This isn’t going to be your typical preseason preview. I’m not going to preview the offensive line, or the linebackers or the quarterbacks. I have a feeling that most of you who are reading this really already know who’s going to be where this year, especially since there is so little turnover for the defense and offensive line. This preview will be about the maturation of Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury. What started as a coach who was probably very unsure as to what he was supposed to do and who he was supposed to hire, I think he’s morphed into a coach that now understands what things supposed to look like. Learning on the job, replacing the roster, and hiring the right people take time and I think we all knew that heading into this process.
The impetus for writing this post was when I initially watched Kingsbury’s birthday video I was sort of struck by something.
— Kliff Kingsbury (@TTUKingsbury) August 9, 2018
I get the distinct feeling that after so many years, this is finally his team. From the coaching staff, to the players, to the support staff to everything else that’s present, this is finally really completely his vision.
The reason why the video struck me as so interesting was that I’m kind of inferring a genuineness to the video. Kingsbury is vulnerable, something we simply don’t ever see Kingsbury be, and the players cheering was seemingly a very genuine moment.
These are all things that would seemingly be part of a feel good movie, genuineness, vulnerability, a surprise party, but here we are and we finally have a team and a coach that I think sort of get who they are. I’m still not sure what that identity actually is and maybe that’s somewhat of a problem. If I had to guess as to that identity, I’d guess that this is really a team that’s about player development than about stars because . . . that’s the way that it has to be.
I can’t explain why the basketball team can regularly pull in 4-star recruits, other than there’s a different dynamic involved, and teams that average 4-stars in football are typically your elites. That’s not to say that Kingsbury’s recruiting efforts haven’t been solid, but maybe not up to par. And with that, it’s complicated. A contract that hasn’t been extended has let it easy for opposing coaches to negative recruit against Kingsbury and Texas Tech.
But this isn’t necessarily about recruiting, but about the concept of embracing the importance of teamm and player development. I don’t think this was something that happened just this year, I think this really started with the hiring of Rusty Whitt as the head strength coach (more of this in part two of this year’s preview).
The reality of recruiting 3-star players and developing those players so that they are ready to compete at as they become redshirt sophomores versus the fan expectation of high-flying and high-star players. I think that early in Kingsbury’s tenure, he wanted to be that high-flyer who recruited only the best of the best, but had the realization that player development is the the best path to success.
The question is whether or not Kingsbury will ever see the fruit of his decision. I believe that this was the right decision and the best decision.
There are two thoughts regarding player development that give me significant hope, regardless as to who is the head coach. I think there are 20 sophomores or higher in the offensive post-spring depth chart and 22 on defense. There are very few freshmen that are competing for spots along the two-deep and that means that a majority, if not all of them, are being redshirted (unless they are extraordinary, like Jack Anderson), which means that they are at least two years into the system before they even see the field.
The other thought is that we actually saw two players, Demarcus Felton and Braden Stringer, announce their intent to transfer only to return to the team and come back. I don’t recall that I’ve ever seen that and have thought that this exhibits a couple of things: 1) that when the players and coaches parted their ways, there was no hard feelings and with Felton, he didn’t practice all spring, but is right back in the mix at running back; and 2) that the players realized that they are in a better situation than what they probably realized.
And want to talk about player development? Look no further than Tre King, the JUCO running back who had the shirt on his back and nothing else before he arrived by bus at Texas Tech. Unknown and unrecruited. Know how Adrien Cross is? Me neither, but I think he’s a JUCO defensive back from Hutchinson C.C. that tried out and is now on the team. Sign and develop. Ja’Quay Pough a linebacker from Trinity Valley C.C. that’s just a sophomore. Sign and develop.
I was trying to think of the true freshman that will make an impact and I’d put a little money on Kesean Carter, Myller Royals, and Erik Ezukanma (by the way, they are 82, 83, and 84) and maybe Alan Bowman at quarterback, but the freshmen defenders and offensive linemen and the running backs all probably take a backseat to whoever is ahead of them on the depth chart.
The key here is that these guys *should* play ancillary parts this season. Kingsbury, Gibbs and the rest of the crew have spent the past three years to get to this point. We’ll get to part II on Wednesday.