Experience is a harsh taskmaster. Following the spring and summer camps of 2011 the Texas Tech coaching staff was borderline effusive about their team. Indeed, going into the season opener the coaches actually thought they might have a special team on their hands.
The rest was a chapter of Tech football history folks in west Texas would rather forget.
Fast forward to March of 2012. The Red Raiders had just completed what looked to be a very positive spring. There seemed to be reason for optimism. But Tech's coaches, still nursing blisters from 2011, were decidedly more guarded and muted in their assessment of the team than the year before. The mood was still upbeat, but also more restrained.
With that caveat in mind, it is still worth noting that numerous individual Red Raiders had outstanding springs. And below are accolades for the most noteworthy among them.
Best Offensive Player: I begin to wonder what Bradley Marquez could accomplish if left in one position for more than several weeks at a time. Marquez, despite constantly swinging back and forth between receiver and running back, was not only Tech's top receiver in the spring, he was the offense's top performer.
It is crucial that Tech solve its running back problems, not just to solidify the ground game, but also to allow Marquez to remain at receiver where he could be a star.
Best Defensive Player: Fortunately, it is difficult to pick the award-winner in this category because there are a few highly worthy candidates. Ultimately, however, the aforementioned Cornelius Douglas must get the nod.
From the first day of camp to the last, Douglas was the defender who most stood out. He truly looked like the lock-down cornerback Tech has arguably never had. Carl Carter? Eric Everett? Lemuel Stinson? Douglas could be better than all of them.
Best Newcomer: The best newcomer also happens to be the runner up to Cornelius Douglas for the Best Defensive Player award. It will surprise nobody that junior college transfer Will Smith is the winner here. And it's not even close.
If Douglas turns out to be the defense's heart and soul, Will Smith could be its brain. His almost instantaneous mastery of Art Kaufman automatically makes the defense substantially better.
Smith will wow fans with the occasional spectacular play, but the greatest benefit he brings will be in making sure his teammates line up correctly so they can execute their assignments. Busted plays on defense should diminish dramatically, in large part because of Smith's presence.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Even the coaches entered spring camp completely unsure of what they had at placekicker. Ryan Bustin, the heir apparent to Donnie Carona, was a complete unknown. Indeed, some of us believed he was given an opportunity at Tech almost as an afterthought, and accordingly expected very little of him.
When expectations are that low, it's impossible to disappoint. But it is possible to surprise. And Bustin did just that. He was deadly accurate from 45 yards and in the entire spring, and showed he could connect from 50 yards plus in the Red-Black Scrimmage.
If Bustin can handle the pressure of kicking in actual games, the Red Raiders will have a surprise All Big 12 candidate at this position.
Most Improved Player: Left guard Alfredo Morales played in only two games in 2011. Barring the unforeseen, he will play in at least twelve in 2012. The only question is whether or not he'll start and how often.
On an offensive line that did not display enough physicality to suit Tommy Tuberville, Morales was a happy exception. He was a classic interior mauler this spring, and he should be a help to Tech's ground game. At any rate, the progress from his freshman to his sophomore season has been remarkable.