Like any football team, good, mediocre or bad, Texas Tech has several players whose play will be particularly critical to the squad's success. These players, whether by virtue experience, leadership ability, importance of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, 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 series, we will take a reverse order look at the Red Raider football players we consider most invaluable.
6' 4" 250
With the departure of top defensive end Scott Smith, there was concern in the Texas Tech football camp that the Red Raiders might not field a single pass rushing threat. Now, with the late spring emergence of redshirt freshman Branden Jackson, it looks like Tech might have two.
During the spring, junior Dartwan Bush put on a veritable pass rushing clinic, but most of the time he was facing freshman tackle Le'Raven Clark, so his success was not entirely unexpected. Jackson was more of a bolt from the blue.
The less heralded of Tech's 2010 defensive line recruits from the Keystone State (Delvon Simmons was the universal blue chipper), Branden Jackson redshirted while Simmons played as a true freshman. But Jackson put his offseason to good use.
When he arrived in Lubbock, Jackson weighed no more than 225 pounds and was built more like a basketball player (basketball was his second sport in high school) than a Big 12 defensive end. Less than a year later and Jackson is edging over the 250-pound mark. Only a freshman, Jackson already has a more prototypical defensive end physique than any other player on the Tech roster.
Jackson's bulk could prove invaluable to a Red Raider front seven that is rather light in the britches. There's no reason he couldn't develop into a solid run stopper as well as a pass rusher.
But it was Jackson's ability to put heat on the quarterback that raised some eyebrows late in the spring. Squaring off against ace left tackle LaAdrian Waddle and backup Rashad Fortenberry, Jackson nevertheless managed to get to the quarterback enough to be noticed.
If Jackson continues to develop as a pass rusher, and if Dartwan Bush's big spring wasn't merely the product of confronting a raw rookie, Texas Tech will have its first true bookend defensive ends since Brandon Williams and Brandon Sharpe plied their trade in 2008. In that season the Red Raider defense was No. 18 nationally in sacks with 34.