Texas Tech’s offense, always a potent unit, has the potential to be very special this season, even by the standards of the Red Raider strike force. Pat Mahomes, a Heisman Trophy hopeful, returns at quarterback. The Red Raiders are three deep at every skill position. And Kliff Kingsbury is on the sideline calling plays. What’s not to love?
There is one possible fly in the ointment, however. Texas Tech’s offensive line, which arguably overachieved a bit last season, has something to prove in 2016. Gone are NFL draftee Le’Raven Clark, and multi-year starters Jared Kaster and Alfredo Morales. That trio’s departure leaves a yawning void in Tech’s line that will not be so easy to fill.
At the most basic level, there are not many battle-tested veterans returning. Baylen Brown, currently pegged as a starter at left tackle, is a gray-beard. The senior has started 18 of Tech’s last 20 games. Tony Morales, the likely replacement for Kaster at center, had the first two years of his college career wiped out by injuries, but finally got healthy last season and started six games at right guard.
Those are the only true veterans on the O-line. Which means that several young pups will have to step up and play beyond their years if Kingsbury and his vast array of weaponry are to scorch the landscape as many people suspect. Because if the offensive line isn’t right, the talent at the skill positions is nullified. Period.
One candidate to carry a heavy burden on young shoulders is redshirt freshman Terence Steele. He was an under-the-radar recruit when he signed with Texas Tech from Cibolo Steele High School. Fellow offensive line signees Conner Dyer and Madison Akamnonu got most of the press. But it’s Steele who’s done the most to impress.
He was almost good enough right out of high school to play immediately, but fortunately the 2015 offensive line was healthy enough to avoid that option.
Coming into the most recent spring camp, Steele was not only projected as a member of the starting five, but was tabbed to play left tackle, the glory position on the offensive line. Over the course of the camp, however, it became clear to Tech’s offensive brass that Brown was presently the better option at left tackle, which means that Steele is currently scheduled to start at right tackle. That is still a great accomplishment for such a young and unheralded player.
Tech has had several stellar tackles over the past several years including the likes of Daniel Loper, Brandon Carter, Rylan Reed, LaAdrian Waddle and Le’Raven Clark. Steele, who is extremely mobile and athletic, appears to be cut from a similar quality of cloth. For Texas Tech’s sake, Steele simply must ratchet up the pace of his development, however. The entire offense will count on him to do so.