If you took a look at Texas Tech’s defense last season, an overlying issue was players trying to do too much instead of just concentrating on doing their job. Now a year older, and wiser, junior defensive back Keenon Ward promises that will not happen.
As a sophomore Ward lead the team in solo tackles with 53, often times when defending the run but his responsibilities in pass coverage were overlooked. That is what Ward set his mind on this camp.
“They’re going to see me making plays on the ball,” said Ward after practice Monday. They are going to see me not in the run game like I was last year…They won’t see that this year simply because I won’t have to do it and our gaps will always be filled and when I do have to get in the run game I won’t have to freelance or anything. I will just have my gap, so they will just see more of a safety for me.”
The next thing on Ward’s priority list was tackling. Before fall camp started defensive coordinator David Gibbs said Ward needed to clean up his tackling technique.
Ward said despite the quantity of tackles had last year he knew he needed to improve the quality. That is the biggest thing he has worked on this camp, and said he will be “wrapping and rolling” from this point on.
"I challenged Keenon, that he's got to play better," said Gibbs after practice Monday. "He didn't play good enough last year along with a whole bunch of other guys. To his credit, he's been around the football a lot this training camp and he's caught the balls he's had a chance to catch."
Following the 4-8 season and Gibbs arriving with the “every spot is open” mentality it created competition within every position group, including defensive backs.
That intensity has pushed Ward all offseason, with him knowing the younger guys would work hard. It also gave him more of an opportunity to step into a leadership role.
“Just them being hungry to get that starting spot made me just a better player made me want to work harder,” Ward said.
Not only did Gibbs fire up the competition, but also made turnovers a main focal point for this defense and preached ripping the ball out every play. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury remarked recently the ball has found Ward a lot this offseason.
“I was just doing what the defense told me to do. I was reading eyes and the ball happened to find me a lot this camp. I took advantage of the opportunities I had to get turnover,” Ward said.
To add to that, Ward said when it comes to turnovers, this year there is a “big difference” because they are ripping at the ball more.
By all accounts Ward turned in a very good performance in fall camp, but he knows the true test begins Sept. 5.