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2010 Texas Tech Preview - Defense
Texas Tech NT Colby Whitlock
Texas Tech NT Colby Whitlock
Posted May 31, 2010 2010 Preview - Texas Tech Red Raider Defense

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Preview 2010 - Defense

- 2010 Texas Tech Preview | 2010 Texas Tech Offense
- 2010 Texas Tech Defense | 2010 Texas Tech Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know: Ruffin McNeill was a beloved defensive coordinator who did a fantastic job with the Red Raiders. While he made them aggressive and delivered a phenomenal pass rush, the plan was to read and react and bend without breaking. The new 3-4 scheme will be all about speed and quickness with new defensive coordinator James Willis bringing more blitzes from different angles taking a few more chances. The secondary will rely on corners who’ll sit on an island rather than work in a scheme that keeps everything in front of them, while the front seven will shift around as needed to fit the opponent. Tommy Tuberville likes small, speedy linebackers, and that’s what he’ll have as the scheme will more often than not uses an outside linebacker, with last year’s star in the middle, Brian Duncan, working as a hybrid.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Brian Duncan, 88
Sacks: Colby Whitlock, 3
Interceptions: Franklin Mitchem, LaRon Moore, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB/DE Brian Duncan
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT Myles Wade
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman CB Jarvis Phillips
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Colby Whitlock
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Duncan, 2) Whitlock, 3) LB Bront Bird
Strength of the defense: Speed and Quickness, Experience
Weakness of the defense: Pure Shutdown Corners, Proven Line Depth

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Is Brian Duncan a defensive end? A middle linebacker? An outside linebacker? Depending on the style of defense the Red Raiders run, moving back and forth between a 3-4 and a 4-3, Duncan will work as sort of a hybrid on the outside to utilize his experience and pass rushing ability. The 6-1, 240-pound senior led the team with 88 tackles with seven tackles for loss with five broken up passes spending all of last year in the middle, but the new coaching staff wants him closer to the line where he can be more disruptive. He has the smart, the quickness, and the experience to be versatile enough to do what the defense needs him to depending on the gameplan.

Back to his spot in the middle of the line will be senior Colby Whitlock, a 6-2, 287-pound senior who made 45 tackles with three sacks and eight tackles for loss in an impressive year. An excellent two-gap tackle who can get into the backfield in a hurry or hold up against the run, he’s too quick and too strong for most mediocre linemen. He’s not necessarily going to sit in the middle of a 3-4 and not move, but he can be used as an anchor once he returns fine from a jaw injury.

There are blocks of granite on the inside, and there’s 6-2, 340-pound Myles Wade , a huge inside presence who made two tackles in his four games of action. Originally an Oregon Duck, he ended up having to go the JUCO route to Texas Tech and has all the ability and all the tools to be great on the inside either as a reserve behind Colby Whitlock on the nose or as a one-gap tackle in a 4-3.

Depending on the style and the scheme, 6-3, 255-pound Kerry Hyder will end up serving as a key pass rusher. Perfect for what the new coaching staff wants to do, he’s a tweener-type who could turn out to be a whale of a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level if he keeps progressing. He’s extremely athletic for his size with the potential to be a dominant pass rusher if Brian Duncan turns into a force on the other side.

Projected Top Reserves: Former Tennessee Volunteer Donald Langley is expected to be a key part of the rotation at tackle. While not built for the nose, he’s a 4-3 inside defender with 6-2, 275-pound size and the talent to shine as an interior pass rusher. The junior was a big-time recruit coming out of high school and he should grow into the role with a little bit of experience.

While redshirt freshman Christopher Knighton wasn’t highly recruited, he’s showing off just enough skills to be a part of the end rotation working with Kerry Hyder. Not an elite athlete, the 6-2, 240-pounder has a decent motor and just enough quickness to potentially grow into a solid pass rusher. He’s a hybrid type who should play a variety of roles in the aggressive defense.

At 6-1 and 296 pounds, senior Briton Barbee has the size for the nose with great strength and a good attitude, but he has yet to do much of anything outside of practices. He’s built for the interior and he’ll be counted on to work on the nose with Colby Whitlock, but he has to prove he can play.

