Like any football team, Texas Tech has several players whose performance will be particularly critical to the squad's success. These players, whether by virtue of experience, leadership, importance of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, are especially crucial. They may or not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they absent for any reason.
Sophomore safety Payton Hendrix was a ghostly presence for the Red Raiders last season, but in 2016 will take on much more material form. The heavily recruited prospect from Dallas Bishop Dunne saw the vast majority of his action on special teams, and finished the season with 10 tackles, six of them unassisted. Although presently expected to back up senior Keenon Ward, look for Hendrix to see the field a great deal and to make a significant impact.
Defensive coordinator David Gibbs has made no secret of the fact that he likes tall, rangy defensive backs, and the 6-foot-2 Hendrix fills the bill. In fact, that height stands in sharp contrast to starting safeties Ward and Jah’Shawn Johnson who check in at 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-10 respectively. In point of fact, he and freshman safety Christian Taylor are currently the biggest defensive backs on the roster.
The extent to which Hendrix plays, and possibly even starts, will depend upon how well he grasps the defensive scheme and covers receivers in the deep third of the field. But none of Tech’s safeties have stood out in coverage over the course of their careers. Indeed, there were signs in the spring that this problem is far from resolved. In other words, the opportunity is there for a safety such as Hendrix to step up and take control of a position. In other areas, Hendrix is probably already good enough to see meaningful snaps. He runs well and is not afraid to lay a lick. We haven’t seen enough of him to know how well he tackles, but based upon his high school tape, Hendrix shows promise in that most important of defensive tasks. And after at least one practice in the spring, Kliff Kingsbury
singled Hendrix out as the day’s outstanding performer.
As of this writing, safety looks like a position of genuine concern in terms of overall talent, coverage and depth. And the incoming recruiting class is no guarantee to remedy the situation. Therefore, it is significantly up to Hendrix, who seems to have a good deal of raw ability, to step up and fortify a position of need.