Yesterday, I reviewed our season on a game by game basis. With Part II, I am going to take a look at our team from a unit-by-unit perspective.
There are quite a few people who were unhappy with Graham's performance as a quarterback during the middle of the season. However, it's tough to argue that he didn't finish the season on a high note. After the CU debacle, it's been all uphill for the most part. Oklahoma and Texas featured impressive starts that we just couldn't finish as a team, and Iowa State, Baylor, and Oklahoma State all featured solid performances from Harrell. Graham's passer rating for the season is only bested in the Big 12 by Senior NU quarterback Zac Taylor, Texas QB Colt McCoy with his phenomenal supporting cast, and Bobby Reid with his impressive athletic abilities. It wasn't the lackluster season that some are making it out to be. It was, however, a bit of a break-in period for Harrell, and perhaps a longer one than people expected. Still, the season has prepared Graham to be absolutely dominant for the next few years. I believed Graham was the correct choice as the starter this season at the beginning of the year, and I still believe it now. Anyone who thinks that Chris Todd wouldn't have gone through similar growing pains in the offense with even less time in the system is nuts. That said, Chris Todd is a more than capable quarterback if he is needed, and is only one snap away from taking the reins.
Well, Shannon Woods was everything that we could have asked of him this season, and then some. Woods stepped in right where Taurean left off, and played a huge role as a rusher, blocker, and receiver this year. I remember suggesting that Woods was good enough for Batch to redshirt prior to the season, and took quite a bit of flak for that comment. It appears that I was right, but that's not to take anything away from Batch. Baron has a bright future as well, and I still think we'll have a great one-two punch with both of them for the next few years. Batch has great abilities as a power runner, and we could have used him in some of the short-yardage situations that we struggled with late this season. Kobey Lewis had only light duties this season, so it is difficult to judge his performance. If we are able to pull in Gerald Jones as a recruit in this offseason, things will get even more interesting at RB. Maybe Jones would join the receiving corps since we would have Batch and Woods in the backfield. I'd love for our coaches to have to choose where Gerald fits in best. That would be a nice problem to have.
It was interesting year, to say the least, for the wide receiving corps. First, the Hicks/Crabtree academic b.s. cost us early in the year. Then, we had Robert Johnson and a few team rules issues. Then, we had a UT cheap shot injure Hicks for the rest of our regular season. It's been a tumultuous wide receiving corps this season. However, the young players got their share of experience, which bodes well for our future. Eric Morris had a bit of a breakout year, and definitely earned some serious playing time for next season. Morris' route-running abilities are the best that I've seen since Wes Welker. L.A. Reed also showed us a taste of what he can do at X, and is poised for a big year next season if you ask me. Grant Walker also gave us some reason to get excited about his future. I had expected more of Todd Walker this season, but I also thought we would do a better job of utilizing his speed with our playcalling. Adrian Reese's hands appeared to improve over the course of the season, and he may just be a great TE before his time is done as a Red Raider. Edward Britton displayed his capabilities as a receiver late in the year. With his skill set, I think that Britton is best suited for the Y position, not Z. Expect Michael Crabtree to win the starting job at Z if he can keep his grades up. He really is that good.
Overall, the offensive line had a good year. The only games in which they truly struggled were the TCU and Missouri games. Their performance against UT was one of the most dominant performances that I have ever seen from a Red Raider unit in recent memory. We have to convince Gabe Hall to apply for the medical redshirt. Gabe was a large part of the line's success this season, and we could use him back on the team. We lose Manuel Ramirez, Glenn January, and Brandon Jones already. (Side note: Jones deserves commendation for improving dramatically throughout the year. He finished the year in a very strong way, and his snaps got much better.) Still, even with losing all of these starters, we have several young players who have some serious talent. Chris Olson is the real deal, and will be a starter at one of the tackle spots next year. Brandon Carter had a breakout season this year, and is your likely starter at RG. Shawn Byrnes and Josh Aleman will battle it out for the starting job at C. Louis Vasquez also had a strong year, and should be the shoe-in at LG. Marlon Winn is probably going to be the starter at RT if Hall decides not to return. The line has some depth and talent, and if they can become a cohesive unit, they will surprise some people next year.
