Thursday, August 27, 2009

Where The Hell Is the Pass Rush Coming From in 2009?

Every college football pundit is quick to point out that Mike Leach is stuck with the unenviable task of replacing Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree. However, the issue being continually overlooked is where the heck is Defensive Coordinator Ruffin McNeill going to find a pass rush. He's charged with having to replace Brandon Williams, McKinner Dixon, and the 19 sacks that they took with them.

Who will Ruff turn to?

A converted defensive tackle.
A player who played in the "Joker" package almost exclusively in 2008.
A 2* JUCO player whose career best game consisted of two tackles (one assisted) at Texas A&M.
A local boy who has never played in a Big 12 game.

At first glance, that list is sure to inspire confidence.

But as Mr. Corso would say... fast my friend!

Rajon Henley, a close friend of Brandon Williams (4th round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys), has talked with him at length about the position switch and what Henley needs to do to get ready for the NFL. As a result, Henley has dropped at least 20 lbs, shaved over a tenth of his 40 time and by all accounts has made a very smooth transition to the outside.

The other three players referenced above are Daniel Howard, Brandon Sharpe, and Ryan Halliburton. Depending who you ask, Howard and/or Sharpe have been unstoppable at times during fall camp . Both have welcomed the increased playing time and responsibility that comes with replacing a pair of All-Big 12 players. Halliburton is coming along nicely as well but won't be asked to shoulder quite as much of a burden as Rajon's backup.

One player that I failed to mention is Brandon Sesay. One of the top JUCO prospects in the country when he signed in 2008, Sesay has continued to struggle both on the field as well as off it. He wasn't fully qualified until just before the season started last year and then failed to perform up to his abilities on a consistent basis once he stepped onto the gridiron.

By all accounts, he was starting to "get it" during spring practice and was going to be a nice compliment to Henley. Unfortunately, his lack of interest in going to class caught up to him yet again. He is still listed on the fall camp roster and no official announcement has been made regarding his status (both academic and athletic) with Texas Tech, but it doesn't look like we will see Mr. Sesay donning the red and black this fall.

Despite Sesay's loss, the Red Raiders still have a promising and experienced group of defensive ends suiting up on Satudays. The optimist in me hopes Henley logs eight sacks and nabs Second Team All-Big 12 honors. As a group, expect 18.5 sacks (down from 23.5) and a high level of energy from the defensive bookends this fall.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Crabtree 2.0 Or the No-Name Receiving Corps?

Every Texas Tech fan is waiting, hoping, and praying for the next Michael Crabtree to show up at the Jones this fall.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news; he's not in Lubbock and won't be this year.

However, that doesn't mean that the Air Raid isn't going to just as much of a nightmare for opposing coaches as it was with No. 5 in the lineup.

In fact, one could easily make the case that this is the most talented crop of pass catchers that Capt. Leach has ever put on the field.

Yesterday, I mentioned true freshman Eric Ward. He is a four-star recruit that was committed to Oklahoma before switching to Texas Tech. We are still 10 days away from the North Dakota game but it looks like he might be redshirted.

Think back to 2005. At that time it was inconceivable to think that the Red Raiders would be in a position talent-wise to redshirt an elite prospect, much less one who plays wide receiver.

Back to what you can expect to see this fall.

The Air Raid will again feature a QB that passes for 4,000+ yards. It will again feature eight or nine guys that catch 15 or more balls, gaining 100+ yards, and scoring at least one touchdown.

However, don't expect to see Detron Lewis or Ed Britton grabbing 95 balls for 1,110 yards and 12 TD's. They simply are not the difference makers that Crabtree was.

Nobody on this roster (or any other roster in FBS except for maybe Julio Jones) should be expected to deliver a Crabtree-esque performance.

I see the 2009 edition of the Air Raid being a virtual mirror of the 2005 group. Four players catching between 65 and 75 passes, scoring five touchdowns each, and collectively gaining over 3,000 yards.

If you want a sleeper to watch this fall, then check out Lyle Leong. He and Taylor Potts were arguably the most dynamic QB/WR duo in Texas HS Football in 2004 and 2005. Leong was 1st Team All-State and averaged 22 yards per catch as a senior at Abilene High.

Oh and one other thing...

The Crabtree 2.0 starter kit is on his way to Lubbock. His name is Kadron Boone of Ocala, Fla., and he will be in Lubbock June 1, 2010. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Will there be any freshman making an impact this year?

I'm glad you asked...the answer is not only yes but ABSOLUTELY YES!!! Mike Leach hauled in arguably his most talented recruiting class to date (the 2010 class might just take that title if it continues developing) and we can expect to see quite a few of these newbies playing meaningful snaps this fall.

