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Who's been the most eye-opening player on defense this spring? One stands out for Tech co-DC Mike Smith

Ward makes a move with tackles

Posted: April 2, 2014 - 10:49pm  |  Updated: April 3, 2014 - 12:23am
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  Scott MacWatters / AJ Media
Scott MacWatters / AJ Media
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Ward making a move

Texas Tech defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt said before spring practice that sophomore safety Keenon Ward needed to finish better on tackles and show more confidence at the point of attack.

Ward apparently took the message to heart.

Co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith said Ward has stood out this spring, not just among the candidates for an open safety spot, but on the defense in general.

“Keenon Ward, I think out of all the guys on defense all spring, is flashing,” Smith said Tuesday, widening his eyes for emphasis. “His thing coming in was needing to get toughened up and get physical and he’s doing that. He’s coming out popping people.”

Given the area in which coaches wanted Ward to show improvement, it was noteworthy that he delivered the biggest hit during the team’s intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at Midland. Late in the game, Ward blasted slot receiver Zach Austin. Austin held on to the football for a 10-yard gain, but Ward’s hit elicited oohs and aahs from the crowd.

“And just every day in practice, doing tackle circuit every day before we start individuals, Keenon is going out there with a chip on his shoulder,” Smith said. “He’s put 5 or 10 pounds on this offseason and is just playing physical and violent.

“That’s what we need on defense is guys like him that set the tone every day in practice, and he’s been doing that.”

Ward started three games last year and made 32 tackles. Wallerstedt said the former Snyder star graded high in the Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State, a game in which he had four tackles and a pass breakup.

That Ward is stepping up now could be important to his future. Tech is looking to fill free safety after the departure of 2013 senior Tre Porter, who started 35 games. The possibilities include Ward, senior Dorian Crawford, junior-college transfer Josh Keys and redshirt freshman Jalen Barnes.

A high-ankle sprain in August spoiled Crawford’s 2013, his first season at Tech. Keys is learning the defense for the first time this spring, and Ward has Big 12 game experience on Barnes, though Tech coaches are high on all four players.

If Ward can seize the opportunity as a sophomore, it’ll make him harder to beat out down the road.

 

Raiders review

If Texas Tech had a game this Saturday, seniors Kenny Williams and Austin Stewart would be the 1-2 at Raider outside linebacker, co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith said Tuesday.

“What’s great about that is they’re both playing pretty well,” Smith said. “They’re both competing and both of them are cheering each other on. When you have two guys at a position playing well, competition makes a football team. They practice hard every day because they both want to play.”

Stewart was Terrance Bullitt’s backup last year. He was productive as a sub-package player with 39 tackles, four behind the line, two sacks, three pass breakups, a forced fumble. Coaches didn’t guarantee Stewart anything this spring, however, because he also busted assignments when given more responsibility last season.

Stewart helped himself during Saturday’s scrimmage in Midland.

“Austin Stewart graded out actually the highest of everybody in my room at outside linebacker,” Smith said. “He just had some big plays, some (pass breakups) and a sack and just moving around. He’s another guy that’s been in the system for a year.”

Raider outside linebacker was one of the team’s most unsettled positions when spring practice started. It’s also been one of the most talked about with Williams lobbying coaches for a chance to play there after being the team’s leading rusher the last two seasons.

Coaches still have to determine to what extent they can live without him at running back, a position with no proven players outside of junior DeAndre Washington. Remember, Williams and Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury have both described it not as a position switch, but Williams’ attempt to be a two-way player.

But they’ve committed to giving him a full dose of 15 spring sessions to see whether he’s part of the solution at linebacker.

“He’s doing a great job,” Smith said. “He’s picking it up. Every day he goes out there, he looks more comfortable. Right now, it’s just ironing out little things with his eyes and being in the right place.

“It’s new to him, but he’s tough and he wants to be good. He wants to be great. He’s going to will himself to be successful.”

 

Compiled by Don Williams

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Defense should improve...

This guy was red-shirted and then injured. I think he will be a great addition. The defense should improve quite a bit. I think in part because some of the red-shirt players and injured players will be playing this year. Also, we have the same Defense coach and system and we got some good JUCO players to help. I'm not thinking top 10 defense but, maybe top three or four in the Big XII. If we can do that this will be a great year because the offense is pretty loaded! Tech has suffered on Defense from inexperience, instability and or injuries for the last four or five years so, its about time to have it all come together this year! Go Tech!

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