Reasons to worry
1. Davis Webb’s health: Sure, Kliff Kingsbury seems to work magic with freshman quarterbacks. David Piland. Johnny Manziel. Webb. Baker Mayfield.
But do you really want to push your luck?
If Webb gets hurt at any point — even for a series or two — the team’s in the hands of Patrick Mahomes, yet another true freshman.
And though the Red Raiders fared OK in that scenario last season, most everyone would rather see Webb on the field for 13 games, playing at his Holiday Bowl best.
2. An inexperienced secondary: There’s not a senior in the bunch. Heck, J.J. Gaines is the only junior. One of the starting safeties asked to move from defense to offense after last season and was rebuffed. At cornerback, there’s no one with the tackling tenacity and mental toughness of the underrated Bruce Jones.
That’s scary in a conference full of spread-formation passing attacks.
3. A middling pass rush: Tech didn’t pressure the passer enough last season, and a repeat of that will make it all the more difficult for the young corners and safeties. Defensive end Branden Jackson figures to build on his four-sack season, and Pete Robertson needs to provide more than three.
Beyond that, there are no obvious answers. The four juco defensive linemen Tech brought aboard are big bodies, designed to stop the run. Some of the team’s promising pass rushers are youngsters who might be a year away.
4. Linebacker: The position group was so thin that a career running back and a transfer with one start last season were able to push for first-team jobs. There are options, but none proven, behind Pete Robertson. And the Red Raiders could get caught short at inside linebacker with an injury or two.
5. Running back: Obviously, Tech coaches think they can do without Kenny Williams or they wouldn’t have OKed his request to switch positions, but we don’t have a clear picture yet of how the post-Williams backfield will look. Can DeAndre Washington handle a heavy-duty workload? Has Quinton White mastered the offense? Will Justin Stockton be the same electric guy in Big 12 games he’s been in preseason practice? There’s a lot still to be answered here.
Reasons to be excited
1. Inside receivers: Combined, Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez caught 114 passes for 1,429 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Marquez summered in Lubbock for the first time, taking a year off from pro baseball, and Grant is an upperclassman now. It’s reasonable to think both can match or exceed the numbers they put up last season.
2. Offensive line depth: Tech shouldn’t get caught short here. This is the deepest and most experienced group on the team. Tackle Le’Raven Clark and guards Alfredo Morales, James Polk and Baylen Brown have 49 career starts among them. Center Jared Kaster and right tackle Reshod Fortenberry started every game last season.
The guard depth provides some insurance against injuries elsewhere on the line.
3. Kicking game: Ryan Bustin made 23 field goals last year, and Taylor Symmank might have the strongest leg of any Tech punter since Mark Bounds, a unanimous All-American in 1991. Symmank has to keep his mechanics tight, but hitting 50- and 60-yard punts is well within his capability. Now that the punting job is his, he should be able to find a groove and flip the field often.
4. Big-play potential: Wouldn’t you rather have another year of Jace Amaro bowling over smaller safeties and Eric Ward delivering his yearly 80 catches? Sure, you would.
They’re gone, though, and in their place, the Red Raiders are pinning their hopes on yards after catch and beating pass coverage deep.
That’s a reasonable goal. Reginald Davis, D.J. Polite-Bray, Devin Lauderdale, Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez all can jet.
5. Coaching situation: Matt Wallerstedt’s back for a second year, the first time Tech’s had carryover at defensive coordinator since 20009, Ruffin McNeill’s last year. Wallerstedt’s defensive staff returns intact, too, so the Red Raiders think they’ll benefit from that stability.
Tech’s special teams were really good in some areas and really bad in others last season, and Kliff Kingsbury addressed that by making special teams the sole responsibility of new hire Darrin Chiaverini. Kingsbury said special-teams coaching was a group effort a year ago and, he felt, wasn’t anyone’s top priority.
Chiaverini not only devotes his full attention to those units. He spent four years in the NFL mainly for his special-teams contributions and has coached special teams for the last five years.
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