Stewart still in mix
Texas Tech outside linebacker Austin Stewart, who didn’t travel with the team to the Holiday Bowl, is still in the program, defensive coordinators Matt Wallerstedt and Mike Smith said. He’ll be a leading candidate to replace 2013 senior Terrance Bullitt, for whom he was the backup last season.
That could be a spirited competition. Also in the mix are Chris Payne, Jacarthy Mack and Zach Winbush, Smith said.
Payne was impressive last spring, but academically ineligible for the season. No player who redshirted in the fall was spoken about in more glowing terms than Mack, a rail-thin freshman who impressed coaches.
And Winbush is an upperclassmen who played a good bit last season.
“We’ve got Chris Payne back as of right now,” Smith said. “He’s going to have to earn his way back up to play. Right now, it’s Austin Stewart and Jacarthy Mack and then Chris Payne and Winbush.”
Stewart did not travel to the bowl game. A Tech spokesman said it “was a coaches’ decision to leave him behind.”
Asked Wednesday if Stewart is back in coaches’ good graces, Wallerstedt grinned and said, “Depends on what day it is.”
Stewart made 39 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, three pass breakups and a quarterback pressure last season. He played primarily in the team’s nickel package, coming in at Raider outside linebacker on passing downs with Bullitt moving inside.
“In his role, when we were all healthy and we had the little speed package going — moved Terrance inside, and he had that nice little role — he was good,” Wallerstedt said. “Then we got into big-menu stuff where he had to play a lot of different things, that’s where he kind of unraveled. It was a little bit overwhelming at times.
“I think he’s still growing, but he’s a lot (more responsible) than he was when we were here at this time last year.”
Tech signed one player for the Raider position, Argyle’s Connor Wilson, on national signing day. Coaches decided to do without this year at the bandit outside linebacker where they have starter Pete Robertson and Andre Ross returning, both with two years remaining.
“Next year, we’ll have to look into some bandits and probably another Raider and some inside guys as well,” Smith said. “I’m good right now at the bandit with Pete and Andre.
“Raider is still wide open. That’s going to be an interesting one, how it plays out in the spring. We’ll see who emerges out of that, but we’ll be fine.”
Texas Tech co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith said Wednesday that newly hired Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine offered him a job as the Browns’ linebackers coach, but Smith declined.
Smith said he visited with Pettine a couple of weeks ago, but turned down the chance to rejoin him.
“I think everybody’s thinking I’m out of my mind, but I love Tech,” Smith said. “There is no other place I’d rather be than here. If I was at any other job, I would have gone in a heartbeat.”
That Pettine would try to obtain Smith comes as no surprise given the pair’s long history. You might remember that Pettine let Smith live with him rent-free when the two were both on the New York Jets’ staff, Smith as a low-paid intern.
“Mike Pettine’s one of my best friends,” Smith said. “I’ve known him for 10 years. He was my coach when I played for the Ravens and the DC for the Jets. Lived together when we were in New York.
“He’s one of my best friends. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is not to do that, but he understood how much this place means to me and my family’s here.
“He’ll do a great job there. He’ll turn that place around.”
The Browns finished 4-12 last season. They hired the 47-year-old Pettine on Jan. 23.
Compiled by Don Williams