Pearlie Graves - This beast of a DT was one of the great surprises of Tech's 2009 recruiting class. Considered a long shot at best just a few days before National Signing Day, Graves faxed in his letter of intent to the Red Raiders early in the day and provided one of the biggest surprises of NSD. Since arriving in Lubbock in June, Graves has made an impression first in the weight room and now on the practice field during fall camp. We aren't totally sure just how much PT Graves will see this fall but he's likely the 5th or 6th DT in the rotation if they are going to skip a redshirt. His progression is especially important now that Rajon Henley is moving to DE this season. If Tech's defense is going to perform close to last year's squad, keeping a fresh DLine is essential and Graves will play a key role in ensuring that the drop off is minimal (if non-existent) when Whitlock, Jones, etc comes off the field. Expect 5-8 snaps/game.

D.J. Johnson - It's not every day that you see a kid go from playing private HS ball to earning playing time as a true freshman on a Big 12 team but that's exactly what D.J. Johnson has done. Every indication is that he will be in the rotation at CB behind Wall, Moore, etc. Expect 9-12 snaps/game.

Eric Ward - Another steal in recruiting, Ward quietly enrolled at Texas Tech last January after committing to Oklahoma. He showed flashes of greatness in the spring but also has a big learning curve to crack the two deep at wideout. While Tech would prefer to not play him, nothing definite has been announced so as I write this Ward is still in contention for the last outside WR spot with Rashad Hawk. If it were up to me, I'd rather see Ward get 5-10 snaps/game instead of hoping that Hawk will finally figure it out this fall. I hate throwing around the word upside...but Ward has it and Hawk hasn't shown anything to make one think that he's on the verge of a breakout season. Also, Ward can contribute on special teams. Expect 15-20 catches, 250 yards, and 3 TD's along with spot work at kick returner

Terrance Bullitt/Daniel Cobb/Will Ford - I'm lumping these three guys together. They are all similar in size, speed, and Rivals rating as recruits. It looks like two of the three will play. Early indications were that it would be Cobb and Ford but Coach Ruff said yesterday after practice that he can comfortably announce that Bullitt and Ford will not be redshirted. He did not make any mention of Cobb. Regardless of who plays this fall, I like the fact that these guys are in the running for playing time right out of the gate. It tells me that 1) Tech is upgrading in talent on the defensive side of the ball and 2) that Ruff is going to put the best players on the field whether that are true freshman or 5th year seniors. Expect 15-18 snaps/game for each player that doesn't redshirt.

Eric Stephens - I tabbed Eric as the star of the recruiting class back in February and he appears to be all that and more so far. When Baron Batch went down with an injury, it gave Stephens the opportunity to take first team reps in practice and he has made the most of his opportunity. If nothing else, he's demonstrated that he's a viable backup to Batch and Jeffers (instead of Crawford being the 3rd man) and that he just might be the best punt returner on the roster. While it would be great to redshirt him, it doesn't look like that luxury is available with Batch's injury history and Crawford unable to consistently practice w/o having to wear a no-contact jersey. This doesn't mean that I think he's going to start taking significant carries away from Batch or Jeffers...but he'll get more than was originally planned. Expect 25-30 carries, 10 receptions, 300 total yards, and at least 2 jaw dropping TD's. He will also see time at punt returner.

2009 Preseason Blog Schedule

2009 Preseason Blog Schedule

I'm alive and (more importantly) Flags Over Raiderland is making a return appearance to the Tech County blogosphere. Here is the preseason blog schedule leading up to the start of the 2009 season next Saturday (we're going to ignore the spare schedule of games on Thursday and Friday unless you really want to get my thoughts on ND State @ Iowa State or USC @ NC State).

August 25 - Who are the true freshman that will play this fall?
August 26 - Will we see a Crabtree 2.0 or a more balanced receiving corps?
August 27 - Who replaces Brandon Williams and McKinner Dixon?
August 28 - Who fills the CB spot opposite Jamar Wall?
August 29 - How will the reloaded OL look and play in 2009?
August 30 - What should you expect from Taylor Potts?
August 31 - Will the 2009 run game resemble that of 2008 or 2006?
September 1 - Who will come out of nowhere (non-freshman) to make an impact?
September 2 - Which ranked team(s) will Tech upset this fall?
September 3 - Off, Def, ST, Frosh, and Coach MVP's for 2009
September 4 - 2009 Season Prediction
September 5 - Week 1 Picks ATS

Friday, February 6, 2009

2009 Recruiting Class Thoughts

Well my day is pretty much over at 9:30 (at least the work part of it) so I thought I'd do a little wrap up on recruiting.

