It's been a long time since Texas Tech has had a safety who puts the fear of God into opposing receivers. In fact, we must go all the way back to 2005, the senior season of All American Dwayne Slay to find such a player.
But the 2014 Red Raiders may just have the guy to fill Slay's lead-lined shoulder pads.
He comes in a very different package, though.
Whereas Slay was a rangy 6-foot-3 215-pounder, the new malleus maleficarum of the Tech secondary is a stumpy 5-foot-9, 195-pound west Texan by the name of Keenon Ward. He brought back memories of Slay with at least two wicked hits in the Petro Scrimmage held this past Saturday in Midland.
But Ward, now a sophomore, gave evidence of potentially being a terrific player as early as last spring. His play has caught the attention of teammates as well. When asked recently about leadership in the secondary cornerback Justis Nelson didn't hesitate to fire off Ward's name.
"He's definitely a big part of this defense and the key to the secondary."
As a freshman, Ward had a predilection for playing near the line of scrimmage and helping out with run stop. He looked like a miniature linebacker, and tackled physically and in textbook fashion.
Nevertheless, Ward was still a freshman, and one whose previous highest level of football came in the 3A ranks of west Texas for the Snyder Tigers, stomping ground program of former standout Tech quarterback and coach Sonny Cumbie. Unsurprisingly, Ward, who earned his spurs as a quarterback in the high school ranks, suffered some setbacks in Big 12 play.
Ward started three games, tallied 32 tackles (one for a loss), and snagged an interception against Oklahoma State, but too often looked lost in coverage. He conspicuously blew a few over the course of the season, and when a safety blows a coverage, it very often means six for the bad guys.
But now that Ward is a veteran of sorts, he may be beginning to put it together in pass coverage. He did a good job against Jakeem Grant on a deep seam route in the first half of the scrimmage, crunched Quinton White after a two-yard gain in the second half, and a few series later absolutely belted Brent Mitcham on a crossing pattern (Mitcham, to his credit, held onto the football).
Ward made no obvious busts, and was repeatedly in position to cover and to level the heavy blows.
He certainly has the physical tools to be a very good one. As a high school senior Ward finished fifth in the 100 meters at the 3A state meet, running a 10.85. He and cornerback Tyler Middleton are probably the fastest players on the entire defense.
Ward also has a body type that has sometimes done very well at safety. All-Pros such as Blaine Bishop (Houston Oilers), Thomas Everett (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Bob Sanders (Indianapolis Colts) were all compact players in the 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-9 range. Ward looks a lot like all three of those guys.
At this point Ward's competition at the free safety spot comes from redshirt freshman Jalen Barnes and junior college transfer Josh Keys. High school recruits Jahshawn Johnson, Derrick Dixon and Peyton Hendrix will get a look in August, but the projection here is that all of those players will be battling for second-string status. Keenon Ward will be the team's starting free safety, and he will be a very good one.
Ward Have Mercy! Keenon Could Break Out
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