The Trenches

Scott Fitzgerald takes a look at the battle in the trenches with the offensive and defensive line.

The Fitzgerald house has been a little crazy as of late. In preparation for football season with our typical August morning callesthenics, blocking sleds & route running for myself, wife and 2 ½ year old daughter, we have encountered the daunting and unpleasant task of replacing a sewer line at our house. I have learned more about indoor/outdoor plumbing in a week than I ever hope or cared to know. And even though we have had the gracious help from family and technology, in some places, the only place to dig the trench by hand. That said, the situation has presented me with plenty of time to think about the parallels of my current situation in the trench and how the Red Raiders stack up on both the offense and defensive line.  

I'll risk sounding cliché and say that the success or failure of the 2012 Texas Tech football team will hinge on the work in the trenches. Run the football , stop the run., win more games. Cause, effect. Problem, solution. However it's never that easy as it seems in the Big 12 Conference.

Camp began with the offensive line as a perceived strength. La'Adrian Waddle, Deveric Gallington and company would anchor a unit that lacked experienced depth, but looked optimistic.

At Big 12 media days, Tommy Tuberville said that he felt comfortable with the offensive line.

"We're solid up front, we have to build depth in the fall camp, but I think we'll get there."

However, the second week of camp saw the departure of transfer Brian Thomas and four members of the line out with concussions. At one point, there were only eight scholarship linemen who were not first semester freshmen.

Working on that trench, it became blatantly obvious that while the ends of the connection were solid, the middle of the line was unstable and that was causing all of the problems. Much like the Tech offensive line, I don't worry a whole lot about the tackles. Waddle has been a rock since he started at left tackle, his true sophomore year and Terry McDaniel when healthy is experienced enough to depend on. The middle is the unknown.

While Gallington has been solid throughout his career, he will be tested with the calls and snaps at center. He played center at times last year when Justin Keown went down, we all held our breath during the OU game and during the spring with some of the grounders that made Seth Doege look like a shortstop at Dan Law field rather than a quarterback. Offensive Coordinator Neal Brown thinks Gallington is a better fit at center. We'll see how it all holds up.

That leaves us at guard. What began the fall as a perceived weak link at the beginning of fall camp, it appears that some depth has risen up and answered the challenge. If you would have asked me at the beginning of camp, the surest thing on the o-line other than Waddle, I would have proffered up Beau Carpenter. A highly rated recruit from Sulphur Springs, Carpenter arrived and won a spot starting as a true freshman. The only other true freshmen that played offensive line the last 15 years are Rex Richards and Louis Vasquez. That's some pretty elite company. IMO, the line played better last year when Carpenter was in there rather than when he wasn't.

"There's a lot of competition at the O-line spots," said Carpenter. "I'm being pushed by some of the younger guys."

Right now as it stands, Alfredo Morales has moved ahead of Carpenter in the rotation at left guard. With LeRaven Clark slated to start at right guard, the redshirt freshmen have really stepped up and raised the level of competition.

"The Morales brothers are both constantly being complemented by the coaches on their technique. They're younger than me, so that makes me realize that I need to raise the intensity as well," said Carpenter.

Throw in James Polk, who Tuberville mentioned specifically when asked who needed to step up with 4 of the 2-deep missing large parts of camp, and I think the middle of the trench for the Tech OL looks a lot better now than when camp started.

Defensively, I like what I've seen. The Red Raiders will stop the run above all-else this year and will commit vast resources to do so. Stopping the run was even one of the themes in the marketing video that was distributed in July. The rush defense won't be perfect, and those that expect a team to go from dead last in the nation in run defense to a top 10 unit will be disappointed. However achievable marked progress is a reasonable expectation.

Texas Tech gave up an average of 258 yards per game on the ground last year. That was painful to type. Cut that by 75 yards a game and the rank improves from 120 to number 90, right next to the 184 yards per game that Oklahoma State gave up last year. The Cowboys had their best season last year since Barry Sanders was in Stillwater. Move the meter from 75 to 100 fewer yards  per game and you're on the cusp of being in the top half of the country near BCS participants West Virginia, Oregon and Clemson.

Earlier this week, Kerry Hyder said, "We've got more depth this year. We're faster and moving better. I really feel like we'll have more depth."

Tuberville is also content with the progress of the defense. "Defensively, I'm pretty pleased where we're at. We're not the best we can be yet, but we'll get there."

In addition to stopping the run, the D has to find a consistent pass rush. With a full 2-deep across the line, it can come from anywhere and the contestants will keep lining up until one is found.

Ends Jackson Richards and Branden Jackson are the most likely candidates. Both are a little bigger bodied than Kindred Evans and Pete Robertson, although Robertson, a former high school QB, may trump everyone on athleticism.

Don't be surprised if the pressure comes from the middle as well. Leon Mackey is the most fierce of the defensive linemen this fall. A converted end, he is quick enough to slip inside, but has also put on weight. Everywhere you look there's depth that was very absent, especially late in the season last year.

Depth means fresh bodies and a not as much drop off from the first to the second string. Aside from receiver, defensive line may be the deepest position on the team. That's a very comforting thought a week before the season starts.

If the battle in the trenches is the biggest factor in winning games this year, provided that the two units stay reasonably healthy, there has to be marked improvement. If there isn't, the scene could look as ugly as my backyard over the weekend.


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