Like any football team, good, mediocre or bad, Texas Tech has several players whose performance will be particularly critical to the squad's success. These players, whether by virtue of sheer talent, experience, leadership ability, importance of the position played, or depth concerns, are especially crucial. They may or not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they to be absent for any reason. In fact, that may be the best way to conceive of the critical players—they are the performers the team could least afford to lose.
With this weekly series, we will take a reverse order look at the Red Raider football players we consider most invaluable.
D. J. Johnson
Basketball coaches sometimes refer to a certain type of player as a "glue" guy or a "blender." These players are rarely the most talented players on the team, nor do they excel in any specific aspect of the game. Rather, they are solid role players who do a little bit of everything and make the team function so much better when on the court. Their contributions are inevitably more substantial than their talent would seem to suggest.
Football teams can also have "glue" guys or "blenders," and in junior free safety D. J. Johnson, the Texas Tech defense possesses just such a player.
The upcoming season will be Johnson's first as a safety, but he brings a playing background that should help him to become very good if not superb at the position. He was an outstanding quarterback in the Austin high school ranks and played cornerback for Tech in his first two seasons. It should also be noted that Johnson's talent was sufficient to allow him to play as a true freshman.
What Johnson's playing background suggests is a smart, athletic player with good footwork, quickness and speed. And indeed, that is a good description of Johnson's skill set. Some have questioned Johnson's speed but he is a legitimate sub-4.5 guy, which is not blazing by cornerback standards, but is plenty fast for a safety.
But Johnson's most critical contribution to the Tech defense could be his football IQ. He may be the defense's sharpest player, and as the team's starting free safety will be charged with coordinating the back end of the defense while on the field. Combined with weak safety Cody Davis, another bright player, the Red Raider defense will hopefully suffer far fewer busts and breakdowns than a year ago playing in James Willis' Byzantine scheme.
If Tech had poor depth at free safety, Johnson would be rated considerably higher on this list. Fortunately, Central Oklahoma transfer Giorgio Durham impressed in the spring. Like Johnson, he's a smart player. He's also pretty physical. Still, Johnson is the player who should blend the Tech defense into a smooth and seamless whole.