Texas Tech outside linebacker Austin Stewart, who didn’t travel with the team to the Holiday Bowl, is still in the program, defensive coordinators Matt Wallerstedt and Mike Smith said. He’ll be a leading candidate to replace 2013 senior Terrance Bullitt, for whom he was the backup last season.
That could be a spirited competition. Also in the mix are Chris Payne, Jacarthy Mack and Zach Winbush, Smith said.
Payne was impressive last spring, but academically ineligible for the season. No player who redshirted in the fall was spoken about in more glowing terms than Mack, a rail-thin freshman whose skills and demeanor coaches love.
And Winbush is an upperclassmen who played a good bit last season.
“We’ve got Chris Payne back as of right now,” Smith said. “He’s going to have to earn his way back up to play. Right now, it’s Austin Stewart and Jacarthy Mack and then Chris Payne and Winbush.”
Stewart did not travel to the bowl game. A Tech spokesman said it “was a coaches’ decision to leave him behind.”
Asked Wednesday if Stewart is back in coaches’ good graces, Wallerstedt grinned and said, “Depends on what day it is.”
Stewart made 39 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, three pass breakups and a quarterback pressure last season. He played primarily in the team’s nickel package, coming in at Raider outside linebacker on passing downs with Bullitt moving inside.
“In his role, when we were all healthy and we had the little speed package going — moved Terrance inside, and he had that nice little role — he was good,” Wallerstedt said. “Then we got into big-menu stuff where he had to play a lot of different things, that’s where he kind of unraveled. It was a little bit overwhelming at times.
“I think he’s still growing, but he’s a lot (more responsible) than he was when we were here at this time last year.”
Tech signed one player for the Raider position, Argyle’s Connor Wilson, on national signing day. Coaches decided to do without this year at the bandit outside linebacker where they have starter Pete Robertson and Andre Ross returning, both with two years remaining.
“Next year, we’ll have to look into some bandits and probably another Raider and some inside guys as well,” Smith said. “I’m good right now at the bandit with Pete and Andre.
“Raider is still wide open. That’s going to be an interesting one, how it plays out in the spring. We’ll see who emerges out of that, but we’ll be fine.”