The most astonishing player of the practices would have to be Khalid Naziruddin. Although he had a decent year last season, he emerged as a star by the end of Spring football. The rest of the Defensive Backs proved themselves to be solid as well. If there was an area of concern after the Spring, it would have to be on the lines. Both the Offensive and Defensive Line showed signs of weakness. The problem appears to be in working together, as the players aren't used to each other's playing styles yet. However, both units steadily improved throughout the practices, which is always a good sign.
Overall, the team already appears to be more athletic and talented than Tech has seen in a few years. The offense looks as solid as always, and the defense is finally stepping up their play to the level needed to compete in the Big 12. The balance between the offense and defense is finally where it needs to be, and both the units should key off of each other for greater success next season.
The Texas Tech offense is obviously known for its high-flying aerial show. With the 2005 football season nearing, we can expect the same kinds of gaudy numbers from the patented "Air Raid" offense. There's no reason to expect any changes this year from the offense…as long as Mike Leach is at the helm. It does appear, however, that a running game will be featured more prominently than in years past. That also means that opposing defenses will have to stay honest.
This season we are looking at a lot of new faces to replace old ones. Graduation hit the offense hardest. Tech loses several key players from an 8-4 2004 campaign. The most notable is Quarterback Sonny Cumbie. Cumbie, who was signed by the Indianapolis Colts as a free agent, put up huge numbers for the Red Raiders in 2004. Other key losses for the Red Raiders were on the offensive line. Those include Dylan Gandy, who was drafted by Indianapolis, Daniel Loper, who was drafted by Tennessee, and Cody Campbell, who was picked up as a free agent by Indianapolis as well. The losses on the line are most likely going to be the most painful for the Red Raiders. Gandy, the starting center in 2004, was one of the anchors on the offensive line and will be hard to replace. Out of the receiving core, Texas Tech loses "Big Play" Trey Haverty and Nehemiah Glover, two of the most productive receivers out of the Tech receiver lineup. Lastly, Tech loses speedster Johnnie Mack out of the dangerous Henderson/Mack backfield tandem. None of these players will be easy to replace, however, several new faces are stepping into their roles.
Offensive genius Mike Leach does have a lot of talent returning, though. Six starters return from last year's squad. The biggest names that are returning are junior receiver Jarrett Hicks and senior running back Taurean Henderson, who is well on pace to maintain partial qualifier status. These two players were some of the biggest playmakers on the field last year and figure to do the same this year. Also returning is punt returner and wide receiver Danny Amendola. Expect big things out of Danny this year at both return man and receiver. Also in the receiving core, Joel Filani returns opposite of Jarrett Hicks. Filani had an exciting Holiday Bowl and looks to carry that momentum forward to 2005. Lastly, the Red Raiders return two starters off of the offensive line. E.J. Whitley and Manny Ramirez look to anchor a very unexperienced unit, a unit which is crucial for success in the Tech offense.
This year will feature many new faces at positions that are lacking. Obviously, Quarterback is the key to the Tech offense. 2005 will feature two exciting quarterbacks. Cody Hodges finds himself as the fifth year senior looking to lead the Tech offense for his last year. Competing with Hodges will be red-shirt freshman Graham Harrell. The job seems to be firmly in Hodges hands after an accident lead to a Harrell injury. Harrell, however, should be ready to go by fall and will attempt to unseat Hodges and win the starting job. Another one of the top newcomers will be Robert Johnson. Johnson, who had a disappointing first year at Tech, was red-shirted as quarterback and now enters the lineup at the Y receiver slot. His speed and moves will make him absolutely deadly. Replacing Johnnie Mack in the backfield will be difficult, but both Shannon Woods and Taurance Rawls look forward to accepting that challenge. Woods, who his a finesse runner, and Rawls, the power back of the two, will enter the Fall competing for the #2 running back position. On the offensive line, there are three new faces who will be replacing Campbell, Gandy, and Loper. Those faces are Bryan Kegans, Glenn January, and Brandon Jones. Expect a freshman or two to step up, however, and relieve some stress on the depth chart.
All-in-all, the Red Raiders are going to be successful. How successful depends a lot on how the offensive line gels. If the offensive line can gel and give the new quarterback time to throw, Tech will put up points. Obviously, the ability of a new quarterback to step in will also be a huge factor. If the new quarterback can step in and command the troops, so to speak, then the offense should put up numbers as big, if not bigger than last years. The talent of the receiving core is outrageous and if they play up to their ability, could be an absolutely killer unit. The run game will also be key as well. If Tech can run the ball effectively, then that will be an added dimension to keep defenses honest. Defensive coordinators have nightmares about this scheme and will continue to do so in 2005.
