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' 6" 165
Speed is probably the most desired quality in a football player today. On defense, it is the most vital ingredient to prevent explosive plays. And on offense, speed is almost the necessary attribute for generating explosive plays.
Tech's fastest offensive player in recent memory was running back Harrison Jeffers. When he first arrived as a freshman—and before injuries took their toll—the little guy from Lawton was an absolute rocket. Because of injuries, Jeffers never got to fully showcase his speed in actual games, but those fortunate enough to attend summer drills during his freshman season will never forget it. Jeffers put on a clinic at Bonneville Salt Flats speed.
Speed such as Jeffers' is hard to find. It doesn't come along all that often. But Texas Tech has now caught lightning in a bottle twice in the form of diminutive inside receiver Jakeem Grant.
The Mesquite native redshirted in 2011, but played extensively in 2012. His receiving totals were modest—33 catches for 287 yards, averaging 8.7 yards per grab, and hitting touchdown paydirt three times. But where Grant set the imagination on fire was special teams. In the final two games of the season Grant took kickoffs 97 and 99 yards to the house against Baylor and Minnesota respectively.
This was where Grant showcased his incredible speed. Like Harrison Jeffers on the Tech practice field, Grant, once he found a crease, catapulted himself past defenders who could do nothing more than wave feebly in his wake. Having the angle didn't matter. Grant's speed made mockery of angles.
Grant has three years to play, which means Texas Tech will have a bona fide game-breaking kickoff returner for the foreseeable future. Jakeem Grant will win some games for Tech on the strength of his return talents alone. But Kliff Kingsbury has more in mind for Grant than just being a kick returner.
Grant teams with hulking tight end Jace Amaro as Tech's starting inside receivers. And Kingsbury will put the duo of Mighty Mouse and Brutus to very good use. One of the most common passing plays in spring scrimmages was Grant running a seam route straight up the field with Amaro running a deep post (and vice versa). Indeed, quarterback Michael Brewer commented that the offense runs the play so often that the defense is all over it. Opposing defenses won't have the advantage of foreknowledge.
But that particular play is just one of many in which Kingsbury will attempt to get the ball in Grant's hands in open space. Then, once Grant has the ball, it is up to him to do something with it. And that is where he must improve. Grant is plenty tough, but he is not the most physical ball carrier and can easily be spilled by a well positioned defender. Additionally, Grant has yet to develop that ability to make an effective move the instant the ball touches his hands. That skill is what makes Michael Crabtree so special. And until Grant becomes a better running receiver with the ball, his speed will not be the weapon it should be.