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2008 Texas Tech Preview - Defense
Texas Tech LB Brian Duncan
Texas Tech LB Brian Duncan
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 20, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Texas Tech Red Raider Defense

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Preview 2008 - Defense


- 2008 CFN Texas Tech Preview | 2008 Texas Tech Offense
- 2008 Texas Tech Defense | 2008 Texas Tech Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Texas Tech Preview | 2006 CFN Texas Tech Preview 

What you need to know:
Ruffin McNeal started to transform the defense over the second half of last season and now the potential is there for a huge season. There's speed to burn on the corners, a good trio of relatively young linebackers to work around, and a defensive line that would be the team's strength if it wasn't for the high-octane passing game. Pass rusher extraordinaire Brandon Williams is about to become a superstar while tackles Colby Whitlock and Rajon Henley each have All-Big 12 potential. As good as they are, they'll all have to fight to hang on to their jobs with top JUCO transfers
Brandon Sesay, Broderick Marshall and McKinner Dixon all good enough to start. The defensive back seven is designed to get the most speed and athleticism on the field as possible, and it should pay off with a secondary that should be as good as the one that led the Big 12 last year. Now the run defense has to be better.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Marlon Williams, 81
Sacks: Brandon Williams, 6
Interceptions: Jamar Wall, 5

Star of the defense: Junior DE Brandon Williams
Player that has to step up and become a star: Someone at the corner spot opposite Jamar Wall
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Brian Duncan
Best pro prospect: Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Williams, 2) FS Darcel McBath, 3) CB Jamar Wall
Strength of the defense: Defensive line, corner speed
Weakness of the defense:
Proven secondary depth, run defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
:
The veteran defensive line has several players to build around, and the hope will be for 6-4, 253-pound junior Brandon Williams to build on an explosive season and benefit from all the veterans to worry about on the rest of the front wall. The team's best pass rusher, he led the way with six sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss to go along with 44 stops. With linebacker speed and a great burst off the ball, the second team All-Big 12 performer should be in for a huge season.

Returning on the other side is senior Jake Ratliff after a decent 26 tackle, one sack season. Even though the 6-7, 247-pounder has the athleticism and has potential to be a good pass rusher, it hasn't happened yet on a regular basis and he'll have to fight hard to hold on to his starting gig. With his experience, at the very least he'll be an important part of the rotation.

The key man in the middle will be junior Rajon Henley, an undersized 6-3, 265-pound playmaker most known for his sack and forced fumble late in the Gator Bowl that led to the game-tying score. Extremely quick, he's great at getting into the backfield and is active against the run making 52 tackles with 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. As good as he has been, he'll have to fight off several players to get the starting job. At his size, he has to be part of a rotation rather than play as an every-down defender.

6-2, 281-pound sophomore Colby Whitlock is coming off a tremendous first season making 47 tackles, two sacks, and 8.5 tackles for loss as the rising star of the defensive interior. An active force on the nose, he's too quick off the ball for most centers and did a good job of holding his own throughout the Big 12 season. He should be an anchor for the next three years. 

Projected Top Reserves: How fast will the new guys get involved? Returning to the team after a few years in exile is McKinner Dixon, a 6-3, 275-pound pass rusher who was an unstoppable force as a freshman in 2005 making 26 tackles, two sacks and six tackles for loss in a limited role, but left after having academic issues. On the plus side, his time in the JUCO ranks allowed him to add some size to his frame and now he's ready to challenge for a starting spot on the outside.

Coming this fall and expected to be an instant impact player is 6-6, 273-pound Brandon Sesay, who originally signed with Georgia before having to go the JUCO route and chose Texas Tech over a slew of big name places like LSU, Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee and Georgia. He's a devastating pass rusher with the size to move inside once in a while. The hype is off the charts; he's expected to be the best lineman in the Mike Leach era.

Agoucha will combine with 6-1, 277-pound junior Richard Jones as the key backups on the inside. Jones made 28 tackles seeing time at both inside spots, and while he's not a pass rusher and isn't going to get into the backfield, he'll be a strong reserve who won't get shoved around. He's a rock in the middle.

The most versatile newcomer to the line should be JUCO transfer
Broderick Marshall, who originally signed with Tech a few years ago and now returns to be a key factor either inside or out. At 6-5 and 280 pounds, he's built to be a key reserve on the inside, but he could quickly take over a starting spot after making 43 tackles at Tyler JC in Austin.

Looking to avoid being squeezed out of playing time by the newcomers is former JUCO transfer Daniel Howard, a 6-3, 238-pound junior who made 22 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. He's not big enough to hold up on a regular basis against the bigger, stronger Big 12 lines, but he could find a niche as a situational pass rusher behind Jake Ratliff.  

