1. The division of quarterback reps
While Patrick Mahomes is clearly the favorite to win the starting job, coach Kingsbury has given the benefit of the doubt to the veteran Webb by leaving the door open on the starting position so far this spring. Webb had surgery for a torn labrum after the season, but that didn't explain his several issues in 2014. After all, it's reasonable to say that being hurt didn't cause him to fail to make progressions, and lock onto his first read while opposing defenses easily read his eyes. Still, it will be interesting to see who gets the majority of the reps with the first-team offense and how each quarterback does. Mahomes plays a gritty style of backyard football, but that style may not translate into the expert execution of the offense which Webb showed us last spring.
If a healthy Webb can make some noise in Midland, he will do a lot to sway public perception in his favor. But has what he's done so far this spring earned him a fair share of the quarterback reps?
2. Who's the man at right tackle?
While many of the questions this offseason were naturally directed at the new defense which defensive coordinator David Gibbs has installed, I think the position to watch on Saturday is right offensive tackle. Redshirt freshman Justin Murphy was expected by many to seize control of the position after the departure of the underrated Fortenberry, but Saturday's scrimmage will be the first chance to see if the young player really is running with the first team or if it's Poet Thomas' spot to lose. The fact that Murphy, a redshirt freshman, could take over at a starting tackle spot is either an indication that Murphy is a very good player or that there are issues with the other players vying for that spot. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle.
If the lightly recruited Murphy really has earned the first-team reps, he could prove to be a diamond in the rough.
3. How the secondary responds
Every player on the team likely has the number 82 etched in their minds after that hot October day in Fort Worth. Missed tackles, busted coverage, and mistakes galore on that afternoon clearly affected the Red Raiders' mentality for the rest of the season - they gave up an average of nearly 40 points per game against Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Baylor. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs has not shied away from that performance; indeed, he has confronted it directly in interactions with both the media and recruits. It will be interesting to see whether this approach works in building confidence in the young Red Raider secondary.
Gibbs has some nice pieces to work with in the back four, with several young players who started multiple games in 2014. Options range from small, fast, hard-hitting players like Nigel Bethel and Derrick Dixon to large safety blankets like Justis Nelson and Payton Hendrix. If he can instill confidence and an aggressive, ball-hawking mentality, Tech may see immediate gains in the all-important turnover column. It will be apparent in Midland whether this is the case.
4. Defensive line starters
Many Red Raider fans have expressed concerns about the bevy of seniors along the defensive line, and the inevitable numbers issue at this position group which will arise after the 2015 season. These concerns are overshadowing the potential this group has for this season.
Mike Smith has the group slimming down and getting mean. Branden Jackson, Pete Robertson, Rika Levi, and Keland McElrath comprise the most underrated D-line in the Big XII. While Texas Tech will rotate out defensive linemen to keep them fresh, it would be a huge surprise to see any of the other scholarship linemen beating out those four in terms of first-string playing time. If that does happen, the situation is worth monitoring.
5. Where does Mitchell play?
The staff has quite a job to do figuring out where to play Mike Mitchell. His undeniable freak athleticism will earn him a lot of playing time, but he has never played a collegiate snap. The linebacking corps will almost certainly be captained in the middle by the cerebral Micah Awe (already a senior... where does the time go?). Awe racked up 48 solo tackles last season and played in every single game. Big Dakota Allen, who played ILB for Summer Creek High School in Humble, Texas, is the natural choice to back Awe up or spell him on running downs. That leaves Sam and Will for contention.
Coach Haverty will certainly be delighted to have a player like Mitchell in his position group, but on which side of the ball will the former five-star play? The scrimmage this Saturday will give Tech fans the answer here in his public debut as a Red Raider.
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