Five To Watch

The birds are singing, the weather is warming, and the dust is blowing. All of these things mean that Spring has sprung in Lubbock, Texas. The Texas Tech Red Raiders are set to take the practice field Wednesday for Spring Practice 2009. Come inside as football analyst Mitchell Fish points out 5 important issues the Raiders look to resolve during Spring ball.

I- Who will be the starting quarterback?

While this question is all but answered, seeing as Taylor Potts is the only quarterback on the Texas Tech roster to have actually taken a snap, but it is once again a valid issue for debate.

I'll make the bold prediction here that Leach will bemoan Potts' performance throughout Spring, saying that the position is up for grabs into fall practice when he will announce sometime into the second week of Fall camp that Potts has been named the starter.

All kidding aside, Potts has done his time learning the system and should win this job hands down. The only issue is, Potts usually looks just plain bad in practice.

Then he steps onto the playing field and in limited time has looked very good and shown off his cannon of a right arm, Potts is the clear front-runner in this "contesnt."

II- Who will start at the safety positions?

Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet may not have been the sexiest safety tandem in the Big XII during the 2008 season, but they were one of the best.

McBath became a true rover who was making plays all over the defensive secondary while Charbonnet was an all around versatile player.

But with McBath and Charbonnet exhausting their eligibility (along with back-up safeties Anthony Hines, Jordy Rowland, and Lance Fuller) the Red Raiders are without a player on the roster who has taken significant snaps at the safety position.

Possible candidates include former walk-on Brett Dewhurst who is a Charbonnet type player, not flashy but effective. Franklin Mitchem, who recovered from a broken leg before the 2007 season to have a strong season on specials teams in '08.

Cody Davis, a redshirt freshman, is the large and rangy type of safety that defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeil likes, but his lack of experience anywhere on the field puts him behind the 8-ball.

Jared Flannel, the converted running back, spent his time in the Fall of 2007 as a running back before moving to corner. Now it seems that Flannel might be another in a long line of running backs moved to safety under safeties coach Carlos Mainord. Vincent Meeks was talented, Darcel McBath is NFL bound, there is no reason that Flannel couldn't be successful as a safety.

Franklin Mitchem should have a chance to lock down the strong safety position if he can take his special teams tenacity and apply it to the defensive side of the ball while Cody Davis and Jared Flannel look to be in line as the free safety.

Whomever wins the job, it is imperative that they become comfortable quickly as Tech's secondary is in dire need of replenishment.

III- Who will start at running back?

Baron Batch had an outstanding come back in 2008, proving to be an intriguing combination of speed and power.

Aaron Crawford is a hard-nosed runner who was thrust into the starting roll in 2007 and got better every game, though he had his troubles holding onto the football.

Harrison Jeffers is an extremely talented red-shirt freshman who was the bane of Tech's defense as the scout team running back. While lacking experience, his athleticism and speed immediately make him a contender for the starting job.

Tech has the luxury of having three quality running backs on the roster, and should be able to use each one in a way that maximizes their individual skill set.

Batch and Crawford will probably battle it out for the rights to the starting spot but all three should see significant playing time during the '09 season.

IV- Who starts at left tackle?

While many media pundits like to talk about the gun-slinging habits of Leach quarterbacks or the gaudy numbers that skill players put up, the left tackle is often overlooked, and it shouldn't be. One needs only look at the 2006 Tech-Mizzou game to see what happens without good tackle play.

Chris Olson was the back-up left tackle during the '08 season and looked good in limited time. Olson has been a journeyman across the offensive line, taking snaps at every spot but center at one point or another.

Having moved outside, Olson's long arms seem well suited to playing left tackle.

Two more options involve moving right guard Brandon Carter to left tackle or moving right tackle Marlon Winn to left tackle.

Carter has played sparingly at right tackle in substitution packages, but his massive bulk are more suited to playing offensive guard than tackle. Winn started as a left tackle before moving to right tackle just weeks before the start of the 2007 season.

While Olson is the most-likely starter, Winn moving from right to left is highly dependent on the progress of sophomore Mickey Okafor, who practiced at left tackle during Spring 2008, but moved to right tackle where he was more comfortable.

V- Who will start at rush end?

While Tech fans were bemoaning the graduation of Graham Harrell, the loss of an NFL bound Michael Crabtree, and Mike Leach's contract status, Brandon Williams also announced his intention to declare for the NFL draft.

Williams became the first Raider to have double-digit sacks since Adell Duckett accomplished that feat in the 2003 season.

With Williams unexpected departure, Tech now has to fill a void that can make or break a defense.

Likely candidates include Daniel Howard, the undersized "Joker" linebacker/defensive end/pass-rusher, has a good burst off the line but doesn't have the size to take the physical pounding that an every down defensive end must.

McKinner Dixon is another option, but his oft injured knee might not be up to an entire season of pounding every down.

Brandon Sesay, the massive defensive end who spent most of last season at defensive tackle, is a better candidate to start at left end than right end.

Perhaps the dark horse candidate is the drealocked Brandon Sharpe. An outrageous athlete (see the Oklahoma State game from '08 when he forces the pitch off of the option and runs down the pitch man), Sharpe's problem is that he lacks some of the technical skills of the other candidates.

Sharpe has the size and speed to be an every down end, and might be the most qualified candidate if he can add more technical proficiency to his game.

Texas Tech takes to the practice field Wednesday for the start of Spring ball 2009. RaiderPower will, as always, be there with practice reports, interviews, and photos.

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