Raider position returns
In the mid-1990s, Marcus Coleman made all-America while playing a position Spike Dykes’ staff dubbed “Raider,” a combo outside linebacker-strong safety.
Now the term has resurfaced with Terrance Bullitt playing a spot that sounds much like the position that fit Coleman so well. Bullitt said after Friday’s workout he’s in the “Raider” position, a field (wide side) outside linebacker that also has safety-type duties.
The 6-3, 220-pound senior played linebacker in 2012. The year before, he was a strong safety that was always near the line of scrimmage.
“I like it a lot better than last year,” Bullitt said. “It’s the same exact position except a few wrinkles that I played with (in 2011), when I was under coach (Chad) Glasgow — that strong safety rolled down spot. That’s where I made a lot of my plays.”
Two years ago in Glasgow’s 4-2-5 defense, Bullitt made 56 tackles, led the team with 91/2 stops for loss and had four pass breakups. Last year in Art Kaufman’s 4-3, Bullitt’s numbers dwindled to 19 tackles with two behind the line, one sack and two breakups. He did miss the last three games for season-ending shoulder surgery.
Another coaching staff change this offseason means the opportunity for Bullitt to redefine himself again.
“I wanted to either play what I’m playing now, the strong safety or a deep safety,” he said. “Last year was more of a true linebacker, and I feel like I’m a better guy in space.”
Bullitt underwent shoulder surgery Nov. 16. He’ll go through spring practice on a non-contact basis.
Looking to lead
When Texas Tech secondary stalwarts Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson completed their eligibility after last season, the Red Raiders’ new coaching staff had a decision to make: Let some of their promising young safeties fight it out for those two spots or mix in a veteran presence.
They opted for the latter, at least partially. Senior Tre Porter, who has 22 career starts at a variety of positions, began spring practice Friday as the starter at free safety. The first-team nickel back in 2012, Porter says he’s in the spot Davis played last season.
“Really, as of right now, my role is to be a leader,” Porter said, “because we’ve got to find new leaders since D.J. and Cody left.”
Davis and Johnson finished 1-2 on the team in tackles each of the last two years. Porter said he was paired with sophomore strong safety J.J. Gaines with the first unit Friday. Gaines impressed the Tommy Tuberville staff in preseason practice last August, then with his special teams work during the season.
But there are other candidates who’ll be battling, among them junior Austin Stewart, sophomore Shawn Corker and redshirt freshman Keenon Ward. Stewart backed up Davis for part of last season.
Corker, who has bounced between offense and defense throughout his career, was behind Porter at free safety Friday, and Gaines and Ward worked at strong safety.
Kingsbury thought Tech needed to shore up its numbers at safeties, which explains moving Porter and loading up on signing day.
“We signed five defensive backs in this class (in February), and some of those guys are going to have to come in and play right away,” Kingsbury said. “But we’re excited about the young guys we have. Somebody this spring will step up and show us they can do it.”
Tuberville always thought Porter’s best fit was safety — and Porter agrees — though circumstances sometimes dictated he play other positions.
Porter said he liked nickel back because of the straightforward man-to-man coverage. When Tech beat West Virginia 49-14 last year, Porter got a big share of the credit for the job he did on Mountaineers star receiver Tavon Austin.
At different times the last three years, Porter’s been a starting cornerback, safety, nickel back — even outside linebacker.
“It gives me a better perspective how the defense is supposed to work,” he said. “I understand multiple spots since I’ve played multiple spots. Now it’s laying back, making sure nothing goes over my head at safety. It’s pretty easy. It’s not really face to face now. It’s just prevention.”
Clark tackles left side
Texas Tech has a lot of questions to answer on the offensive line this spring, but the Red Raiders hope they have a rock at one important position. Not surprisingly, new coach Kliff Kingsbury has penciled in standout sophomore Le’Raven Clark at left tackle after his impressive 2012 season.
There could be some adjustment, though, since this will be Clark’s first experience at the spot as a Red Raider. He spent all of last spring at right tackle and then started every game last season at right guard.
“He’s got all the physical tools to be as good as he wants,” Kingsbury said Friday after the team’s first spring workout. “We recruited him hard when I was at the University of Houston coming out of Rockdale. He’s a stud. If he’ll keep working, I think the sky’s the limit.”
Clark made the Football Writers Association of America freshman all-America team and was Tech’s highest graded lineman last season, according to former line coach Chris Thomsen.
Clark is being given first crack at replacing first-team all-Big 12 left tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Elsewhere, the line returns Beau Carpenter, who started eight games, and Alfredo Morales, who started four.
But there are only 10 scholarship linemen on campus this semester.
“It’s pretty dicey out there right now,” Kingsbury said, “but that’s why we signed the class we signed — five big guys, solid guys that we think are going to have to step in immediately and contribute.”
Though the Red Raiders are short on numbers, their signing class in recent years yielded several other promising linemen, among them junior James Polk, sophomores Tony Morales and Jared Kaster and redshirt freshman Trey Keenan.
The other scholarship linemen seniors Rashad Fortenberry and Kyle Clark and sophomore Matt Wilson, who is coming back from knee surgery.
On the first day of spring ball, Tech players said Kingsbury’s offense runs really fast — maybe even faster than Neal Brown’s NASCAR from the last three years. That presents a challenge not only for the defense, but for an offensive line that lacks depth.
“It’s a little difficult with the no-huddle and the tempo we run,” offensive line coach Lee Hays said. “We’re just trying to roll them out and roll them in right now.”
New role for Jackson
With the Red Raiders switching from a 4-3 defense to multiple fronts that include the 3-4, Branden Jackson will now try his hand at linebacker. The 6-4, 255-pound sophomore made his college debut in 2012 as a backup defensive end.
Jackson said he was told of the move right after Christmas break.
“I think that’s the biggest joy I’ve had since signing at Tech,” he said. “That’s just always where my heart’s been. I just always felt like I could do something more if I played out there. Now they’re giving me the opportunity. I’m just ready to prove myself.”
Compiled by Don Williams and Nick Kosmider