When Texas Tech secondary stalwarts Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson completed their eligibility after last season, the Red Raiders’ new coaching staff had a decision to make: Let some of their promising young safeties fight it out for those two spots or mix in a veteran presence.
They opted for the latter, at least partially. Senior Tre Porter, who has 22 career starts at a variety of positions, began spring practice Friday as the starter at free safety. The first-team nickel back in 2012, Porter says he's in the spot Davis played last season.
“Really, as of right now, my role is to be a leader,” Porter said, “because we’ve got to find new leaders since D.J. and Cody left.”
Davis and Johnson finished 1-2 on the team in tackles each of the last two years. Porter said he was paired with sophomore strong safety J.J. Gaines with the first unit Friday. Gaines impressed the Tommy Tuberville staff in preseason practice last August, then with his special teams work during the season.
But there are other candidates who’ll be battling, among them junior Austin Stewart, sophomore Shawn Corker and redshirt freshman Keenon Ward. Stewart backed up Johnson for part of last season.
Corker, who has bounced between offense and defense throughout his career, was behind Porter at free safety Friday, and Gaines and Ward worked at strong safety.
Kingsbury thought Tech needed to shore up its numbers at safeties, which explains moving Porter and loading up on signing day.
“We signed five defensive backs in this class (in February), and some of those guys are going to have to come in and play right away,” Kingsbury said. “But we’re excited about the young guys we have. Somebody this spring will step up and show us they can do it.”
Tuberville always thought Porter’s best fit was safety -- and Porter agrees -- though circumstances sometimes dictated he play other positions.
Porter said he liked nickel back because of the straightforward man-to-man coverage. When Tech beat West Virginia 49-14 last year, Porter got a big share of the credit for the job he did on Mountaineers star receiver Tavon Austin.
At different times the last three years, Porter’s been a starting cornerback, safety, nickel back — even outside linebacker.
“It gives me a better perspective how the defense is supposed to work,” he said. “I understand multiple spots since I’ve played multiple spots. Now it’s laying back, making sure nothing goes over my head at safety. It’s pretty easy. It’s not really face to face now. It’s just prevention.”