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' 9" 205
Over the past 10 seasons or so, Texas Tech's football success has been determined by the play of the defense. In the main, the offense has been there and so has the special teams. But the defense, always iffy, was the wildcard. For the 2012 season this circumstance, if anything, is even more salient—the Red Raiders will sink or swim on the play of the defense.
For this reason, the importance of individual defensive players is heightened. And cornerback Cornelius Douglas may be the most important player on that side of the ball.
In 2011 Tech's coaches, confronted with an injury-decimated secondary, moved the inside receiver to cornerback, almost in an act of desperation. Yes, Douglas was physical and quick-footed, but he had never played his new position.
Throwing Douglas to the wolves in the pass-proficient Big 12 could have been a disaster for his psyche if nothing else. But Douglas took to the switch quickly. No, he was certainly not able to shut down Justin Blackmon, but he was almost instantaneously better than anybody else Tech could put on the field at cornerback.
Douglas held his own, if not exactly flourished. And he emerged from the season with his confidence intact.
That became readily apparent in the spring. Douglas, who I personally regarded as the MVP of spring camp, was a mini monster. In the early workouts nobody could separate from him. Later in camp, as Darrin Moore began to find his stride, the six-foot-four receiver began to win some battles against the five-foot-nine cornerback, but they were always battles. And when Moore won one of those tilts, Douglas came back to make a play very soon thereafter. That sort of resilience is what separates the great cornerbacks from the merely good.
There may be some concern about Douglas' height. And to some extent, the concern is justified. But there have been All Americans and All Pros who were built like Douglas and played cornerback the way he does.
In the Howard Schnellenberger era, the Miami Hurricanes had a bruising five-foot-eight cornerback named Rodney Bellinger who was one of college football's best, and he went on to an NFL career.
A few years later the Baylor Bears converted stocky running back Ron Francis to cornerback and he immediately became the best in the Southwest Conference. The Dallas Cowboys took Francis with a second-round pick and he played four years for the franchise.
And most recently, a certain Antoine Winfield won the Jim Thorpe Award for Ohio State and has gone on to NFL stardom. A five-foot-nine 180-pound straitjacket with an appetite for collisions, Winfield is a similar player to Douglas.
Nobody is predicting that Cornelius Douglas will be the next Antoine Winfield, but he has the opportunity to be very good indeed. And a true shut-down cornerback, something Texas Tech has not had in my years of watching the program, would go parsecs toward lifting the defense to where it needs to be for the Red Raiders to have a great season.