RP Goes In-Depth with Vincent Meeks

Could the 2004 football Raiders score 100 points in a game while concluding the season with the nation's number one ranked pass defense? Such a proposition may sound like the mad raving of a renegade physicist working his machinations in the depths of the Bavarian Alps, but the sources in this case are eminently more trustworthy: Red Raider free safety <b>Vincent Meeks</b> and his position coach <b>Carlos Mainord</b>.

Now, to be fair, neither of these gentlemen have actually predicted triple-digit scoring or superlatively suffocating pass defense. Rather, they have simply hinted at the possibilities. Mainord, for instance, who seems anything but an overwrought prophet of gridiron grandeur, does not disdain the notion that his current secondary could rise to the level of his 1984 Texas Tech unit. That defensive backfield, which was comprised of Carl Carter, Roland Mitchell, Leonard Jones, and Merv Scurlark, and was appropriately nicknamed the Hammerheads, led the nation in pass defense.

"Well, you know, it's hard to compare because offenses have changed so much since then. Back then it was mostly conventional base offense and we didn't get spread out all over the field like we do nowadays. We did a little back then, but not near like nowadays, so it'd be hard to compare 'em. I think that these guys that we have here right now have a chance of being good. And I think they're headed in that direction. But they're still all young. And Josh Rangel, I guess, is the only senior that we've got back there, so they keep getting better and better. The class back then was older, experienced guys who had played together for a long time, so they'd have the edge on that. But this group can grow up to be in that category."

Meeks, if anything, is bolder, still.

"I can honestly say Texas Tech has the best secondary in the country. Like I said, you got me, Dwayne Slay; everybody can see him making a lot of big hits. Josh Rangel makes a lot of big hits. Chad Johnson, he's a cornerback playing safety so he gives us good coverage and makes a lot of big hits. You got Antonio Huffman who is a great corner, physical, real physical and makes a lot of plays. You got Khalid [Naziruddin] who, there's not a game we played where a receiver didn't say, 'Hey, Khalid, you're real physical.' So, I mean, we're real physical in the secondary. I think we've got the best secondary in the country. We're ranked right now. We're like 30-something, 40-something. But by the end of the season we'll be in the top 10, top 15."

Heck, there was a Jaws II, why not The Return of the Hammerheads?

And about those 100 points?

"...Once we get on a roll as a defense and get offense, and we just get on a roll all together, it'll be 80, 90 to nothing. We're trying to get 100 points. We don't waste reps. We try to make the most out of every rep. We're trying to get 100 points."

Meeks has certainly done his part to make such seemingly outlandish goals appear at least plausible. He is the second leading tackler on a defense that has improved from number 106 in the nation to number 39. The Raider pass defense is also rated number 39.

Coming into the 2004 campaign there was some skepticism as to whether Meeks, who was hampered by a balky hamstring in 2003, could emerge as a solidifying force in the young secondary. Both Meeks and Mainord acknowledge that the hamstring was a major issue last season, and both have seen the dramatic improvement in the free safety's play.

"I think it [Meeks's performance] has been good," said Mainord. "I think that Vincent's had some problems last spring as far as hamstrings and that sort of thing. He was hurt, and he didn't get to practice as much, study as much, and now he's staying well and the more he plays the better he gets."

And according to Meeks himself, he has been guilty of holding out on the severity of his injury.

"Honestly, I haven't been very open about it [the injury], but I can tell you it slowed me down a whole lot. In high school I did fast twitch, which caused me to open up my stride more, and when I pulled my hamstring I was taking more short steps and not covering a lot of ground. Throughout the season it wasn't really well and then, you know, it slowed me down a whole lot because I thought about it a lot. And if somebody broke out I was thinking about running and it would grab a little. I had to run fast enough to not make it grab but fast enough to make a play, too, which hurt really bad, so it slowed me down a whole lot. At times, I'd probably sit on the sidelines and cry a little because it hurt so bad, you know."

As evidenced by Meeks's sterling performance on the season thus far, however, it is obvious that the hamstring is much better.

"I wouldn't say I'm back to 100 percent because I kinda tweaked it before, like probably in the spring, just a little bit. But nothin' too crucial. But right now I can say it's about 90-95 [percent]. I'm feeling real good and I'm just happy that it's feeling good. I just keep doing my ham technique and make sure I don't do nothing to make it worse."

Clearly, Meeks's improved health has contributed to his elevated play, and as he acknowledges, an extra year in defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich's recondite defense has helped as well. All of this improvement notwithstanding, however, Meeks would still like to improve in one crucial area: tackling.

"...I gained like a lot of weight up to like 206, and still, I'd try to butt a lot of people down and the people I'd try to butt down are like 250 or 260. So I need to focus more on wrapping up instead of butting 'em down. And a lot of times I think every shot is a kill shot and they told me that every shot is not a kill shot and that I need to be patient, just wrap 'em up...."

With the University of Texas's road-grader offense coming into Jones/SBC Stadium Saturday evening, Meeks will undoubtedly get the opportunity to work on "wrapping up." The Longhorns have the number two rushing offense in the country and boast the nation's leading rusher in Cedric Benson who has 988 yards on the year and is averaging 165 yards per game and 6.6 yards per carry. Meeks, however, doesn't appear terribly concerned with the prospect of attempting to hogtie Benson. According to Meeks, the Raiders do not plan to do any "QB spying" or "running back spying." Rather, the Raider Raiders will "just run [their] regular defense, doing what got [them] here."

And Meeks has some choice words for Texas defensive tackle Rodrique Wright who said that the Longhorns could shut out the high-potency Tech offense in Lubbock.

"Did everybody start laughing when he said that? Him saying they can shut us out? I laughed at it because they haven't shut us out since we been playing 'em so to him I just say 'You can try, but, you know, that's all you can do.'"

Let the fun begin.

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