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 Texas Tech’s defense to have any chance of improving significantly over last season, certain players who played little and did nothing eye-catching, will have to elevate their game in 2017. One of those players is presumptive starter at defensive tackle Mychealon Thomas.
The Dallas Skyline product, via Butler County Community College, played in 10 games in 2016, starting none. Ondre Pipkins and Breiden Fehoko were Tech’s interior D-line starters. In limited action, Thomas recorded eight tackles, which is twice the number recorded by running back Da’Leon Ward. He also notched two tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry.
Those numbers will obviously increase considerably given that Thomas will be on the field much more than he was in 2016. But with the increased playing time, he could accidentally be in ball-carriers’ way and improve his tackle numbers. That is nowhere near good enough, though. Being a warm body who takes up space is not going to get it.
At some point, if Tech’s defense is going to turn the corner, it will need either a brute strong bull who stonewalls double teams (think former SMU greats Jerry Ball and Michael Carter), or a dynamic interior force who beats opponents with quickness and makes plays in the backfield (Warren Sapp is the classic example).
Mychaelon Thomas clearly is nowhere close to being the player Ball, Carter and Sapp were, but if by his play he could merely remind us of such players, he will have improved dramatically and taken Tech’s defense up a couple of notches in the process. That should be the aim of Thomas and his coaches.
The urgency surrounding Thomas is compounded by the fact that his slated backups have yet to make any kind of mark at the collegiate level. Zach Barnes, a senior who weighs 80 pounds less that Thomas, has been a practice field phenom, but a game-day no-show. Is there any chance he could flip the script in 2017?
Behind Barnes is redshirt freshman Houston Miller, who has packed on considerable meat in transitioning from defensive end to defensive tackle. At 270 pounds or so, he’s still rather light in the britches, but Texas Tech’s defensive coaches said good things about him during spring camp. Still, one can only expect so much from such a young player who will, as often as not, be staring across the line at grown, grizzled men.
Thomas is also a true veteran. And the 2017 Red Raiders will count on him to be an interior anchor, particularly against the run. If he is unequal to the task, the defensive horror show will likely continue.