For two years, Texas Tech’s football fortunes have been limited by a large of number of injuries, even though the offensive line went largely unscathed.
During an 8-5 season in 2010, four offensive linemen started every game and a fifth started all but two.
During the 5-7 campaign of 2011, LaAdrian Waddle, Lonnie Edwards and Terry McDaniel started every game, Deveric Gallington started all but one, and Justin Keown fought through knee injuries to start eight of the last nine.
Actually, it might be more important than ever for the Red Raiders to stay healthy up front this year. Of the 10 players in the two-deep, four are seniors but four are redshirt freshmen.
“I feel good about our first six or so,” Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. “It’s kind of a different deal, because I feel good about our seniors and I feel good about our redshirt freshmen, but we don’t have a whole lot in between.”
Of the 11 offensive linemen Tech signed between 2008 and 2010, only six are still in the program.
Tech players report Sunday for preseason camp and start practice Monday.
Waddle at left tackle, Gallington at center and McDaniel at right tackle are multi-year starters, so there’s a framework in place up front. None of the second-teamers have significant playing time in a Tech uniform.
However, the Red Raiders got a potentially big lift over the summer when Brian Thomas, a two-year starter at Texas A&M, transferred to Tech with a season of eligibility left. Unlike most transfers, Thomas doesn’t have to sit out this year, because he graduated from A&M and enrolled in a graduate-school major not offered by his original school.
He’ll open camp second team at left guard, but he is expected to compete with sophomore Beau Carpenter for the starting job.
Brown ticked off several precautions about expecting too much too soon from Thomas: He didn’t go through spring practice with Tech, he might not be in game-ready shape and he’s never played in the Red Raiders’ offense.
“So we’ve basically got four weeks to get him ready,” Brown said. “I think he’s a smart kid. I think he’ll pick up what we’re trying to do. He’s going to give us some more versatility, too, because he’s started games at center and at tackle in this league also.”
Thomas, a 6-foot-3, 319-pound Pearland product, started 25 games the last two years and helped the Aggies rank 23rd in the nation in total offense in 2010 and seventh in total offense in 2011.
Big 12 Conference game days won’t be new to him.
“That was one of the positives about getting him,” Brown said. “And they played good offense. They threw the ball quite a bit. They did a good job running the ball. He was physical in the run game. That’s something he’s going to bring to it for sure.”
Tech went through spring practice with McDaniel, a 6-6, 329-pound senior, playing right guard and Le’Raven Clark, a 6-3, 309-pound redshirt freshman, at right tackle. They’ll reverse roles going into camp, however: McDaniel is moving back outside, where he started the last nine games last season, and Clark will slide in to right guard, shielding him from the pressure of protecting the edge as a first-year player.
Brown first mentioned the possibility in April.
Now the Raiders need Carpenter, a 6-6, 291-pound sophomore, to make the most of his first chance to play a vital role. And they need some solid depth to develop. Twins Tony and Alfredo Morales will try to provide it inside, and coaches will try to identify the best backup tackle among juco transfer Rashad Fortenberry, redshirt freshman Matt Wilson and true freshman Trey Keenan.
“Beau Carpenter is a guy that we really need to step up,” Brown said. “He’s got all the physical tools. He’s just got to put it together.
“We need the Morales brothers to have great fall camps where they’re ready to play. We need one of the other guys — Matt Wilson, Fortenberry or Trey Keenan — to come along and give us a two-deep there.”
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Texas Tech’s preseason depth chart at offensive line, according to offensive coordinator Neal Brown.
LT: LaAdrian Waddle, Sr.; Rashad Fortenberry, Jr.
LG: Beau Carpenter, So.; Brian Thomas, Sr.; James Polk, So.
C: Deveric Gallington, Sr.; Tony Morales, Fr.
RG: Le’Raven Clark, Fr.; Alfredo Morales, Fr.; Kyle Clark, Jr.
RT: Terry McDaniel, Sr.; Matt Wilson, Fr.; Trey Keenan, Fr.