Sprinting to Spring: Defensive Line

Texas Tech University graduated 3 starters and one top back up off of one of the most experienced defensive lines in the Big XII. With the loss of these key players, many have begun to wonder who will hold the line for the Red Raider defense in 2007. Come inside as football analyst Mitchell Fish breaks down the positions and those who can be expected to fill them for the 2007 season.

Weak Side Defensive End

Weak Side Defensive End - The weak side (or defensive right) defensive end is the best pass rusher on a team. While strength is nice, a combination of strength and speed are required to excel at the weak side. A weak side end will consistently face the opponents most capable and skilled pass and run blocker.

Weak Side Defensive End Depth-Chart - Brandon Williams (Starter), Philip Jones (Back-up)

Brandon Williams - Brandon Williams was not one of the highly touted defensive line recruits from the 2006 signing class but showed that he was most ready to play at the Division 1 level. Tallying 16 tackles and 3.5 sacks, he was also an instrumental portion of one of the Red Raiders Dime defensive pass rush packages. While Williams is not as fast as former Texas Tech defensive end Keyunta Dawson, he is strong and very quick. While he played primarily as a strong side end in 2006, expect Williams to move to the weak side and be the player to unseat as the starting weak side end for the 2007 Texas Tech football season.

Philip Jones - Jones played sparingly in 2006 as both a strong side end and as an undersized defensive tackle. Yet, at 6 feet 4 inches tall and 242 pounds, Jones seems to be a very good candidate for one of the end positions and his combination of speed and strength seem to make him well suited to the top back-up role at weak side defensive end. While he only played in 4 games last season, look for Jones to come on strong through spring practice and to realize some of the potential that he showed last season in limited duty.

Defensive Tackle

Defensive Tackle - Defensive tackle is the most important position on defense when it comes to stopping the opposing offenses ability to run the football. Usually the one of the largest groups of players on the football field and always the largest players on defense, they use their massive size combined with strength to soak up the offenses blockers so that their defensive teammates may move through the offensive line unimpeded to make the stop on the player with the football. While not noted as great pass rushers, a particularly crafty defensive tackle can jump the snap count and break a play up in the backfield before the offense has a chance to react.

Right Defensive Tackle Depth-Chart - Rajon Henley (Starter), Britton Barbee (Back-Up)

Rajon Henley - Rajon Henley is one of the several highly touted defensive line recruits from the 2006 signing class. While he is not a large defensive tackle at 6 feet 3 inches tall and 258 pounds, he has shown that he can follow in the footsteps of other undersized Red Raider defensive tackles. Instead of using the bulk that is so common of defensive tackles, Henley uses his speed and quickness to disrupt running plays while he sheer acceleration makes him an interior lineman with the potential to be a dangerous pass rusher. He has also shown a knack for sniffing out screens and putting himself in position to stop them, a skill that he showed quite well against UTEP, sniffing out a screen and slowing it down to allow other Red Raiders to stop it in its tracks.

Britton Barbee - Britton Barbee is a young red-shirt freshman defensive tackle that showed some small flashes of excellence in practice last season. At 6 feet 2 inches tall and 270 pounds, he fits into the mold of smaller but fast and agile defensive tackles that the Red Raiders have had some success with in the last several seasons. While Barbee is in a position to crack the two deep as a walk on, it is certainly not due to a lack of talent. His work ethic and a year of learning the defense could certainly benefit the Red Raiders in the 2007 season.

Left Defensive Tackle Depth-Chart - Richard Jones (Starter), Brian Jones (Back-Up)

Richard Jones - Jones is a perfect example of a run stuffing defensive tackle. At 6 feet 2 inches tall and 285 pounds, he has more weight and mass than most of the other defensive linemen on the Tech roster. While he spent most of last season on the bench learning, Jones did play in 10 games recording six tackles and one tackle. His strength and sheer weight allow him to hold his ground against the massive offensive linemen that he will be facing in the 2007 season and if he can continue to build on the progress that he made throughout last season, he could blossom into the dominant defensive tackle that the Red Raiders will need for the 2007 season.

Brian Jones - Brian Jones was on the verge of becoming a very good interior lineman last season before suffering a very serious arm injury and being forced to sit out the entire 2006 campaign. As a red-shirt freshman in 2005, he played sparingly but did show some raw talent that needed some coaching to turn it into a dangerous package. Look for Brian to continue his progress in spring practice and once he gets back into the swing of things, he could be very hard to keep off of the field.

Strong Side Defensive End

Strong Side Defensive End - The Strong Side (defensive left) end is usually the stronger of the two starting ends. His job revolves more about using his strength to push through the opposing offensive line as opposed to using agility to run past them. While the strong side end doesn't usually mean a terrific pass rusher, he is good enough to be a danger if the opposing offense doesn't pay him attention.

Strong Side Defensive End Depth-Chart - Jake Ratliff (Starter), Seth Nitschmann (Back-Up)

Jake Ratliff - Ratliff was one of the truly pleasant surprises of the 2006 football season. In his first season as a starter, Ratliff tallied 50 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups, 4 quarter back hurries, and 3 forced fumbles. Ratliff is the type of player that follows the motto of the words tattooed on his forearms, "Reckless Abandon". A hard hitting and even violent player, Ratliff plays every snap to its conclusion. While not the most gifted pass rusher, he makes up for it in brute strength and sheer tenacity. Anyone within Ratliff's range with the football was willing to get hit and hit hard. His versatility allows the Red Raiders to move Ratliff around the field to create match-up problems for opposing offenses, even moving Ratliff into a defensive tackle position in the previously mentioned Dime defensive pass rush package. Look for Ratliff to continue to improve his skills in pass rushing and keep playing every snap until the whistle blows.

Seth Nitschmann - Seth Nitschmann was the starting strong side end for Texas Tech during the 2004 football season, recording 44 tackles and 4.5 tackles for less. While Nitschmann did do a good job against the run, he was unable to record any sacks and this became a matter of some concern among many Texas Tech fans. After sitting out the 2005 campaign with an injury, he came back in the 2006 season rested and ready to play. While not a starter, Nitschmann was able to make 22 tackles and 3 sacks, more than he had previously recorded in his entire career. Nitschmann was another component of the Dime rush package that Texas Tech employed in several different situations last season and showed that while he may not be the biggest or the fastest on the field, he can make up for it with tenacity and willpower. Look for Nitschmann to provide Senior leadership on the defensive line and show some of the younger players how to compete at the Division 1 level.

Come back next time as analyst Mitchell Fish breaks down the linebackers who will "Swarm" the field for the Red Raiders in the 2007 season.

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