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Tech pins hopes on promising linebacker group

Posted: July 7, 2017 - 10:17pm
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Texas Tech’s hopes of recovering from a 5-7 football season in 2016 rest to a large extent on arguably its most promising set of linebackers in Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure as head coach.

The prospect of putting Jordyn Brooks, Dakota Allen and D’Vonta Hinton on the field together and healthy at the same time excites even defensive coordinator David Gibbs, who’s well-known for not doling out much praise.

“They can tackle people,” Gibbs said. “You always hear me say we need erasers. Those three are erasers.”

Brooks led the team in tackles last season with 86, making five behind the line. Allen was second on the team in tackles the year before with 87, making six in the backfield. Hinton has 72 career tackles, including 6 1/2 for losses.

“That’s probably (the best) they’ve had around here in quite some time,” Kingsbury said, “with that type of athleticism, that type of toughness, the natural instincts that group brings. It’s exciting.

“And there’s a couple of others in that room that we think have a chance to step up, but those three would really help our defense. That’s for sure.”

Among the two juniors and a sophomore, each has a question mark. Brooks underwent off-season shoulder surgery, though Kingsbury said he was close to full go by the end of spring practice. Allen returned to the program in June after being kicked off the team 13 months before and spending last year at East Mississippi Community College. Hinton missed the last seven games of 2016 with a combination of an ankle injury he suffered on the third defensive snap of the season and unspecified personal issues.

However, all three have size and have demonstrated playmaking ability in the Big 12.

Brooks, the 6-foot-1, 240-and-change sophomore from Houston Stratford, led all Big 12 freshmen in tackles last season and is the league’s fourth-leading returning tackler.

“He’s 245 pounds and can run and hit,” Gibbs said. “He’s what everybody else is playing with. That’s how I look at it. He’s what everybody else we’re playing against is playing with at linebacker.”

Brooks started from week one last season and made a season-high 18 tackles in the finale against Baylor. Asked to what extent Brooks met expectations, Gibbs said, “Probably the first half of the season not very good, and the second half much better.

“And he played with a bad shoulder the whole year, so that showed some toughness. He didn’t tap out. He kept grinding and kept competing, and then he played his best game against Baylor, which only helps your confidence.

“You hope that’s what he is. You hope that’s who he is, but he’s got to go do it again.”

Allen was dismissed in May 2016 for being involved in a Lubbock home burglary with two former Tech teammates and received a pre-trial diversion agreement. He transferred to East Mississippi and made 117 tackles for an 11-1 team last season.

Gibbs said he expects the 6-1, 235-pound junior from Humble Summer Creek to pick up where he left off with the Red Raiders and lists him as the starter at weak-side linebacker.

“He already knows everything,” Gibbs said. “He’s already learned everything. He’s been through the offseason with Rusty, coach Whitt, so he’s done it.”

The wild card is Hinton, who’s shown flashes but not put together a full season. The 5-9, 230-pound junior from Texas City acknowledged last year he didn’t feel comfortable with his alignments and assignments playing as a true freshman until the Kansas State game in week 11. Then after starting four of the first five games in 2016, he missed the last seven.

“He just had a bunch of personal issues going on last year,” Kingsbury said. “Football pretty much faded from his life, so we wanted him to focus on academics and just getting himself in a better place. He did that, came back in the spring and showed up every day with a good attitude, so we’re progressing with that.”

Though speculation swirled that Hinton might be done with football, Kingsbury said, “No, I don’t think it ever reached that point. I think more than anything, he needed to reset, needed to get his priorities in order and get himself in order.”

Kingsbury said Hinton’s showing was “great” in the spring, when he missed only one practice, and “he makes some plays that look really special.”

Hinton, given his stocky build, has deceptive short-area speed to the perimeter.

“No question. No question,” Gibbs said. “And if he will go like that all the time, then he’s a good player. He has a hard time stamina-wise, maintaining, which is part of the things that have been fixed. And just the ability to keep going when things aren’t perfect.

“If he can maintain and make it through this summer with (strength and conditioning) coach Whitt killing everybody, it only bodes well for us, because physically, he can be as good as any of those guys.”

Two years ago, Allen started at middle linebacker and Hinton on the weak side. Now Gibbs lists Brooks and Hinton in the middle with Allen on the weak side, backed by sophomore Brayden Stringer and junior-college transfer Tony Jones.

Tech mostly uses five defensive backs, including a nickel. The Red Raiders didn’t practice a three-linebacker look much in the spring, Gibbs said.

When third- or fourth-and-short situations come around in real time, calling for three linebackers, Gibbs said Brooks or Allen could play the strong side.

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