Returning starters on offense (8):
RB Da’Leon Ward (Soph), WR Dylan Cantrell (Sr.), WR Derrick Willies (Sr.), WR Jonathan Giles (Jr.), WR Keke Coutee (Jr.), LT Terence Steele (Soph.), RG Madison Akamnonu (Soph.), C Tony Morales (Sr.)
Returning starters on 3-4 defense (6):
DT Breiden Fehoko (Jr.), DE Kolin Hill (Jr.), S Kisean Allen (Jr.), S Jah’Shawn Johnson (Jr.), ILB Jordyn Brooks (Soph.), CB D.J. Polite-Bray (Sr.),
Circled Non-Conference Game in 2017:
Texas Tech plays at Houston on Sept. 23 after opening with Eastern Washington and Arizona State at home.
5 Who Could Surprise (redshirts, non-starters in 2016 vying for starting spots):
WR T.J. Vasher (Soph) - the 4-star receiver played sparingly after an eye-opening fall camp where he displayed his 6-foot-5 frame and unusual athletic ability. Vasher suffered minor injuries and setbacks off the field which could be chalked up to being a freshman. With Devin Lauderdale and Reggie Davis gone, look for Vasher to get a lot of playing time outside.
CB Douglas Coleman (Soph) - Coleman didn’t play a lot until the end of the season but he made quite the impact once he got on the field. His first career interception led to Kenny Hill’s benching and Tech’s eventual overtime win in Fort Worth and then his 100-yard fumble return against Texas was perhaps the most memorable play of the season. He’s a great athlete and should start next season.
NG Broderick Washington (Soph) - Washington was mostly a backup last season, but started the finale in Tech’s win over Baylor and impressed. He’s probably the strongest guy on the team and is expected to start next season with Ondre Pipkins having exhausted all his eligibility.
QB Nic Shimonek (Sr.) - Shimonek steps in for Patrick Mahomes, who left a year early for the NFL. Shimonek will be entering his fourth year in Kingsbury’s system, he’s big, has a good arm, is accurate and commands respect from the team. I expect him to be among the national leaders in passing if not the top passer in the country in terms of yards per game.
DB/ST Kevin Moore (Soph) - Moore was a special teams standout as a true freshman last season and made some plays in limited duty on defense. He’s especially adept at blitzing off the edge. I wouldn’t be surprised if he played a lot of nickel or even started there next year.
3 Reasons for Concern:
Reason #1 ... The defense was the worst in all of FBS in both yards and points allowed per game last season. Until there is major improvement here Tech can only hope to be an average team at-best.
Reason #2 ... Tech’s offensive line was atrocious last season. Opposing defenses sat back with eight defensive backs and dared the Red Raiders to run the ball against three-man fronts and they still couldn’t. Tech wasn’t much better pass blocking either and Mahomes, who was an escape artist, is now gone.
Reason #3 ... The schedule is absolutely brutal. Even Eastern Washington, Tech’s FCS opponent which you’d hope would be a gimme is a giant killer who won 12 games last season including at Washington State. Tech then gets an ill-timed Week 2 bye before hosting Arizona State, who roughed up the Red Raiders last season. Tech wraps its non-conference on the road against Houston before starting Big 12 play which features road games in Morgantown, Norman and Austin and the neutral-site matchup against Baylor. Did I mention Tech plays 11 consecutive games without a bye?
Why this team could win big:
The only hope is a lot of the young players grow up in a hurry and the 12 mid-year additions, including six junior college additions, five of which were in Scout’s JuCo top 100, make immediate impacts.
Offensive player to watch:
WR Dylan Cantrell - He is a big body who can out-muscle or out-jump any cornerback in the Big 12 for the football in the air and might be the best blocking receiver in the country.
Defensive player to watch:
LB Jordyn Brooks - Brooks started every game at inside linebacker for Texas Tech as a true freshman. He’s a sideline-to-sideline type backer who led the Red Raiders in tackles last season, including 18 in the finale against Baylor. He could develop into one of the top linebackers in the conference in the next season or two.