It is no secret that the Red Raiders' defense has been their weak link for the past few years. However, the unit made some impressive strides last year, and looks to further improve their play for next season. Judging by their stellar play in the Spring practices, it appears that this could very well be the best defensive unit of the Mike Leach era. The scheme for next year will most likely be a 3-4, much like we have seen in the past. The Texas Tech defense also seems to have put more of an emphasis on speed this year, especially at the linebacker positions. The newcomers here, Fletcher Session and Sylvester Brinkley, will likely see quite a bit of playing time since they provide some much-needed speed to help defend against running threats on the outside. Also, the addition of Dwayne Slay at the Safety position will add intensity to further motivate the Red Raider defense.
The defensive units are led by a few key returning starters. Keyunta Dawson looks to be the anchor for an inexperienced defensive line. His leadership will be crucial to the line's success next season. As for the linebackers, the experience will come from John Saldi and Brock Stratton. The Defensive Backs may very well be the best defensive unit, having the leadership of Vincent Meeks and Antonio Huffman, and the explosive play of Dwayne Slay and Khalid Naziruddin. Slay has been much more vocal as of late, calling out what he sees in the offense. The big surprise, though, has been the stellar play of Naziruddin. Khalid could possibly be one of the best cornerbacks in the Big 12 next season, and considering his talented supporting cast, should impress next season.
The defense looks capable of surprising quite a few teams next year, and could be a major difference in pulling off a few more victories this year. The defensive line is the biggest concern, as its constituents are relatively young and inexperienced. Their performance next season will be instrumental to Tech's defensive success. The linebackers should be greatly improved from last season considering their added quickness, and the defensive backs appear to be a force to be reckoned with. If the defensive line and linebackers can work together well enough to shut down the running game of teams such as Texas and Oklahoma, then the Red Raiders should easily be able to take some strain off of the offense next season.
While every game is key, there are few games that stand out as mile markers.
Texas Tech @ University of Nebraska
This is perhaps the biggest game of the year. Tech heads on the road to Lincoln, Nebraska, a notoriously difficult venue. After a 60 point beat-down in Lubbock last year, Nebraska will be looking for redemption. Keep in mind Tech has never won in Lincoln, and 2004 was the first win over a Nebraska team in Texas Tech football history. This will not be the same Nebraska team of last year. If Tech wins, they should head into Texas undefeated, a loss could be very dangerous for this Tech team.
Texas Tech @ University of Texas
Texas Tech and Texas should both head into this game undefeated, barring any unfortunate or unforeseen upsets. Texas is being hailed by many as the favorite for the Big 12 South and Big 12 Titles. Texas returns Heisman Candidate Vince Young and a barrage of former 5-Star high school players. Tech returns a lot of key players as well. Tech was a blown coverage away from defeating Texas at Darryl K. Royal Stadium in 2003. After a lack-luster performance in Lubbock last year, the Red Raiders will be looking for redemption. Let's be honest, this game will be amazingly difficult. A Tech win could set into motion a season of enormous proportions. Conversely, a loss at the hands of the pre-season number 2 would hardly ruin the season.
Texas A&M @ Texas Tech
Over the past 10 years, Tech has owned this series. In 2004 A&M ended a three year skid by defeating Tech in College Station in overtime. Tech will be looking for revenge, and this game is at home, however, to look past the Aggies would be disastrous for Tech. Despite a huge win in Lubbock in 2003, nothing is a given. Expect another hard-fought game. Jones will be packed for this one, and it could come down to home-field advantage. The Aggies return Courtney Lewis and Reggie McNeal.
University of Oklahoma @ Texas Tech
Tech has had sour luck against OU the past few years. This year might be different. Tech returns a lot of starters from last years team that hung with OU in Norman. The last time OU visited Lubbock, Tech was crushed. However, OU looks more vulnerable than ever after losing their Quarterback and three receivers to the NFL, not to mention the countless defensive players they lost. Tech will still have to be on fire for this one to win it, but this could be the best chance in years that the Red Raiders have to defeat the Sooners. If the chips land in the right places, this could be a repeat of 2002 where Tech and OU battle to head to the Big 12 Championship Game.
Texas Tech Schedule:
09/10/2005 Florida International
09/17/2005 Sam Houston State
09/24/2005 Indiana State
10/15/2005 Kansas State (Homecoming)
11/05/2005 Texas A&M
11/12/2005 Oklahoma State