Replenishing the Ranks: Defensive Back

The following is one in a series of evaluations of the Texas Tech 2014 recruiting class in the week leading up to National Signing Day. The group of defensive backs expected to sign Wednesday is a potential game changer for the whole defense and gets high marks across the board.

THE RECRUITS


CB Nigel Bethel (5-9, 170)
School: Booker T. Washington HS (Miami, FL)
Rating: | National Position Rank: 58


CB Joseph Clark (5-11, 185)
School: Tyler Chapel Hill HS
Rating: | National Position Rank: N/A


S Derrick Dixon (5-9, 185)
School: Dallas Skyline HS
Rating: | National Position Rank: 95
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S Payton Hendrix (6-2, 190)
School: Dallas Bishop Dunne HS
Rating: | National Position Rank: 18
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CB Jamarcus Howard (5-11, 190)
School: Coffeyville CC
Rating: | National Position Rank: N/A

S Jah'Shawn Johnson (5-10, 170)
School: Ennis HS
Rating: | National Position Rank: 42
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S Josh Keys (6-2, 185)
School: Mississippi Gulf Coast CC
Rating: | National Position Rank: N/A


CB Tevin Madison (5-10, 165)
School: Fayette County HS (AL)
Rating: | National Position Rank: N/A


S Connor Wilson (6-0, 200)
School: Argyle HS
Rating: | National Position Rank: N/A
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Position Grade: A+

Evaluation: While many Texas Tech fans rightfully fretted over the lack of run defense last season (and several seasons in addition to that) the secondary was almost as big of a problem in 2013.

J.J. Gaines' shoulder injury forced the Red Raiders to rotate true freshmen Tanner Jacobson (who has left the program) and Keenan Ward for much of the season. Tech was repeatedly burnt for huge plays and not just because of the freshmen safties.

One could debate if the lack of a pass rush or the need to stack the box against the run made the secondary look worse, but the truth is the secondary was not very good. Ordinary opposing quarterbacks often looked like All-Americans as the secondary struggled in the regular season.

Those days may soon be over if the 2014 class of defensive backs are any indication. The group expected to sign Wednesday, along with a December signee, possesses size, yet also smaller overlooked guys with points to prove, possible instant contributors from the junior college ranks, prep phenoms, two state champions, one national champ, projects who could develop into special players, a whole lot of speed and perhaps most importantly depth.

Just by adding this amount of prospects to the roster will create a healthy amount of competition.

You have to look at Josh Keys first, because he will is expected to challenge for the starting free safety spot next season. He's 6-foot-2, has been clocked with a 4.4-second 40 time and shows a willingness to help in run support, which is important because he'll be replacing Tre Porter, who was the team's second leading tackler in 2013.

He has an impressive offer list, but what I like is his film (which you can see at the top of the page under his rating). The guy covers a lot of ground as JCFootball.com writer Scott Eklund noted in a recent interview.

His speed and athleticism can help cover up any mistakes made both against the pass and the run, which is invaluable to a team which was absolutely killed by the huge play last season in the explosive Big 12.

If everything goes according to plan and Keys can stay healthy, he can be a huge addition to the program and make an immediate impact.

Staying with the safties, Payton Hendrix is rated by Scout.com as the top high school recruit of Texas Tech's 2014 class. My evaluation of him is similar to Keys; he has a big frame at 6-2, he's fast, shows excellent ability in the air in pass defense, but excels in run support, perhaps even more so than Keys.

Two safeties I am absolutely ecstatic about watching in the future are Derrick Dixon and Jahshawn Johnson. Both were high school standouts who were overlooked by many schools simply because of a lack of size.

I had a sideline vantage point (which you can see in the film provided under his rating above) of Dixon (5-9) lead a Skyline defense against a formidable and very physical Plano defense in the first round of the Texas Class 5A playoffs in November.

I couldn't have been more impressed with what I saw. First he's very fast and very physical at the point of attack; one of those guys who tries to impose his will with each tackle.

