D'Vonta Hinton quietly had himself a darned good freshman season in 2015. On a defense that, frankly, couldn’t get out of its own way, Hinton was a stalwart, starting five games, recording 53 tackles (eighth most on the team), 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. He did all of this, by the way, despite being hampered by shoulder and concussion issues.
By all appearances and accounts, Hinton is now healthier than he’s ever been since putting down boots in Lubbock, and at a rock-solid 225 pounds, he should be better equipped to take on mammoth Big 12 offensive linemen and only slightly less gigantic running backs. With any luck, Rusty Whitt’s magical strength and conditioning program will see Hinton through to an injury-free and successful season.
Something else working in Hinton’s favor should be a much-improved Texas Tech defensive line. Last season Tech had freshman Breidan Fehoko attempting to hold down the fort up front and not a whole lot else. In such a scenario, the New Orleans Saints linebackers of the early 90s (look ‘em up) would have had a hard time slowing down opposing running backs.
In 2016, Hinton, who is built a lot like Sam Mills, will have Ondre Pipkins, Kolin Hill, Broderick Washington and Joe Wallace causing trouble up front. This group, along with a more experienced Fehoko, should make for some happy hunting for Hinton and other Tech linebackers.
Regardless of how much better the Red Raiders may be looking in the front seven, Hinton’s presence is still absolutely critical. When Dakota Allen was dismissed from the program, along with him went one of Tech’s few returning experienced linebackers, and a talented one at that. Consequently, the linebacking corps got noticeably thinner.
The appearance and emergence of Luke Stice will soften the blow of Allen’s departure, as will a talented group of freshmen in Jordyn Brooks, Johnathan Picone and Brayden Stringer. Still, linebacker isn’t the easiest position to learn, and ideally David Gibbs will be able to bring those youngsters along slowly. Were Hinton no longer in the picture, spoon-feeding the freshmen would no longer be an option. Into the breech they would go, ready or not.