Texas Tech’s defensive line was criticized as much or more than any other part of the team’s 122nd-ranked defense last season, but the players returning there have looked as good as any unit to new defensive coordinator David Gibbs.
“Simply because they’re older. They’re veteran guys,” Gibbs said Monday. “A few of them, this is the last go-round. I think they’re taking advantage of it. They’re working harder.”
Defensive coordinator David Gibbs is a lot more concerned about a Texas Tech run defense that was fifth-worst in the FBS last season than he is about a pass rush.
“We’ve got some depth up front, some guys we’ll rotate in that we think can rush the quarterback,” Gibbs said Monday, “but I’m not sure that’s been the problem around here. I’m thinking the problem around here has been, can we stay in our gaps in the run game? So that’s what we’re focusing on.”
Cameron Batson started the 2014 season wearing jersey No. 13, and now he’s going to wear it again.
Forget the notion that it might bring him bad luck.
“I just say it’s lucky for me and unlucky for the defenders,” Texas Tech’s inside receiver and return man said.
Batson had to trade No. 13 for No. 80 early last season after the Red Raiders were penalized for having two players simultaneously on the field wearing the same number. Sam Eguavoen, the team’s starting middle linebacker, had dibs on No. 13.
Four Texas Tech linebackers seem to be in good position to play. At least linebackers coach Zac Spavital spoke favorably on Monday of Micah Awe, Kris Williams, Malik Jenkins and Dakota Allen.
Awe, a 6-foot, 221-pound senior, is the acknowledged starter at middle linebacker, and Williams (6-1, 230) and Jenkins (6-1, 225) appear to have the inside track to the other two spots.
Allen (6-2, 224) is a redshirt freshman who’ll be playing for the first time.
It’s looked since the end of last season as if Baylen Brown and Justin Murphy would comprise the right side of the Texas Tech offensive line this year.
That’s still likely, though they might switch positions.
Line coach Lee Hays said Monday he could wind up with Murphy at right guard and Brown at right tackle — a flipflop — for the Sept. 5 season opener against Sam Houston State.
“Baylen’s more of a natural tackle,” Hays said. “Murph might be a little bit more of a natural guard. He doesn’t have to be as technical.”
Texas Tech cornerback Nigel Bethel and linebacker D’Vonta Hinton both were in non-contact blue jerseys at the end of Monday’s practice.
Defensive coordinator David Gibbs and cornerbacks coach Kevin Curtis referred questions on injured players to head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who wasn’t available to the media Monday.
Bethel also was outfitted with a padded splint or cast on his left hand that extended from mid-forearm and covered several fingers.
He stayed several minutes after practice, however, getting in extra work with an assistant coach.
Texas Tech coaches have wanted a more reliable backup the last two years for Pete Robertson so that he didn’t wear down late in games and over the course of the season.
Co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith is optimistic Zach Barnes and Mike Mitchell can offer some relief to Robertson, who had 12 sacks last season. The two sophomores are battling to back up the rush end.
Running backs coach Mike Jinks said it’s too early to tell whether Corey Dauphine might redshirt this year. The 6-foot, 194-pound freshman from Port Arthur Memorial rushed for 1,215 yards last season and, the last two years, has been a state champion and a state runner-up in the 200 meters.
“What you want to do is get your program to a place where you can have a kid with that kind of talent come in and sit and wait a year,” Jinks said. “And barring injuries right now, I think we have the ability do that.”
Breiden Fehoko’s lofty reputation as a recruit seems to be translating onto the field so far.
The second-semester freshman from Honolulu Farrington is running with Texas Tech’s first-team defense, co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith said Friday, though it’s a battle between Fehoko and senior Keland McElrath for a starting job at defensive tackle.
There’s been little question since last season ended that redshirt freshman Justin Murphy would take over at right tackle, the only offensive line position where Texas Tech lacks a multi-year returning starter.
Line coach Lee Hays has said since last season that he loves Murphy’s mean streak and physical attributes, and teammates say Murphy never looked tentative or intimidated as a freshman.
“Not at all,” right guard Baylen Brown said. “He came in and owned a spot from the day he got here.”