April 20, 2007

What we know

The only thing anybody can say for certain about college football is that nobody knows anything significant for certain. One can make provisional statements against hedged bets, but because the collective psyche of 85 young men and 10 coaches is so volatile, it is impossible to really know for sure what the future holds. That said, perceptive and assiduous observers can draw on the fund of what knowledge they possess combined with repeated observation of practice to make some reasonably sure statements about what is to come.

And, of course, that holds true with the Texas Tech football squad as well as any other. With that in mind, here are a few items of likelihood that Red Raider fans can at least take down to the corner pawn shop, if not Chase Manhattan Bank.


1. THE TECH RECEIVING CORPS IS IN GOOD HANDS

After losing Joel Filani, Robert Johnson and Jarrett Hicks to graduation, the ability of Tech's receivers to continue the fine Red Raider tradition of aerial pyrotechnics was a serious question. Most observers had an inkling that the replacement talent was good, but almost everybody expected a significant diminution in productivity from last year's group. It now looks like that decline may not take place at all.

Michael Crabtree, who unfortunately had to sit out last season because of academic issues, is well worth the wait. He was the sensation of the spring and has the potential to be as good as any receiver in Tech history. Crabtree supplies big-play capability in spades and so does Ed Britton, a speed merchant who is rounding into a complete and polished receiver. Veterans L.A. Reed, Danny Amendola, Grant Walker and Eric Morris will ensure that teams cannot concentrate solely on stopping Britton and Crabtree.


2. THE OFFENSIVE TACKLES ARE SOLID

Much like the receivers, Tech's offensive tackles were a source of concern coming into the spring. Glenn January had an excellent senior campaign on the left side and Gabe Hall was an unsung hero on the right. Both of those guys are gone, however, and the heirs apparent, Marlon Winn and Rylan Reed were unknown quantities. They shan't remain unknown for long.

Winn and Reed have January and Hall beaten in terms of raw talent. And in terms of sheer orneriness, there is really no comparison whatsoever. Winn looks to have the quickness and technique to pass block effectively at the crucial left tackle position, while Reed's strength, physicality and nasty disposition will serve him well in both the passing and running games. Move over, a new set of bookends is in town.


3. THE SECONDARY IS LEGIT

Now this is a situation that most observers already expected coming into spring ball. With three returning starters and a wealth of talented backups in the fold, most of us knew that the defensive backfield would be a Tech team strength. And so it has come to pass-so to speak. The mild surprise here, however, is the rapid development of the cornerbacks and the emergence of excellent depth there.

Jamar Wall was handed a starting position at one corner but was told he would have to show he deserved it in the spring in order to remain in the starting lineup. He has done just that. Wall's footwork, athleticism and instincts ensure that he is always in the receiver's hip pocket. Once he learns better to make plays on the ball he will be an All Big 12 corner.

A pleasant surprise at cornerback has been the work of former running back, Pete Richardson. Generally viewed as an afterthought coming into the spring, he has surely put himself in contention for playing time by virtue of his toughness, tackling ability and ball-hawking skills, which were displayed by a 93-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Red/Black Scrimmage.

De'Shon Sanders began to play well toward the end of the spring (he also had a Red/Black interception), and Brent Nickerson and LaRon Moore are capable players as well. When starter Chris Parker returns, this position will be absolutely stacked.


4. NO DEFENSIVE DECLINE IN THE OFFING

Defense has not been Tech's forte in the Mike Leach era and it may not be in 2007. The unit is young and there are question marks here and there. But be that as it may, it is apparent that the 2007 Red Raider defense has the potential to be an upgrade from what we've seen in the past.

This unit is enthusiastic, cohesive and energetic. There are also numerous intelligent players sprinkled about such as Paul Williams, Marlon Williams, Darcel McBath, Jamar Wall and Ty Linder. These players will help ensure that, despite the defense's inexperience, misalignment and misreads will not be a serious problem. And the defense's increased speed and athleticism should then take over, which will produce efficiency and big plays.

There are also signs that this defense may take more risks and play more aggressively than in the past, although we'll have to see it pound down some pudding before we have proof of that.




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