Texas Tech football training camp is over.
Heading into the weekend, Tech shifts from preseason practice mode to game preparation mode. With the season opener against Central Arkansas eight days away, the Red Raiders haven’t answered all their personnel questions — at least not publicly.
Here’s the projected depth chart at each position and a look at the unknowns at each position group.
The depth chart: Davis Webb, So.; Patrick Mahomes, Fr.
Remains to be seen: How much to play Mahomes. Though all Tech practices are closed, coaches have spoken highly of what the freshman has done in scrimmages. That started with his throwing five touchdown passes in the first intrasquad.
One trait Kliff Kingsbury values in a quarterback is the ability to extend plays, and that’s one of Mahomes’ fortes.
Kingsbury’s made it clear Mahomes isn’t going to redshirt. The Red Raiders will work him in, but they have to make sure Webb clicks first with a receiving corps featuring two new starters.
The depth chart: Fullback, Rodney Hall, Sr. Tailback, DeAndre Washington, Jr.; Quinton White, So.; Justin Stockton, Fr.; Demarcus Felton, Fr.
Remains to be seen: When to use Stockton and in what fashion. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound freshman from Cibolo Steele has wowed coaches with his speed, not that anyone doubted he can run.
“He can roll,” Kingsbury said this week. “It’s fun to watch. He can roll.”
Does that mean Stockton can cut into Washington’s and White’s roles and get 15 touches a game? Does that mean five touches, giving him the chance to hit home runs against tired defenses?
It’s hard to know until games start.
“I think we’ve just got to be smart,” Kingsbury said. “They all offer something different as a running back, so we’ve got to be great as an offense at how to use them and play to their strengths when we’re calling plays, and so that’s what we’ve been really working on in this camp.”
Meanwhile, running backs coach Mike Jinks and Kingsbury both said this week they expect true freshman Demarcus Felton to wind up playing. But Kingsbury said they likely will keep Felton on the sideline for a while before making a decision on a possible redshirt.
“I think we’ll probably see how these first couple of games go and see where we’re at,” Kingsbury said. “He’s progressed well and we know he could play for us. You’d like to get a little separation with those two guys (freshmen) if you could.”
The depth chart: Split end, D.J. Polite-Bray, So.; Devin Lauderdale, So. Inside receiver (H), Jakeem Grant, Jr.; Jordan Davis, Sr. Inside receiver (Y), Bradley Marquez, Sr.; Jordan Davis, Sr. Flanker: Reginald Davis, So.; Dylan Cantrell, So.
Remains to be seen: Carlos Thompson played in the season opener last year as a true freshman even though he wasn’t in the two-deep. Judging by that and coaches’ comments this year, Cameron Batson and Ian Sadler figure to play early, too, though neither is in the two-deep.
Oh, Tech might list one as a top backup early next week, but Kingsbury said senior Jordan Davis is the real-time backup at “H” and “Y” inside receiver.
“Jordan, we feel good about him playing both of those,” Kingsbury said, “so he’s the main backup at both those positions.”
The depth chart: Left tackle, Le’Raven Clark, Jr.; Dominique Robertson, Jr.; Josh Outlaw, Fr. Left guard: Alfredo Morales, Jr.; Baylen Brown, So. or James Polk, Sr. Center: Jared Kaster, Jr.; Baylen Brown, So.; Robert Castaneda, Fr. Right guard: Baylen Brown, So.; James Polk, Sr. or Dominique Robertson, Jr. Right tackle: Reshod Fortenberry, Sr.; Trey Keenan, So. or Justin Murphy, Fr.
Remains to be seen: How the backups shake out and when Dominique Robertson plays. The first-team line is set — and looks virtually identical to last year’s. That much we know after Wednesday’s revelation that Le’Raven Clark has returned to left tackle to give junior-college import Dominique Robertson time to condition and get comfortable with the pace of the offense.
If the offense clicks early, that might delay Robertson’s getting into the lineup.
The second unit isn’t as clear-cut as the first five. Robertson is training at left tackle and right guard, but line coach Lee Hays said Wednesday senior James Polk is the second-team right guard.
Early in practice, Josh Outlaw was backing up at left tackle and Trey Keenan at right tackle, but Keenan’s been taking snaps at left tackle since Josh Outlaw sprained an ankle late in camp.
Meanwhile, true freshmen Robert Castaneda and Justin Murphy have rotated in a lot with the second team and impressed Hays with their nasty streak. It wouldn’t be a shock if one or both emerge this year, Castaneda at any of the three inside spots, Murphy at tackle.
The depth chart: End, Branden Jackson, Jr.; Gary Moore, So.; Zach Barnes, So. Noseguard: Jackson Richards, Sr.; Rika Levi, Jr.; Marcus Smith, Jr. Tackle: Demetrius Alston, Jr.; Keland McElrath, Jr.; Brandon Thorpe, Jr. or Donte Phillips, Jr.