 
Watch Out For ... the pass rush to turn into something special. It was decent last year, but not great. Now with the incoming JUCO prospects and the expected emergence of Williams into a superstar, the Red Raiders should have few problems getting to the quarterback.
Strength: Depth. Last year the backups were a huge problem. The starters were a major question mark, much less the depth, and while there were some growing pains to get through, the line is now loaded with option.
Weakness: Sure thing run stoppers. This is a big line all across the front four, and it'll get even bigger with the backups getting in the mix, but the run D gave up 177 yards last year and allowed way too many big plays. That'll be the focus early on.
Outlook: Last year's biggest concern could be one of this season's biggest defensive strengths. There's All-Big 12 caliber talent in end Williams and tackles Henley and Whitlock, but the starting four will likely be vastly different once the season starts than it was in the summer with JUCO transfers Sesay, Marshall and Dixon all expected to push for jobs, if not take over. Potentially, this could be the best line in the Mike Leach era, and it might not even be close.
Rating: 7.5


Linebackers

Projected Starters
:
Sophomore Brian Duncan was one of the finds of 2007 as he finished fifth on the team with 69 tackles with four tackles for loss on the strongside. The 6-1, 239-pounder made his share of mistakes as a freshman, but he got better as the season went on and now has the experience to go along with his smarts, quickness and athleticism. More natural in the middle, and a potentially great quarterback for the back seven, he'll move to the inside to allow even faster players to operate on the outside.

Taking over for Duncan on the strongside will be 6-3, 222-pound sophomore Bront Bird, who made 16 tackles in eight games as a part time linebacker and key special teamer. A great athlete who's more like a strong safety than a linebacker, he'll be expected to shine against the pass, but he has to prove he can handle himself on a regular basis against the run.

The one returning starter to his original spot will be junior Marlon Williams, an undersized 6-0, 211-pounder who finished second on the team with 81 tackles. A speedster who was always around the ball from his spot on the weakside, he made plays on his athleticism, and now he has the experience to know what he's doing. Not only was he a big tackler, highlighted by ten-stop days against both Oklahoma State and Virginia, but he also led the team with two recovered fumbles and broke up six passes.

Projected Top Reserves: The linebacking corps is built around speed and athleticism, but that's not Victor Hunter's game. The 5-11, 256-pound junior is a big hitter who made 28 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles as one of the team's better, bigger run stoppers.

One of the most interesting prospects is 6-2, 212-pound junior Blake Collier, a very fast, very active weakside linebacker who started out his career as a safety and a key special teamer. He made 11 tackles and a sack last season but was never healthy, and now he's expected to be a key backup behind Marlon Williams on the wekaside to add even more to the pass defense and occasionally be used as a pass rusher.
 
Watch Out For ... Duncan in the middle. A real find as a freshman, he made a lot of plays and did a lot of good things despite being out of position. Now that he's in his more natural middle spot, and with his intelligence and instincts, he should be in for a whale of a year.
Strength: Speed. The idea of the McNeal linebacking corps is to get as many good athletes on the field as possible, and this group is long on speed. Everyone will be flying around, and while there will be a few mistakes made by being overaggressive, they'll be offset by the big plays.
Weakness: Seniors. There's a ton of returning experience, but there aren't any seniors in the entire corps. This is still a very, very young group that is still a work in progress after struggling against the run last season. This could end up being the strength of the defense, but it might take a few more game.
Outlook: Compared to last year when the linebackers were a bit of a question mark, there's nothing but upside in this years corps with excellent speed and quickness on the outside in Bird, Williams, Collier and Sonier, and there are two true middle linebackers to stop the run in Duncan and Hunter. This will be an ultra-aggressive, very interesting unit.
Rating: 7


Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
:
Last year's strong secondary loses two key starters, Joe Garcia and Chris Parker, but it gets back senior Darcel McBath, a former corner who has turned into an excellent free safety finishing third on the team with 73 tackles with two interceptions and eight broken up passes. At 6-1 and 196 pounds he has decent size, can hit a little bit, and has the speed to and range to get to just about anything. He could move back to corner if desperately needed, but he's a safety now.

Taking over for Garcia at strong safety is 6-1, 212-pound senior Anthony Hines. While he hits like a ton of bricks making 24 tackles as a backup, to go along with four broken up passes and an interception, he'll be in a battle to keep the starting job all season long. He's fast enough to play either safety spot, but with his tackling ability he's more suited for strong safety.

Returning to his staring corner job is junior Jamar Wall was making 54 tackles and a team-leading five interceptions in a breakout season. Mostly a special teamer early in his career, he got picked on early and made teams pay on his way to second-team All-Big 12 honors. At 5-10 and 195 pounds he has good size to go along with tremendous speed and quickness; he's also a long jumper on the Red Raider track team. He's a true No. 1 corner.

