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2009 Texas Tech Preview - Defense
Texas Tech DL Rajon Henley
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Texas Tech Red Raider Defense
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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.
Brian Duncan, 94
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
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
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, Speed
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, Proven ends
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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