Art Kaufman watched very little videotape of last year’s Texas Tech defense after he was hired as the Red Raiders’ new defensive coordinator in January, meaning he went into the first spring scrimmage with a blank canvas.
It didn’t take long for his senior safeties, Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson, to fill in some of the blanks for him.
“When we came off the field after that scrimmage, I said, ‘Boy, those two guys back there play pretty good,’” Kaufman said.
Throw in junior Tre Porter, and Kaufman feels good about being able to anchor a secondary around three safeties with experience. Any two of the three could be in the game at the same time, he said.
Porter was coming off a concussion that sidelined him for the last four games and limited his contact in the spring. That left Davis as the first-team free safety and Johnson as the first-team strong safety going into preseason practice next month.
“I just thought those guys did a ... I wouldn’t say I was surprised,” Kaufman said. “I was very pleased with the plays those guys made.”
Davis and Johnson finished 1-2 on the Red Raiders’ tackles chart with 93 and 83, respectively. The Red Raiders need all the playmaking they can get from the defense after giving up a school-record 471 points in 2011. The secondary provided only three interceptions — of Tech’s five — and Johnson had two in one game.
However, Kaufman said it was a close call between Davis and new middle linebacker Will Smith for the team’s best defensive player during spring practice. Davis has been first or second on the team in tackles each of the last three years.
“I just think he’s really a smart player,” said Kaufman, who came to Tech from North Carolina. “He understands the job he’s doing, and he understands exactly how to do it and when it changes, he’s able to adapt.”
Redshirt freshman J.J. Gaines and sophomore transfer Austin Stewart are the next generation, Gaines penciled in at strong safety and Stewart at free safety. Gaines moved from cornerback to safety during his redshirt season, then stayed there in the spring.
“He really did a nice job,” Kaufman said. “(Safety) was basically a brand-new deal to him. I thought he picked it up. I think he’s got a gift for it.
“Austin Stewart is really skilled. He’s really an athletic guy. He just needs the reps to learn how to make all the decisions that have to made back there.”
Much like the case at safety, at cornerback Tech returns upperclassmen who struggled a year ago when the team ranked 113th in pass-efficiency defense and started six tandems. The Red Raiders are counting on senior Cornelius Douglas to solidify one of the cornerback spots.
He moved from offense to defense before the next-to-last game of the 2011 season. When Douglas had so-so days during spring ball, Kaufman said it was because of “the little things.”
“I think his technique really improved, especially at the end of spring,” Kaufman said. “I think he learned to understand that he’s got to bring his technique with him every day and work his craft.”
Senior Eugene Neboh spent the spring as the other first-team corner. But juniors Jarvis Phillips and Derrick Mays, both of whom started part-time, will be in the mix again along with redshirt freshman Jeremy Reynolds. Incoming signees could have a shot, too, considering coaches changed their starting corners almost from week to week last season.
Phillips and Porter got most of the work as the top two nickel backs during the spring.
Kaufman said the Red Raiders will mix up their coverages, using both zone and man-to-man concepts.
“We’ll do a little bit of all of it,” he said. “We’ll be multiple in the back end. I think you have to be, because the offensive systems you see vary and the matchup each week varies.”
To comment on this story: