There’s no need for Texas Tech offensive line coach Lee Hays to write fancy reminders on a blackboard for his players to read this summer. Chances are, they already know how they’re perceived.
The Red Raiders lost three multi-year starters up front at a time they were already shallow thanks to attrition.
“We know from depth-wise and from experience-wise, we’re the guys that are considered the weak link,” Hays said last week. “This summer, that’s all I’m thinking about. I hope that’s all they’re thinking about, that we’re only going to go as far as that front five take us.”
Tech is counting on offensive line stability from several returnees with varying but limited experience. In that group are senior Rashad Fortenberry, junior Beau Carpenter, sophomores Le’Raven Clark, Alfredo Morales, Tony Morales and Jared Kaster.
The Red Raiders need Clark’s talent to blossom with his move to left tackle, Carpenter to solidify a spot based on his experience and the Morales brothers to recover from injuries and live up to the reputations they had as recruits. And not last, they want Kaster and redshirt freshman guard Trey Keenan to get bigger and stronger.
All good resources, but in the spring Clark changed positions and coaches didn’t get much of a read on Fortenberry and the Morales brothers because of injuries.
“We’ve got some kids working hard,” Hays said. “We just still have so many unknowns.”
Worrisome gaps were created by the losses of first-team all-Big 12 honoree LaAdrian Waddle, his fellow tackle Terry McDaniel and center Deveric Gallington. Those three accounted for more than 100 career starts.
Of the 10 scholarship offensive linemen on campus this spring, three were out or limited to non-contact work. One of the aforementioned 10, guard Kyle Clark, has since graduated and left the program, Hays said.
Hays said two players who came out as walk-ons were in the second-team huddle their first day.
“After the spring, you don’t have a great feel for what anybody can do, really, based on the fact they were probably exhausted every single practice,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “because there were only seven guys rotating through.”
Whereas an offensive lineman might get 30 snaps in a spring scrimmage when part of a deep, experienced group, Hays said, Tech’s linemen were seeing double that amount.
That made it hard on everybody, including the ones doing the evaluations.
“Trey (Keenan) would literally come off the field and throw up two or three times, then go back on the field,” Hays said. “Like when we were (scrimmaging) in Midland, he almost took every snap. Come off, throw up. As soon as he was done throwing up, run back out there.”
Clark started 13 games last season, and Carpenter and Alfredo Morales had nine and four starts, respectively, at guard. Clark has been deemed Waddle’s successor at left tackle after he made freshman all-America last year playing right guard.
Alfredo Morales figures to play a key role somewhere, provided his surgically repaired shoulder holds up. He began last season as a starting guard, and coaches like the attitude he’s shown during rehab. Tony Morales, meanwhile, is first at left guard, in front of Keenan and junior James Polk who played in eight games last year but has dropped out of the two-deep.
“Alfredo is just now coming back,” Kingsbury said. “He sat out all spring, but he’ll be back full go this summer, and I thought Tony was still getting back in the feel of things from his injury.
“But they’re tough players. They bring an attitude I like, so I’ll be interested to see how they progress.”
When camp starts, Hays plans to give Fortenberry, true freshman Josh Outlaw and sophomore Matt Wilson shots at right tackle. He hopes one emerges so Carpenter can stay inside at guard.
Fortenberry is one of the team’s most athletic linemen, and he carries 297 pounds on a 6-foot-5 frame. But a back injury knocked him out of the mix last season and an ankle injury put him on the shelf for good after about a week of spring practice.
“Love his attidude, love his work ethic,” Hays said. “We hope he can help us.”
Center could be another competitive spot in August. Kaster got some game action there as a true freshman, but the Moraleses will be factors.
“I think it’s wide open,” Kingsbury said of the center job. “Nobody jumped out there and grabbed it over the spring, so we’ll keep that competition going.
“Jared Kaster got better. He needs to gain some weight this summer and some strength, but he got better with our operation.”
Left tackle: Le’Raven Clark, So.; Matt Wilson, So.
Left guard: Tony Morales, So.; Trey Keenan, Fr.; James Polk, Jr.
Center: Jared Kaster, So.; Tony Morales, So.; Alfredo Morales, So.
Right guard: Beau Carpenter, Jr.; Alfredo Morales, So.
Right tackle: Rashad Fortenberry, Sr., or Josh Outlaw, Fr.; Matt Wilson, So.
Returning starters (2013 starts): Le’Raven Clark (13), Beau Carpenter (9)
Seniors lost: LT LaAdrian Waddle, C Deveric Gallington, RT Terry McDaniel
Departures with eligibility remaining: OG Kyle Clark (graduated in May, left program), OL J.J. Lollar (cut from team, transferred)
Best spring: Le’Raven Clark. “If he figures it out,” Kingsbury said, “he has big-time pro potential with his size and strength.”