The Texas Tech coaching staff has stated on numerous occasions its desire to reshape the team, especially along both the offensive and defensive lines.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury and Co. kick off season two on Saturday and recently released the two-deep depth chart. While speculating about the depth chart is often fun, I decided to go directly to position coaches Lee Hays and John Scott, Jr. for the most recent scoop on what to expect from the players who figure to crack skulls for them along the offensive and defensive lines, respectively, for the Red Raiders this fall.
Of course, I will also share my opinion on each player/situation.
T/G Le'Raven Clark: Clark is the bell cow up front. Every coach you speak with raves about him and every defensive player mentions how difficult of a matchup he is because of his combination of size, good feet and strength. My take - I have said for months I expect Clark to be a high NFL Draft pick after this season and I have seen nothing to change that over the offseason.
G/T Dominique Robertson: Coach Hays said he arrived on campus at 325 pounds. He added Robertson worked hard on his conditioning on his own, but nothing compared to what the veterans were doing with strength and conditioning coach Chad Dennis. He also didn't arrive until Summer II meaning he had very little time to retain the scheme. Overall, coach believes he has a very big, talented, athletic player in Robertson who should contribute down the line. My take - It's obvious there was no way the coaches were going to let Robertson protect quarterback Davis Webb's blind side and you could tell Monday that Webb is happy that Le'Raven Clark has returned to LT.
G/C Baylen Brown: Hays loves his versatility as Brown can play either guard position or center if need be. If given the reps, Hays believes Brown could be as effective at center as he is at guard. Hays added that Brown has become more physical this offseason. My take - I thought he played well in the Holiday Bowl, but I really want to see some more game film on him. It appears the staff wants some road graders inside and at 293 pounds, I just don't think that is Brown's forte at this point of his career.
LG Alfredo Morales: Hays described Alfredo as the hardest worker who shows the most hustle along the offensive line, which explains why he keeps getting opportunities to play. He also described him as very smart and the most vocal in the group. My take - He has good, not great size at 6-foot-4, 308 pounds and he's experienced after starting 12 games and playing in 20 over the past two seasons. That's not a bad combination.
C Jared Kaster: Hays said Kaster came back stronger than ever from a shoulder surgery following the last season and he's glad they were cautious with him in the offseason. "No reason to bang him around just to bang him around." My take - I'm always nervous about interior linemen with shoulder injuries. That being said he's looked good when I have seen him and he's one of the leaders up front.
RT Reshod Fortenberry: Hays said shortly after it was announced that Fortenberry would be returning he was really excited to work with him another year because of how much he had progressed late last season. Fortenberry has had a good offseason and he is expected to be solid out at right tackle. My take - Fortenberry is listed at 6-foot-5, 286 pounds, which is a little light for a right tackle, but I saw him at the facility Monday and he looked heavier than what he's listed at to me. I think he's a solid player, especially in pass protection.
OL Robert Castaneda & OL Justin Murphy: As many others have said, Hays is really impressed by both freshmen. He said in a perfect world both would redshirt, but depending on what transpires this season one or both could play. My take - I like both players, but to me this is an indictment of some of the veteran backups as much as anything.
Overall: Hays said he believes they will be more physical and aggressive in the run game, but he's not expecting a giant leap forward. He also likes the experience that returns, but said the group still has a ways to go. They will be tested this weekend by 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive end Jonathan Woodard, a guy who will most likely be playing on Sundays soon. My take - I believe the offensive line will be better this season for several reasons. One being of course simply bringing back so many starters. While one could argue they are bringing back many who participated on a less than stellar line, continuity is mentioned by linemen and coaches so often for a reason. They will also benefit in the rush game by a better group of running backs in terms of burst and playmaking ability. I also believe they will run more two-back sets with Rodney Hall serving as a lead blocker to give them a better shot numbers wise. The fact they (probably) won't be pass blocking much for a true freshman won't hurt either.
Branden Jackson: Scott said despite Jackson bulking up to his current weight of 270 pounds, he has retained his quickness and athleticism. Scott added that Jackson will be counted on as a leader due in part to his experience. My take - It's hard not to be impressed with B-Jack. I believe the extra weight, plus less reps will make him a dangerous player for the Red Raiders this season.
