Football

5 Spring Questions About the Defense

Let’s talk defense.

With spring practice right around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to ask some questions and consider what are the five most important questions for me as Texas Tech football enters the spring. Let’s get to it.

1. Who should start at safety?

Safety was the roughest spot overall and believe it or not, Thomas Leggett was the best regular starter and as I’ve written numerous times, Eric Monroe was not a good defender last year (at least according to ProFootballFocus). And even with my eyes, I was continually upset at how Monroe seemed out of place last year.

I think there was a reason why Marquis Waters and Malik Dunlap were recruited as transfers and I’d guess that Waters steps in immediately and plays, while I’m not sure about Dunlap. Waters was a legitimate starter who had a handful of snaps and steps in and probably the best safety on the team immediately.

I’d also advise that Adam Beck has probably earned a chance to start. He’s been in the program and he’s seemingly played well. Dunlap is a huge safety, so I don’t know if he’d play closer to the line of scrimmage, but I’d be fine with that and he essentially replaces Leggett.

2. Is there help on the way at defensive line?

When has this ever been a position of strength? I actually think/thought that Jaylon Hutchings and Tony Bradford, Jr. played okay last year. Maybe a better way to explain it would be when was the last time that this position dominated? Colby Whitlock and Brandon Williams in 2008? Goodness gracious, I’m old. When I write about whether or not there is help on the way at defensive line, it’s not that the play was bad, but was it exceptional and WHEN will the play be exceptional?

Incoming is tackle DeMeco Roland and as a JUCO guy, he didn’t play all of last year, so rust will likely be a factor. There is some size with the incoming freshmen, E’maurion Banks checks in at 6-6/280 and Charles Esters arrives at 6-4/250. Nelson Mbanasor and Gilbert Ibeneme were completely out all of last year and this will be their third year in the program. That’s sort of when you need to start producing and they’ll only be sophomores, perhaps (I’m not sure anymore with the Covid exceptions).

This group needs to go from being just “guys” to being “dudes”. We need some dudes on the defensive line and I don’t think that the next jump for the defense happens until the defensive line makes a significant improvement.

3. Who pressures the quarterback?

Texas Tech was 70th in sacks last year with 17 total, and of those 17, 3 of them came against Houston Baptist, 3 of them happened against TCU, and 4 against Kansas. That absolutely means that 10 of the 17 sacks happened in 30% of the games, which means that there’s almost zero pressure that’s happening in the other 70% of the games. And of those 17 sacks, which is tied for 8th with Texas in the Big 12, 2.5 came from Eli Howard.

Sacks aren’t the be-all end-all statistic, with quarterback hurries being important too. Texas Tech had 32 QB hurries, which was good for 3rd in the Big 12. If we think of a hurry as worth half a point and a sack as worth a full point, Oklahoma was by far the most disruptive defense in the Big 12 with 63 points, Oklahoma State had 55, Kansas State had 40.5, Iowa State had 49, TCU had 36, and Texas Tech with 33.

My initial thought here is that I think that the best option is at linebacker, Riko Jeffers had 7 hurries last year and Colin Schooler lead the team with 3.5 sacks. Texas Tech is at the point where I think that the defense would be best suited to alternate two sets of linebackers. I don’t know that the defensive line has a guy that can rush the passer, options being Tyree Wilson and Philip Blidi, but I think they are both a year away from being big-time rushers, possibly Devin Drew too.

But maybe running out a series of linebackers that play like their hair is on fire with Riko Jeffers, Colin Schooler, Kosi Eldridge, Jacob Morganstern, Krishon Merriweather, Brandon Bouyer-Randle, Jesiah Pierre, Tyrique Matthews, Bryce Robinson, and Patrick Curley. There is no shortage of options at linebacker.

4. Who replaces Zech McPhearson?

Do you know how bad the pass defense was? It was maybe the best of times and worst of times, Texas Tech was 101sst in total passing yards at 258.5 yards a game, but 56th in yards per attempt. That yards per attempt is actually a pretty significant improvement, 9.2 yards per attempt in 2019 to 7.3 in 2020. Zech McPhearson was really good in 2019 and he was by far the best defender for ht eteam. But McPhearson is grading to the NFL and someone has to take his snaps. I should also mention that Alex Hogan and Ja’Marcus Ingram have also decided to move onward.

And Hogan was probably more significant than you might think, he received 271 snaps last year, which is no small amount, that’s 13% of the snaps at cornerback overall.

If I had to guess, the starters will be DeMarcus Fields, who should be incredibly solid. He’ll make the jump, a significant enough jump to have the opportunity to replicate what what McPhearson did. I think the other starting cornerback is basically a choice between Dadrion Taylor-Demerson or Adrian Frye.

If any of the transfers have the opportunity to earn playing time at cornerback, and Texas Tech will need a guy who can cover slot receivers, I’d put my money on Rayshad Williams or possibly Cameron Watts.

5. What redshirts or transfers are most help?

This is difficult to answer because I’m not sure who is technically a redshirt. I think that Mbanasor and Ibeneme on the defensive line should be in a position to add assistance. Pierre at linebacker should add some depth to go after the quarterback, Waters, Williams, and Dunlap should all contribute significantly in the defensive back room.

In terms of redshirt freshmen, CB Dequanteous Watts, LB Bryce Robinson, and the aforementioned Ibeneme & Nelson are options, but my guess is that the transfers will be given a real shot because at least for the defensive backs, there is room for their input.

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