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Preparing new D-linemen, teaching young QBs Kingsbury's camp priorities

Red Raider football practice begins Monday

Posted: August 3, 2014 - 6:53pm  |  Updated: August 3, 2014 - 11:59pm
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Davis Webb and Texas Tech will start fall practice Monday in Lubbock. (FILE)  Stephen Spillman / AJ Media
Stephen Spillman / AJ Media
Davis Webb and Texas Tech will start fall practice Monday in Lubbock. (FILE)
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Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury knows what his first order of business is when preseason football practice starts today. It’s less than four weeks until the first game, and he needs his four junior-college defensive line signees ready for that game.

Get the picture?

“I think the biggest deal is getting those new defensive linemen acclimated to how we practice, how we play and on the same page, because they’ve got to come in and play right away and we know that,” Kingsbury said when asked his No. 1 training camp objective.

Those four — noseguards Rika Levi and Marcus Smith, defensive end Brandon Thorpe and defensive tackle Keland McElrath — have impressed their teammates so far.

“This is a group of violent people — very, very violent people,” defensive end Branden Jackson said of the newcomers. “It’s kind of scary sometimes when we get out there and we’re just doing things that are non-contact, but these guys play full-speed all the time.”

Preseason workouts begin at 6:15 p.m. Monday, and Tech set the stage by hosting its media day Sunday at Jones AT&T Stadium.

If training up new defensive linemen is the No. 1 objective, Kingsbury pointed to something else when quizzed about his No. 1 concern.

“Getting the young quarterbacks coached up,” Kingsbury said.

No quarterback on the roster other than sophomore Davis Webb has taken a snap in a college practice, let alone a college game.

All the backups — Patrick Mahomes from Whitehouse, Hunter Rittiman from San Antonio Johnson, Payne Sullins from Waco Reicher and Vincent Testaverde from Tampa (Fla.) Jesuit — are true freshmen. Tech found itself in that odd circumstance after five quarterbacks with eligibility remaining left the program between December and April.

Kingsbury pulled a rabbit out of his hat last year, developing freshman walk-on Baker Mayfield into the Big 12 offensive freshman of the year. Now he needs to turn at least one of the freshmen into a playable backup by the Aug. 30 opener against Central Arkansas.

But Kingsbury has had a freshman starting quarterback three of the last four years — David Piland at Houston, Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, Webb and Mayfield last year — and sounds confident based on their success.

Tech’s already gotten a jump on preparing the newcomers. An NCAA rule change this year allowed college coaches to work with their players for two hours a week during the summer. In the past, they were permitted no such interaction between the end of spring practice and the beginning of August workouts.

“It’s huge,” Kingsbury said, “especially for the new guys — as many junior college players as we signed, the freshmen that we think are going to come in and play right away. It gives them a chance to compete early on in camp.”

The Red Raiders have 23 practices and one day off scheduled between now and Aug. 23, after which game-week preparation starts.

Unlike with the new defensive linemen and the young quarterbacks, Kingsbury has no control over one personnel development. Top-notch receivers Jace Amaro and Eric Ward are gone — Amaro as an early entry to the NFL, Ward as a 2013 senior.

All the Red Raiders can do to fill those voids is be faster — which they plan to be with D.J. Polite-Bray, Devin Lauderdale, Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis all among the team’s fastest players.

“We’ll be faster across the board at that position,” Kingsbury said, “which will help us stretch the defense more. Last year, having young quarterbacks, you want to get it out quick and not put a lot on them.

“This year, we feel like we have the guy (in Webb) who can push it down the field more, we have receivers who can do it, and so I’d say we’ll be smaller but we’ll be faster.”

don.williams@lubbockonline.com

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