Texas Tech showed its vision for strong, physical defense, especially early in the year. The Red Raiders kept games close and forced 11 turnovers in their first four games against Power Five opponents.
“When we were healthy, I thought we were playing well,” defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. “And then it seemed like we got into a stretch where it was just a different group of people on the field every week.”
Replacing first round NFL Draft pick Jordyn Brooks and four-year starters Broderick Washington and Douglas Coleman makes the task difficult. Luckily, 71 percent of the defensive production is back, including three starters who earned all-conference honors.
With Brooks gone, Riko Jeffers steps into the leadership role in the middle of the defense. The Sachse product has a shot to become the third straight Red Raiders linebacker selected in the NFL Draft after posting 76 tackles and 9.5 TFLs in a strong junior campaign. He’ll pair with either returner Xavier Benson or JUCO transfer Krishon Merriweather to form a strong unit.
The defensive backfield is filled with experience, but struggles against the big play dropped the Red Raiders to No. 128 nationally against the pass. Nine of 11 players are back on the depth chart. Top defensive back Adrian Frye is projected to move back to cornerback full time after the graduation of Des Smith and with experience on the back end. Frye, DaMarcus Fields and Zech McPhearson combine to form a strong unit. Thomas Leggett and Ja’Marcus Ingram rank among the players competing for time at safety. However, the defensive backs must work together to replace Coleman’s eight interceptions.
“We’ve got to become a unit back there and eliminate some explosive plays,” Patterson said. “I think we have a lot of guys on the back end that have the ability to make plays.”
Up front, the Red Raiders hope to replace Washington with Tony Bradford, who played in the final 11 games as a true freshman. If he can cause problems with his 270-pound frame, nose tackle Nick McCann and defensive end Eli Howard can thrive. The Red Raiders got sacks from 13 different players last year. Sophomore Jaylon Hutchings and junior Nelson Mbanasor lead a group that must get up to speed quickly.
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