Like any football team, Texas Tech has several players whose performance will be particularly critical to the squad's success. These players, whether by virtue experience, leadership, 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" 190
Following the Red-Black Scrimmage, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt was asked about team speed on the defensive side of the ball. Wallerstedt, who can make Dick Vitale sound like Dick Cheney, suddenly tapped the proverbial brakes. He stated bluntly that the defense is "not yet where it needs to be," and that lack of closing speed in the back seven is a concern. Wallerstedt allowed that if a player got out of position and a play broke open, the Tech defense would be hard-pressed to pinch off the bleeding.
Then he mentioned Keenon Ward. Wallerstedt declared that the redshirt freshman from Snyder "can fly" and indicated that Ward is the sort of recruit Tech needs to land to get its defensive speed up to par.
Ward, therefore, is squarely in the center of Wallerstedt's radar screen. He is currently listed as the backup to senior Tre' Porter at free safety. The savvy veteran, however, has a history of injury that rivals that of fellow senior Terrance Bullitt. In other words, there is hardly any guarantee that Porter will complete the 2013 season unscathed. On the contrary, it seems highly likely that Ward, subbing for a dinged Porter, will get many meaningful snaps and more than a few starts.
And from this vantage-point, Ward will be more than able to answer the call when called upon.
Ward's speed has already been noted; he's the fastest safety on the roster. His size, however, could raise a few warning flags. At five-foot-nine and 190 pounds, he's hardly the quasi-linebacker that is sometimes seen marauding through the deep third of college and NFL secondaries. But safeties built exactly like Ward have been big hits, so to speak.
The Houston Oilers had a safety named Blaine Bishop who was also five-foot-nine and weighed five pounds more than redshirt freshman Ward. He was a four-time Pro Bowler.
Bob Sanders of Indianapolis Colts fame, was five-foot-eight and 205 pounds. He was the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the year in 2007.
And Baylor's Thomas Everett, older brother of former Tech cornerback Eric Everett, had a sterling career—which included a Pro Bowl appearance--with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was exactly the same size as Keenon Ward.
Ward may be more than mere promise, too. Aside from his speed, he is a physical player and a very sound tackler who is not afraid to play in the box and pop opposing running backs in the hole, as Kenny Williams found out in the Red-Black Scrimmage.
Obviously, Keenon Ward's career has not even started, but he may well be one of the more talented young players in Tech's program. And the odds are good that he will get the chance to prove himself sooner rather than later.