The defensive line had strong performances from both the young and old Red Raiders. Keyunta Dawson had the biggest year of all, but there were solid contributions from Chris Hudler, Dek Bake, and Ken Scott. Seth Nitschmann also had a good year coming off of an injury. If there's a unit to get excited for the future about, it's the youth of the defensive line. Jake Ratliff had a big year at defensive end, and will be something special in the future. Rajon Henley, Brandon Williams, Richard Jones, and Dan'Tay Ward all provided some impressive contributions this year, and they have some serious potential to grow as a unit since they are all from the same Freshman class. Phillip Jones appears to also have a bright future. It's going to be fun watching the defensive line truly come together over the next few seasons and perhaps become one of the best D-Line units in a long time. Tyler Yenzer will provide the unit with some Senior leadership next season as well, and will challenge for the WDE spot. Victor Hunter will also probably turn into a full-time DE.
Well, our scheme made the linebackers look worse than they actually were this year. The surprise of the year came from Brock Stratton, who finished the season as our leading tackler. As much flak as he has taken on the boards over the years, he had an impressive year and looked faster than ever. Stratton should be able to get a medical redshirt and be back to play next season. Fletcher Session did the best of the unit in pass coverage, and had a huge game against UT. Kellen Tillman provided an effort much like Sylvester Brinkley did in 2005 as I had predicted, in that he did his job, and made some big hits along with a few unnecessary penalties. Paul Williams added some nice play from off of the bench in several games, and will be a likely starter at SLB next year. Expect Marlon Williams to make a splash and challenge Chad Hill for the WLB spot along with Brian Duncan. Also, look for Ryan Hale to make his presence known at MLB with his hard-hitting ways. Also, don't be entirely surprised if Anthony Hines makes a shift to LB in the offseason.
The Defensive Backs had a good year overall. Had it not been for the ridiculous cushion that put them out of position against both comeback routes, and forced them to play catchup on the fly routes, they would have had a great year instead of just a good one. The good news is that we return three starters next year. Still, they will really be fighting it out for the starting spots next year, and that's because the unit will have some serious depth. Expect to see Parker, Garcia, and McBath to keep their starting jobs, but prepare to see more rotation next season. Clarence Ward and Jamar Wall will have a heck of a fight to see who gets the starting cornerback spot opposite Chris Parker. Daniel Charbonnet, LaShawn Vation, Lance Fuller, and Steven Harris will all battle for the second string safety spots. Don't be entirely surprised if there are breakout offseasons from Marcus Bunton or Brent Nickerson as well. This is the unit I am probably least concerned about for next year.
Alex Reyes had a great year, and provided the effort we needed on punts with nearly every chance that he got. Alex Trlica had a decent season. He won us the UTEP game, but we could have used some points in the OU game. Trlica is automatic on extra points, so we'll be glad to have that back next year. We lose Reyes, which is going to be an irreplaceable void. Keaton Harris is the likely choice as his successor. Don't expect to see the automatic 45+-yard shift in field position that we have spoiled with for the past few years, but expect Harris to bring the trick play back to the special teams. Keaton was a high school quarterback and all-around talented athlete, so it will be nice to have that in our playbook again if we need it.
Punt Returner/Kick Returner
I had expected much more out of Danny Amendola as a punt returner this year. He did good, but not great on his actual returns. The problem was all of the fumbles that cost us possessions. Honestly, I was expecting Danny to take at least one punt to the house this season. I guess we all just got spoiled by Wes Welker. Kick returner was an experiment all year long. Todd Walker didn't have the elusiveness to be effective, Eric Morris didn't have the straight-line speed, and Shannon Woods became too valuable to throw back there. The most recent pairing of Jamar Wall and L.A. Reed was an interesting and slightly effective strategy. For next year, there could be all kinds of options there. If we can snag Gerald Jones, expect him to take one of the KR spots and possibly challenge Danny on punt returns. Jamar Wall also seems like he has some real promise as a returner, and with McBath's big return against OSU, maybe it's worth seeing what he could do back there. Crabtree is also a possibility.
Overall, each unit had their strong performances, but they were erratic for nearly all of the units throughout the season, which is perhaps why we struggled a bit. Next year, we will undoubtedly be a young team overall, which is either a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. The inexperience is a bit scary, but the next few seasons could turn into something truly successful if they can work together. Still, it should be another fun ride, especially if we are coming off of bowl win.
(Questions, comments, praise, and constructive criticism can be directed to Trent within the forums or through email at email@example.com.)