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The situation at safety: Tech has two returning starters, but a position battle

Posted: July 9, 2017 - 9:06pm
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When Texas Tech starts preseason football practice, the Red Raiders will welcome back two returning starters at safety. One is one of the team’s most experienced players, the other one of the best at getting the most out of his talent.

Jah’Shawn Johnson’s started all 25 games the last two years, which were his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons. No one else on the defense has more than 11 career starts. Barring injury, he seems a lock at left safety.

Kisean Allen started the last nine games last season at right safety, and now he’ll try to fend off newcomer Vaughnte Dorsey. It’s easy for some to write off Allen, once a no-name recruit, but he never goes away.

“He just comes to practice every day, and he works his butt off and he competes,” Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs said. “He’s that guy that, if somebody gets sick or gets hurt, he goes and plays nickel. Last spring (2016), he played corner the whole spring. He has versatility and he’s got enough football savvy.

“He’s that guy you’re always trying to beat out. He plays hard.”

Enter Dorsey to take a crack at beating him out this season. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College transferred to Tech in January and made a solid first impression in spring practice. He was second team behind Allen after spring practice.

“Dorsey’s going to play,” Gibbs said. “Dorsey’s a playmaker. He’s got a long way to go, but he loves football and when you watch him practice, he’s the guy you see flash, and when you watch him scrimmage, he’s the guy you see hit. He does a lot of things wrong, but the things he does right are usually big plays so everybody notices.”

Though he bears the stigma of former walk-on, Allen racked up 87 tackles and 15 passes defended as a senior playing on the same high school defense with uber blue-chip recruit Malik Jefferson at Mesquite Poteet. The team went 12-2.

Perhaps because he didn’t play football his sophomore and junior years of high school, Allen flew under the recruiting radar and, being an honor student, chose Tech for its kinesiology program over Angelo State, Midwestern State and The Citadel.

He nearly played as a true freshman because of injuries in the secondary. Then when Keenon Ward went down with a broken arm last season, it opened the door for Allen and he made 43 tackles, sixth on the team. He needs to make more big plays.

Though he lacks bulk at 5-11 and 180, he tackles well.

“For a midget, he does,” Gibbs said with amusement. “He’s going to play. I would think Dorsey would eventually pass him by, but I’d rather have three (safeties) than have two.”

Whereas Allen and Dorsey are one-two at one safety, Johnson’s backup is a little less clear. Spring standout Justus Parker would likely be Johnson’s real-time backup in a game situation, Gibbs said. However, Parker’s pushing Douglas Coleman for the starting job at nickel back and figures to play a lot at that position, Gibbs said.

Payton Hendrix, a 6-2, 210-pound junior, is another possibility behind Johnson, but the Red Raiders are still waiting for him to claim a role.

Asked why Hendrix hasn’t made a push before, Gibbs said, “I don’t know. And he’s a good kid who works his butt off. It’s just, he’s a big-bodied guy that, going against our offense every day is not easy for a guy like him. If he was in the Big Ten or somewhere where they lined up and ran it at you every snap, he’d probably look a lot better.

“It’s just hard covering these wideouts. Our wideouts are freakin’ really good.”

Coaches have considered moving Hendrix to linebacker, Gibbs said, but the Red Raiders are starting to look stronger at that position than they do at safety.

“I’m not sure he wants that (position switch),” Gibbs said. “But we don’t have any depth back there either. It’s been thought about.”

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