Texas Tech starts spring football practice on Wednesday. This
is the seventh in a series of spring previews, looking at the Red Raiders’ noseguard and defensive tackle positions.
Texas Tech coaches are counting on four defensive line signees to play vital roles come the 2014 season. Three of the four aren’t on campus yet, so spring football practice, at least for the noseguards and defensive tackles, will be all about developing depth and hoping a pleasant surprise emerges who could challenge for a starting job.
The Red Raiders are starting almost from scratch at both positions with the graduation losses of Kerry Hyder, Dartwan Bush and Dennell Wesley.
When the Red Raiders begin spring workouts on Wednesday, they’ll have Anthony Smith taking first-team snaps at noseguard with Donte Phillips behind him. They’ll line up Demetrius Alston, Jackson Richards and Tyler Scalzi at defensive tackle, and also use Richards some at the nose.
There’s a chance none might be starters when the season gets here. But that’s OK. When the Red Raiders lost Bush for four Big 12 games last season, they were reminded the value of having more than one solid player for a position.
“We’re bringing in three more new bodies in the summer,” defensive line coach John Scott Jr. said this week, “so now these guys are banking valuable reps, and with the three new guys we bring in, now you’ve got some depth, which is something we didn’t have last year. This will be a great opportunity for those guys to get a lot of reps and develop some depth for the fall.”
Of the JC additions, Tech signed noseguard Rika Levi with the idea he’ll challenge to start right away in the 3-4 front. The defensive staff views Marcus Smith as a potential noseguard or defensive tackle and his Highland (Kan.) Community College teammate Brandon Thorpe as a defensive tackle or defensive end.
The one JC defensive lineman who is on campus is Keland McElrath, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound defensive tackle from Coahoma (Miss.) Community College.
Tech has more experience at defensive tackle than noseguard, given that Alston and Richards both were in the rotation last season. Richards had 15 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, a couple of fumble recoveries and a big interception against TCU.
“I think Jackson will be in the same role like he was last year where he’ll be rolling a little bit,” Scott said. “Jackson is very versatile, because he can play tackle or nose, so I think we’ll continue to see him in that role.”
Alston debuted at Tech as a sophomore, making 12 tackles in 12 games. The year before at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, he suffered a broken leg. With Alston now a year and a half removed from that injury and a season in the Tech system, he could compete for a starting job. At 6-4 and 267 pounds, he’s grown some, too.
“I think Demetrius Alston will be another big-time contributor for us this year,” Scott said. “He did some good things last year. This off-season, he’s gotten stronger. He’s gotten bigger. He’s starting to look like a Big 12 defensive lineman.”
The 6-2, 379-pound Levi will add the bulk the Red Raiders were missing up front in 2013. On the other hand, he might have to prove his stamina. Either way, the Red Raiders will need someone to give him a breather; hence, the need for Smith, who’ll be a sophomore, or Phillips, who’ll be a junior, to take a step forward.
Asked in December what’s held back Smith, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt said, “Anthony Smith. He’s just a young kid that is growing up. I think he’s going to get there. He takes a step forward and takes two steps back. It’s just (a matter of) him being consistent.
“When he turns the light switch on that he wants to do this and keep his weight down and stay in shape, he’s a very talented kid. We don’t have anybody as explosive as he is.”
The 5-11 Smith has been weighing in at 318, Scott said.
“Ant Smith has had a really good off-season so far,” Scott said. “He’s doing everything that we’ve asked him to do, showing some maturity. We all know Ant’s got a great first step. He’s really quick. If it will all come together and the light comes on, Anthony Smith can really help this football team.”
Tech will be down one returnee in the spring. Bennett Ofor, who played mostly as a noseguard in pass-rush packages, is recovering from surgery for a torn knee ligament.
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