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2009 Texas Tech Preview - Defense
Texas Tech DL Rajon Henley
Texas Tech DL Rajon Henley
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 28, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Texas Tech Red Raider Defense

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Preview 2009 - Defense


- 2009 CFN Texas Tech Preview | 2009 Texas Tech Offense
- 2009 Texas Tech Defense | 2009 Texas Tech Depth Chart
- 2008 TT Preview | 2007 TT Preview | 2006 TT Preview 

What you need to know:
It's all relative. The overall defensive numbers might have stunk, but no one in the Big 12 could play any defense and opposing offenses had to up their firepower and their overall game in a desperate attempt to keep up with the Red Raider offense. This year's defense won't fall off the map, but it won't be as good hurt mostly by the problems on the end. McKinner Dixon is out of the mix because he didn't get to class, while Brandon Williams took off early for the NFL. The line will struggle against the run and could have problems generating a steady pass rush, but the linebacking corps should help pick up the slack with a great trio in Brian Duncan, Marlon Williams, and Bront Bird to work around. Safety is a big problem after losing Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet, but this is a lightning fast secondary with Jamar Wall leading a promising group of corners.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Brian Duncan, 94
Sacks: Daniel Howard, Marlon Williams, 3
Interceptions: Brian Duncan, Jamar Wall, 2

Star of the defense: Junior LB Brian Duncan
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior SS Franklin Mitchell
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB LaRon Moore
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Jamar Wall
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Duncan, 2) Wall, 3) NT Colby Whitlock
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, Speed
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, Proven ends

Defensive Linemen

Projected Starters
:
The defensive front suffered a major loss with pass rushing star Brandon Williams, and his 13 sacks, jetted off to the NFL. Now it'll be up to senior Daniel Howard to be the new threat in the backfield from the right side, and he could have the ability to be up to the task. The 6-3, 244-pound former JUCO transfer has a great burst, but he has to show he can hold up in a full-time role and he'll have to show he can handle being keyed on. So far he's been great in a reserve role following up a 22 tackle 2007 by making three sacks last year, but he had just eight tackles.

On the other side will be Ra'Jon Henley, a 6-3, 266-pound senior who'll step in for Jake Ratleff. Henley is a tackle who'll play on the outside with good pass rushing ability for his size. He was mostly known for his sack and forced fumble that turned led to the game tying score in the 2008 Gator Bowl win over Virginia, and now he'll get a chance to show what he can do in a full-time job after making just ten tackles and 1.5 sacks in a disappointing year.

The anchor of the line is Colby Whitlock, a block of granite on the nose who made 39 tackles with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss. While he's not huge, he's a solid 6-2 and 285 pounds with good quickness and enough toughness to hold up against the run. He's not built to take on too many double teams, but he'll win his share of battles and should be a fringe All-Big 12 performer.

If Henley stays at end and doesn't move back to tackle, it'll be up to 6-2, 285-pound senior Richard Jones to hold down the job. He seems to be ready for the job after a tremendous spring. Not only did he produce, he showed leadership and the maturity of a long-time starters. He made 26 tackles last season, and while he's not great at getting into the backfield, he's tough against the run.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-6, 275-pound senior Brandon Sesay was supposed to be an instant star after being courted by LSU, Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee, and Georgia, but the former JUCO superstar didn't do much of anything making just eight tackles without a sack or a tackle for loss. A devastating pass rushing prospect, he has the size, the quickness, and the moves to be a big-time producer at left end. The hype has settled down, and now it's time to show he's not a bust.

Senior Victor Hunter is only 5-11 and 275 pounds, but he's great at getting the right leverage and he's strong at holding his own on the nose. A good backup last year, he made 23 tackles with a tackle for loss. He'll play an even bigger role in the rotation with Whitlock, and he could see more time at defensive tackle from time to time.

Sandy Riley has been a good backup end for the last few seasons making 18 in 2007 and coming up with 11 last year with two tackles for loss. While he was lost in the shuffle, the 6-0, 248-pound senior should see more time with all the openings on the end. He's not a regular starter, but he'll produce when he gets in.

