Texas Tech spring recap
DCTF's Jake Shaw wraps up the Red Raiders' spring drills with a full recap.
Tommy Tuberville hasn't shied away from doing things differently than his predecessor. Texas Tech's spring practices offer just another piece of evidence.
Under Mike Leach, the red Raiders were typically the last Big 12 team to conclude their spring practices, and Leach usually downplayed the spring game.
This year couldn't be more different. According to Tech's athletic department, only Army started spring drills before the Red Raiders, who opened camp February 17th. And Tech concluded its practices with its spring game March 24th, nearly a full month before the 2010 spring game, Tubberville's first in Lubbock.
Change isn't such a bad thing, at least in these terms. But there were some differences that certainly upset Texas Tech fans, namely an end to the program's 11-year bowl streak. The Red Raiders finished the 2011 season by losing its final five games (that after upsetting Oklahoma — in Norman) to miss its first bowl game this millennium.
Perhaps that nosedive was the motivation for an early start to the spring. Maybe Texas Tech wants to completely purge 2011 from its memory. Whether that's true, the last fall's finish made this spring's practices the most important in Lubbock in a long time.
Below, we break down what went right, what went wrong, and what's ahead for Texas Tech after its 2012 spring practices.
Texas Tech's spring by the numbers
Offensive starters returning: 9
Defensive starters returning: 9
Spring newcomers: 12 (8 JUCO; 1 HS early enrollee; 3 walk-ons)
New coaches: 4
Post-spring offensive strengths
Despite losing two quarterbacks this offseason to transfers — including promising blue-chipper Scotty Young — Texas Tech feels pretty good about its two-deep of Seth Doege and Michael Brewer, going so far as to call the pair "arguably the best quarterback tandem in the Big 12" in its spring prospectus. Oklahoma might have an argument, but that's a debate for another day. Doege, the returning starter, passed for 217 yards, one score and one interception in the spring game, but he was out-played by Brewer, who passed for 281 yards and 2 TDs (with no INTs) in leading the Black team to a 25-19 win. The only downside for both players: They spent a lot of time getting helped up from the ground by their teammates. Tech's offensive line allowed sack after sack in the spring game … but more on that later.
With just Doege and Brewer, Tech may be thin at the position, but it certainly isn't lacking talent. That should allow the Red Raiders to fully utilize their greatest strength, the wide receiving corps. Eric Ward emerged late in 2011 as perhaps Doege's go-to guy, finishing with a season-best 151 yards in the loss to Baylor to push his season total to 800 yards and 11 TDs. Combine him with two more experienced returnees, Alex Torres (616, 4) and Austin Zouzalik, as well as mid-year transfer Javon Bell, who showed some explosiveness in the spring game, and Tech is once again loaded at this skill position. There's also Marcus Kennard, who had a good spring in 2011 but didn't back it up — he had just 12 catches during the season. So we'll have to wait to see if Kennard's 97 yards and 2 TDs in this year's spring game is another tease — or a harbinger of a better year in 2012.
Finally, it appears the Red Raiders won't have to pick students out of the stands to handle kicking duties. Ryan Bustin took a redshirt last season after transferring from Kilgore, but he might've wrapped up the starting job in the spring game. Bustin made three field goals — two of them from at least 42-yards out — and his only miss was a 52-yarder.
Post-spring offensive weaknesses
Season-ending injuries to Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington left the Red Raiders with just one returning experienced running back, Kenny Williams, a talented sophomore. But Williams couldn't even finish the spring. He was held out of the Red-Black game because of an off-field legal problem (as was TE Jace Amaro). Then sophomore Ronnie Daniels was kicked off the team in late March and will not return. That left a lot of uncertainty at this position, though JUCO transfer SaDale Foster, recruited out of California as an "athlete," turned some heads in the spring with his slashing running style. Foster led all runners with 9 rushes for 78 yards in the spring game.
While injuries and off-field issues have impacted the running backs, the loss of two starters on the offensive line has suddenly turned what's usually a reliable group into a very suspect (at best) unit. In the spring game, the line was responsible for three false starts, three holding calls and one illegal formation. Combine that with the eight sacks allowed, the offensive line accounted for 15 negative plays — the types of errors that can stall a drive. There were also reports of errant shotgun snaps at the spring game. Who could've predicted the Red Raiders would miss Lonnie Edwards and Justin Keown that much? Though Tech will likely start three seniors on the OL — LaAdrian Waddle, Deveric Gallington and Terry McDaniel — this unit is far from solidified. The questions raised in spring best start getting answered when the Red Raiders open fall camp the first week in August.
