LUBBOCK, Texas — Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville let it be known that when he was hired in January he wanted to have his hand in on one aspect of the team himself.
Tuberville was a defensive coach for most of his life at Miami and Texas A&M before taking over as head coach at Ole Miss and Auburn. But another part of football he has always enjoyed has been the chance to coach the special teams, which is exactly what he will concentrate on in addition to being the Red Raiders' head coach this season.
Nicknamed the "Riverboat Gambler," Tuberville likes to take chances on punts and kickoffs. It will not be any different this season, but first the special teams must get back to basics.
"We've got a long ways to go on all sides of the ball," Tuberville said. "Obviously, our kicking game doesn't look very good right now so thank goodness we still have another three-and-a-half weeks."
The biggest chore for Tuberville, next to picking a starting quarterback, is picking a starting punter this season. Sophomore Ryan Erxleben spent most of the 2009 season as Tech's primary punter after coming in near the beginning of the Texas game last season in relief of Donnie Carona. Carona, a placekicker who specializes on kickoffs, took over as punter after starter Jonathan LaCour was suspended for the first six games of the 2009 season for being in violation of team rules.
Erxleben averaged 40.8 yards on 43 punts last season, landing 17 inside the 20-yard line with four punts going for 50 yards or more.
LaCour, who was the starter for 2007-08, only punted 26 times in 2007 and 21 times in 2008. He averaged 39.8 yards in the two seasons combined with 17 landing inside the 20-yard line and a long of 53 yards.
He's best remembered for his spinning punt to get the ball off against Virginia in the 2008 Gator Bowl after the snap went over his head.
Tuberville said he thought LaCour was the leader coming out of the spring but that he would take the overall averages and other things from fall into consideration before going with just one punter.
"It's going to go all the way to the end," Tuberville said. "Whichever punter has the best average going into the first game will be the punter. It's pretty easy for all those guys to look at them.
"Both of them did well in the spring. I think coming out of the spring, LaCour would have been our punter. Both of them have strong legs and look pretty good so far."
"I think both of them have had their moments," Tuberville said. "The one thing I'm looking at is leadership and not turning the ball over. Knowing when to pull down the ball and run and not just throw it up for grabs. And as I told them, throwing a completion is not going to get them on the field.
"Running the offense, keeping control of the ball and moving it down the field is what makes plays. Both of them have a good deep ball, and we'll throw the deep ball, but it's all those things in between the deep ball and getting the running game going and being the leader in the ‘so-called huddle' on the sideline – all those things are going to make the difference."
Tuberville said he and offensive coordinator Neal Brown would have a better idea after this weekend's first scrimmage on Saturday.
Tech senior defensive lineman Britton Barbee had successful surgery on his right achilles Tuesday to repair the tendon he tore during practice Sunday, knocking him out for the season and likely ending his Red Raider career.
Freshman defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, who twisted his right knee on Sunday and was diagnosed with a mild sprain, spent most of Tuesday doing drills to strengthen his knee while the rest of the team went through the first four periods of practice. Hyder is not expected to miss any time during the season and could be one of two starters at defensive tackle alongside starting nose tackle Colby Whitlock.
Get the latest on who might be the final Red Raiders in the 2011 class by checking out Scout.com's Midland Managing Editor Greg Powers's comments in his Texas Tech Scouting Report. Powers and I will have weekly updates on the latest recruits as we move closer to filling the 2011 class and getting more into the 2012 class.