Critical 20: No. 11 Keenon Ward

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
Keenon WardSSOSnyder, TX5-9195No. 11

If there is one true statement about the Texas Tech defense, it's that every position is important. The good Holiday Bowl performance and strong first half of the 2013 season are not enough to allay the grave concerns that arose in the second half, and really, have hung over the program since at least 2003.

If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then Tech cannot afford a weak link on defense because depth at so many positions is still unproven.

One position that Matt Wallerstedt hopes will be a source of strength and comfort rather than misery and exasperation is strong safety where sophomore Keenon Ward holds sway. Ward is clearly a player with great potential. He got on the field early as a true freshman last season and started three games. You don't do that in a BCS conference unless you have ability.

At this point, Ward's keenest skills are in run support. He is capable of making sure tackles along the line of scrimmage like a linebacker. In 2013 Ward recorded 32 stops and a full 29 of them were solo tackles, so he is more than physical enough to bring down ball-carriers without assistance despite being a smaller safety. Indeed, one of Ward's best characteristics is his striking power. He really delivers a blow and shows promise of being one of the programs hardest hitters, much in the vein of former safeties Ted Watts, Merv Scurlark and Dwayne Slay.

Coverage, on the other hand, may still be an issue with Ward. He was sometimes fooled in coverage last season (not entirely unexpected for a freshman) and his reactions were still not fully up to speed in the spring. Ward certainly has the speed and quickness to do well in coverage, but it appears that his route recognition is not quite what it should be. That being the case, it is quite possible that Ward will have a few busts early in the upcoming season, but with more experience in the system, he will certainly improve, just as he improved last year.

Fortunately, it looks like Ward has a capable backup in Dorian Crawford. The senior, who as a JUCO transfer played sparingly last season, really stood out on occasion in the spring and should be able to spell Ward as the need arises.

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