Entering preseason camp 2012, the Texas Tech football team arguably has more question marks than exclamation points. That's what happens when you're coming off a losing season and sporting a retooled coaching staff. Tommy Tuberville and his team will need to resolve the following issues in particular if the squad is to get off to a fast start this season.
What is the status of the running back position? We've all heard that Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington are ahead of schedule in recovering from serious knee injuries they suffered in 2011. Likewise, reassuring hearsay has suggested that Kenny Williams' legal troubles are trifling and will not interfere with his participation.
But we all know what they say about the pudding.
The reality is that this team will need to know where it stands regarding Stephens, Washington and Williams before the season kicks off. Will the former two be anything like their old selves early in the season? Or will they be shadows of their former selves?
Can the team count on Williams being in the lineup, or will his status be in limbo?
And if the answers to these questions are not favorable, can SaDale Foster and true freshman Quinton White carry the load?
Will the offensive line gel and become physical? On paper, the Red Raider offensive line looks impressive. Several of its players have sterling high school pedigrees, and most of them are ideal from a size standpoint.
Despite appearances, however, there are some nagging doubts.
Left tackle LaAdrian Waddle is a prime NFL prospect, but he has yet to put together a truly dominating season. He has one last shot.
Left guard Beau Carpenter has drawn praise from the moment he set foot on campus, yet is being challenged by sophomore Alfredo Morales. Has Carpenter plateaued or is Morales just coming on real strong?
Center Deveric Gallington is almost totally new to the position and depth behind him is questionable. If Gallington flames out or gets injured, there could be real trouble. Contingency plans must be built.
And what of freshman Le'Ravin Clark at right tackle? His performance in the spring was not reassuring. Will he develop, and if not, is Texas A&M transfer Brian Thomas far enough along in the system to take over?
Are the defensive tackles salty enough for the Big 12? If you don't have defensive tackles, your defense doesn't have a chance. They anchor the defense, but if that anchor is actually a bobber, every offense will exploit the weakness without remorse. This problem plagued Tech's dreadful defense last season.
Kerry Hyder, Dennell Wesley and Delvon Simmons are a year older. JUCO all everything Leon Mackey has moved inside to lend a hand. And newcomers Lee Adams and Donte Phillips will also pitch in.
But is that group really good enough? It contains no All Big 12 candidates, and with the exception of Wesley, is light in the britches.
The bottom line here is that there is enormous pressure on guys like Hyder, Simmons and Mackey to really rise to the occasion. If they don't, new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman will be fighting a rearguard action all season.
What will Tech get out of Cody Davis and D. J. Johnson? Kaufman has publicly expressed his approval of the spring performances of starting safeties Johnson and Davis. In particular, he rated Davis as one of the defense's two best performers in spring camp. But to this observer, certain concerns persist.
Davis, indeed, was excellent in run support during the spring. He actually looked a lot like Terrance Bullitt when Bullitt is fully healthy. And that's a real compliment.
But is Davis instinctive enough and does he have the lateral movement to blanket the deep third of the field side in coverage?
With Johnson the issue is consistency. He has as much big play ability as anybody on defense, but also disappears at times. Johnson blows hot and cold. The 2012 defense will need him to bring the stink game in and game out.