There is an exceedingly strange aura surrounding the Texas Tech defense right now. It’s called “realism.”
As opposed to last year at this time, and probably every other year I’ve covered Red Raider football going back to 2004, we hear voices of cautious optimism, with a real emphasis on cautious. Typically the August timbre is one of unbridled expectations, which as often as not, prove rather unrealistic. But this season, at least on the defensive side of the ball, there is a real reluctance to make extravagant promises and to heap praise on themselves. The feeling is one of shut up and then put up. The Red Raiders want to accomplish rather than bloviate.
We’ve gotten this sense from linebacker Micah Awe who’s said that talking about success and predicting great things means nothing; the defense has to prove it on the field.
We’ve gotten a similar vibe from defensive coordinator David Gibbs. In his recent comments to the press he stated that defenses NEVER grasp a scheme 100 percent.
He said that even he is not certain that he understands everything about his defense, noting that none other than Kliff Kingsbury will occasionally debut a new play from a new formation that sends him scurrying to the film room.
He cautioned that, although he’s been pleased with the effort and approach of his players, one should never get too high or too low based upon practice performance. There’s just too much the coaches still don’t know. If Werner Heisenberg were a football coach, he would be David Gibbs.
Linebacker Sam Atoe, who presently backs up Malik Jenkins at strongside linebacker is another brake-tapping voice from the defensive chorus. Not that he isn’t confident of the defense and the entire team’s success—he is. But compared to the braggadocio of yesteryear, Atoe’s statements are measured.
Regarding the extent to which the defensive players have assimilated David Gibbs’ scheme, Atoe has this to say:
“I’d say I feel pretty good about it. I mean you know we’re not gonna be perfect. We’re gonna make mistakes here and there, but for the most part I think we do a pretty good job. I mean there’s still a couple of nicks that we need to fix, but I’m not worried about it. I’m pretty confident that we’ll fix it.”
In previous years rare was the admission of imperfection and the a priori acknowledgement that mistakes would be made.
When asked about the opening game of the season and the possibility of a slow start, Atoe sounds a lot like Awe.
“I can sit here and say that we are going to start faster and whatnot but it won’t mean anything until it happens,” the California native declares. “So I do expect that to happen, but if it doesn’t then that’s our fault. But I don’t expect anything bad to happen. I expect us to come out a lot faster, a lot stronger than we did last year at the beginning of the season.”
Atoe, like Awe, and to a lesser extent Gibbs, states his disdain for words uttered before the season starts. This is a change. And frankly, it’s refreshing.
When a team is coming off a 4-8 season in which the defense gave up a school record 82 points in one game, there is good reason to be modest and to have contempt for brash predictions and unearned hubris. What’s more, it is good to see coaches and players acknowledge their own fallibility. It may be fun to hear one’s coaches and players talk about winning championships, but it inspires confidence when they have their feet planted firmly on the ground.