With a 36-year-old head coach, a true sophomore as presumptive starter at quarterback, a pair of true freshmen possibly playing huge roles on the defensive line, and more true freshman likely to play in the receiving corps, it’s difficult to think of the Texas Tech Red Raiders as an “experienced” football team.
Yet as junior receiver Dylan Cantrell suggests, Tech will in some ways be more experienced in 2015 than in 2014.
Hence, although quarterback Patrick Mahomes still has spots, he’s a year wiser than he was last season. The offensive line features graybeards in the form of Le’Raven Clark, Alfredo Morales, Jared Kaster and Baylen Brown. Devin Lauderdale, Jakeem Grant, Brad Pearson and Cantrell himself, are all upperclassmen in the receiving unit. And that’s just the offense.
So Cantrell has a point. And the more important elaboration on that point is that the experience will make Cantrell and the entire team better in 2015.
From the personal standpoint, Cantrell, who multiple coaches have singled out for praise, has clearly elevated his game in fall camp.
“I think Dylan Cantrell has had an unbelievable camp, I don’t think he’s dropped one ball; just incredible focus,” said Texas Tech offensive coordinator and inside receivers coach Eric Morris.
Cantrell said simply more experience has made him better.
“Definitely just route-running, in my opinion,” says the Whitehouse product when asked where he has improved the most. “Just understanding the offense, where everything’s working. I’ve played three of the four receiver positions so I know pretty much the entire offense and so, yeah, just having a better understanding of the offense and being sharp on my routes. “
Precise route-running and understanding the offense are, of course, largely products of Cantrell’s time in the system. And it’s worth noting well that Cantrell has played three of the four receiver positions. That versatility may serve both Cantrell and the Tech offense well as the coaches attempt to piece together a puzzle made very complex by an influx of talented young receivers.
When asked about the 2014 Red Raiders’ slow start against Central Arkansas, and what reason there might be for Tech starting out much more quickly against Sam Houston State in 2015, Cantrell again turned to the experience factor.
“I think last year, I mean a lot of inexperience, a lot of guys kind of timid at times coming out first time on the big stage,” said Cantrell. “And so we were playing scared a little bit. And we have a lot guys coming back, a lot of experience, so I think we’re definitely gonna start of a lot faster this year.”
With regard to the Bearkats, who will be strong contenders for the FCS national title in 2015, the Red Raiders will know much more this week when they begin formal preparation for the visitors. In the meantime, the general sense is that, while Tech’s coaches and players are certainly aware of Sam Houston, their primary concern is with simply improving their own play, controlling the variables that are within their sphere of influence.
“I’ve watched ‘em a little bit, not a whole lot,” Cantrell reports. “I know they play a lot of off coverage, and so we’ll be looking just to work the routes that we can work on ‘em and try to get open and make plays, and that’s the big thing we’re working on. Block hard and be the toughest receiver group in the country, block hard in the run game and then make plays when the ball’s thrown our way.”
Given Tech’s deeper fund of experience, the routes, the play-making, the blocking and the throwing should all be noticeably better on the first Saturday of 2015.