The Texas Tech football team began the season with the frightening prospect of playing in the pass-mad Big 12 sporting an entirely new safety corps. Gone were mainstays such as Darcel McBath, Daniel Charbonnet and Jordy Rowland. In there stead was a hodgepodge of inexperienced lettermen and transfers from other position, and a batch of raw freshmen. Unsurprisingly, safety was pegged as a weakness, potentially a fatal one, for the Red Raider defense.
But now, more than halfway through the season, one can safely say that Texas Tech's safeties are anything but a liability. Despite the youth and the loss of starters Franklin Mitchem and Cody Davis for lengthy periods, the safeties have borne up admirably under practically everything that has been thrown at them.
In terms of passing yardage allowed, Tech is only 89th in the nation, but the Red Raiders have only given up six touchdown passes (good for a 23rd place tie) and are No. 40 nationally in pass defense efficiency.
Those are respectable numbers given the inexperience at safety, and should only improve as the season progresses. They are certainly not the dire figures one might have expected going into the season.
The players themselves deserve much of the credit for their accomplishments. But Carlos Mainord, the veteran coach who has honed the unit to a keen edge, also deserves recognition.
And while Red Raider fans are doubtless pleased with the performance of Mainord's safeties, the coach himself is more reserved.
"Yeah, they have [played well] at times. And then at times they've played a little bit like they are, and that's inexperienced," notes Mainord.
"But they are getting better in the things that they do every game and I look forward to them just progressing as the season goes along."
Despite the fact that Nebraska's offense could get almost nothing going through the air last Saturday, Mainord's assessment of his safeties' play in that game mirrors his comments about their overall performance.
"They played pretty good," he said. "Gave up a couple of things that we shouldn't have given up, but overall they did okay, especially given that both had missed some playing time up until now. But they're getting their feet back under them."
One of the safeties who has arguably been a stabilizing force in the secondary is sophomore Brett Dewhurst. Despite the fact that he is only a sophomore, Dewhurst is probably the team's most experienced safety. And Mainord is extremely grateful to have him in the fold.
"Brett Dewhurst is really a valuable player," Mainord says earnestly.
"He's able to fill in at free safety, strong safety. He's a smart guy, he's a hard-working guy, and he's meant a lot to us back there being able to fill in. And the guy studies football, and is just tuned to the game. I enjoy working with him."
Ironically enough, given the possibility that this week's opponent, the Texas A&M Aggies, may be the worst team in the Big 12, the squad from East Texas could present Texas Tech's safeties with one of the stiffest challenges they've faced so far. Quarterback Jerrod Johnson has an extremely accurate arm and he's got several quality receivers with which to work.
It is not mere coach-speak when Mainord states that "they're always gonna have good athletes, good skilled athletes down there and their quarterback is ranked high in the nation as far as what he's doing. So it's gonna be a big test for us."
Given the wisdom of the ages that Carlos Mainord has inculcated in Cody Davis, Frank Mitchem and Brett Dewhurst, the chances are good that they'll pass this test with room to spare.