Star of the class: A lot of people will point towards 4 Star DT Pearlie Graves as the biggest get for the Red Raiders. However, I'm going to go in another direction and take Eric Stephens, RB Mansfield Timberview. Initially committed to Minnesota, Stephens spent a long time looking at Tech (including multiple visits to Lubbock) before finally switching to the good guys after the Texas game. The reason I'm excited about him is that the pipeline at running back is WELL stocked for the next few years with Batch, Jeffers, and now Stephens. As we all saw this year, the emergence of the running game in the Air Raid had as much to do with this team's success as anything else. Stephens is rated by Rivals as the 3rd best RB in space and ESPN notes that he's arguably the most elusive back in this country this year with an ability to reach top speed in a few steps. Most importantly, he is by all accounts a great character kid who takes care of himself in the class and will represent Texas Tech very well. If the Red Raiders are to continue having 10 win seasons in the future, Eric Stephens will be a big reason for that success.

Sleeper of the Class: Derrick Mays, ATH Killeen Shoemaker. I debated whether to put him here or at Immediate Impact because there's a VERY good chance that Mays is on the field come August. He has low 4.4 speed and runs a sub 21 second 200m dash. If there's one thing that this team is's speed across the field (see Ole Miss game for further explanation). While Mays will likely end up playing CB in a few years for Tech, expect to see him returning kicks and punts in 2009 along with the occassional designed play for him on offense. Leach showed some wrinkles last year (Crabtree and EMo taking snaps, Harrell running a zone read, the play action pass to the FB in goalline situations) so I wouldn't put it past him to find a way to get the ball in the hands of Mays next year.

Immediate Impact: One player is already on campus as a spring enrollee and that is Eric Ward, WR Wichita Falls Rider. Ward literally jumped ship on the Sooners at the 11th hour, visiting and subsequently enrolling at Texas Tech in a matter of a few days as classes were starting back up this semester. Not only is Ward the highest rated WR of this class, he is already working out with the team and learning the various receiver roles in Leach's scheme. Expect to see him take over the H slot formerly filled by Amendola and Morris and bring a new level of athleticism to the position that hasn't been there in previous years.

Biggest Project: Myles Wade, DT unattached. Hard to think that I could label a guy that was an Army All-American and Rivals 100 member in 2007 as a "project." For those who aren't familiar with Mr. Wade, you are truly missing out an inspirational story of a young man that's already dealt with a lot in his life. Committed to Oregon out of high school, he was unable to qualify and Oregon placed him at a JUCO in Yuma, AZ. However, after playing there in 2007, Wade was then asked to sit out of competitive football in 2008 so as to preserve his eligibility (he has 3 years to play 3) for his eventual return to Oregon He spent the fall at a local college going to school and working out every day at 6AM with a trainer while also taking care of his terminally ill mother (she passed away in late December I believe). Unfortunately, Mike Bellotti and his staff pulled the plug on Myles this fall and said that he was no longer a fit for their program. Enter Coach Ruff and Texas Tech. They started talking with Myles and finding out that this is a kid who has done everything that's been asked of him in hopes of getting to the Division 1 level. Myles finally decided to visit in late January. After he left Lubbock, Ruff and Leach practically followed him back up to Portland to meet his father and sister. After a lengthy and emotional in-home visit, Myles committed to Texas Tech. I for one will be rooting like hell for this kid to make it. He's been through a lot to get to where he is today and it's hard not to applaud a kid for doing everything possible to improve his situation despite the obstacles that kept piling up in front of him.

Now that you've read his story...let me state the obvious for why I listed him as the biggest project. Yes he's got plenty of rust that he's going to have to work off before he'll be ready to play Big 12 football (insert Dan Hawkins voice.) However, he's my "biggest project" because if and when he gets to Lubbock, gets fully qualified, and gets himself adjusted to football at the highest collegiate level, he gives the Red Raiders an explosiveness on the interior d-line that they've never had before. Combined with Pearlie Graves, they could form one of the most formidable run stopping duos in the conference for the next few years.

Don't Get Too Excited: James Scott, LB Coldspring (HS), TX. While he certainly passes the eye test at 6'3" 220" w/ 4.5 speed and the limited footage on him is very impressive...he's got a long ways to go before he'll qualify. It's likely that Tech will place him in a JUCO and keep in touch with him for the next two years and try to get him in the fold after that.

Glad to be back in the world of blogging...have a good weekend everybody!