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.
5' 10" 190
Few players in Texas Tech's current starting lineup are as unsung as senior cornerback, Eugene Neboh. This obscurity stems partially from the fact that Neboh is a former walk-on, for when a player arrives without fanfare he is immediately behind the curve on that score.
But a lack of impressive stats also contributes to Neboh's lack of notoriety. He has never intercepted a pass as a Red Raider, and as a five-game starter last season, neither defended nor broke up a pass, and recorded a modest 11 tackles. It's easy to see why Eugene Neboh isn't on many radar screens!
But if the previous spring camp is any indication, sleeping on Neboh could be a big mistake.
Cornelius Douglas, Neboh's counterpart at the "field" cornerback position, got all of the publicity. And to a great extent, the plaudits directed Douglas' way were justified; he had a monster spring. So much so that I regarded him as the team's MVP for the camp.
Douglas' often spectacular play, however, overshadowed some sterling work by Neboh. The Odessa Permian product quietly threw a blanket over his side of the field. Neboh didn't rack up interceptions and pass breakups, but rather, just shut his opponent down. Rarely, if ever, did a receiver truly toast Neboh.
If indeed, Neboh and Douglas are as solid as they appeared in the spring, defensive coordinator Art Kaufman could be in the catbird's seat. A liability at cornerback is almost impossible to compensate for. But because quality cover corners are rare, most teams do have a weakness at this position.
Strength at both cornerback spots, on the other hand, allows the defensive coordinator to run all sorts of games up front in an attempt to generate pressure on the quarterback because he's confident his corners will do the job if the pressure doesn't arrive.
And as an added bonus, Jarvis Phillips looked very good at the nickelback position.
All in all, then, excellent play from veteran Neboh, along with Douglas' development and Phillips' reemergence, account for the praise Tech's coaches directed toward the secondary in the spring. Let us hope this continues in the fall.