The inaugural Spring Practice session commenced today at the rugby fields despite the frigid temperatures. This was a no-pads practice, but some players probably wouldn't have minded the extra layer today. Several players were complaining about cramping up throughout the day, and everyone had their hands in their pockets. It even began snowing during the second half of practice. However, none of this stopped the practice from being enjoyable as it always is. The warmup sessions lasted longer than usual, which was in an effort to get the players as loose as possible to help minimize the potential for injuries. Once things finally got going, the players seemed to push the cold temperatures to the back of their minds and focus on football.
The story that everyone is interested in is the quarterback battle between Graham Harrell and Chris Todd. As expected, they both looked very impressive, but the nod thus far has to go to Harrell. He looked extremely comfortable with the offense, and it seems like he could almost start tomorrow and do very well. He has also put on quite a bit of muscle since last year. Furthermore, it should be noted that he was wearing the #9 jersey and #6 helmet this afternoon. Perhaps the #6 jersey is torn or missing; it is highly unlikely that Harrell switches to #9 and forces Robert Johnson to switch as well. Anyway, the only criticism that could even be made of Graham at this point is that he still telegraphs his passes a little. Still, he ran the offense with amazing efficiency and looks to be the starter.
That's not to say that Chris Todd had a bad day by any means. His passes were very accurate all afternoon, and he carries good size for a freshman. Todd was more willing to throw downfield than Harrell was, but this is usually the case with younger quarterbacks; as they learn more control with maturity, they become more risk averse. If last year is any indication, Todd's #13 jersey might signify that he will sit second on the depth chart. All of his weaknesses today seemed to be due to a lack of experience with the offense. He called the wrong play once, and called a different play than Leach had suggested on another occasion. Leach didn't get too angry, though, because Todd's play went for a touchdown.
However, Leach became frustrated with the receivers' lackadaisical route-running, and strongly suggested that they do a better job of getting upfield. The standout of the receiving corps today was definitely Catron Houston. He didn't seem to drop a pass all day long, and got quite a bit of playing time on designed screen plays. Trust me when I tell you that he will make an impact as a Red Raider before his time is done. Also noteworthy was Thomas Bachman's return to the field. He shows little lasting effects from his injury, and could easily find a spot on the depth chart somewhere if he can stay healthy. Hicks, Filani, and Amendola were all as solid as ever, but that's almost a given considering their experience. For some reason, Filani and Glenn January showed up late to practice, but must have had a valid reason because there were no repercussions. It also appears that Todd Walker has put on a bit more size without losing noticeable speed. L.A. Reed was impressive as well, as was newcomer Chris Cunigan. Reed made several nice catches, and Cunigan appears to have a ton of potential given his size and natural ability. All things considered, Texas Tech arguably will have the best top-to-bottom receiving corps in the nation next year.
Unfortunately, a point of concern for next year may be the offensive line. The unit simply was not on the same page today, and they were getting chewed out throughout the afternoon. Glenn January worked out at LT, with Louis Vasquez at LG, Josh Aleman at C, Manny Ramirez at RG, and Gabe Hall at RT. It would not be surprising to see some position changes here, though, if the struggles continue. Vasquez needs to work on his technique, but his physicality is definitely a plus. January was great in the drills, but wasn't particularly good in the scrimmage. Rylan Reed is having a bit of difficulty picking up the T position, but certainly has the size and strength to be effective in the future. The encouraging thing here is that Ramirez appears to be stepping into a leadership role and should help the unit get things together.
The defensive line brought lots of tenacity in their battles with the offensive line, and looked very quick and explosive. They seemed to forget that they weren't wearing pads, and simply brought their "A game" today. Chris Hudler continued his stellar end to last season and dominated Aleman for most of the day, and Red Raider fans should be salivating at the thought of having McKinner Dixon around for three more years. The unit just looked excited to be playing football today, and especially punished the second-team offensive line. Their effort forced the coaches to make the offensive lineman do up-and-downs as a disciplinary measure. Even without Keyunta Dawson on the line, they were a very effective unit this afternoon.
That's right, Keyunta played linebacker today. He seemed to be making the transition very well, and had plenty of help from Coach Setencich and former Red Raider Mike Smith to pick up the finer points. They were both working with Dawson in pass coverage to learn how to adjust to the receivers' routes quickly, and it seemed to be working. I think that the coaches want to see him succeed here just as much as I do, and if he continues to learn at this pace, he should be the starting MLB for next season. Also of note was that Chad Hill seems to be healthy enough to make an impact next year. The rest of the unit was solid overall, but not extremely good or bad in any respects.
After the recent unfortunate passing of defensive backs coach Dave Brown, Brian Mitchell has stepped in as the new man in charge. He seems to be well-liked and respected by the team, and did an excellent job of motivating them while maintaining a comfortable atmosphere. He also had a great quote today about Jarrett Hicks, which was the following. "The best you can do is tackle him after he catches it." The DB's were very physical today, and did not make things easy on the wide receivers. Chris Parker and Darcel McBath had impressive afternoons and are both capable of winning a starting job next season. Unfortunately, Marcus Bunton left practice early with what looked to be a lower leg injury. It did not look that serious, though, so hopefully he will be back in form for Friday's practice.
As for the running backs, they had a relatively impressive day. New face Kobey Lewis evoked memories of Johnnie Mack with his speed, quickness on cuts, and small stature. He is capable of making a push for second on the depth chart behind Shannon Woods. It cannot be stressed enough how much potential Woods has with his speed and agility. If he can increase his stability a little, he is very capable of becoming the next Taurean Henderson. He did drop one pass today, but I'm going to let that one go because I know how good this kid can be. Woods did not do much blocking today, so it was difficult to gauge how well he is picking that up. Still, I maintain my confidence in him becoming a great player for us in the very near future.
Now let's hand out some awards:
Best Overall Unit
Best Individual Performance:
Best Newcomer: (tie)
Chris Cunigan and Kobey Lewis
Spring Practice Report #1