DALLAS — Tommy Tuberville sat upright in a tall chair perched atop a stage inside the Westin Galleria hotel on Monday morning, his gray suit and red tie pressed without a wrinkle as he expressed optimism about Texas Tech’s upcoming football season.
If the seat below him was warm, it didn’t appear to be affecting the third-year coach.
“Just being here a couple years, everybody said, ‘You’re on the hot seat,’” Tuberville said. “I’d like to coach a few of these guys I recruited.
“So hopefully we can get this thing going a bit better each year. We’re not there yet, I’ll be the first to tell you, but we’re much closer than we were three years ago.”
College football media days have become something of an unofficial kickoff to the season, and Tuberville, as well as Tech players Seth Doege, Eric Ward and Terrance Bullitt, were all eager to turn the page on the carnage of a 5-7 campaign that ended with the Red Raiders missing a bowl game for the first time since 1999.
It was also Tech’s first losing season in two decades.
“I kind of speak on everybody’s behalf when I say it was kind of embarrassing,” said Doege, the team’s senior quarterback. “We didn’t want to be the first team to end the streak (of consecutive bowl appearances), so now we have a chip on our shoulder. ... Now it’s time to translate all that hard work into fall camp and translate it into wins.”
Before even fielding questions from members of the media, Tuberville used his opening statement to address his team’s defense. It was a source of frustration in 2011, when Tech finished 114th out of 120 FBS teams in total defense and dead last against the run.
The biggest culprit, Tuberville said, was a lack of bodies to plug holes on that side of the ball.
“You need around 30 players (on defense) that can go day in, day out and play in this league,” Tuberville said, “and we’ve had about half that. But we’ve pretty much doubled our talent on that side of the ball. We’ve taken some junior-college players. Most of the guys that played last year are back with us, and I think they’re going to help.”
Tuberville is confident that his third defensive coordinator in three years, Art Kaufman, will be a stabilizing force. With the addition of West Virginia and TCU to the Big 12 fold, Tuberville said, the conference has become as diverse as ever on offense, offering a revolving door of game plans from week to week. Combating such variety, he said, requires experience.
“I think it’s a big factor of having an experienced coordinator being able to make those changes week in, week out,” Tuberville said. “Personnel, moving people around, how to do those things in terms of giving yourself a chance for success.”
Bullitt, who moved from strong safety to strongside linebacker during the spring, said Kaufman has stressed “old-school” techniques and fundamentals as the team shifts to a 4-3 scheme.
“It’s a new year and we have a lot of guys coming back,” Bullitt said. “If we stay healthy we can be near the top.”
Staying healthy wasn’t something Tech was able to do a season ago, when it lost a handful of players to season-ending injuries. No loss was more damaging than that of running back Eric Stephens, who was lost for the year following a devastating knee and leg injury against Texas A&M on Oct. 8.
Eric Stephens is at “80 percent,” according to Tuberville, who said the running back will participate in fall camp in a non-contact fashion. The hope for Tech is that Stephens can play “in some if not all” of the team’s three non-conference games.
“That (injured) knee is probably stronger than the other one right now,” Tuberville said, “but that player has to learn and build that confidence back.
Running back DeAndre Washington and inside receiver Alex Torres are also progressing well in their rehab from knee injuries, Tuberville said.
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