keyunta Dawson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Session, 2) Dawson, 3)
NT Chris Hudler
Strength of the defense: Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Proven pass rush
One of the team's biggest improvements over
the last few seasons has been the line's play against the run, but it
wasn't exactly a killer finishing tenth in the conference. The pass rush
has been the bigger problem taking a nose dive with a Big 12 worst 18
sacks to go along with a last place spot in tackles for loss. McKinner
Dixon and Seth Nitschmann have to emerge as fixtures in the backfield.
The tackles should be outstanding with one of the league's best unsung
tandems in Ken Scott and Chris Hudler to go along with backup Dek Bake.
The key to the unit: Make more plays behind the line getting a
strong rotation at the ends now that Keyunta Dawson has moved to
Defensive Line Rating: 6.5
- DE McKinner Dixon, Soph. - 29 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 TFL,
2 quarterback hurries
Dixon had a strong freshman year turning into one of the line's most
active tacklers after moving to the end from his more natural tackle
spot. He's 6-3 and 265 pounds with excellent straight line speed. His
emergence as a pass rusher will be one of the keys to the line's
- DT Ken Scott, Sr. - 37 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 TFL, 3 broken up
passes, 2 quarterback hurries
By far the biggest player on the line, the 6-2, 327 pound senior is
freakishly strong and is fantastic against the run. He started to grow
into his potential at the end of last season and now should start to get
a few looks from the NFL scouts.
- NT Chris Hudler, Sr. - 29 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 4
TFL, 5 quarterback hurries
Hudler has done a little of everything well as a good interior pass
rusher along with the anchor on the nose. He's a strong 289 pounds who
is always on the field and is great at making plays in the backfield. After three years of being
consistently solid, he should be in the mix for a few All-Big 12 honors.
- DE Seth Nitschmann, Sr.
One the verge of being a top run stopping end with 65 tackles in his
first two seasons before getting hurt and missing the season recovering.
He needs to grow into a consistent pass rusher while continuing to be a
steady force against the run to allow Keyunta Dawson to stay at
- DE Jared Williams, Soph. - 6 tackles, 1 TFL
Williams hit the weights hard after his freshman season bulking up to
252 pounds. He came to Texas Tech as a tall, thin offensive tackle and
moved over to the defensive side early on. He has decent quickness to go
along with his newfound size behind McKinner Dixon on the left side.
- DT Dek Bake, Sr.
The former JUCO transfer missed all of last year after getting hurt late
in 2004. He made 27 tackles in his first season as a Red Raider and will
be the top reserve at both tackle positions with as much talent as
anyone on the starting front four. At 268 pounds has has grown
into a small tackle after being over from end.
- DE Tyler Yenzer, Jr. - 6 tackles
The main backup behind Seth Nitschmann at right end, the 235-pound
junior needs to use his pass rushing ability to grow into a key reserve.
He saw a little bit of work last year but has made his biggest impact on
the scout team.
The loss of Josh Saldi is made up for by the move of Keyunta
Dawson from end to outside linebacker and the return of Brock Stratton
to the middle after suffering a knee injury. Those two, along with the
return of the team's second leading tackler, Fletcher Session, should
make this a rock solid all-around corps. The depth is lacking with
Kellen Tillman and Paul Williams to be more than just special teamers.
The key to the unit: Everyone has to stay healthy. It
would be nice if Kellen Tillman could emerge as a playmaker on the
strongside to allow for the option of moving Keyunta Dawson back to end
Linebacker Rating: 7
- Keyunta Dawson, Sr. - 62 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL, 4
quarterback hurries, 2 forced fumbles
The former defensive end will move to strongside linebacker to take over
for big hitting playmaker John Saldi. Dawson earned Second Team All-Big
12 honors last season and has been one of the team's better pass
rushers. At 6-2 and 248 pounds, he's a big linebacker who should be even
more dangerous with more room to roam.
- Brock Stratton, Jr. - 6 tackles
One of the team's top tacklers cranking out 157 stops before last year,
the 228-pound Stratton is back after missing almost all of last season
with a knee injury. He's not big at 5-11 and 228 pounds, but he's as
tough as they come with good sideline-to-sideline quickness. After
originally signing with BYU, he spent two years on a Mormon mission
before coming to Lubbock; he's a mature junior able to handle the
- Fletcher Session, Sr. - 81 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 TFL
Able to play inside or out, Session took over in the middle when Brock
Stratton went down and finished second on the team in tackles. He'll
move to his more natural weakside spot where his range and experience
should help him grow into an All-Big 12 performer after earning
Honorable Mention honors last season.
