Ever since the departure of Mike Leach it seems Texas Tech’s head and offensive coaches have been working to establish a running game that is a credible threat to defenses. Tommy Tuberville went so far as to make this goal job one. Nevertheless, entering the fifth season since Leach’s departure, the actuality of a strong ground game remains elusive.
And it has been that way since the 1998 season when Ricky Williams ran for 1,582 yards in only 11 games. Comparatively, the past 15 seasons have been a running desert. Despite playing a schedule that has averaged 13 games per season, no Tech running back since Williams has cracked the 1,000-yard barrier. Shannon Woods, who rushed for 926 yards over the course of a 13-game slate in 2006, came closest. But on average, Tech’s leading rusher over this period has averaged only 714 yards per season.
But if the Red Raider rushing attack proves puny in 2014, it won’t be for lack of effort, according to center Jared Kaster. He and the entire offense are big believers in the value of a strong rushing game.
“It’s a big thing,” Kaster said. “Running the ball in a passing offense, it sets up so many things in the passing game. So, yeah, it’s a big emphasis. You have to be able to run the ball. Just opening up simple little pass plays, getting the linebackers to come in. You know, whatever it is. Yeah, it’s a big emphasis here this year being able to run the ball.”
Running the football, however, is hard work. Blowing holes through big, brawny defensive lines and athletic linebackers requires lots of energy. And that is why depth on the offensive line is so crucial to a strong running game.
Depth in Tech’s current offensive line would appear to be somewhat iffy. James Polk, Tony Morales and Trey Keenan are the only veteran backups, and Morales has a history of injuries, while Keenan hasn’t played all that many snaps. Also figuring in the mix are first-year players Poet Thomas, Josh Outlaw and Dominique Robertson. The first two are redshirt freshmen currently stationed at tackle, while the third is a junior college transfer who also figures at tackle.
Robert Castaneda and Justin Murphy, both freshmen, have impressed so far and are also expected to help up front this season.
Despite the relative inexperience of the backups, however, Kaster is confident that all will work out for the best.
Regarding Thomas and Outlaw, Kaster says, “I think they’ll be able to come in--if it happens--that they’ll be able to step in. They’ve been bustin’ their butt, workin’ hard, getting extra work in. So, yeah, I think that if something like that does happen, that they’ll be able to come in and contribute.”
Likewise, Kaster expects Robertson to make his presence felt quickly.
“He’s a very talented kid. Very big, solid, quick feet. He’s getting extra work in as well. And I think he’ll be able to come in and contribute as soon as possible.”
Robertson was initially pegged as a starter at left tackle, but the adjustment to Tech’s up-tempo offense has come slowly enough that he’s now tabbed as a backup. If and when Robertson moves into the starting lineup, Clark will drop to right guard.
The center position itself will be a position of real strength if Tony Morales can stay healthy. He has long been viewed as starter material, but injuries have prevented him from showcasing his ability. Kaster, however, regards Morales as a legitimate competitor for the starter’s role.
“The competition is great,” Kaster affirmed. “It’s gonna get the best out of me and Tony, so it’s always more competition at a spot is just gonna make me and him better. So may the best guy win. Tony’s a great guy and he’s just gonna make us better with that competition.“
If Morales can stay in the rotation for a full season, and if the newcomers can step up to the plate, perhaps, just perhaps, Tech’s ground game will finally add the crucial element to make the offense truly unstoppable.
Kaster Talks OL Depth, Running the Football
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