Critical 20: No. 2 Le'Raven Clark

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
Rashad FortenberryOTSRTylertown, MS6-5285No. 10
Justis NelsonCBSOMesquite, TX6-2170No. 9
D.J. Polite-BrayWRSOLithonia, GA6-1175No. 8
Sam EguavoenLBSRGarland TX6-1220No. 7
Jakeem GrantWRJRMesquite, TX5-6160No. 6
Branden JacksonDEJRMcKeesport, PA6-4265No. 5
Pete RobertsonLBJRLongview, TX6-3225No. 4
J.J. GainesSJRIrving, TX5-10180No. 3
Le'Raven ClarkOLJRRockdale, TX6-5320No. 2

Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech's much decorated left tackle, has much in common with his predecessor at that position, LaAdrian Waddle.

Aside from the obvious of having French prefixes for their first names, their frames are practically identical. Waddle was an inch taller and a few pounds heavier, but viewed on the football field from a distance, you'd be hard pressed to distinguish Clark from Waddle.

Both Clark and Waddle are from small towns in east-central Texas. Clark played his prep ball in Rockdale, which is a mere 80 miles north-northwest of Waddle's high school stomping grounds of Columbus.

Both have Texas A&M connections, too. Clark was born in Bryan, the twin city of College Station, while Waddle is a cousin of former Aggie receiver Percy Waddle.

And following Clark's junior season which saw him cop first team All Big 12 honors, Texas Tech can now boast that its current and last left tackles were tops in the Big 12 as Waddle earned the same distinction following his senior campaign.

They may have something else in common, too. Prior to Waddle's junior season, then Tech coach Tommy Tuberville stated that Waddle was too nice on the field of play. Tuberville demanded that the hulking tackle play with a mean streak. Waddle certainly got the message, as he became a gridiron menace, and he had the personal foul penalties—not to mention practice field scrapes—to prove it.

Is this a message Kliff Kingsbury and offensive line coach Lee Hays may be sending to Clark, too? There's not much doubting Clark's athleticism, and his skills are also pretty good. But thus far in his career Clark hasn't shown a great deal of nastiness on the field. (He hasn't been flagged for unnecessary roughness either.) If Clark develops the sort of killer instinct that makes him want to bury opposing defensive ends, he could go from good to very good.

As it is, and regardless of whether or not he turns into the next Conrad Dobler, Clark is an absolutely critical element to the 2013 squad for at least a couple of reasons.

First, as a left tackle, Clark will protect quarterback Davis Webb's blind side in the context of an offense that will likely throw the ball close to 50 times per game. As if that wasn't an important enough job already, it is also the case that Webb has no true backup at this point. Chances are very good that true freshman Patrick Mahomes will be Webb's caddy next season. And while Mahomes is very talented, Kliff Kingsbury doesn't want to have to rely on a freshman quarterback two years in a row.

The second chief reason for Clark's importance is that fact that he and Rashad Fortenberry are the only experienced offensive tackles on the roster. Backing up Clark and Fortenberry will be redshirt freshmen Poet Thomas and Josh Outlaw respectively. Incoming junior college recruits Dominique Robertson and Shaquille Davis could alleviate depth concerns somewhat, but until they prove their worth, Tech cannot afford to lose Fortenberry, let alone Clark.

Sinner or saint, Le'Raven Clark will be a key to Tech's salvation in 2014.

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