Watch Out For ... Howard. He might not be a superstar right away, but the pressure will be on to see if he can get into the backfield on a regular basis so the defense doesn't have to manufacture pressure from the linebackers..
Strength: The rotation. Tech does a good job of getting several different players into the rotation and is good at keeping everyone fresh. This is a veteran line with senior backups like Riley and the athletic Brandon Sharpe at the ready when needed.
Weakness: Sure-thing pass rusher. With Williams and McKinner Dixon gone, so go 22 of the team's 34 sacks. Howard has great promise, and Sesay has the talent to become a regular in the quarterbacks' face, but there isn't any certain production for the coaching staff to count on.
Outlook: This could be an issue. The line was supposed to be a major strength last year, and while it was fine, it was hardly a brick wall against the run. The big key will be to find steady pass rushing production, and while there isn't a twosome to match what Dixon and Williams did last year, there should be a good burst from the outside depending on the combination.
Rating: 6.5


Linebackers

Projected Starters
:
Junior Brian Duncan has been the unsung glue of the defense over the past few years finishing with 69 tackles in 2007 from a spot on the outside before leading the way with 94 tackles and two interceptions as the full-time starter in the middle. At 6-1 and 235 pounds, he's built like a middle linebacker and now that he knows what he's doing, he has the potential to be more disruptive in the backfield and be able to sniff out plays faster. He has the smarts, the quickness, and the tackling ability, and while he's not an elite athlete, he'll get to the ball to make the play.

When Duncan move inside, junior Bront Bird took over the strongside job and made 64 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss. A tremendous athlete who's seamless as both a pass rusher and a pass defender, the 6-4, 230-pounder will get to do even more this year now that he knows what he's doing. He's like having a bigger strong safety at linebacker.

Senior Marlon Williams was the one returning starter to the linebacking corps last season and he came up big making 73 tackles with three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss on his way to an honorable mention All-Big 12 season. The 6-0, 224-pounder is a blazer with great range and the ability to fly into the backfield from his weakside spot. A consistent playmaker, he's always around the ball and he's good in the big games. 


Projected Top Reserves: The linebacking corps is fast, but Blake Collier is really fast. The 6-2, 220-pound junior missed most of last season and only made five tackles, but that's been the norm for his career. He started out his career as a safety and a key special teamer, but he has never been healthy and has never been able to show what he can do in a big role on the weakside.

5-11, 230-pound sophomore Sam Fehoko will start to see a little more time in the middle behind Duncan. A little-used reserve last year, he made three tackles but came up with two tackles for loss in blowouts. The Hawaiian is a natural pass rusher with tremendous strength and the upside to be a key part of the linebacking corps over the next three years.

Sophomore Tyrone Sonier got his feet wet making two tackles last year, and now he'll work behind Bird on the strongside. Now all that big at 6-2 and 226 pounds, he'll make plays on speed and quickness. He's a natural pass rusher with the potential to hang out in the backfield on a regular basis. He'll also be a key special teamer.
 
Watch Out For ... Fehoko. He's not going to see a ton of time in the middle with Duncan never coming off the field, but he's a good prospect who could see time somewhere and should get in quickly in blowouts. He'll be a star in the near future.
Strength: Production. The starting threesome is back and everyone can hit. Duncan, Bird, and Williams will combine for around 250 tackles and should be the strength of the entire defense. This won't be the best linebacking corps in the Big 12, but it won't be all that far off.
Weakness: Backup experience. It's not like the reserves aren't ready to play, but they don't have much in the way of appreciable experience. There's a big drop-off from the ones to the twos, so one of the keys this year will be to rotate the backups in.
Outlook: The linebacking corps had a ton of upside going into last year and it produced as well as hoped for. Now the starting three could be fantastic with Duncan, Bird, and Williams all with all-star potential. They'll be turned loose more into the backfield and they should be allowed to roam more to make big plays. At the very least, they'll be great against the run.
Rating: 8

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
:
Senior Jamar Wall is a good veteran corner who followed up a 54-tackle, five interception season with 62 stops, two interceptions, and 11 broken up passes. The 5-10, 195-pound, All-Big 12 performer has tremendous speed and quickness and is an elite athlete, and he has learned how to make teams pay for going after him. A long jumper on the Red Raider track team, he plays much bigger than his size and has grown into a true No. 1 cover corner. Now he has to be better against the top receivers. It's not like he shut anyone down, but he's a great open field tackler and he's a proven veteran.

Back on the right side will be Brent Nickerson, a 6-0, 195-pound senior who made 27 tackles but did next to nothing when the ball was in the air. He was replaced late in the year by L.A. Reed and was relegated to backup status after staring the first six games of the season. Very smart, he's never out of position, but he doesn't do enough to come up with broken up passes and he didn't register a pick.

The big loss in the secondary is at free safety where ball-hawking star Darcel McBath needs to be replaced. Redshirt freshman Cody Davis won't make 75 tackles and seven interceptions like McBath did, but he has 6-2, 205-pound size, great range, and he should be a pure playmaker. He did it all for his high school secondary and is expected to be a breakout star with the smarts to know what he's doing, despite his youth, and the talent to put up big numbers.

