2014 Spring Breakdown: Defensive Line

Texas Tech wrapped its first season under coach Kliff Kingsbury with a Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State, signed a promising 2014 recruiting class and spring ball has just commenced. RaiderPower.com senior writer Joe Yeager breaks down the roster and highlights position battles to watch at defensive line.

Probable Starters
Branden Jackson, 6-foot-4, 240 | Junior | McKeesport, Penn.
Jackson Richards | 6-foot-4, 275 | Senior, Southlake, Texas
Keland McElrath | 6-foot-5, 280 | Junior | Ripley, Tennessee

Backups:
Anthony Smith | 5-foot-10, 325 | Sophomore, Houston, Texas
Gary Moore | 6-foot-5, 220, Freshman | Clarksville, Texas
Zach Barnes |6-foot-3, 215 | Sophomore | Loganville, Georgia
Demetrius Alston | 6-foot-3, 260 | Junior | Norcross, Georgia
Bennett Ofor | 6-foot-3, 255 | Senior | Houston, Texas
Donte Phillips | 6-foot-2, 280 | Junior | Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Most Intriguing Battle: Will anybody emerge at nose tackle to soften the blow of losing Kerry Hyder?

Position Power Rating: 71

It is amazing how the loss of two players can totally transform the appearance of a defensive line. Texas Tech has lost Kerry Hyder—arguably Tech's best interior defensive lineman since Gabe Rivera—and Dartwan Bush, a defensive end who didn't make a huge mark in the stat sheets, but was disruptive far beyond his numbers. And because of the absence of Hyder and Bush, a defensive line that was fairly formidable in 2013 looks shaky at this juncture of 2014. (Help will arrive in August, however.)

Tech's lone returning starter up front is end Branden Jackson. He certainly had his moments last season, rolling up 44 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and four sacks, which was second best on the team. But Jackson will be the line's main man in 2014 and it will be incumbent upon him to be borderline dominant. At the very least, he will need to provide every bit of the pass rush Bush did, and preferably a little more.

There's not much definite about who the other two starters will be in the spring. The best bet is that Jackson Richards will run with the ones at tackle, or possibly even nose guard. Richards started 2013 like a house afire at tackle, but then his productivity and snaps diminished at that position and he began playing inside more.

Richards is a stout 275-pounder who digs in quite well against the run. He's also capable of making the odd big play as evidenced by an interception, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble last season. At the very least, Richards is a solid, dependable guy who fills a spot in the rotation nicely.

The guesswork really starts once you get past Richards. Junior college transfer Keland McElrath has the sort of size that could make him a solution just about anywhere on the line, although the 6-foot-5 frame suggests more of an outside than down lineman. But the lack of proven players inside may push McElrath that direction, at least until August.

Of the players listed as backups above, only Demetrius Alston has made any kind of a significant impact in live action, although Midwestern State transfer Bennett Ofor saw his snaps increase late in the season. Like Jackson Richards, Alston's presence was more notable early last season than late. Alston is 260 and mobile enough to make plays virtually sideline to sideline. If he develops into an every-down player, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt will be a happy man. If Ofor can do the same, Wallerstedt will be on cloud nine.

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