Remains to be seen: When the junior-college defensive linemen make their mark. There’s a chance none of the four will be in the starting lineup for the opener. Holdover Demetrius Alston has come on at defensive tackle, likely earning the nod over Keland McElrath. At noseguard, Jackson Richards — the only senior up front — hasn’t meekly stepped aside for Rika Levi.
Coaches are less concerned with which defensive linemen start than how many they can rely on for high-level play. In that regard, signs point to Levi and McElrath being ready — and not a moment too soon with this team’s run-stopping issues. Marcus Smith and Brandon Thorpe might need more time to adjust to major-college speed and conditioning.
The depth chart: Bandit outside linebacker, Pete Robertson, Jr.; Andre Ross, Jr. or Kris Williams, So. or Zach Winbush, Sr. or Zach Barnes, So. Raider outside linebacker: Kenny Williams, Sr. or Austin Stewart, Sr.; Dorian Crawford, Sr.; Jacarthy Mack, Fr.
Remains to be seen: Whether returning starter Pete Robertson gets a breather. Co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith says he’s looking for a backup bandit outside linebacker. He’s been saying that for about six months.
“I tell those guys every day, ‘If you want to play, show me,’” Smith said Wednesday. “But right now they’re making it hard on me, because nobody’s really flashing at that spot.”
Pass-rush specialist Zach Barnes joined the pool of candidates a few days ago, moving from defensive end. Coaches want to see Andre Ross be more physical and play harder. Kris Williams gives all he has, but he’s 12 months removed from an ACL tear.
Zach Winbush played on the edge last season and might again if none of the younger candidates steps forward.
Smith wants someone to emerge because Robertson played too many snaps last season.
“He was really falling off at the end of a game,” Smith said. “You’ve got to have a guy to rotate.”
The depth chart: Middle linebacker, Sam Eguavoen, Sr.; Micah Awe, Jr. Weak inside linebacker: V.J. Fehoko, Sr.; Sam Atoe, Jr; Malik Jenkins, So.
Remains to be seen: Going into August, the main issue was identifying a fourth inside linebacker to go along with Sam Eguavoen, V.J. Fehoko and Micah Awe.
Now it appears Atoe is close to winning that spot, if he hasn’t already.
Tech coaches recruited Atoe from the College of San Mateo (Calif.) as an outside linebacker. But he showed up at 5-foot-11 and 237 pounds and quickly got shuffled inside.
“Once he figures out the package, he’s going to be a really good football player,” Smith said. “He’s smart, and he’s tough. He’s a good kid.
“We’re trying to lighten him up a little bit, but obviously he’s more of an inside guy. We needed help at that inside spot, so (do) what’s best for the team.”
Smith said Atoe is intense like Fehoko and athletic like Eguavoen, the most athletic of the team’s inside linebackers.
The depth chart: Cornerback, Justis Nelson, So. and backup to be determined. Cornerback, Tevin Madison, Fr. or Jah’Shawn Johnson, Fr. or Thierry Nguema, So. or La’Darius Newbold, So.
Remains to be seen: Everything, except Nelson will start. Cornerback is the biggest question mark — and worry — on the team.
Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt said this week Madison and Johnson probably will be in the two-deep, about three months after they graduated high school.
The prospect of true freshmen stepping right into key roles can be exciting — until they have to defend Big 12 receivers.
The depth chart: Strong safety, J.J. Gaines, Jr.; Jalen Barnes, Fr.; Derrick Dixon, Fr. Free safety: Keenon Ward, So.; Josh Keys, Jr.; Payton Hendrix, Fr.
Remains to be seen: If the backups are ready to go when called upon. The starters are set, but Barnes is a redshirt freshman coming off a season lost to shoulder surgery, and Keys needed time to get into shape and figure out the defense.
Coaches haven’t sounded any alarm bells about either, but it would be a major concern if either Gaines or Ward got hurt and had to miss some time. There’s little veteran presence with the starters, none with the backups.
The depth chart: Kicker, Ryan Bustin, Sr.; Kramer Fyfe, Sr. Punter; Taylor Symmank, Jr.; Kramer Fyfe, Sr. Kickoff return: Jakeem Grant, Jr.; Reginald Davis, So. Punt return: Jordan Davis, Sr. or Cameron Batson, Fr. or Ian Sadler, Fr.
Remains to be seen: Who returns punts.
It’s a competition among senior Jordan Davis and freshmen Cameron Batson and Ian Sadler, all of them inside receivers. Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury wasn’t ready to name one this week.
“Cameron’s done a great job. He’s very natural catching it,” Kingsbury said. “Jordan had some success last year doing it, and then Ian’s a guy that’s coming on as well. We haven’t made a decision on that yet, but all three have done a good job in camp.”
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