The situation at offensive Texas Tech, but regardless, help will be arriving on both fronts.
The Red Raiders return a wealth of talent, experience, and just plain numbers on the offensive line, so an infusion of talent there is not particularly necessary. Pickins on the defensive line, on the other hand, are sparse and spare; Tech will take any help it can get.
If right tackle Rashad Fortenberry is granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA, Tech will return its starting tackles, starting center, and guards who have started as well. Le'Raven Clark, who earned widespread All Big 12 notice last season, is back at left tackle. Starting center Jared Kaster also returns. And in Alfredo Morales, Baylen Brown and James Polk, Tech is blessed with talent and experience at guard. Throw in promising redshirt freshman Josh Outlaw as a help at tackle, along with Tony Morales, who has starting ability at both center and guard, and you've got one heck of an offensive line nucleus.
Returning such a bevy of talent means that it will be almost impossible for a true freshman to come in and contribute immediately, let alone start. Consequently, offensive line recruits Robert Castaneda and Justin Murphy look destined to redshirt.
But one recruit who won't be sitting on the bench is junior college transfer Dominique Robertson. The three-star prospect who spurned Arizona, Arizona State and Kansas State for Tech, should contend for a starting post at right tackle immediately.
Robertson was utterly dominant at the JUCO level. Although he played tackle, typically an athletic, pass-protecting position, Robertson was a terrific drive blocker. He churns his feet and finishes plays with a vengeance. Robertson plays with an aggressive, nasty edge, and buckled his unfortunate JUCO foes with great regularity. If he accumulates as many pancake blocks for Tech as he did at the junior college level, he just might earn the nickname IHOP.
What Robertson's signature will mean is that the Red Raiders will be well set at right tackle, regardless of what the NCAA has to say about Rashad Fortenberry's redshirt petition.
Shaquille Davis (6-foot-4, 306 pounds), who can play both right tackle or slide down and play either guard spot, could challenge for a starting spot as well. The Mount San Antonio College (CA) prospect was a JUCO All-American this past season, committed just Sunday after visiting and is expected to sign with the good guys Wednesday.
Matters are not quite so rosy on the other side of the ball. The departure of Kerry Hyder, Dartwan Bush and Dennell Wesley leaves Tech quite thin on the defensive line. Solid defensive end Branden Jackson is the only returning surefire starter.
Demetrius Alston is another player who will help at that position, as will Jackson Richards at end and tackle, although both Alston and Richards saw their snaps decrease later in the season. But outside of Richards, Jackson and Alston, Tech's only other scholarship defensive linemen are Donte Phillips and Anthony Smith, neither of whom have much experience.
Fortunately, Kliff Kingsbury and his staff are bringing in a pair of JUCO transfers who will make an immediate impact, and two more who should at least provide depth.
Brandon Thorpe is the big catch at defensive end. And although Thorpe plays on the outside, he is such a physical presence that he looks very much like a tackle. When Thorpe unloads on a ball-carrier, he doesn't get up quickly. What's more, Thorpe plays with a good motor and is willing to chase plays down from behind. The fact that he knows how to use his hands and shed blocks means that Thorpe should really help the Red Raiders against the run.
But the biggest catch of all—in more ways than one—is mammoth defensive tackle Rika Levi. The 350-pounder who had offers from Oregon and Missouri, among others, is an explosive fireplug with amazing athleticism. Replacing the likes of Kerry Hyder is not easy at all, but Levi may be up to the job. At the very least, he will more than fill the void left by Wesley, and provide Tech's line with desperately need bulk in the middle.
The Red Raiders are not getting a premier pass rusher with the 2014 class, but in Thorpe and Levi, it seems likely that Tech's run defense will get a major boost. Few folks in west Texas will complain about that.
**Click here to join the discussion about the incoming talent in the trenches**
2014 Class Will Shore Up Both Lines
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