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.
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Over the last several years Texas Tech has been blessed with some good offensive lines and some excellent offensive linemen. Starting with Dylan Gandy who was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL draft, Texas Tech produced an offensive line draftee in every year except 2008, all the way through 2009. Louis Vasquez, who was taken by San Diego in the third round of that draft, is the last Tech offensive lineman to be drafted.
Thus, Tech has had a two-year dry spell of producing NFL talent on the offensive line, and that's the first time this has happened since 2003 and 2004.
The primary candidate to break that drought in 2012 is left tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Observers, including the author, have touted his NFL potential since Waddle made waves as a true freshman, starting a pair of games that season. Since then, his progress has been steady if unspectacular. And truthfully, Waddle's lack of a meteoric rise through the ranks of college football's offensive linemen has been a surprise.
Not that Waddle hasn't done quite well for himself in a Red Raider uniform. In 2011 he was a consensus second team All Big 12 performer. But many of us believed he would have been a second team All American by that point. Now as a senior, Waddle has one final opportunity to fulfill expectations, and not incidentally, to solidify his position as a top NFL prospect.
To reach that level, Waddle must do two things. First, he must become more consistent. There have been times when Waddle has looked like the best offensive lineman in the Big 12, but there have been others where he looked average. Waddle must produce more of the former and less of the latter in 2012.
And second, Waddle needs to become nastier and more physical. There has never been any doubt about his athleticism and footwork, but his ability to club an opponent has been open to question. But if spring workouts are any indication, Waddle recently swallowed a whole pharmacy full of ornery tablets. It was almost painful to watch him work over his lesser foes. And he made a habit of blocking until the whistle sounded and then some.
Waddle needs to elevate his game, not only for his own sake, but for Texas Tech's. His current backup, JUCO transfer Rashad Fortenberry, is not quite ready to carry the load should Waddle, for whatever reason, not perform. Thus Waddle needs to make his senior season a special one for all sorts of reasons.