Photo By Steven Chapman

Critical 20: No. 18 Luke Stice

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.

Before, during and after the conclusion of Texas Tech’s 2016 spring football camp, it was obvious to everybody that all hands would be needed on deck to bolster a Red Raider linebacking corps that was short on experience and depth. Then came the bombshell that middle linebacker Dakota Allen, the unit’s best player and one of the best on the defense as a whole, had been dismissed from the team because of “unbecoming conduct.” At that point concerns about the linebackers went from serious to critical.

Even before Allen’s departure, it was clear that University of Houston transfer Luke Stice would see the field quite a bit as Allen’s backup. A fullback and special teams ace for the Cougars who, as a senior had been a district Defensive MVP at linebacker for Midland Lee, Stice had turned a few heads—namely by knocking several off—in spring workouts. Despite not playing for the Coogs as a linebacker, Stice demonstrated by his physicality and quick grasp of David Gibbs’ defensive scheme, that he had what it takes to play linebacker at the Big 12 level.

The difference before and after the Allen fiasco is that the pressure is now squarely on Stice not just to be a competent backup, but perhaps even to start. 

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 To this observer, Stice is more advanced than true freshman Johnathan Picone, if for no other reasons than that he is a more experienced player, and more physically mature. Depending upon what happens at the SAM and WILL positions, not to mention how Stice and Picone develop inside, senior Malik Jenkins could certainly be an option at MIKE. But frankly, the depth outside doesn’t look any stronger than it does in the middle. Newcomers Brayden Stringer and Jordyn Brooks could change that, but nobody wants to count on true freshmen to solve their problems. 

If indeed, Luke Stice can do a credible job in place of Allen, Tech’s linebacker picture will brighten considerably. Early returns suggest Stice could be an effective run-stuffer, but how will he fare in space? If he cannot cover backs leaking out of the backfield or tackle ball-carriers dragging across the middle of the field, Big 12 offensive coordinators will exploit him and turn him into a liability. But as of the present, David Gibbs just doesn’t have many cards to play. Stice may have to suffice.  

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