Big 12 Media Days Preview: Texas Tech

SAN ANTONIO - Little has changed with Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach. The master of passing on the plains is still eccentric, still likes to talk pirates, and had the media is stitches with his review of a complicated plot in an NCAA video sent out to schools to discourage college athletes from gambling or being involved with gamblers.

When talking football and his team, which some on paper believe looks weaker, he started with an oddity, a returning starting quarterback in Graham Harrell.

"I think he's really developed well as a player," explained Leach. "I think he was clearly really good last year. I think in most settings, in most settings I think Graham would clearly be regarded as one of the ... easily one of the handful of best quarterbacks in the country. There's no question. And I think that he is. And I think that he's somewhat overshadowed by the work of his predecessors at Texas Tech.

"After a point it becomes taken for granted that you're going to have a level of success throwing the ball at our place, which he did. But I think if you look at what he accomplished and what he did at his age and certainly some of the things that as a team we did and some of the key things that he was involved with there, I think he's as impressive as the guys that we've had at our place in the past and I think will continue to improve.

"But I think he had a heck of a year last year," continued Leach on Harrell. "It's funny, because as people talk about quarterbacks, they have a funny way of dismissing the additional 2,000 yards that he threw for. So I guess his don't count (chuckling). If he's not one of the better quarterbacks in the country I'd like to know who is. I wouldn't trade it for anybody in the conference.

"But with that said, I think what's best about him is that he does a great job as far as making the team, players around him better. Because it's what you accomplish as a team that ultimately is going to count, and I think he does a really good job as far as that goes. And I think he continues to improve."

Offense makes Texas Tech go and the Red Raider program centers around throwing the ball. Harrell can throw it, but the concern is that they don't have as many talented players to catch the ball.

"I thought Joel Filani played really well last year, and I think as far as -- I'm not half alarmed as -- just based on what I hear, seems like these roles should be reversed," said Leach. "I'm not half as alarmed at our demise of the wide receiver like other people are. It's like Mark Twain said, 'The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated,' as he appeared alive at that deal. (Laughter)

"I think our receivers are alive and kicking despite popular belief, too. There's going to be some faces that people aren't quite as familiar with, but they've been doing something over the years. They've been working and doing a variety of things developing as players. And as staff we feel really good about them. I thought they had a really good spring. I thought that -- I think as a core, as they continue to improve I expect them to be better than our receiving core last year was."

Some coaches wouldn't like it but that same word, young, comes up again when talking about the defense, particularly in the secondary.

"We're younger and more athletic than we were last year," said Leach, who has always loved pirates which could be compared to defensive backs. They are always looking to steal.

"We're a more athletic unit secondary-wise, probably the most -- one of the more solid secondaries I've been a part of. But I think the fact that they haven't been around as many years, a lot of them played significant roles last year. A lot of them contributed a lot last year. The fact that the guy is sitting on his couch eating a sandwich, isn't familiar with our defensive player or our receiver, whatever, I don't think has a great deal to do with what he's going to end up doing. That's the tricky thing about the Big 12. There's going to be some team that's supposed to be down. Hell, the new guys might be better than the old guys were. That's why I think there's going to be so many surprises in this conference."

There are plenty of surprises with Leach. Honestly, I think Tech will be every bit as tough as they have been and compete for third in the South Division. Now a year from now that likely won't be the case, and as always the wonder could be whether Leach will sell his pirate vessel to other shores. I really think this might be a moving year for Leach, just a hunch, but if something really good opens up Leach might finally be talked out of Lubbock.

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