Year End Evaluation: Defensive Backs

Injuries forced the Texas Tech staff to play a couple freshmen, including walk-on Tanner Jacobson down the stretch of the season, but overall the secondary held up due to the leadership and steady play of senior safety Tre' Porter and senior cornerback Bruce Jones.

It may come as a bit of a shock, but amid the developing disaster that was Texas Tech's defense in 2013, the Red Raider secondary was actually somewhat of a bright spot. This may be surprising because defensive back play truly was deficient in one very prominent area, creating turnovers. Outside of that rubric, however, the secondary acquitted itself well enough to win.

But let's deal with the matter of interceptions—or their lack—first. The Red Raiders nabbed only seven on the season, and that was No. 107 nationally. And of those interceptions, only three were grabbed by defensive backs. You heard that right. Tech's safeties and cornerbacks managed to snag a mere three oskies on the season. What's more, safety J. J. Gaines, who played in only five games before bowing out with an injury, was responsible for two of those picks. Freshman safety Keenon Ward got the other. Suffice it to say that if Gaines had been healthy, Tech's turnover total would have been more respectable.

Tech's pass defense was considerably better in other important areas. In terms of passing yardage allowed, the Red Raiders gave up 225 yards per game, which was good for No. 56 in the country. In pass defense efficiency rating, Tech was 42nd best nationally. Given the absence of Gaines, and the difficulty finding a boundary cornerback opposite Bruce Jones, that was a very respectable performance.

Another area in which Tech's defense, and therefore its secondary as well, was surprisingly good was third down conversion percentage. The Red Raiders allowed a conversion rate of 34 percent, which was No. 22 nationally. This is surprising because it seemed like whenever the defense had an offense in third-and-long, the opposition was able to complete an intermediate pass for just enough yardage to convert. Perception and reality do not always jibe.

From an individual standpoint, there were certainly no stars in Tech's secondary, although there were a few modest comets. Safety Tre' Porter, battling through injuries that had scuttled much of his college career, capped off his time in Red Raiderland with a very solid senior season. Porter was not spectacular, but as befits a senior, he made few mistakes and prevented a relatively fragile unit from coming unglued.

Bruce Jones, all 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds of him, played like a bull terrier all season long. Pound for pound, Jones was the toughest Tech cornerback in recent memory. He tackled more fearlessly and physically than many players 40 pounds heavier, and he was also Tech's best cover corner.

There's hope for the future in freshman cornerback Justis Nelson. The razor-thin and lightly regarded newcomer from Mesquite was pressed into duty late in the season, in part because the other cornerbacks weren't doing the job. Nelson runs like a gazelle, and at 6-foot-2 has the length to make plays on the ball. What's more, Nelson displayed the natural instincts to eventually develop into a terrific cornerback.

The Future
Josh Keys: Tech may have hit the jackpot with the commitment of Mississippi Gulf Coast College's Josh Keys. Although Keys is listed by Scout as a three-star recruit, his roster of offers, featuring almost every program in the Big 12 and SEC, suggests he's a better prospect than that. Keys, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 185 pounds, is projected as a safety, but has also played cornerback in the JUCO ranks. He runs a sub 4.5 forty and is a strider who really covers ground in the open field. Keys is almost certainly related to former NBA forward Randolph Keys whose hometown is eight miles away from Josh's.

Jamarcus Howard: Coffeeville Community College's Jamarcus Howard will immediately improve Tech's speed in the back seven, which is a priority for defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt. Howard is a legitimate 4.4 guy who closes quickly and is not afraid to mix it up in run support.

Connor Wilson: At six feet tall and 200 pounds, Wilson is built to play immediately. He's also a ball hawking center fielder type of safety that Tech arguably has not had since the days of Tracy Saul.

Jahshawn Johnson: Like Josh Keys, Jahshawn Johnson is a three-star recruit with a four-star offer list. The Ennis, Texas prospect played safety in high school but projects as a corner for the Red Raiders.

Joseph Clark: At 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Joseph Clark is not yet the prototype Big 12 safety, but he's an intriguing prospect nonetheless. Clark has a good football IQ, strong leadership skills, and has plenty of quickness, anticipation and speed. And many shorter safeties have done well. Bob Sanders, Blaine Bishop, Thomas Everett, and Troy Polamalu, all shorter than 5-foot-11, made great NFL careers for themselves.

Derrick Dixon: Another 5-foot-9 safety on the Texas Tech roster will be Dallas Skyline's Derrick Dixon. Along with Joseph Clark and Keenon Ward, that will be three 5-foot-9ers at safety. Dixon plays like a kamikaze. With little regard for his own well-being, he hurls himself at ball-carriers pell-mell and willy-nilly. While Clark looks more like a free safety, Dixon may wind up at strong.

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