Texas Tech's position groups divide along two lines: those with experience and those with potential. In any ranking such as this, preference must always go to the more experienced units regardless of how tempting it may be to hype the groups loaded with blue-chip newcomers and greenhorns. The first three units listed below have a good deal of experience, the last four do not, which goes to show just how young the 2011 Red Raiders will be.
1. Offensive Line: The Tech offensive line offers the best of both worlds; it possesses both talent and experience in abundance. All five starters and one key backup return for a unit that was probably the fifth best offensive line in the Big 12 a year ago. If it is not at least top three in 2011, the line will have disappointed.
Left to right, the starters currently are LaAdrian Waddle, Lonnie Edwards, Justin Keown, Deveric Gallington and Mickey Okafor. Edwards and Okafor garnered second team All Big 12 honors last season, and Waddle has first team potential if he can stay healthy. Justin Keown is a rock at center, and ace backup Terry McDaniel has the talent to unseat Gallington at right guard if Matt Moore chooses to play him there.
2. Running Back: This group may not be quite as airtight as the offensive line, but it comes close. Veteran Eric Stephens, a quick and explosive back, returns as the starter. If he can shake the fumblerhea that afflicted him in 2010 he will be an All Big 12 threat. (Particularly, given the line that will block for him.) If he cannot, there are options.
Aaron Crawford is a very good power back who has been hamstrung by various ailments and injuries throughout his career. He finally appears to have licked those problems. And true freshman Ronnie Daniels was the talk of the spring. Six-foot-one and 200 pounds, Daniels has much of Crawford's power combined with Stephens' quickness and speed.
3. Defensive Line: This is a no-name unit, but it is filled with some very solid veteran players. Interior starters Donald Langley and Kerry Hyder saw extensive action a year ago as did backups Pearlie Graves and Chris Perry. This quartet had an impressive spring.
End Sam Fehoko is one of the team's few senior starters, while other end Dartwan Bush played many snaps as a true freshman in 2010. Scott Smith was having a banner year last season before being suspended. It is hoped he will return to form once his suspension is complete.
Newcomers Leon Mackey and Delvon Simmons should contribute immediately at end and tackle respectively.
Concerns: Are Tech's tackles big enough to slug it out with a power running game? If Smith does not return full bore, who will be the dominant pass rusher?
4. Quarterback: Although he has started a game in scarlet and black, junior Seth Doege will be an untested quarterback when Tech kicks off against Texas State.
Just about everybody thinks Doege will be a success, but that hunch is based more on the success of Tech's quarterbacks going back to Kliff Kingsbury than anything else. Tech fans take it as a given that the quarterback will be competent, at the very least.
From what little we've seen of Doege, he looks like a classic NFL quarterback in the pocket, and he has better wheels than any Red Raider signal caller since Robert Hall. Judgment and reading defenses are areas in which he may need to improve.
Backing up Doege will be Jacob Karam and Scotty Young. Both are talented and intriguing prospects, and both are almost totally inexperienced.
5. Defensive Back: This unit took a drubbing in 2010, but should be considerably improved in 2011. In Tre' Porter, Jarvis Phillips and Derrick Mays, Tech has three young, talented, and surprisingly experienced cornerbacks. Porter is physical and athletic; Mays has excellent speed; Phillips started as a freshman. Either Eugene Neboh or Urell Johnson should emerge as the fourth corner.
Cody Davis and D. J. Johnson is a pair of smart, experienced safeties, while Terrance Bullitt is a good hitter who will play close to the line. Giorgio Durham, Johnson's backup, looked good in the spring.
6. Receiver: You wouldn't expect Tech's receivers to rank this low, but there are just too many question marks. How healthy is inside receiver Alex Torres? Can Darrin Moore convert his excellent spring performance into production in the fall? Will Eric Ward ever catch fire? Will Marcus Kennard redshirt? How big of an impact will newcomers Jace Amaro and Jakeem Grant make? Indeed, with the exception of inside receiver Austin Zouzalik, just about every receiver on the roster qualifies as an uncertainty.
7. Linebacker: Tech may have a budding superstar in Cqulin Hubert, but really, that's just speculation. He saw little action behind Bront Bird in 2010, and started the most recent spring camp slowly before coming on like gangbusters. But we just don't know what we'll get from Hubert until the lights come on. Hubert's backup, freshman Blake Dees was a borderline revelation in the spring, but again, is entirely untested.
Daniel Cobb is scheduled to start alongside Hubert, but his only collegiate experience is on special teams. He's quick, but can get gobbled up by big offensive linemen. Backing up Cobb are freshman Zach Winbush and oft-injured senior Tyrone Sonier. True freshman Branden Jackson has an opportunity to do big things here.