With Texas Tech starting preseason practice the first weekend of August, we’ll spend a couple of weeks looking at players for whom summer workouts will be important.
By now, most Tech fans know all there is to know about all-Big 12 candidates such as Eric Ward and Kerry Hyder. These discussions will focus on players who are less proven, but trying to work into key roles.
Under the microscope: Safety Tanner Jacobson.
Tanner Jacobson won’t slip into the Texas Tech football program in the anonymous fashion of most walk-ons. For one thing, he was a big-time producer on one of Texas’ top Class 5A programs at Southlake Carroll.
And for another, Tech coaches aren’t bashful about talking him up.
“That kid’s going to be a stud. That kid will start on defense for us,” co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith said last week, presumably referring to sometime later than 2013. “He reminds me of Jimmy Leonhard, a safety we had in New York. He’s undersized, but the kid is extremely athletic and extremely smart. When I watched him play, he was the spitting image of Jimmy Leonhard for me.”
For those unfamiliar with Leonhard, a quick recap: With zero major-college scholarship offers, he walked on at Wisconsin and became a three-time all-Big Ten safety. He tied a Wisconsin school record with 21 career interceptions and left Madison as the Big Ten career record holder for punt-return yardage.
Undrafted by the NFL in 2005, Leonhard was the only rookie free agent to make the Buffalo Bills, and now he's getting ready for his ninth year in the league. (He was with the Jets from 2009 to 2011, overlapping with Smith's time on the defensive staff.) And he's listed at 5-foot-8 and 188 pounds.
In short, sort of a Wes Welker-of-the-heartland story.
That’s a high bar for Tech coaches to set for Jacobson, a true freshman who joined the program for the first summer session. Listed at 5-10 and 180 pounds, Jacobson will begin learning at free safety behind senior Tre Porter and redshirt freshman Keenon Ward.
“Tanner Jacobson was a good player at Southlake, just undersized,” safeties coach Trey Haverty said. “But we like undersized guys in Lubbock. If they’re good football players, we don’t care.”
Jacobson certainly proved himself on the high school level. During Carroll’s 12-2 season last year, he was credited with 107 tackles, two interceptions and four pass breakups. He was voted defensive MVP of District 4-5A and Class 5A third-team all-state by the Texas Sports Writers Association.
The year before, the Dragons went 16-0 with Jacobson making 149 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.
As a sophomore, he weighed in with 55 tackles, three interceptions and five pass breakups.
His size probably cooled recruiting interest, but didn’t dim Tech’s ardor. Smith suggested there was a tug-o-war among Tech coaches, deciding which assistant got him.
“I wanted him to play that Raider position,” Smith said, referring to the team’s hybrid outside linebacker-strong safety spot that he coaches. “He’s a little undersized, but he’d be great in man stuff and smart. Trey Haverty threw a fit, and instead he gave me Austin Stewart.”