Michael Crabtree, Byron Hanspard and Rodney Allison may pack the stadium, but it's Gabe Rivera, E. J. Holub and Ecomet Burley who win football games. And that is a point upon which Mike Leach and Tommy Tuberville would agree.
For all the flash and spectacle of Leach's offensive-oriented teams, he went on record as stating he'd rather sign a great lineman than a great receiver. And that's because, as Leach further elaborated, God doesn't make too many six-foot-six 300-pound athletes. You win with those scarce commodities.
Tuberville is more specific. For him, it is the defensive linemen who make all the difference.
"From the top to the bottom, from Alabama, you separate the men from the boys, when it comes down to it, with the defensive line. Defensive linemen. Because you can control the football game with defensive linemen. You can stop the run, you can rush the passer, but if you can't make a difference in the defensive line then you're like everybody else except the real good ones. "
Tuberville is working to make Texas Tech like "the real good" ones, and he is doing this by trying to build up the defensive line. Defensive linemen have been a prime recruiting priority, and with the move of Pete Robertson from linebacker to defensive end, we may be witnessing the initial move in a personnel trend.
"You're not gonna go to high schools very often and find one that is a college defensive lineman," Tuberville asserts. "It's usually a college linebacker or undersized college defensive end. A guy that's athletic. For years, even at Miami that's what we did. We took fast linebackers and fast safeties and put weight on ‘em and played."
And Tuberville provides an example of "growing" defensive linemen that will be familiar to fans of the Dallas Cowboys.
"The teams that win usually bring defensive players in that are linebackers or defensive ends and make defensive tackles out of them. Jay Ratliff, he was a starter for the Cowboys who probably weighs about 310; he was a 225‑pound tight end for me at Auburn. So you got to try to project what they're going to be when you sign them and then put weight on them."
Of the current Red Raiders, tackle Leon Mackey is one example of Tuberville's growth strategy. The all everything JUCO defensive end struggled to overcome a collapsed lung last season, but is now healthy and has a new lease on life on the defensive interior. According to Tuberville, Mackey played at 260 pounds last year but is now close to 280.
The other example is the aforementioned Pete Robertson. Tuberville again harks back to his Auburn days to explain what he envisages with Robertson.
"We had a guy at Auburn named Reggie Torbor that's a lot like him [Robertson]. We moved Reggie from running back and defensive back to defensive end right off the bat," Tuberville explains.
"He ended up playing, still playing in the NFL. Ten years."
"This league you need a guy like him on defense chasing down quarterbacks, chasing down screen plays from the inside out. I think he's gonna bring an extra dimension. He likes not having to think like we do in the secondary. He likes getting down, playin', hittin' somebody. I think it's gonna be his calling. Jury's still out. But he's worked hard to gain some weight. He can run. He's a 4.4, 4.5 guy playing defensive end. Undersized, but hey I don't want him to take on any big linemen. I want him to go tackle a fast quarterback or fast wide receiver, and I think he'll be able to do that."
Given Tech's complete inability to stop the run last season, some observers may be concerned about the team's relative lack of size on the defensive line, and Tuberville acknowledges that this is a concern. But overall, one senses that he is more concerned with shutting down the Big 12's high-test passing attacks, and according to Tech's head coach, you do that with speed and athleticism more than bulk.
"You've gotta have athletic ability. A big ol' toad in there that gets in the way and can't rush the passer in this league? You don't need ‘em. You gotta have guys that can get up the field and push the pocket," says Tuberville in no uncertain terms.
With the moves of Mackey and Robertson, and the addition of stellar high school defensive linemen such as Mike Starts, the Texas Tech defensive line will certainly be more athletic in 2012. We shall soon see if this athleticism, and the strategy that worked for the Miami Hurricanes and Auburn Tigers, also produces results for the Red Raiders.