He led several stops on third-and-short situations, he recovered a fumble early and then sealed the game with an interception late.

His technique in pass coverage was impressive as he almost never took a false step or was out of position to at least challenge receivers in coverage.

Yet, I was most impressed with the way he quarterbacked a talent-laden Skyline group, by placing teammates in the proper position pre-snap, chewing out players in certain situations and then turning around and pumping them back up before critical plays.

He's not expected to play early, but when he does, I believe he could be the steal of the entire 2014 class.

Johnson (5-10) is another rangy player who pops off the screen due to his activity. He's a natural free safety who has been told he'll get a chance to compete early at kick returner. This is not a mere depth guy. If he sticks, it's not a question of if he'll contribute, but when.

Argyle safety Connor Wilson is expected to be moved to the Raider position, which is technically a linebacker position but as many of you know serves as a hybrid, manned recently by the graduating, uber talented, yet oft-injured Terrance Bullitt.

There is a lot to like about Wilson, such as his speed (a common theme with this group) and ability in pass coverage. Wilson will have to bulk up, a fact he is well aware of, and will take time to develop. But, with time, he could mature into a very good player and if nothing else a solid special teams contributor.

The corners expected to sign Wednesday are an impressive group as well.

Justis Nelson showed a lot of promise at corner as a freshman late last season and there is some returning young talent at the position for Texas Tech.

Still, from what I hear and have seen on film, I believe a couple of new additions will be given the opportunity to see the field next season.

Nigel Bethel's flip from Miami to Texas Tech was heralded as a major coup and for good reason. He's brings, speed and confidence to a position that was sorely lacking a season ago.

Bethel firmly believes he will receive a lot of playing time next season and possibly start, and the coaches will probably give him a look.

The other guy who could see the field next season is junior college transfer Jamarcus Howard. In fact, I think his combination of size (5-11, 190)and press coverage ability makes him a perfect candidate for the nickel corner spot to help out in the slot against both the quick zone receiver types and against tight ends.

Tevin Madison reminds me a lot of wide receiver recruit Byron Daniels in that at some point you have to recognize a guy who just always seems to make plays.

Though his production at the smaller classification in Alabama could easily be dismissed as non transferable to the Big 12, I would counter that he dominated on both sides of the ball and even led Fayette County to a state championship berth as a junior.

His grittiness in dealing with a torn bicep muscle, which required surgery after the season (successful), for much of his senior year was impressive.

Joseph Clark missed a lot of his senior year due to a knee injury which required surgery. He has accepted a grey-shirt, while he continues to build back up.

Despite the injury, I recommend each of you look at his junior film. He was one of the first guys I looked at after joining RaiderPower.com in October.

What stands out about Clark, who played safety at Tyler Chapel Hill, is how absolutely violent a tackler he is. I mean every tackle on his highlight film is an absolute explosion of intensity, especially for a guy his size (5-9, 175). Hopefully he can make a full recovery and bring some of that explosiveness to the Red Raider defense somewhere down the line.

The law of averages say some of these players will flame out, or simply not live up to their potential, but I honestly believe this class of defensive backs is a major step in the right direction towards defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt and crew turning it around.

Time will tell.

Quotes: "Coach (Trey) Haverty and coach (Kevin) Curtis talked to me the most, but to be honest with you it was the whole coaching staff. They came to my house, they came to church with me and we had a good time. They brought the whole coaching staff and it was a good experience." -Josh Keys

"When I went up there (to Texas Tech) on the official visit, it was amazing. It's a real college town, everybody revolves around football and sports, it showed me the fans are really in it. Some people don't want to be away from home, but I want to get away and get the real college experience." -Nigel Bethel

"I love Tech, guns up. I mean I'm from west Texas, I love the area." -Derrick Dixon

"I was surprised after meeting the head coach (Kliff Kingsbury) and the rest of the coaches, how cool they are, that they're all young, how all of them are. I really like that. They just need more players, more people." -Jamarcus Howard

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