By Wendell Barnhouse
LUBBOCK, Texas - There will be much talk and speculation headed into the season about Texas Tech's defense. Last season, the Red Raiders were ... well, here's coach Tommy Tuberville's assessment.
"Last year, we couldn't stop anybody - run or pass," he said.
The numbers bear that out. After a stunning upset of Oklahoma, Texas Tech lost six of its last seven games. Twice the Red Raiders allowed 66 points and over the last five games, they gave up 259 points.
Art Kaufman has been hired as the team's defensive coordinator (the fourth in the last four seasons). Tuberville believes that his team's defensive talent and depth is improved. He points out that the team finally has six linebackers and that it's much closer to have the 30 players he feels is necessary to play against the Big 12's explosive attacks.
"Last year we had about 15 guys," he said.
The players who experienced last season's melt down are ready to atone for what happened. They're convinced that they'll be better and will help the Red Raiders be a surprise team.
"It motivates me, because if somebody tells you you're the weak link, you're going to accept that as a challenge and step up,'' junior linebacker Terrance Bullitt said. "You don't want to be the weak link of the team. People are probably tired of hearing us talk about it, so fall camp can't start soon enough.
"In time, people will see. We can only go up.''
While the defense was a major reason for the late-season collapse that ended Texas Tech's string of 16 consecutive seasons with a winning record, another factor contributed to the skid.
Before suffering a major knee injury against Texas A&M, running back Eric Stephens was on pace for a 1,000-yard season. In his first two seasons, Tuberville has sought to balance the Red Raiders' offense with at least 40 percent of the production coming from the running game.
Without a productive runner, Texas Tech had to rely more on quarterback Seth Doege (4,004 yards passing, 28 touchdowns). The Red Raiders' offense was potent but the reliance on the passing game lengthened games and kept Texas Tech from helping its defense by controlling the football and the clock with more running plays.
Putting It On The Line
During the last two years, Texas Tech's logo should have been borrowed from the Red Cross. Injuries have sidelined key players on both sides of the ball as the Red Raiders have gone 13-12 in coach Tommy Tuberville's first two seasons.
The offensive line has been one position that has avoided the injury bug. In 2010 four starters played every game and the fifth starter missed just two games. Last season, three starters made it through every game while another missed just one.
Anchored by senior tackle LaAdrian Waddle, a first team All-Big 12 preseason selection, the offensive line should be a strength. However, staying healthy will again be important as depth and experience is limited. The 10-player two-deep chart lists four seniors and four redshirt freshmen.
"I feel good about our first six or so," Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "It's kind of a different deal, because I feel good about our seniors and I feel good about our redshirt freshmen, but we don't have a whole lot in between."
* Michael Starts, a highly touted defensive lineman, spent the first two days of practice at defensive end but was then moved to defensive tackle. Tuberville would prefer the 6-4, 300-pound freshman to sit out this season as a red shirt but improving the depth and talent on the defensive line is a high priority. "I like his spunk," Tuberville said. "He jumped in and went after some of the offensive linemen today. He went by brute strength, not a lot of technique, and that's what we've got to work on."
* Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville is calling freshman defensive tackle Anthony Smith "Crash." The 5-10, 310-pound Smith missed some practice time after suffering a sprained ankle in a scooter accident. Last spring, sophomore defensive back Austin Stewart received notoriety when his scooter was hit by a bus on campus near Jones AT&T Stadium. "I would think the ones that are on (scooters) hopefully would use common sense," Tuberville said. "And if you're 320 pounds, you don't get on a scooter. You get in a car."
* Sophomore running back DeAndre Washington is trying to come back from knee surgery that curtailed his 2011 season. He lost about 25 pounds and has recently got back to his playing weight of 190. "Right now, it's about 90 percent," said Washington, who underwent his knee operation on Dec. 14. "I've been doing a lot of lateral movement, a lot of cutting. It's really now about trusting your knee and building confidence."
* Texas Tech held a scrimmage Saturday night. Tuberville said it will give the coaching staff a chance to assess where the team is at after a week or so of practice. Also, Tuberville expects to start really grinding during practice Monday now that summer school has wrapped up.
* Tuberville announced Saturday that redshirt freshman offensive tackle Matt Wilson will miss the season after undergoing ACL surgery. His ACL was partially torn last spring but team doctors thought he might be able to continue playing but the injury worsened recently. Wilson was listed as the team's second-team right tackle.