Zac Spavital is Texas Tech's new linebacker coach after serving as defensive backs coach at Houston for six seasons. Spavital made the jump to Tech with new defensive coordinator David Gibbs in January.
Though Spavital has no experience coaching the position Gibbs shrugged it off recently adding, "I knew coming here that one of us needed to coach the linebackers. That dude can coach anything. I just felt like hey, I've never coached linebackers either, but to me the system is in place, the run support calls... everything is in place. I don't think it's that hard to do and one of us was going to go do it. I figured, take him because he's younger and has a lot more energy than I do to go coach those linebackers."
Trey Haverty moves from safeties coach to outside linebackers coach, a position he has never coached at the FBS level. Haverty was a standout receiver at Tech from 2000-04. He led the Big 12 in receptions as a senior with 77.
Haverty began his coaching career at Midlothian High School in 2005 before coaching receivers at Cisco Junior College in 2006. He served as a graduate assistant at TCU from 2007-09 and then defensive coordinator at Milsaps College in 2010. He returned to TCU to coach safeties in 2011 and then receivers in 2012 before joining the Red Raider coaching staff under head coach Kliff Kingsbury in December of 2012.
Texas Tech will have to replace all its starters at linebacker, but perhaps that is a good thing because the position performed horribly last season. You could debate how much blame should be levied on the defensive line, but believe me, when you go back and look at the film there is plenty of blame to go around.
Heading into spring most of my analysis was based on the word of coaches and high school film as most of the current linebackers haven't played many meaningful college snaps if any at all. After spring there is a little more to evaluate, though we'll have a better idea after Sept. 5 when the Red Raiders open the 2015 season at home against Sam Houston State. We'll know much more about this group after the trip to Fayetteville a couple weeks later.
The one player I have a lot of confidence in is Micah Awe and I believe defensive coordinator David Gibbs has done the right thing by putting him right in the middle of his defense. What the 6-foot, 225-pound senior lacks in size, he makes up for with speed, desire and physicality. In fact, Awe will enter next season as one of if not the most physical players on the roster and that is exactly what you want from your middle (Mike) linebacker.
Awe has played in all 38 games (four starts) the past three seasons, but didn't get his first start until last season and even then only due to injury. He's tallied 139 total tackles in that time..
Awe's biggest strength is sometimes his worst enemy as he can be susceptible to counter and misdirection plays due to his aggressiveness. His experience should help in that area.
Look for Awe to get as many snaps as anyone and probably lead the team in tackles somewhere in the range of 100-120.
Coach Gibbs praised Awe as being far and away Tech's top linebacker on the roster, but Awe said he likes the system and believes in his teammates.
"It comes down to being the best leader I can be, it comes down to me being as accountable as I can be and just doing my job," Awe said. "Anyone can do it. Dakota Allen and all the other young linebackers, they can go in there and do exactly what I do. I promise you that."
Speaking of Dakota Allen, the 6-foot-2, 234-pound redshirt freshman is slated as the back-up and heir-apparent to Awe at the Mike position. Allen has been described by former linebacker (and current defensive line) coach Mike Smith as possessing a special mix of talent, size and smarts with the potential to have a special career at Tech.
Dakota Allen (left) and Talor Nunez
He's definitely one of the more gifted players on Tech's defense and I expect him to make an impact at some point this season.
Sam Atoe looks like he has the inside track on the starting strong-side or Sam linebacker spot. I'm conflicted about Atoe as the 5-foot-11, 232-pound junior showed flashes in limited duty last season of a guy who can make those big plays, the ones that have been missing in recent years for Tech, such as tackles for loss and sacks. On the other hand he looked really bad in the spring game.
Many of the first-team's big plays came off of missed tackles by Atoe in open space, where he was in position to make the play and simply didn't. Guys are going to miss tackles, it happens, but he missed at least four in Midland. I'm going to believe his big plays will outweigh the potential problems in making the routine ones, but I'm concerned.
Undersized sophomore Jacarthy Mack (6-2, 205) made some plays this spring and could serve as a nice backup here as long as he's used primarily in obvious passing downs.
Kris Williams started the spring game at weakside or Will linebacker after opening the spring as Pete Robertson's backup at standup end. Coach Gibbs told me recently he had to find a way to get him on the field because he just kept making plays.
I like Williams. At 6-1, 228, he's a nice combination of size and speed. I think he could be a nice player at this position, but could also move back to rush end and be effective with 25-30 snaps as Pete's backup. Williams is a nice luxury to have.
Another option at the position is Mike Mitchell, the heralded former five-star recruit and Ohio State transfer. While some were expecting Mitchell to be King Kong in the Midland scrimmage and were disappointed, I thought his speed and athleticism was on display and came away impressed. Do I think he's ready to start a Big 12 game today? No, but I think he'll be an impact player this season.
Mike Mitchell (52)
Other linebackers in the mix include Kahlee woods, Malik Jenkins, Bobby Esiaba and Collin Bowen. Sophomore Talor Nunez could split time between one of the outside linebacker spots and defensive end.
Tech only inked one linebacker in the 2015 class in D'Vonta Hinton. The 5-11, 215-pound Texas City 'Backer was one of the most productive defenders in the state over the past two seasons and plays with an intensity that is surprising given his lack of size.
Hinton racked up 217 total tackles, 40 tackles for loss, three sacks, seven forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and an interception in 23 games played the past two seasons for Texas City on the way to being named all-state each year.
I wouldn't be surprised if Hinton received significant playing time or if he redshirted. I think it will all depend on the health of the players mentioned above and how quickly Hinton adjusts to the speed of the college game.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (9)
Jordan Carmouche (6-1, 220), Manvel: HIGHLIGHTS
Michael Divinity (6-3, 200), Marrero (LA) Ehret: HIGHLIGHTS
Maciah Long (6-2, 200), Galena Park North Shore: HIGHLIGHTS
Jeffrey McCulloch (6-2, 225), Houston Davis: HIGHLIGHTS
McKinley Mitchell (6-3, 220), Plano West: HIGHLIGHTS
Johnathan Picone (6-2, 220), Mandeville (LA): HIGHLIGHTS
UNRANKED Brayden Stringer (6-3, 200), Cypress Ranch: HIGHLIGHTS
Marvin Terry (6-2, 210), Dallas South Oak Cliff: HIGHLIGHTS
Deonte Williams (6-1, 218), Plano Prestonwood: HIGHLIGHTS