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.
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Perhaps there is something to be said for being thrown into the fire before you've put on your fire-retardant jockstrap. Former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson took Troy Aikman in the first round of the draft, plugged him in to one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL, and rolled him out as the starting quarterback during his rookie season. Aikman took more lumps than a taste-tester in a Cream-o-Wheat factory, and so did the Cowboys that year. But we all know that Aikman eventually repaid those lumps one hundred-fold and now has a spot in Canton.
The case of Texas Tech linebacker Sam Eguavoen is far less celestial and dramatic, and is still far from being concluded. That said, you don't have to be Democritus or the Oracle at Delphi to see certain similarities.
Egauvoen, who didn't even begin playing organized football until his junior year in high school, didn't get the chance to redshirt after arriving in Lubbock. Tommy Tuberville and defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow, lacking depth and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball, elected not only to play Eguavoen immediately, but to start him as well. Five times that season, to be precise.
Predictably, the results were ugly. Glasgow's chaotic and poorly motivated defense was a napalm conflagration, and Eguavoen took more than his fair share of the flame licks. Eguavoen scarcely knew what he was doing on any given snap and basically played on instinct alone. As nightmarish as that first season was, Eguavoen did receive some Freshman All Big 12 notice. And more important, he learned.
And he's gone on learning. Playing for new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman last season, Eguavoen started nine games, made 52 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. It wasn't a great year for Eguavoen, but he took some baby steps.
Now in his junior season, Eguavoen appears to be making quantum leaps. In spring scrimmages, he was one of the defense's true bulwarks. Eguavoen was a physical and omnipresent tackling machine between the tackles. He seemed to know where the ball-carrier was going long before the handoff was executed. And he was a rugged, jarring presence. Eguavoen looked like a player for whom the proverbial lights had come on.
Eguavoen's startling spring performance has earned him a spot on the first team at WILL (weakside linebacker) over Will Smith, last summer's putative defensive messiah. Based on what this observer saw in the spring, it seems highly unlikely that Eguavoen will be dislodged from the starting lineup. If not, and if Smith remains at WILL, that position will be the single strongest on the defense, if not the entire team. Eguavoen will be the designated run-stuffer, while Smith should see action on passing downs. This is one position Kliff Kingsbury and Matt Wallerstedt will not have to worry about.