Five Players to Watch: Defense

Texas Tech opens spring practice Wednesday and there are plenty of position battles going on. Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt recently said every spot on his side of the ball is an open competition and that this should be an interesting spring. With that in mind, here are five defensive players to keep an eye on.

Texas Tech spring football is rolling around the corner.

Kliff Kingsbury and the coaching staff have plenty of work to do in discerning players for next season. Position battles will emerge, talent will be discovered, and a foundation for another football campaign will be set.

As spring activities commence March 5, looks at five current members of Texas Tech's defense who you should watch out for.

LB Sam Eguavoen (6-1, 220)
The Garland, Texas, native – and senior leader – could become the de facto chief of the linebacking corps, following the departures of both Terrence Bullitt and Will Smith. Eguavoen, who added 1.5 sacks (compared to Smith's 4.5 and Bullitt's two) in a 2013 season where he started every game, will be counted on to provide stability and leadership. He is currently Tech's leading returning tackler, with 70 (46 solo).

SS J.J. Gaines (5-10, 180)
Gaines will enter the 2014 season as a junior, and after playing only five games before suffering a season-ending injury versus Iowa State, will look to improve more in the long run. If his injuries aren't an impediment to his participation in spring ball, Gaines has a real shot at regaining his starting strong safety spot. There was much activity from Gaines prior to his injury, including a 16-tackle, two-interception effort in the 2013 football season.

DL Branden Jackson (6-4, 240)
Jackson, who started all 13 games last season at defensive end, tallied 44 tackles and four sacks. With both Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush graduating, Jackson is the sole returning starter to the defensive line. Jackson made the move up to the line from linebacker just last year and is expected to be even more of a pass rushing threat in 2014 after another spring and offseason at the position under his belt.

CB Justis Nelson (6-2, 170)
There's been a bit of a buzz around Nelson, who was red-shirted for most of his freshman season in 2013. He burnt his red-shirt against Oklahoma State and then started at cornerback for the final three games of the season, beginning Nov. 16 game against Baylor. Additionally, he had an interception in the bowl game against Arizona State. With these developments, the Mesquite, Texas, native is expected to crack the starting lineup, especially with the departure of Bruce Jones.

LB Micah Awe (6-0, 210)
Awe is expected to compete for one of the starting linebacker spots after racking up 58 tackles (38 solo) in a reserve role. If he can transition smoothly into an every-down player with his skill set, he should succeed; spring football will test this theory. Remember, the defense is the most decimated position, with mass graduations across the three defensive zones. Awe possesses the speed, aggressiveness and instincts to possibly make a case for Big 12 honors in the future.

Raider Power Top Stories