Junior Franklin Mitchem will step in for Daniel Charbonnet at strong safety after making 16 tackles as a star special teamer. He suffered a broken ankle in the Gator Bowl but returned to be the team's special teams player of the year. Now, the 6-2, 208-pound big hitter needs to show he can be the same type of aggressive player on defense that he is on coverage teams. He'll tackle, but can he cover? That'll be the biggest question mark early on. 

Projected Top Reserves: Battling for a starting corner job is LaRon Moore, a 5-9, 200-pound lightning fast sophomore who made ten tackles. He set the Oklahoma state high school record in the 200 meters his sophomore year, but he hasn't been able to show off his speed enough and he hasn't done anything against the pass. Now he'll get his chance.

If it's not Mitchem at strong safety it'll be Brett Dewhurst, a 6-0, 194-pound junior who made seven tackles as a reserve. While the walk-on isn't the best athlete in the secondary and he's not going to come up with a ton of big plays, he should be a steady tackler and good enough to be a part of nickel and dime packages.

Former running back Jared Flannel will work at free safety where he'll be one of the most athletic prospects in the secondary. The 5-11, 181-pound sophomore made 12 tackles after the switch to cornerback, and now he'll be a safety who can be used in a variety of ways.

5-10, 175-pound sophomore Taylor Charbonnet is a pure speedster with 4.37 wheels and the upside to be a part of the corner mix. He made 13 tackles and will be used as a special teamer and as a kick returner. With his speed, he can be a playmaker in nickel and dime packages and he should be able to provide more help against the better targets.

Watch Out For ... Mitchem. While it has yet to be seen if his special teams skills translate to the defense, he could become a fan favorite with a slew of highlight reel hits and big plays. Will he give up the big play when the routine would do? He'll be one to watch as one of the biggest keys to the defense.
Strength: Speed. If you're putting together a track team of Big 12 secondaries, it would be hard to beat Texas Tech. The coaching staff recruits small, quick running backs who all look the same and can catch, it brings in big, beefy linemen with ridiculous strength, and it recruits lightning fast defensive backs. However ...
Weakness: Coverage ability. To be fair, everyone got bombed on in the Big 12 last season and everyone has to throw to try to keep up with the Red Raider offense, but the secondary struggled in a big way allowing 242 yards per game. While that made Tech's pass D 94th in the nation, it was third in the Big 12. Now there needs to be more production from the corners with the new safeties needing time to get their feet wet.
Outlook: Can the Red Raiders reload at safety? Losing Daniel Charbonnet and Darcel McBath will hurt, but there's plenty of speed and several options to play around with. Wall is an elite corner who should flirt with first-team all-star honors, but the other side will get picked on until someone can pick off a pass.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
:
It seemed like a joke, with Mike Leach offering a shot for some student to come in and get a shot as the placekicking job after Donnie Carona missed 5-of-9 field goal attempts. In came Matt Williams, almost literally from out of the stands, and he hit 2-of-3 field goals. Now he'll get the first look at the starting job unless Corona can come around. He was a top recruit, but he struggled way too much.

The punting job was the second-worst in the nation netting 29.23 yards per try. Junior Jonathan LaCour averaged 42.6 yards per kick two years ago but averaged just 37.1 yards per try last year with 11 kicks inside the 20. He only got 25 tries and didn't get much help from the coverage teams, but he has to do more with his opportunities.

Jamar Wall came up with a nice year as a kickoff returner averaging 23.9 yards per try, while receiver Detron Lewis averaged 25.2 yards per try. They'll combine to give the Red Raiders a dangerous kickoff return tandem once again, while a punt returner has to be found to replace Eric Morris, who averaged 10.6 yards per try. Wall will get one of the first shots.
 
Watch Out For ... the placekicking situation. Williams has taken over the job and was promoted this offseason, but Carona will still get his chances. The situation isn't settled.
Strength: Kickoff returns. A major weakness two years ago has become a strength over the last few years. It's not like the Red Raider offense needs great field position, but it usually starts from well out of the shadow of the end zone.
Weakness: The placekickers. The punting game might be among the worst in America, but that partly because the team doesn't kick. However, Alex Trlica was a key to the team's success before last year as a ultra-clutch placekicker, and while the lack of a big-time booter didn't cost the team last year, it will this season.
Outlook: The return game will be solid. That's it as far as the positives. The placekicking is a potentially disastrous mess, the team can't punt, and the coverage teams were awful last year. While there should be some improvement in the coverage teams, and the punting doesn't really make much of a difference, an overall improvement is needed.
Rating: 5