Jackson Richards: Scott described Richards as a smart, hard working, versatile, humble player who will be used similarly to how he was last season in that he'll be moved around a lot. "I love that kid, he's fun to watch." My take - I'll never be convinced he can be an effective nose guard at 270 just because of basic physics. I do really like him as a three-technique and as a five-tech. His knack for making big plays as he did with turnovers against TCU and Kansas last season is reason alone to find him a significant amount of snaps.
Gary Moore: Scott acknowledged Moore "looks like a tall receiver," but said what he brings to the table is his athleticism, great twitch, speed, length; all the ingredients to be a good pass rusher. Scott added the transformation Moore has made since the spring has been amazing to see. My take - He definitely needs to add weight, but probably won't be able to until next offseason. He's also being touted by everybody as a special talent as a pass rusher.
Keland McElrath: Scott said McElrath has been one of the biggest standouts as far as how he has progressed from the spring and how he has picked up the scheme. My take - He's big, he's surprisingly quick and he has a knack for penetrating offensive lines and blowing up runs in the backfield.
Rika Levi: Scott heaped tons of praise on the big man for losing a lot of weight since getting to campus in June. Levi is down to 344 from 367 when he hit campus after playing at 355 at Sam Mateo College last season. He said Levi has really worked his way into shape and is running to the ball. My take - I have said since Day 1 I think Levi could be a major player because of his combination of freakish size, athletic ability and motor. Seeing him work in person has only strengthened my opinion.
Demetrius Alston: Scott said Alston has transformed his body to the point that he jokingly tells him he looks like a Big 12 lineman now. Scott said Alston has made several plays in scrimmages against the Tech offense this offseason. He also likes that Alston is a very steady guy and that you just like to be around him. My take - Alston came out of nowhere to me. I know he was coming back from an injury last season, but he is significantly bigger and has looked very, very good in the limited amount of time I saw him in practice during camp. I think he's a huge part of what Tech is trying to do up front.
Brandon Thorpe: Like Robertson on offense, Thorpe didn't make it to campus until Summer II. Coach Scott said he is learning on the fly and trying to get into football shape, but that he expects Thorpe to be a major contributor this season. My take - From what I saw in practice, Thorpe simply is out of shape. He's ginormous though and it's easy to see the potential. I think he could get into shape, get the schemes down, get some seasoning and really play an integral role, perhaps just when Tech needs him to later in the year.
Overall: Scott said he is as anxious as anyone to see how the defensive line will perform this Saturday against Central Arkansas. He added that the staff wanted to add immediate depth along the front and he believes they have with the junior college transfers and progression of the veterans. Scott sounded cautiously optimistic and it's easy to see why. My take - There is no doubt the defensive line is significantly bigger and deeper than a season ago. As Scott said, until they see how it pans out on the field, you just never know. I believe Tech is in much better shape up front than I could have hoped for at the start of camp, but we won't get the final answer until November.
The Scoop On the Big Uglies
Raider Power Top Stories
Kingsbury in Rare Form After Win Over KUTexas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury was affable, brutally honest about both the team's play as a whole and in naming individual players who struggled, and at times even hilarious…
Raider PowerYesterday at 11:37 PM
Raider Power MailbagRaiderPower.com reporter Alyssa Chrisope, senior writer Joe Yeager and publisher Jarret Johnson answer questions from subscribers about Texas Tech football, basketball, baseball…
Raider PowerYesterday at 1:14 AM
Texas Tech Opens Big 12 Play Against KUThe Red Raiders host the Jayhawks 7:30 p.m. (CT) Thursday at Jones AT&T Stadium to open Big 12 play.
Raider PowerWednesday at 11:18 PM
TTU Reaches New Heights on Recruiting TrailThe Raider Power staff discusses a Mailbag question from an RP subscriber and Texas Tech fan about how and why Chris Beard and his staff have enjoyed unprecedented success on the…
Raider PowerWednesday at 7:03 PM