Red Raider fans can certainly be forgiven for not taking any positives from Texas Tech's defensive performance last season. That unit visited a great deal of misery and precious little joy upon the fan-base.
But lost in the implosion is the fact that hybrid safety/linebacker Terrance Bullitt created many headaches for the opposition. Despite playing most of the season with a variety of injuries, Bullitt totaled 21.5 "big plays." Specifically, he recorded 9.5 tackles for loss, four pass breakups, four passes defended, one quarterback hurry, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and a blocked kick.
That is a sizeable number of big plays. By way of comparison, Associated Press First Team All American linebackers Luke Keuchly of Boston College and Donta Hightower of Alabama registered 20 and 29 big plays respectively. (Keuchly also pushed the 200-tackle total.)
Bullitt did not participate in contact activity this past spring, but should be 100 percent healthy for the fall. And he'll be playing a new position—weak side linebacker.
Bullitt will doubtless feel like he has a new lease on football when he steps on the field for the season opener in Ark Kaufman's 4-3 scheme. Could this be the season Bullitt puts it all together?
Will Terrance Bullitt record more or less than 29 big plays in 2012?
A return to full health will obviously be a huge factor in Bullitt's success. Forcing yourself to tackle Big 12 ball carriers, to lay out for passes, and really bring the stink when your hurt, requires much mind over matter. To Bullitt's credit, he performed that mental contortion admirably, but the injuries still limited him. A healthy Bullitt in 2012 should mean a much more active and explosive player than we saw in 2012.
The move to weak side linebacker could also benefit Bullitt. As a rover last season, Bullitt registered only 56 tackles, which was fourth best on the team. As a fulltime linebacker, Bullitt will be closer to the line of scrimmage much more regularly. Clearly, this disposition will lessen his impact as a pass defender, but it will provide him many more opportunities to record tackles for loss and sacks, and to create and recover fumbles.
Additionally, Tech's defense will simply be much more sound than it was last season. Players such as Bullitt will be in position to make more plays, and they will be better positioned to take advantage of their strengths. Because Bullitt has very good speed for a linebacker, look for Kaufman to bring him off the edge (perhaps in tandem with middle linebacker Will Smith) in an effort to create havoc for the quarterback.
About the only factor that could work against Bullitt tallying an outrageous big play total is the fact that in the 2012 defense, there will be many players capable of making big plays. The aforementioned Will Smith is one such player. Strong side linebacker Sam Eguavoen is another. Add ends Dartwan Bush and Branden Jackson to the mix and Bullitt could be left picking up the scraps occasionally.
And that last factor could make all the difference. Look for Bullitt to up his big play total from a year ago, but to fall slightly short of the 29-big play benchmark.