Watch Out For … Hyder. The movement of Duncan to an end/outside linebacker will get all the attention, and that includes from opposing blocking schemes. With a little bit of time, Hyder could be the one who flourishes with a great first step. If he can grow into a closer, he could be one of the team’s biggest surprises.
Strength: The scheme. The new coaching staff is going to make up for the lack of overall experience up front by trying to bring the heat from all four spots. The ends will get a chance to pin their ears back to get to the quarterback, while the tackles will be allowed to do what they must to get into the backfield.
Weakness: Brandon Sharpe, Daniel Howard, and Rajon Henley. Texas Tech finished fourth in the nation in sacks coming up with 41, and Sharpe, Howard, and Henley combined for 28 of them. Duncan and Hyder will be more than fine on the outside, but it’s asking a lot to replace all the lost production.
Outlook: Depending on what the coaching staff wants to run, there are several decent prospect for all the spots. There’s little to no developed depth and the defense has to hope for a slew of redshirt freshmen to be ready for primetime, but there are enough options to play around with to find the right fit. As long as the tackles stay healthy and hold up, the ends will do the rest.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: Assuming Brian Duncan stays at defensive end/outside linebacker and doesn’t go back to his old job in the middle, 6-3, 236-pound senior Bront Bird will be the team’s top inside linebacker. The veteran had a decent 2009 making 56 tackles with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss, and he turned into a decent pass rusher who occasionally got pressure in the backfield. A tremendous athlete who’s tailor-made for the new more aggressive scheme, he could move around a bit and be used on the outside as a consistent threat to get to the quarterback.

5-11, 220-pound Sam Fehoko got a little bit of playing time throughout last year making 19 tackles with a tackle for loss and a recovered fumble, and now he should be a decent pass rusher who’ll be turned loose from the outside. A high school defensive end, the junior from Hawaii has the toughness and strength to play on the inside and the quickness to star outside.

Built more like a safety than a linebacker, the 6-1, 208-pound Julius Howard will work on the outside after making 29 tackles with a tackles for loss and two broken up passes. A nice open field tackler, he plays bigger than his size and has the burst to chase down the ball-carrier and come up with the big play. An interesting athlete with the potential to be used anywhere in the linebacking corps, he could be a statistical superstar with a lot of help from the rest of the group freeing him up to make plays.

Projected Top Reserves: Among the reserves, junior Tyrone Sonier is the most experienced option of the lot even though he only made four tackles in his three games of work. The 6-2, 225-pounder has nice raw skills and has shown a burst off the ball in practices, but he has yet to show what he can do on a regular basis on the field. He’ll be a part of a rotation with Bront Bird on the outside.

6-2, 203-pound redshirt freshman Brandon Mahoney was originally an Oklahoma Sooner before changing his choice to Texas Tech late in the 2009 recruiting game. While he’s not all that big, he’s a fluid athlete who should find time on the outside in a rotation with Sam Fehoko. A top-ranked recruit with a world of upside and talent, he’ll be a big part of the defensive mix.

Originally a safety, redshirt freshman Daniel Cobb has made the transition to linebacker over the last year and now will be used at outside linebacker behind Julius Howard. Extremely fast, he should be a blazer into the backfield and a disruptive force who could turn into a pass rushing specialist. He’ll flourish in a 3-4 alignment.

Watch Out For … Fehoko … again. He was expected to blow up last year, too, as a big part of the rotation, and while he was fine, he didn’t do nearly enough. Now he’s in a more natural position and he’ll be asked to play to his strength; his pass rushing ability.
Strength: Quickness. Tommy Tuberville’s Auburn teams made a regular habit out of using safety-sized linebackers who could fly all over the field, and he’s doing the same again putting a premium on speed over bulk. Players like Cobb, Howard, and Mahoney can all move on the outside.
Weakness: Veterans. With Brian Duncan moving to the line, the linebacking corps will have to hope for a steady rotation at all three spots to make up for a lack of overall experience. If Bird gets hurt, it’s uh-oh time.
Outlook: The versatility will be there to shift back and forth from a 4-3 to a 3-4 depending on how much speed the coaching staff wants to put on the outside. Last year’s linebacking corps was a rock, and while it might not be a tough against the run with Duncan moving out of the middle, it should be more disruptive.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: Possibly the biggest position to watch for the Red Raiders will be left cornerback where Jamar Wall is gone and redshirt freshman Jarvis Phillips is in. The 6-0, 189-pounder might not be polished and there will be several big mistakes from time to time, but he has tremendous speed and athleticism and could grow into a star over the next four years. The former high school quarterback might not be ready to handle everyone’s No. 1 receiver, but he’ll get a chance to grow into the position.

Trying to get back from a broken leg is LaRon Moore , a 5-9, 200-pound flash of lightning who set the Oklahoma state high school record in the 200 meters. He finally showed what he could do on the field at the right corner spot making 42 tackles with two interceptions and six broken up passes. As soon as he gets back to 100% he’ll be the team’s top lockdown corner, and he’ll be counted on to handle everyone’s speed receiver. He took some great steps last year, and now it’s time to become a special playmaker.

Back after spending most of last year starting at strong safety is senior Franklin Mitchem , a 6-2, 198-pound veteran who finished fifth on the team with 57 tackles with two interceptions and a team-leading three recovered fumbles. Staying healthy has been a problem, missing a little time last year and suffering a broken ankle in the 2008 Gator Bowl, but he’s aggressive, hits like a ton of bricks, and is decent in coverage. He might not be a special player, but he’s just solid enough to hold down the starting job again.