- Kellen Tillman, Sr. - 5 tackles
A top prospect a few years ago, Tillman has never been able to reach his
potential thanks to a few knee injuries. He'll get one last chance to
make an impact on defense behind Keyunta Dawson on the strongside after
spending most of last year on special teams.
- Paul Williams, Jr. - 16 tackles
One of the team's best special teams performers is a promising reserve
in the middle behind Brock Stratton. He's a physical player with more
speed than Stratton, but he doesn't have the same knack for being around
It's hard to nitpick the nation's 15th best pass defense
that didn't get much of a pass rush to help out the situation, but it
could've picked off more passes last year after coming up with a mere
12. There's more to worry about early on with the loss of all-star free
safety Dwayne Slay, third leading tackler Khalid Naziruddin at corner,
and strong safety Vincent Meeks. Darcel McBath might not be Slay, but he
appears to be on the verge of being a top tackler. The corners should be
more than fine if Chris Parker can handle himself well on the right
side. The depth is very fast and very raw.
The key to the unit: Come up with more big plays and
hope the new starters can keep up the high level set by last year's top
Secondary Rating: 6.5
- CB Antonio Huffman, Sr. - 35 tackles, 2 TFL, 1
interception, 4 broken up passes
Huffman's stats dropped after a terrific sophomore season, but he was
still the team's best all-around corner. While not a speed corner, he's
a great tackler and is always more than solid when locked up on the top
receivers. He's experienced enough to be a leader in the secondary with
All-Big 12 potential.
- FS Darcel McBath, Soph. - 1 tackle
One of the team's most interesting prospects, the 6-1, 193-pound
sophomore is being moved from corner to safety to use his size and big
hitting ability in more space in an attempt to replace top tackler
Dwayne Slay. He's fast enough to be a solid cover corner, and he could
move outside if injuries hit. He'll quickly grow into a leader.
- SS Joe Garcia. Jr. - 16 tackles, 1 broken up pass
A smart player earning Academic All-Big 12 honors, he's also, arguably,
the team's most athletic defensive back with next level speed in a 6-2,
206-pound frame. He hits like a ton of bricks and should be a strong
replacement for Vincent Meeks now that he has had three years to learn
what he's doing.
- CB Chris Parker, Jr. - 21 tackles, 1 interception, 5 broken up
With tremendous speed, Parker should be ready to roll as a starter on
the right side after seeing plenty of action last season as a reserve.
He got a little bit of starting work late in the year taking over for
Antonio Huffman and should be ready to handle being picked on with teams
staying away from Antonio Huffman on the other side.
- SS Anthony Hines, Soph. - 9 tackles
Hines should grow into a tough defender to keep off the field with the
size of an extra linebacker and the speed to play free safety. He bulked
up to 236 pounds but appears to have kept his 4.6 speed. He'll start out
behind Joe Garcia at strong safety.
- CB Brent Nickerson, RFr.
Arguably the team's top defensive recruit last year, the 6-0, 171-pound
Nickerson could've gone anywhere in American with a tremendous
combination of speed and smarts. He'll play behind Chris Parker on the
right side and should quickly find his way into the rotation.
- CB Marcus Bunton, Soph. - 6 tackles
The former running back brought his 4.4 speed to corner and the special
teams getting his feet wet in his first year. He appears to be a natural
pass defender with great ball skills.
There aren't any issues with the kicking game with PK
Alex Trlica back for his third season and P Alex Reyes back for his
fourth season with a career average of 42.6 yards per kick with 20 put
inside the 20. Kick coverage is another story allowing a whopping 12.7
yards per punt return along with 20.8 yards per kickoff return. Danny
Amendola has been a decent punt returner averaging 9.8 yards per try,
but more is needed from Shannon Woods and the kickoff return game.
The key to the unit: Much better kick coverage and a
bit more long range consistency from PK Alex Trlica.
Special Teams Rating: 7
- PK Alex Trlica, Jr. - 13-18 FGs, 60-60 extra points
While he doesn't have the longest range and isn't the most consistent
kicker in the Big 12, he's more than fine connecting on 17 of 19 field
goals inside the 40. He increased his accuracy on deep shots hitting
three of six beyond 40 yards after missing all six long distance
attempts in 2004. He has made all 115 of his extra point attempts.
- P Alex Reyes, Sr. - 49 punts, 2,099 yds, 42.8 yards per kick,
14 inside the 20
Reyes had a huge season blasting the ball showing off his monster leg
over and over again, but he had the problem of outkicking his coverage
and not getting any help. Despite averaging 42.8 yards per kick, Texas
Tech was dead last in the Big 12 in net punting.