OK, let's face it- everyone who follows Texas Tech football could tell you that Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree need to have big years if the Red Raiders are going to have the kind of year they're hoping to have.
But with all the hubbub surrounding Mike Leach's decision to take a collection of lesser known (yet very important) players to last week's Big 12 media days, we decided to take a look at a few of Tech's more unheralded players who have key roles, and must perform well this year in order for the Red Raiders to be successful.
Wideout Lyle Leong - Leong, who spent most of last year behind unanimous All-Everything selection Mike Crabtree, has proved himself to be nothing if not dependable. He might not be the most flashy player on the field, but Leong runs excellent routes, and almost never drops a pass. Whether he ends up at the X or the Z, Leong will be counted on to provide important reps throughout the season, and his consistency should leave Dennis Simmons feeling pretty comfortable about putting Leong in when the chips are down.
Safety Jordy Rowland - I'm not sure anyone could predict that Rowland, a walk-on from Nazareth, TX, would have received as many snaps as he did last year from the Oklahoma game on. After Anthony Hines went down in the OU game, Rowland came in and played well, and that level of performance continued through the Gator Bowl, and through Spring Ball. Though snaps will be very tough to come by this fall at the safety spot, Rowland's role on Tech's special teams units cannot be overemphasized. Regardless of whether or not Rowland spends much time on the field in Tech's defensive packages, he will have plenty of opportunities to make a large impact this year.
Defensive End Jake Ratliff - I can't think of anyone who is forgotten about more than Ratliff. Don't forget, this guy is a two year starter, and he's as solid as they come. Some people point to his lack of "big plays," such as sacks, etc., but I would argue that that could have as much to do with scheme as it does talent or ability. As a strongside DE, you're often asked to things that aren't glamorous, such as holding containment, occupying blockers, and other things that the average onlooker has no idea about. Now, I'm not saying Ratliff is the best option at SDE, but I am saying that anyone who thinks we can pencil anyone not named Jake Ratliff as the started there might oughta tap the brakes just a little. That being said, having the influx of talent at the defensive end position that Tech now has, I would be very surprised if Ratliff plays as many snaps as he did last year. Still, regardless of how many snaps he sees, #98 will have a role on this year's defense, and chances are he'll just grab his lunch pail and do his job when he's called upon, which is just what Tech needs.
Deep Snapper Austin Burns - If you just read his name and said, "Who?" then we don't blame you. After all, Burns is the epitome of an unsung hero, a true role player who excels at what he does. But don't think for a second that Tech's special teams units care that Burns flies under the radar. Heck, the less you hear about him the better. After all, nobody blinks an eye at a perfect snap, but everyone in the stadium groans if there's a botched snap. In the time Burns has been handling Tech's deep-snapping duties, less than stellar snaps have been few and far in between, and if Jonathan Lacour and Donnie Carona/Cory Fowler are going to have an impact this year, they'll need the steady, unspectacular snaps of Austin Burns.
Fullback/Big H Back Ryan Hale - After moving over to the Big H position from MLB, Hale immediately drew rave reviews from coaches and teammates alike for his tenacity and willingness to sacrifice his body for the good of the team. The guy he's replacing, David Schaeffer, was the consummate blue-collar player, and Hale is poised to take his mantle and run with it. Er, block with it. At any rate, bad jokes aside, even though Hale might only have a few touches to his credit when all is said and done, if Tech is going to have success protecting leads and grinding out crucial yards in between the tackles, a lot of that success is going to be owed to Tech's running backs getting behind Hale and letting him clear their path.