Weakside Defensive End
Keyunta Dawson is the starter here, sort of. Dawson's hybrid DE/LB position makes him difficult to classify, but also difficult to block. Keyunta is as dominant as ever, and looks poised for another phenomenal year. He will be a playmaker, bank on it.
Tyler Yenzer is Dawson's backup. Yenzer has shown some real promise in practices, and is definitely game-ready. Yenzer is one of those players who will make every one wonder why he wasn't already a starter when he gets some significant playing time.
Strongside Defensive End
Seth Nitschmann is your likely starter here assuming that he is healthy. Nitschmann has been out of practice for a long time, but still has the most experience at DE. If he is healthy enough to go, he will be the starter, but if not, Ratliff will get his chance to shine.
Jake Ratliff has been a favorite player of mine for a long time, as those of you who followed my reports last Spring already know. His ability to get into the backfield is continually impressive, which is why he was moved to DE. Ratliff has some serious potential as he steps into a larger role this year. Keep an eye on him.
Ken Scott is a strong, experienced player. Scott has done a good job throughout the offseason of shutting down the running game, as he seems to always find ways to clog up the running lanes. It is for this reason that Ken will see most of the playing time here next season.
Brian Jones has been Coach Ruffin McNeill's adopted player. The lessons that Coach McNeill has taught him appear to be catching on, as Jones has improved enough to make the two-deep roster and provide the unit with depth.
Chris Hudler is your obvious starter here. Hudler is coming off of a big year and an impressive offseason, so it is only natural to expect great things from him in this upcoming season. Chris is very talented overall, and has a knack for disrupting the backfield.
Dek Bake has been impressive as well, and will see quite a bit of playing time this season. Bake is capable of playing at DT and NT, and will be subbed in when the line needs to be stacked against the run or the starters need a breather.
Strongside (Sam) Linebacker
Kellen Tillman is a talented linebacker with time in our defense who is finally going to get his chance. Tillman plays with a ton of intensity, much like Sylvester Brinkley did last season. Red Raider fans can only hope that Tillman can show more self-discipline than Brinkley did, otherwise the penalties will be given in a similar fashion.
Chad Hill will be backing Tillman up at Sam. Hill is a hometown boy out of Coronado High School, and has proven himself to be a capable player overall. Had it not been for a serious injury that sidelined him for a while, he might be starting over Tillman this year. Still, he provides the unit with some great depth.
Middle (Mike) Linebacker
Paul Williams is going to have to keep fighting hard to steal the starting job from Brock Stratton. Paul has earned the favor of many Red Raider fans with his impressive play last season. Williams' strengths are his speed and coverage abilities, and he has proven it during the season. Paul needs to work on spying on the running game.
Brock Stratton has quite a few strengths of his own, though. Brock has the edge in experience, and is great at shutting down the running game. However, Brock is coming off of an injury, and is not as good in pass coverage as Williams. Honestly, I believe that Stratton and Williams have both earned the right to start, and are both good players.
Weakside (Will) Linebacker
Fletcher Session is the only returning starter from all of last season. Session has a head for the game, and had one particularly phenomenal practice in which he was completely dominant. Fletcher seems poised for another good year with his impressive overall skills.
Brent Slaughter is easily the fastest of the linebackers, and is arguably the best at defending against running backs in the open field. Slaughter has the skills necessary to be an effective contributor, and seems to have only been hindered in his career by his small size for a LB.
Right (Strongside) Cornerback
Antonio Huffman has been a strong player for the Red Raiders for a few years now. Huffman is excellent in coverage, and always seems to put himself into position to make the play. Antonio has been practicing against Filani for some time now, so he will certainly be prepared after facing one of the best wide receivers in the nation.
Jamar Wall has had a fantastic offseason, working his way up the depth chart the entire way. Although Wall is only 5'9" tall, he makes up for it with his tremendous jumping ability and coverage like a shadow on the receivers. Wall is going to be something truly special before his time as a Red Raider is through.
Left (Weakside) Cornerback
Chris Parker has shown some brilliant play in his limited time last season, but has sat out most of the offseason due to injury. All signs point to him being able to be healthy enough to start by the time the season rolls around, and if he is half as talented as I am expecting him to be, then he will have a huge year.
Marcus Bunton had a huge Fall after an injury-plagued past year. Bunton is exceptional at jamming the receivers at the line, but might need to work on letting them run after they make it five yards downfield. His physicality could have been flagged several times as defensive holding, but then again, the Alabama DBs played the same way.
Joey Garcia won the Strong Safety starting job by default after Hines' stabbing. However, with the way he played in the Fall, Joe likely would have won the job anyway. Garcia played some fantastic coverage during the Fall, and learned to blitz effectively and spy on the running game as well. Joe really is going to turn some heads next season.
Anthony Hines is a talented player with a chance to contribute, but he must get healthy first. Still, Hines will have his opportunities to make an impact with the Red Raiders, whether it be this season or in the future. Hines is only a Sophomore, after all, so he still has plenty of time.
Darcel McBath is finally going to get his chance to shine. McBath is supremely talented at breaking to the ball, and will be a huge part of the Red Raiders' defensive success this season. Darcel has the potential to replace the turnovers that Dwayne Slay caused by making all kinds of interceptions next season.
LaShawn Vation has moved to Safety to add depth, and with his natural abilities, the move appears to have been a successful one. Vation was a highly-touted recruit, and it is easy to understand why. He has great instincts, and has the speed and hands necessary to become a solid player for Texas Tech.
Best Overall Unit:
Best Performance: (tie)