Texas Tech starts its spring football practice on Wednesday.
This is the eighth in a series of spring previews, looking at Tech’s Raider outside linebacker position.
Texas Tech defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt admired the dedication and toughness of Terrance Bullitt, noting how at times last season the injury prone linebacker was still on the field throwing his body around “with one hand and one shoulder.”
Too bad Bullitt doesn’t have one year of eligibility left.
Maybe no position on the Tech team is more up for grabs during spring practice than Bullitt’s old Raider outside linebacker position. Wallerstedt plans to audition a half dozen or more candidates for that position in March and April.
Senior Dorian Crawford (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) will line up with the first team at Raider when spring football starts Wednesday with redshirt freshman Collin Bowen (6-3, 220) also set for a long look. Also in the mix are senior Austin Stewart (6-0, 215), who made some plays at Raider last season, and redshirt freshman Jacarthy Mack (6-3, 190), who is slim but a favorite of outside linebackers coach Mike Smith.
At least three players at other positions — bandit outside linebacker Zach Winbush, free safety Keenon Ward and cornerback La’Darius Newbold — also could be run through the Raider spot at some point in the spring, Wallerstedt said.
“We’re going to make sure we get guys looked at,” Wallerstedt said.
The first crack at the job will go to Crawford, who trained at safety last season. The senior from San Diego suffered a high-ankle sprain in August practice and played in only four games, but he fits the position profile for Raider.
“He’s got a little bit more range to him as far as length for forcing the ball, keeping the ball inside, being physical on slot receivers and blitzing,” Wallerstedt said. “When he was healthy in August, he was a presence off the edge and really created some havoc with our tackles and our running backs. He throws his body around. He needs a good spring. He’s only got one shot left, and he’s been training that way.”
The defensive staff has a good idea of what Stewart can do. He put up some impressive stats as a backup — 39 tackles, four for loss, two sacks and three pass breakups — but had his most success as a sub-package player. In third-and-long situations, Bullitt moved to middle linebacker with Stewart coming on at Raider.
“What we noticed on him is when we had our speed package for third down, just kind of a compressed menu for him, he was very productive and was good,” Wallerstedt said. “Then later, when he was thrust into being an every-down guy a couple of those games, he was more hit or miss. He was good and bad.
“So how he matures, I think, is going to be key for how much he’s used, but you’re not going to find anybody any more athletic than what he is.”
Wallerstedt’s open to the idea of having a younger player in the two-deep at Raider if one merits it. A couple of second-semester freshmen have shown promise.
Bowen could be another hit from the 2013 walk-on class that included quarterback Baker Mayfield, since transferred, and safety Tanner Jacobson, now off on a two-year Mormon mission. Bowen played quarterback at Randall, where he was a two-time 1,000-yard rusher/1,000-yard passer. Tech coaches wasted little time moving him to linebacker, the position they pictured him playing as they were recruiting him.
Bowne went first to outside linebacker, spent some time late in the season at inside linebacker, but has been moved back for the open casting call at Raider.
“He’s all new to this,” Wallerstedt said, “but he’s got a good frame on him, good toughness, good work ethic and a smart kid, so he just needs reps.
“We’ve had some guys over the years that were high school quarterbacks, moved over, played in this system at linebacker, whether at the Raider spot or inside, and they ended up panning out pretty good.”
One of the 2013 signing class yields was Mack, a high school defensive end who took well to playing in space during the fall. Mack, nicknamed “Blade” for his build, might be a situational pass rusher until he can put on weight.
“He’s really raw,” Smith said, “but he flashes how athletic he is — his speed and his get-off. Coach (Kliff) Kingsbury loves him. He gives them a heck of a look over on scout team. The kid goes full speed. Non-stop motor. Loves the game. I’ve got no doubt that kid’s going to be a pretty dang good player.”
The quest to find two or three solid players for the position could lead elsewhere. Wallerstedt mentioned Ward, though the sophomore from Snyder will go into spring first-team at free safety, and Winbush, who can play either outside lineacker spot.
“We’ve got some parts at corner, too, depending on how things shake out there,” Wallerstedt said. “La’Darius Newbold, for instance. We moved him to Raider during the season. We may do something like that to give him a look, but right now he’s going to be running with our corners.”
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