March 23, 2008
Seven intriguing storylines
If the 2008 football season is potentially the most important in Texas Tech history-a defensible statement-then it only follows that the 2008 spring practices are equally important. Mike Leach and his staff don't have many huge holes to plug, but do have a team that needs polishing, talented new personnel to plug in, and new coaches to assimilate. These tasks will underlie the most intriguing storylines of the spring.
What Will McKinner Dixon Bring to the Table? The Red Raider defense made tremendous strides toward the end of last season, but they'll need to make even more if Tech is to win a Big 12 championship. And junior college transfer come home McKinner Dixon should help achieve those aims. It will be very interesting to see not only how he adjusts to Big 12 football having not seen this level of competition in a couple of years, but also how defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill uses him. Will Dixon be deployed primarily at strong defensive end or rush end? Will he play inside and how much? Will Dixon be better than he was as a true freshman starter for the scarlet and black? One thing's for sure, this will be a fun deal to watch.
Who Emerges at Cornerback? Jamar Wall is as good as any cornerback in the Big 12. That much we know. What we don't know is who, if anybody, will rise to the occasion and secure the position opposite Wall. The list of candidates will include Marcus Bunton, Pete Richardson, DeShon Sanders, Brent Nickerson, Laron Moore, Jarrel Routt, and perhaps Jared Flannel. We will keep a sharp eye on these players to see if anybody is capable of turning a potential vulnerability into a strength.
Does Ruffin McNeill Make Major Changes? Tech's new defensive coordinator has already made one major change in the Red Raider defense: improvement. And that's far and away the most important thing. Still, it remains to be seen what sorts of wrinkles McNeill may throw into Tech's scheme. It doesn't appear as though McNeill will junk the current scheme entirely, but he may implement a couple of new packages and dispose of his players differently than we've seen in the past. Will McNeill's changes result in a better pass rush? Will they allow more big plays? Will they facilitate more big plays by the defense? Interesting questions to be sure.
Will McNeill Emphasize Creating Turnovers? If there was one consistent deficiency in the 2007 Tech defense, even during McNeill's tenure, it was an inability to create turnovers. Consequently, the Red Raiders often lost the turnover battle and it's difficult to win games when you lose that statistic. One suspects that recovering fumbles and reacting to balls in the air will be a point of emphasis for McNeill.
Does Brian Duncan Move to Middle Linebacker? With the departure of starting middle linebacker Paul Williams, and with the omnipresent need for Tech's to improve its rush defense, there have been rumors and suppositions that Duncan, Tech's starting strongside linebacker, will move to MIKE. We shall soon find out. It is possible that McNeill will wait and see how letterman Victor Hunter and redshirt freshman Sam Fehoko look in the middle before pulling the trigger on Duncan. If Hunter and Fehoko can get the job done, perhaps Duncan stays at SAM. If not, look for Duncan to slide inside and sophomore Bront Bird to take over at strongside 'backer.
The Return of the Red Baron: When running back Baron Batch arrived on the Tech campus a couple of years ago, Tech observers could not wait to see him in action. Unfortunately, they didn't get to see much of him before Batch went down with an assortment of illnesses and injuries. Now Batch is set to make an encore that seems like another debut. He will surely be rusty from the extended time off, but there's also real hope that he will inject a much needed dose of speed and power into the Red Raider backfield.
Will the Tech Offense Miss Danny Amendola? To a degree, that's a silly question because teams always feel the loss of players like former inside receiver Amendola. If nothing else, his inspiring toughness and grit will be missed. But there's more to it than that. Amendola was a fearless receiver over the middle who very seldom dropped passes despite operating in heavy traffic and tacking tough shots. Detron Lewis, Amendola's presumptive replacement, has got very good hands and runs great routes, but how will he react to the pounding and pain that his new position entails? Lewis needs to show the sort of reliability and toughness that Amendola did in order for Graham Harrell to develop that
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