Even with ex-quarterback Kliff Kingsbury as Texas Tech head coach, a new big-screen videoboard to showcase touchdowns and plenty of skill-position talent on offense, the other side of the football has received a good bit of attention since December.
And although the biggest storyline from the first two weeks of training camp has been who will play quarterback, the early work of the defense on the practice field might have been overshadowed.
In most of Tech’s post-practice settings, players who were asked whether the offense or the defense got the upper hand gave the nod to the defense.
And those weren’t only defensive players’ opinions either.
“The defense, I’ve just been impressed with the leadership,” Kingsbury said. “(There are) a lot of seniors over there and guys that have been here a long time and have really done a good job of corralling the whole team, so I’ve been impressed with that.”
That success could stem from different factors on the offensive side, or it could be that defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt’s game plan is taking hold.
The Red Raiders will line up in a 3-4 and a 4-3, but that’s just a start.
“We’re not trying to give quarterbacks too much credit,” Wallerstedt said. “They’re young guys. They’re all trying to learn their position. We’re trying to get them as confused as we can.
“And also the big guys up front. With those offensive lines that we’re going to face, especially with us being a little bit undersized in some positions, (we want to) be able to cause confusion so they can’t just tee off and know exactly where they’re going to block us.”
Wallerstedt doesn’t plan to sit back and defend what comes his way.
He’s looking to attack.
The level of aggression is a change from last season. The Red Raiders are hoping it leads to forcing more turnovers.
“Our scheme was predictable (in 2012),” sophomore middle linebacker Micah Awe said, “but this year we’re coming from different angles, so teams can’t just get one play and continue to run it.
“We’re going to continue to adjust. I think that was our main problem last year. We couldn’t adjust against Baylor. We were beating them, but they kept running the same play, same play. We couldn’t adjust. This year, we’ve got different angles, different plays and (we’re) getting after them.”
During the spring, co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith said the Red Raiders ran about five defensive calls a game when he was a Tech linebacker from 2000 through 2004. This year, he said, there might be 35 defensive calls.
That’s what players seem to be witnessing.
Defensive lineman Kerry Hyder said the Red Raiders are counting on opponents not having time to adjust.
“We’re going to be coming from every direction, throwing different fronts at them, dropping the coverage, throwing different combinations at them,” Hyder said. “It’ll definitely be difficult, especially the other offenses, especially if they haven’t seen them yet.”
This isn’t Wallerstedt’s first rodeo running this defense.
His experience brings confidence and a freedom to his players, according to sophomore linebacker Pete Robertson.
“With Coach Wallerstedt, when he was at Air Force (from 2008 through 2011) and with A&M (in 2012), he got this defense settled,” Robertson said. “I just bring the excitement, just that vibe to that position.”
There is depth at linebacker that will come in handy facing Big 12 offenses.
“The whole group is doing really well,” Hyder said. “Sam Eguavoen and Will Smith, Blake Dees and Micah Awe, the whole group is making strides. I feel like Sam and Will are going to have big years.”
Hyder said cornerbacks Bruce Jones and Ola Falemi are making life tough on the team’s receivers right now.
Other than the first practice, all of Tech’s preseason workouts have been closed. Safeties coach Trey Haverty is replacing multi-year starters Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson with senior Tre Porter and sophomore J.J. Gaines. Porter has made 22 career starts in different positions, and Gaines made a mark on special teams last year.
That being the case, the defensive staff has reason to feel optimistic about the starting safeties. Developing depth there is a key in the preseason.
“Adding depth (is important),” Haverty said, “because any one play you can lose a guy. So Jalen Barnes and Dorian Crawford are going to battle it out to see in that spot. For me, Tanner Jacobson we brought in from Southlake, walk-on, love the kid. He’s short, but this is the place where those guys get chances, and he played the Texas High School (Coaches Association) All-Star game and played really well.”
Going against the fast-paced Texas Tech offense, the defense gets a good look at what it takes to keep up with a team for four quarters.
“I think they realize that this puts us in tip-top shape,” Wallerstedt said, “not just for the offense to go fast, but defensively for us to see that — and everybody’s doing it now. The communication across the board, especially at the linebacker level and in the secondary, you’ve got to be adjusting to all the formations we see, all the different looks and making sure we get the calls in, communicate and execute our package without getting caught off guard.”
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Word on Wilson
This training camp is a key time for offensive tackle Matt Wilson. He’s beginning his third year in the program, and the team needs him to provide reliable depth. Line coach Lee Hays has considered Wilson both as a backup to Le’Raven Clark at left tackle and to Rashad Fortenberry at right tackle.
He’s currently slotted for the latter.
“Matt is really trying harder, and he has some physical tools,” Hays said Friday. “He just really has to learn the offense. He just needs reps, and we’re trying to get him the reps.”
The 6-foot-6, 280-pound sophomore from Coldspring-Oakhurst missed last season after suffering a torn knee ligament in August.
Tech coaches love the potential of new offensive lineman Cody Hayes from Fort Worth Eastern Hills. Line coach Lee Hays likes what he has seen so far. He’s just waiting to see more.
“Cody, athletically, I’ve really been impressed by him,” Hays said Friday. “He’s just got to learn it. He’s played hard. But he has a wrist injury and an ankle injury now, so he’s been on the shelf for a while.”
Hays projects Hayes as an offensive guard. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound freshman had a busy last semester of high school, winning second in the shot put at the Class 4A track and field meet three months ago in Austin.
That came three months after a whirlwind finish to his football recruitment when TCU and Oklahoma tried to pry Hayes away from Tech. He was offered a recruiting visit to Oklahoma shortly before signing day, but declined.
Compiled by Don Williams