With Scott Smith gone from the 2011 front four, Texas Tech has a spot in the two-deep next season for a new defensive end. And anyone’s welcome to join the rotation who can help the Red Raiders improve on their puny sack total from last season.
The time will come, maybe as soon as next season, for Branden Jackson and Kindred Evans to play key roles. The Red Raiders love the potential of both young defensive ends, and they spent their first fall and winter at Tech trying to get bigger and stronger.
Jackson, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound redshirt freshman from McKeesport, Pa., has gained about 30 pounds since he reported to Lubbock last summer.
“That’s helped me be more confident,” Jackson said this week, “because I felt real skinny and I felt weak coming in last semester. The confidence helps a lot now that I’m stronger as I come off the edge. I know I’ve got to compete with people who have been playing since their freshman year, like Dartwan (Bush) and (Leon) Mackey and Jackson (Richards).
“They’re all stronger than me. Dartwan’s a lot quicker than me. So I’ve got to compete every day just to try to get my name out there and get a spot.”
Even though Jackson and Evans were new and undersized, both pushed to play early last season. Evans did, in fact, getting into three games before he suffered a sprained neck in practice that ended his season.
“The little success I had, that’s just a little boost for me next year and something for me to keep working toward,” said Evans, a 6-3, 239-pounder from South Grand Prairie.
Like Jackson, Evans said gaining weight and strength are his first orders of business. Evans has seen some lower-body strength improvements. He’s “still trying to put on as much muscle as I can up top.”
Learning the finer points of his position is an equally high priority. It helps going against second-team all-Big 12 left tackle LaAdrian Waddle every day in practice.
“He’s helped me work a lot on my pass rushing,” Evans said, “because he’s a real good pass blocker. He’s also helped me improve my hand skills. He’s real good with his hands, and his arms are super long, so if you don’t get your hand placement right he’ll mess you up.”
Though Evans spent much of last fall in the training room, he said he still managed to improve his skills.
“I learned more pass-rushing moves,” he said. “I learned how to keep my run fits, and then I learned how to steer the blocker on run plays, so that’s helped me out a lot.”
Through the first half of spring practice, Jackson has worked mainly left end along with Bush and Mackey, and Evans has been primarily on the right side with Richards and Chris Knighton.
Tech coaches prepared Jackson to play last season, but managed to redshirt him.
“My strength is my speed,” Jackson said. “They thought they could utilize that for passing downs right away, so I was supposed to play.
“Then after a while, as people progressed and got better, it was better for me to sit back and gain weight and get an extra year of football. Get to know the ropes — how practice goes, how school works and everything.”
From the first day he arrived, Jackson’s routine has included a heavy emphasis on gaining good weight. Each weekday morning, he heads to the Tech football facility to get a couple of protein shakes for breakfast. Then he takes with him a bag of assorted goodies — Nutra-Grain cereal bars, Clif bars, bagels — and Muscle Milk and other nutrient drinks. He eats several small meals throughout the day.
The regimen has him looking more like a Big 12 defensive end already. Jackson said he and strength and conditioning coach Joe Walker aren’t sure at what weight he’ll wind up playing.
“Me and coach Walker have talked many times,” Jackson said. “We just decided that I’m going to keep gaining weight until they see that I lose a step in my speed. Once he sees that I’m slowing down or I look stiff, then we’ll know we need to go back down to a certain weight until my body can handle it.”
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