Critical 20: No. 19 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 not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they absent for any reason.

Following spring camp 2014, none other than All Big 12 linebacker Pete Robertson said that if the team had given an MVP award for the spring, Keenon Ward would have been the recipient.

To what extent did Ward’s spring performance translate to the field of play in competition against the enemy? Not to an MVP level of course, but still, quite respectably so.

Bearing in mind that Ward missed two games because of injury, he still finished fourth on the team in tackles with 67 (only 14 behind Robertson), led the squad in solo stops with 53, had six pass breakups, seven passes defended, an interception and a forced fumble.

Those are not mind-blowing numbers, but for only 10 games played, they are very solid. Note also that Ward was only a sophomore.

Now an upperclassman, the hard hitter from Snyder is tasked with being a leader in the secondary even while he learns yet another new defensive system. Fortunately, David Gibbs’ scheme is reputedly rather straightforward so hopefully the learning curve won’t be too steep for Ward and his teammates on defense.

Regardless of the scheme, however, defensive improvement across the board is necessary if the Red Raiders are to improve over last season’s dismal 4-8 mark. And Ward is hardly exempt from that necessity.

Ward tackled reasonably well in 2014, but nobody, including Ward, was lights out in this area. He needs to do better. In pass coverage, Ward was serviceable but not a great deal more.

Greater confidence and comfort resulting from the simplified new scheme will hopefully put him in position to be more disruptive to passing attacks, and to snare a few more interceptions. Lack of turnovers has been a glaring weakness for Tech’s defense just about as long as anybody cares to remember, and Ward could help the Red Raiders turn that corner in 2015.

Barring a move of cornerback Justis Nelson to safety, Ward’s status as a starter seems secure. Backing him up are redshirt freshman Payton Hendrix and senior John White. The position is Ward’s. With a full season of good health, perhaps he will do something special with it.

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