Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown and his staff typically spend two weeks of preseason practice settling on which players to use and the last two weeks before the opener deciding how to use them.
The Red Raiders are at the halfway point in the process.
With 12 days left until they kick it off against Northwestern State, the Red Raiders have a good idea of who’s in the rotation at most positions, but decisions still loom. Chief among them on offense is picking a starter at left guard and narrowing the large pool of receivers. On defense, it’s deciding who supplies depth at linebacker and cornerback.
Brown already feels sure Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington will play this season, based on how the running backs have looked this August coming back from reconstructive knee surgeries.
Not all their starting blockers are set, though. Beau Carpenter’s week-long absence with a concussion gave rise to a three-way battle at left guard among him, Alfredo Morales and James Polk with Polk pushing to play for the first time in his career.
“He’s been the surprise of camp, really,” Brown said after Saturday’s scrimmage at Jones AT&T Stadium. “Those three guys, they all bring something different to the table. Beau’s missed some time because of his head injury, but all three of those guys have a chance to start there a couple of weeks from now.”
Le’Raven Clark, expected back Monday from a concussion, is No. 1 at right guard and the third tackle if anything happens to Terry McDaniel or LaAdrian Waddle. Redshirt freshman Tony Morales is in the top eight, backing up center Deveric Gallington.
Brown said the outside receiver candidates have been trimmed to five — split ends Eric Ward and Marcus Kennard and flankers Darrin Moore, Bradley Marquez and Javon Bell. Redshirt freshman Derreck Edwards is the odd man out, though he made plays in spring practice and again in the preseason.
“There’s been a little bit of separation there,” Brown said.
Jace Amaro and Tyson Williams will be the 1-2 at “Y” inside receiver, but “H” inside receiver remains muddled. Senior Alex Torres, coming back from knee surgery, got his most work of the preseason during Saturday’s scrimmage and turned a mid-range pass into a 34-yard touchdown. Senior Austin Zouzalik has been limited to no contact coming back from a concussion, then hurt a hamstring, Brown said.
Small slot receivers Jakeem Grant and Javares McRoy figure to have a role, because they can provide speed others can’t. Unheralded sophomore Jordan Davis has made coaches take notice, too.
“At ‘Y’, Jace and Tyson have kind of separated themselves, but at ‘H’ is where it’s kind of open,” Brown said.
With a week left before game-week preparation, it appears running backs Stephens, Washington, Kenny Williams and SaDale Foster are all going to play this season. Fullback Omar Ontiveros will throw lead blocks and maybe catch a pass here and there.
There’s a subtle shift with Tech going to more two-back formations. Coaches have looked at all sorts of combinations — among them, Foster with Williams, Ontiveros with Stephens, Washington with Foster, Ontiveros with Foster and Ontiveros with Williams.
“We know how they’re going to play, and we’re going to be in two-back probably a little bit more than we have been,” Brown said. “It’s deciding who gets carries. That’s going to be the hard part.”
On defense, the Red Raiders appear to have their two-deep in the defensive line and their starters at linebacker and defensive back. They did switch their outside linebackers with Terrance Bullitt spending last week on the weak side and Sam Eguavoen going to the strong side, the reverse of how those two started camp.
Defensive coordinator Art Kaufman said after Saturday’s scrimmage that he’s undecided on top backups at cornerback and the depth at linebacker.
Coaches would like to see newcomer Bruce Jones take a spot in the two-deep — he was a playmaker in junior college and has a 42-inch vertical leap — but he was beaten for a touchdown by Javon Bell in Saturday’s scrimmage while showing sloppy technique.
Kaufman said second-team middle linebacker Blake Dees and second-team weak-side linebacker Zach Winbush have come on, but beyond them other linebackers will be fighting for spots on the travel roster.
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