After reviewing notes from the staff, video footage and quotes from coaches and players this spring I have compiled a list of the five players who I believe are having the best offseason to date.
There are at least five more you could make a strong argument for and there’s still four months until kickoff (unfortunately) so a lot can happen between then and now, but these five have really shined.
Quotes from head coach Kliff Kingsbury, all from spring practice, are also provided with each selection.
Simply put, Cameron Batson has had the best offseason of anybody on the team despite attempting to replace the most prolific receiver in Texas Tech history in Jakeem Grant, who was drafted in the sixth round last weekend by the Dolphins.
Batson isn’t the explosive receiver Grant is, but not many are. That’s not to say he’s not fast. In fact Batson won the championship belt for fastest player on the team after winning a series of sprints in new strength and conditioning coach Rusty Whitt’s strength and agility camp back in February before spring practice began.
Batson parlayed that momentum in a fantastic performance in spring camp and everyone from head coach Kliff Kingsbury to offensive coordinator Eric Morris to quarterback Patrick Mahomes has said Batson is having one of if not the best offseason of anyone on the team.
Every glimpse of practice I witnessed Batson made at least one or two nice grabs for big gains. He entered the spring in competition with junior college transfer DeQuan Bowman and Keke Coutee, but by midway through camp he had pretty much won the job at “H” receiver in the slot.
But what puts his offseason over the top is the hiring of veteran and proven special teams coach Joe Robinson. As the primary punt returner the past two seasons, Batson was rarely afforded an opportunity to actually return a kick. With Robinson on board expect the entire special teams unit to become hyper aggressive and for Batson to be one of the biggest benefactors.
Kingsbury’s take: “He’s had a great spring, and he’s another guy who’s waited with an exceptional player in front of him. Cameron is a 4.0 student who works as hard as anybody on our team. He’s really beginning to understand the wide receiver position and we expect him to really come on.”
Terence Steele was one of the least recruited offensive lineman of Tech’s vaunted 2015 haul of big uglies. Fast forward a couple seasons and he’s the one guy from that group all but guaranteed a starting spot next fall. At 6-foot-6, 310 pounds yet fit and mobile, Steele is a prototypical Red Raider offensive tackle and likely the future left tackle for years. The only question is how many years?
Though likely to open next season as the starting right tackle, there is still a thought he might be the best option protecting the franchise’s blind side. Steele’s been that good.
He caught offensive line coach Lee Hays’ eye since before he stepped on campus. The thought is Tech really stole a unique, yet raw talent out of Cibolo Steele and that Terence Steele could be that next great offensive lineman in a long line of standouts and in many cases, eventually NFL veterans.
Kingsbury’s take: “Steele, redshirt freshman. Has the size, physicality, work ethic, all the things you want. We expect him to be one of those starting tackles; we don’t know which one yet.
Defensive end Gary Moore has finally arrived. After years of hearing what a talented athlete he is, Moore is starting to add some experience, savvy and strength to all that potential and word is he’s going to wreak havoc on opposing Big 12 quarterbacks next season.
A few things about Moore’s offseason which has stood out to me:
- He’s up to 240-plus pounds. This needed to happen, but he really doesn’t need to get any bigger to play the position at this point. The 6-5, 240-pound Moore is a specimen and one of the first guys you notice on the practice field just because of his physique.
- He rededicated himself on and off the field. Whether it be in the classroom, the weight room, the meeting room or on the field, several have said he’s a different guy than the past couple seasons.
- Kolin Hill arrived. Having another legit pass rusher on the opposite side means Moore will face just one blocker on many occasions which will free him up to make some big plays next fall.
- His athleticism will allow him to make plays even when offenses do everything to neutralize him, but he’s not a finesse player. Moore was one of the biggest standouts in a hitting drills session I was allowed to watch during spring ball and then showed he was able to set the edge on several occasions in the open scrimmage.
Of all the players on the roster, I may be the most excited about Moore’s development this offseason, given the importance of his position and what a quality performance from him could mean to this team.
Kingsbury’s take: "It's been phenomenal. He could play receiver and he'd get some playing time; he's that athletic. His deal was always just understanding our system. Again, he didn't play a similar scheme in high school. He mainly played receiver so his development has been great this spring. He's locked in and focused, doing the best he's ever done in school, so just maturity level."
Broderick Washington is big, nasty and strong. That's big news because Texas Tech couldn’t afford to miss on him and there were a lot of questions about him changing positions from offensive line to the other side of the ball when Tech signed him out of Longview in 2015.
The 6-3, 305-pound Washington finds himself battling senior Michigan transfer Ondre Pipkins (6-3, 325) for the starting spot at nose guard. The truth is both will play plenty of snaps, but seniority, pedigree and size all tip in Pipkins’ favor. That being said, Pipkins, who himself had a terrific spring camp, hasn’t won the job outright yet. This is the best case scenario for Texas Tech. The oft injured veteran stayed healthy and showed he will be able to contribute and the young Washington has shown he has the chops to play.
Washington has been described as one of the stronger players on the team and a guy capable of consistently drawing double teams.
Kingsbury’s take: “Washington brings it everyday and has that mean streak you want in d-lineman."
Linebacker Malik Jenkins has shown steady improvement every year in the program and as a senior to be and three-year letterman, Jenkins appears poised for a big 2016 season.
The Red Raiders moved all around the formation during spring camp and Jenkins didn’t flinch as several said he flourished at all three linebacker spots.
Jenkins is also the type of linebacker who despite being listed at 6-1, 225, looks more like 240, which has been rare recently at Tech. He also mentioned during spring ball the familiarity with his teammates and scheme under returning defensive coordinator David Gibbs (extremely rare at Tech) has paid huge dividends for him.
He’s also taken over a leadership role as evidenced by what Dakota Allen said about Jenkins following a spring practice, "I definitely look up to Malik. He's older than me. I know me and him play the same position but he is definitely getting a lot better and stronger. We are going to need him this year."
Kingsbury’s take: "He's probably the most improved player I've seen since I've been here throughout his career. He started out as a defensive end at Ennis and has really worked to become a stand-up type linebacker. Really, over bowl practices I felt like it clicked and he's picked that up through the spring. We've had him play all three positions so he's been a vital part of that defense, really looks good as a linebacker."