The Elite 18 - No. 12 Pearlie Graves's Joe Yeager takes a look at how Pearlie Graves could impact Texas Tech this season in the new 4-2-5 defense.

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.

Pearlie Graves

Lost in the hubbub surrounding Tommy Tuberville's first season as Texas Tech's head coach was a promising first season by Red Raider noseguard Pearlie Graves. The six-foot-two 285-pound former blue chip recruit from Tulsa finally got his shot after a redshirt year, and served notice that he will be a player to reckon with.

To even play as a freshman in the defensive interior is a good accomplishment, but Graves actually started five games and saw action in two others. He marked time on the scout team for the first five games of the season.

Once in the lineup, Graves wasted no time making things happen. In his first outing against the University of Colorado, he made three tackles, tallied two sacks and recorded three tackles for loss. Graves started for the first time the following week against Texas A&M and logged seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. For the season he had 14 tackles, two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.

Graves is not a hulking behemoth of a defensive lineman, but verily, size isn't everything. What Graves lacks in girth he makes up for in quickness, explosion and hustle. Graves is not a classic run-stuffing fireplug, but he is a disruptive player who gets into the backfield often and gives great effort on most every play.

One problem for Graves in his short Texas Tech career has been injury. He has been bedeviled by various physical setbacks almost since his arrival in Lubbock, and the trend continued in the spring. Graves missed the second half of spring camp and Donald Langley assumed the starting role in his stead. What's more, Langley flourished so there is no guarantee the sophomore will unseat the junior.

If, however, Graves can get healthy and stay that way, he will be difficult to keep out of the starting lineup. The good news for Tech is that Graves, Langley and Chris Perry will ensure that depth is not a problem at noseguard. And with Graves on the field, talent won't be an issue either.

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