Post-spring defensive strengths
You can probably guess the first strength. With Texas Tech's offensive line struggling in the spring game, the natural tendency is to take a look at the other side of the ball at the defensive line. The star of that unit — at least in the spring game — was junior Dartwan Bush, whose two sacks matched his entire season total in 2011. Meanwhile, Delvon Simmons seems to be continuing his upward trend. The sophomore nose tackle — a former five-star recruit — also had two sacks in the spring game, showing that he may be ready for a breakout season after being named an All-Big 12 freshman by Rivals.com. Simmons should pair with junior Kerry Hyder, the only Tech defender to start every single game at one position (defensive tackle) last year.
With Tech's fourth defensive coordinator in as many years, continuity has been hard to come by. But that hasn't affected linebacker Will Smith, a mid-year transfer who put a cap on his excellent spring by leading everyone in the spring game with six tackles, including one for a loss. His interception also accounted for the game's only turnover. The 4-3 will return to Tech after one season in a 4-2-5, so expect Smith to hold down one spot. The other two players likely to flank Smith are young — Sam Eguavoen and Blake Dees have just completed their freshmen seasons — but both have showed promise. Like Simmons on the DL, Rivals.com named these two sophomore LBs to the Big 12 All-Freshmen defense. The pair combined for six tackles in the spring game.
If Tech is boastful about its top two quarterbacks, they should be downright arrogant about their starting safeties. All three 2011 starters return: Cody Davis, Terrance Bullitt, and D.J. Johnson. Davis and Johnson finished 1-2, respectively, in tackles last year. Though Texas Tech would prefer a linebacker take over the team lead in this category, both these players are capable of all-conference seasons.
Post-spring defensive weaknesses
There's a chance Texas Tech will start two 2011 receivers at cornerback in 2012. And while Shawn Corker and Cornelius Douglas had some positive moments these past few weeks — Douglas had two pass breakups in the spring game — it's asking a lot to have converted WRs make a seamless transition, especially in a conference that throws the ball so much. Tech has a great starting safety tandem in Davis and Johnson, but this was a major trouble spot for Tech last year, and after spring drills it doesn't appear as if Tech has improved.
While the DL and LB units earned positive reviews this spring, the proof will come this fall when Texas Tech is forced to stop the run. The Red Raiders were abysmal against it last year, giving up nearly 260 yards per game. Since the Red Raiders passed it 209 more times than they ran it last year, it's difficult to tell if the Tech defense has improved against the run. We can't call it a weakness since the weren't suitably tested, so we'll give it an incomplete.
Few programs signed more junior college players than Texas Tech, which introduced eight new JUCO players to the team this spring, as well as one early high school enrollee. Let's face it, Tech needs some help, and it needs it now, so the JUCO influx is a godsend.
The offense really hasn't slacked off since Leach left, and in 2011 it had to overcome both a new starter and injuries at RB, so Tubberville has done a great job keeping the Air Raid offense flying.
The problem, of course, has been the other side of the ball — the area that the SEC-ex Tubberville was supposed to cure. But with Art Kaufman coming to Lubbock as the fourth defensive coordinator in the past four years, a major leap forward from last year's defense — which allowed fewer than 34 points just twice and ranked 114th nationally in total defense and 117th in scoring defense — can't be expected. This unit can improve, however, if the new Tech DC can find the right guys to aptly man each position. It didn't happen last year: Five different players started at MLB; five more tried their hand at the Sam LB spot; and seven different players started at CB. Part of that was injuries, but a lot of it was due to ineffectiveness as well.
A great offense and a questionable defense — where does that have the Red Raiders positioned in 2012? This team should start 3-0 with a soft non-conference schedule. Then comes a tough road game at Iowa State. But the fate of Texas Tech will most likely be discovered in October. OU and West Virginia both come to Lubbock, then the Red Raiders have back-to-back road games at TCU and Kansas State. All four of those opponents made bowl games. So did Texas, the first Tech opponent in November. That caps a six-game stretch against 2011 bowl teams.
That likely didn't daunt previous Tech teams, but after last year's late-season swoon, the Red Raiders are badly in need of some confidence. Win 2-3 of those games in that key stretch, and you have to think 2011 was an anomaly. Anything less, and Texas Tech might be starting a new streak, one that will have its fans more restless than ever.
Jake Shaw is the contributor to Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.
He can be reached via the DCTF Facebook page.