Junior Cody Davis came up with a strong first year as the starting free safety finishing second on the team with 81 tackles and six broken up passes. With 6-2, 200-pound size and unlimited range, he’s a tremendous talent who’s a better football player than a measureables defender. He might not have next-level raw skills, he makes up for by knowing what he’s supposed to do.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Will Ford had a nice first year making 22 tackles with a pick and two quarterback hurries blitzing from the outside, and while he was originally a safety, he has the speed and ability to work on the outside, too. At 6-1 and 186 pounds, he has good size and cut-on-a-dime quickness, but he’ll need time to learn how to handle the position. If nothing else, he’ll be a whale of a nickel and dime defender.

Redshirt freshman Terrance Bullitt will see the field soon; he’s too good to not get plenty of playing time. At 6-3 and 182 pounds he’s built like a typical Texas Tech wide receiver, but with good hitting ability and great range he should be a star safety working in a rotation with Franklin Mitchem. He’ll take over the job next year.

6-0, 193-pound junior Brett Dewhurst isn’t all that fast and he doesn’t pack a huge pop, but he’s a good part of the equation seeing starting time in four games at strong safety and finishing with 26 tackles and four broken up passes. The former walk-on is a good tackler who’s great against the run when he gets his chance, and

6-0, 170-pound sophomore D.J. Johnson wasn’t expected to do much when he came to Lubbock, he wasn’t exactly a top recruit, but he managed to show off tremendous speed last year making 24 tackles with a pick and six interceptions. With 4.4 wheels, the high school runner quickly turned into a natural defensive back and now will see time in nickel and dime packages as well as at corner along with Jarvis Phillips.

Watch Out For … the coaching staff to look for corners who can fly. For the defense to work like Tommy Tuberville would like, he needs corners who can sit on an island and take away their part of the field. There are some great athletes who’ll be tried out to see who can handle the work.
Strength: Options. The Red Raiders have several good athletes combining with solid veterans to come up with a good mix … potentially. Davis, Mitchem, and Moore are seasoned pros who know what they’re doing, and the young prospects are big with excellent upside.
Weakness: The right fit … potentially. For this to work, the corners have to be able to hold their own and it’s not a sure thing that the Red Raiders have the type of shut down playmakers needed. The safeties aren’t really built to do too much in pass coverage, spending more time to limit the big play, and now they might have to roll over more than they did last year.
Outlook: The old regime had the defensive backs keep everything in front of them and put a premium on not getting beaten deep. It worked. Teams were able to dink and dunk to their hearts’ content, but they weren’t able to do too much over the top. This year’s secondary will give up far more big plays unless the front seven does its job and hurries the quarterback. The athletes are there and there’s experience to rely on, but now the production has to come. It might take a little while, but there should be a big payoff.
Unit Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Matt Williams continues to be one of college football’s best stories. After winning a halftime contest, he was brought on the team to help out the kicking woes and he has grown into a real, live FBS kicker hitting 60-of-61 extra points and 11-of-14 field goals. He doesn’t have a monster leg and won’t try and 50 yarders, but he’s solid from inside the 40.

Junior Ryan Erxleben , son of former Texas star kicker, Russell, stepped in and came up with a nice year averaging 40.8 yards per kick putting 17 inside the 20. While he doesn’t have a howitzer of a leg, at least not like his dad, he’s consistent and he did a nice job coming through when needed. His long was just 55 yards, and now he’ll get more chances to air it out.

Wide receiver Austin Zouzalik will get the first look as the main punt returner after averaging 9.6 yards per try last year. He didn’t break any big ones and he was hardly spectacular, but he was steady and was good enough to get another shot.

Backup running back Eric Stephens was a find on kickoff returns averaging 25.7 yards per try. Tech always got good production from the kickoff return game under Mike Leach, and now, after finishing 15th in the nation, there won’t likely be a slip if Stephens is back to form.

Watch Out For … Erxleben. He came up with a great year as a freshman after taking over the job in fall camp, and now that he knows what he’s doing, he should be able to air it out a bit more. The punting game will need to be a major factor to help out the ultra-aggressive defense. Considering the punting game was among the worst in America a few years ago, he has been a find.
Strength: Veterans. All the key parts are back from a group that was among the best special teams in the Big 12. The kickoff coverage team allowed under 20 yards per try, the punt coverage team gave up a score but allowed 6.8 yards per return, and the kicking game was solid.
Weakness: Deep range. Erxleben could stand to hang it up a bit more and come up with a boomer now and then, and while Williams is decent, he can’t be used beyond 40 yards on a regular basis.
Outlook: A major surprise last year, the special teams appeared to be rocky going into the year and they turned out to be a major plus. The coverage teams have to continue to shine, while the kickers have to continue to be as steady. With everyone back, there’s no reason to expect a major drop-off.
Unit Rating: 7.5

- 2010 Texas Tech Preview | 2010 Texas Tech Offense
- 2010 Texas Tech Defense | 2010 Texas Tech Depth Chart
- Texas Tech Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006