Critical 20: No. 12 Rika Levi

Like any football team, Texas Tech has several players whose performance will be particularly critical to the squad's success. These players, whether by virtue of experience, leadership, importance of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, are especially crucial. They may or may not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they absent for any reason.

Perhaps the best way to conceive of the critical players is to determine if they are the performers the team could least afford to lose.

With this series, we will take a reverse order look at the Red Raider football players we consider most invaluable.

Texas Tech Critical Twenty
Gary MooreDERS FRClarksville, TX6-5245No. 20
Rodney HallRBSRAngleton, TX5-10240No. 19
Donte PhillipsDLJRMilwaukee, WI6-2280No. 18
DeAndre WashingtonRBJRMissouri City, TX5-8190No. 17
Bradley MarquezWRSROdessa, TX5-11200No. 16
Baylen BrownOLSOSan Antonio, TX6-4305No. 15
Micah AweLBJRArlington, TX6-0200No. 14
Ryan BustinKSRKilgore, TX5-11180No. 13
Rika LeviNTJRSan Francisco, CA6-3350No. 12

The diagnosis of Texas Tech's inability to contend for the Big 12 title since 2008 is that the Red Raiders lack sufficient defensive depth to withstand the attrition that comes with playing in a BCS conference. Tech begins seasons strongly, but as the injuries mount up and the schedule becomes tougher, the Red Raider defense collapses and the team loses games.

Assuming this diagnosis is correct—and I believe it is—Tech's 2014 football season will pivot upon defensive depth. And certainly, the incoming recruiting class is built to address defensive depth concerns. But many of the new defensive recruits—and particularly on the defensive line—are being counted upon not merely to add depth but to start. In short, Matt Wallerstedt and his defensive staff are relying upon untested newcomers to solve problems. And that is always an unsettling proposition.

The recruit expected to make the most immediate and critical impact is mammoth nose tackle Rika Levi. It is no exaggeration to say that Tech's defensive brass plans on plugging Levi into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.

There is certainly much to like about Levi's skills, which heretofore were honed at the JUCO level. To begin with, at 350 pounds he is a bona fide powerhouse. Levi has a quick first step at the snap of the ball, good upper-body strength, low pad-level, and he uses his hands well to prevent blockers from getting into his frame. He seems to play with a good motor and actually has enough speed to curl back downfield and make tackles.

But while the 350 pounds Levi carries can be an advantage, they can also be a liability. Defeating Big 12 offensive linemen will require much greater energy and effort than handling those he faced in the JUCO ranks where he racked up 39 tackles, three sacks and 12 tackles for loss last year. He will also play his football in the Texas heat rather than the cool Mediterranean conditions around San Francisco where he played his high school and junior college football.

In order to have the required stamina to contribute over the long haul, it is possible that Levi will need to shed some weight. At the very least, it will be incumbent upon him to report to football camp in the best shape possible. Many an incoming lineman has been defeated by poor physical fitness combined with the brutal climatic conditions of Texas in August.

But assuming Levi can hack the conditions, he should, at the very least, be a rotation guy at nose tackle along with Jackson Richards and Donte Phillips. And if he is as good as Tech's coaches think he is, his presence could allow one of the above to move to defensive tackle where help is also needed. One thing for sure—Tech cannot afford for Rika Levi to be a bust.

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