Pushing for the other corner spot will be lightning fast sophomore LaRon Moore after making eight tackles as a reserve. He still needs work as a corner, and isn't all that big at 5-9 and 186 pounds, but he can really, really move. He set the Oklahoma state high school record in the 200 meters his sophomore year.

Projected Top Reserves: Looking to take over for Chris Parker on the other side of Wall is a combination of players led by senior Marcus Bunton, who has been a key backup over the last three seasons and made 25 tackles last year, but he's only 5-8 and has made his biggest impact so far on special teams. The quickness and experience are there, but he's just a stopgap player until one of the younger options emerges.

Battling Marcus Bunton for the open corner job on the other side of Jamar Wall, are four players who'll all get an equal shot at the job. At 6-1 and 188 pounds, former JUCO transfer DeShon Sanders is build like a safety, which he was at City College of San Francisco, but he has the speed of a corner. He didn't make the impact expected last season and redshirted. On the plus side, the former star recruit has two years left.

Also in the hunt for the gig will be junior Pete Richardson and redshirt freshman Taylor Charbonnet. Charbonnet is a pure speedster with 4.37 speed and the potential to be a top return man if he doesn't see time on defense. Richardson is one of the team's fastest players with 4.35 speed in a 5-11, 196-pound frame, but the former star high school running back hasn't made an impact yet and will mostly see time on special teams.

Playing behind Anthony Hines at strong safety is 6-2, 222-pound senior Lance Fuller, one of the team's biggest defensive backs with big hitting ability and just enough speed to potentially be effective against the pass. He made nine tackles as a backup, but didn't do anything when the ball was in the air.

Back at a reserve free safety spot is former Duke transfer Daniel Charbonnet, who made 31 tackles and picked off a pass as a key backup. A killer on special teams, he grew into a role in the defensive backfield by the end of last year and will be counted on to make an even bigger impact.

Making the move from receiver to safety is senior L.A. Reed, a one-time superstar receiver prospect who never panned out. While he's been fantastic on special teams, he only made 39 catches for 382 yards and two touchdowns in his first three years and will now try to find a role at strong safety.
 
Watch Out For ... a steady corner rotation on the other side of Wall. As many as six players will be in the hunt for the job, and at least early on, there could be several different tryouts before the right fit is found.
Strength: Speed. And more speed. Texas Tech doesn't screw around when it comes to finding fast defensive backs, and it paid off last year with the Big 12's best pass defense. There might be a little bit of an adjustment period this year, but the corners can move.
Weakness: Veteran depth. That was expected to be an issue last year, and it wasn't. It shouldn't be too big a problem this season with several talented prospects waiting in the wings, but it would be nice if a steady starting foursome could be established first and then the depth could be developed.
Outlook: The Big 12's best pass defense should reload. Losing top tackler Joe Garcia hurts, but Hines and Fuller should be able to handle themselves. McBath is a strong veteran free safety while Jamar Wall is one of the league's rising star corners. The key will be to harness all the speed on the outside to find a star No. 2 corner to take advantage of teams staying away from Wall.
Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters
:
All Alex Trlica did was come through clutch time and again while hitting every extra point he ever attempted. However, he wasn't consistent. The hope will be for senior Cory Fowler to be a more accurate option inside the 40. He doesn't have a big leg, and has spent his career as an on-side kick specialist, but he could be better than Trlica from close range.

Sophomore Jonathan LaCour took over the punting duties early on and averaged a strong 42.6 yards per kick as a true freshman. He needs to do more to pin the ball deep after only coming up with eight kicks inside the 20, but the number is low partly because Mike Leach often goes for it on the opposing side of the field.

The return game was solid last season and should be just fine again, even after losing Danny Amendola and his 15.9-yard punt return average, with Eric Morris back returning punts after averaging 9.2 yards per try and Edward Britton and Detron Lewis back as two of the Big 12's better kick returners.
 
Watch Out For ... Donnie Corona. Alex Trlica was a four-year starter, and the coaching staff won't hesitate to use a true freshman to handle the placekicking. Corona will be behind the curve coming to camp in the fall, but he's expected to be a top kicker.
Strength: Kickoff returns. Last year's huge weakness became a strength. The Red Raiders use several different players to return kickoffs, but Britton and Lewis are each good for around 25 yards per try.
Weakness: Losing Trlica. He was a big legged bomber who always, always came through when absolutely needed. Tech might be able to replace the numbers, but can it find someone who can come through in the bowl games like Trlica did?
Outlook: There are question marks at kicker needing to find a steady replacement for Trlica, but the punting should be set for the next three years with LaCour looking like a keeper. The return game will be more than fine after averaging 11.56 yards per punt return and 21.94 yards on kickoff returns.
Rating: 7