Although trying to predict the future is a fool's errand, it has been my experience that when projecting the success of a football team, the offensive line is a good place to start. Teams with experienced, talented offensive lines are good bets to succeed while those with green and sickly o-lines are likely to tank it. And if this schema is as reliable as I think it is, the 2011 Texas Tech Red Raiders could very well make some waves.
Any serious ranking of Tech's units heading into the offseason must surely put the offensive line at or near the summit. Indeed, as we see from the ranking which follows, the o-line looks to be the Red Raiders' bellwether.
1. Offensive Line: The high quality of Tech's offensive line is no shock. Everybody knew about it coming into the spring, and this group did nothing to disappoint. Most impressive, however, was the line's ability to respond to adversity. Starting left tackle LaAdrian Waddle, a probable high draft selection some day, went down early with knee and ankle injuries. Losing a talent like Waddle would have disabled many an offensive line, but Matt Moore's unit just filled in the breech and kept chugging. The coaches raved about utility man Terry McDaniel, and redshirt freshman Beau Carpenter looks like he's legit. Depth at center is the only real concern here. Freshman Tony Morales may remedy that issue when he arrives in August.
2. Offensive Backfield: Put a stout, veteran offensive line in front of a talented stable of backs and you've obviously got the makings of a potent ground game. And that is the configuration of Tech's offense post-spring. Tommy Tuberville, who cottons to the ground game, must be smiling.
Much like the offensive line, we all reckoned that the Red Raider backfield would be good. Eric Stephens was a proven Big 12 back, Aaron Crawford had shown flashes throughout his career, and Ben McRoy was a weapon in the making. Well, those three players did just fine. Stephens showed improvement in ball security, Crawford was consistently good, and McRoy looked like more than just an occasional player. The revelation, however, was true freshman Ronnie Daniels who has the physical tools to be as good as he wants to be. And let us not forget the quarterback position, where Seth Doege all but sewed up the starting berth for the season-opener despite a strong camp from Jacob Karam and a late charge by Scotty Young.
3. Defensive Line: This defensive line is not quite on par with some of those monster units the University of Miami put together in the mid-to-late eighties (the understatement is deliberate), but is a unit with some talent and a good deal of depth.
The interior of the line has the potential to be very solid. Kerry Hyder quietly had an outstanding spring and Pearlie Graves was doing the same before the injury bug bit. Donald Langley is one of the best leaders on defense, and Chris Perry was the most disruptive interior lineman of them all. Now he must show he can carry this play into actual games.
At defensive end, freshman Jackson Richards improved with every snap. By spring's end he may have been Tech's best defensive end. If not Richards, then Scott Smith, who also picked up the pace as camp proceeded. Dartwan Bush and Sam Fehoko will also factor heavily, and don't sleep on freshman Joe Carmical who played a little DE and looked good doing it.
4. Receiver: Did Tech's quarterbacks throw almost exclusively deep and outside because those receivers were getting open or because Neal Brown needed to know what he had at the outside receiver spots? No matter because Darrin Moore was one of the spring's sensations, and JUCO transfer Marcus Kennard looked more like Jarrett Hicks than Marquis Johnson. The coaches also liked what they saw from Eric Ward, who may now be ready to live up to his considerable promise.
The inside receiver spots are a bit more questionable, but still not a concern. With Alex Torres it's impossible to know these days whether he's 100 percent, 75 percent or somewhere in between. But we do know that when he's healthy, he's an All Big 12 caliber player. And Austin Zouzalik is the most underappreciated player on the team. Nobody on the squad has better hands, and Zouzalik is faster than people think.
5. Linebacker: The Red Raiders have three linebackers they can feel good going to battle with in Cqulin Hubert, Daniel Cobb and Blake Dees. Hubert is a nasty, violent player who seems to finally be mastering the defensive scheme and learning how to read plays. Cobb gets enveloped too often on running plays and needs to put forth more effort, but his speed and quickness are assets. Dees is a true freshman who plays like a junior. Somewhere down the line you will see him and Hubert on the field simultaneously. Dees is just too good to sit. Robert Prunty needs to find one more linebacker to solidify the rotation. Zach Winbush and Tyrone Sonier are the prime candidates right now. Winbush is young and Sonier was banged up most of the spring.
6. Secondary: The Red Raiders will be better in the secondary than they were in 2010, but that's saying precious little. They had better be much better. In Tre Porter and Derrick Mays, Tech has some serious talent at cornerback, but still not a whole lot of experience. The fulltime return of starter Jarvis Phillips will help here.
D. J. Johnson had a very solid spring at safety, and the same could be said for Terrance Bullitt, although he can be exploited in coverage. Veteran Cody Davis simply must take better pursuit angles and tackle better because his coverage skills are not what are earning his scholarship.