Coming out of spring practice, depth at linebacker was a concern for Texas Tech defensive coorinator Art Kaufman. The Red Raiders still have room for improvement behind starters Will Smith, Terrance Bullitt and Sam Eguavoen.
Blake Dees and Zach Winbush have done the best job of easing Kaufman’s mind, though, Dees by claiming the spot behind Smith in the middle, Winbush by backing up Bullitt on the weak side.
“I think (Dees) has made a big jump from spring ball,” Kaufman said last weekend. “Zach Winbush, who played in the middle in the spring, we’ve moved him to the (weak side) and that’s helped him. It’s still going to take him another two or three weeks of playing time, but I think he’s come on and gotten himself in the mix.”
Dees and Winbush, both 6-foot-1, 225-pound sophomores, seem happy to have a shot at important roles after being sidetracked by injuries. Dees suffered a high-ankle sprain in the third game last year, reinjured it in practice the week of the seventh game and says the injury slowed him most of the season.
Winbush suffered a broken foot late last season that caused him to miss much of the spring.
Now both are getting regular snaps in practice and bouncing around.
“It feels great,” Winbush said. “I had surgery and everything and I’ve been rehabbing. Finally coming back, it feels really good. I’ve been learning the plays, getting stronger and faster. I think it’s going to be a really good year.”
Having a Smith-Dees tandem in the middle gives the Red Raiders, on paper, a solid 1-2: an impact newcomer backed by a player who started five of the first six games last year. On Thursday, Kaufman said he’d likely divvy up playing time at that spot 60-40 or 65-35 in favor of the starter.
Dees says he’s making progress, even if he got knocked out of a starting job.
That’s partly because he’s embraced Kaufman’s approach, thinking it suits him better than the system former defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow installed.
“This system is a lot more simple and basic,” Dees said. “Coach Kaufman wants us to learn how to do it, so when we’re out there we have no questions on what we need to do.
“Last year’s defense, there were so many things — having them call the play (from the sideline) and having to look at our play sheet (on the player’s wristband) took too much time. Now we get plays quick, quick, quick. It helps a lot. Now I’m set and I can see the formation.”
Dees, the Red Raiders’ fifth-leading tackler among returnees, says his affinity for the new system enables him to play with less hesitation.
“Last year, I may have been a little slow to the ball,” he said. “Now I feel like I’m breaking on passes a lot faster and doing what coach Kaufman tells me. It’s got me in the right place at the right time, always. I feel good about this defense.”
Winbush, meanwhile, feels good about his position switch and the possible avenues it opens up. The former Schertz Clemens standout thinks he can contribute more and make more plays on the weak side.
If it gets him on the field more, so much the better. Winbush’s playing time was limited his first two years in the program. He received a medical hardship waiver for his 2010 season, when he got hurt after playing in only two games, then got into six games last year.
“You’ve got to stay with it and not give up,” he said. “Your time will come.”
Bullitt says his backup is making strides.
“He’s been doing a real good job,” Bullitt said. “He’s showing he can step in and play and bring the competition out of everybody.”
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