May 22, 2006

Young defenders among top playmakers

In the previous installment of the "Playmakers" series, we examined the five players considered most likely to ruin the opposition's day and make that of the Red Raiders. And those five players-Robert Johnson, Joel Filani, Keyunta Dawson, Chris Hudler, Jarrett Hicks-are veritable lead-pipe cinches to do just that. Barring injury or other unforeseen obstacles, those young men will constitute the core of Tech's playmaking battalion. They've done the job in the past and will do it in the future, only better and more frequently.

When we move on to the next quintet of playmakers, however, we move into a more speculative realm. The players who are the subjects of this piece all have undeniable potential to grab headlines and star in highlight films, but for one reason or another, they also have question marks-some small, some large-hanging over their heads. But if all of those interrogatives turn into exclamations, then clinch your teeth and fasten your seatbelts because 2006 will be a wild ride.

In the previous installment of the "Playmakers" series, we examined the five players considered most likely to ruin the opposition's day and make that of the Red Raiders. And those five players-Robert Johnson, Joel Filani, Keyunta Dawson, Chris Hudler, Jarrett Hicks-are veritable lead-pipe cinches to do just that. Barring injury or other unforeseen obstacles, those young men will constitute the core of Tech's playmaking battalion. They've done the job in the past and will do it in the future, only better and more frequently.

When we move on to the next quintet of playmakers, however, we move into a more speculative realm. The players who are the subjects of this piece all have undeniable potential to grab headlines and star in highlight films, but for one reason or another, they also have question marks-some small, some large-hanging over their heads. But if all of those interrogatives turn into exclamations, then clinch your teeth and fasten your seatbelts because 2006 will be a wild ride.

1. Graham Harrell: For Mike Leach's ozone show to function at its high-wire thrilling best, it helps a great deal to have a playmaker pulling the trigger (just to mix about eight metaphors). Fortunately for the Red Raiders, Tech would seem to have just such a man in sophomore, Graham Harrell. Now while it is true that he is engaged in a dogfight with Christ Todd for the starting quarterback position, there is not too much reason to believe Harrell won't come out on top. His accuracy is as good as any Tech quarterback seen during Leach's tenure; his arm is better than Kliff Kingsbury and Cody Hodges'; his leadership skills are better than Harrell's four predecessors, and his football smarts are unsurpassed, so to speak. Harrell also has a set of receivers that could be the best in school history. All he needs is game-time seasoning in order to emerge as an elite quarterback and a first-class playmaker.

2. Jake Ratliff: The hosannas have sounded loudly and clearly for backup defensive tackle, Jake Ratliff, and they were based almost exclusively upon his impressive spring performance. Now it's time for the 6' 6" rodeo cowboy from Lawton, Oklahoma to take the bull by the horns and kick up a little dust when it counts most. Ratliff sure has most of the tools to do just that. He's quick, tough, tenacious, and doesn't take plays off. He also has developed into a pass-rushing specialist who should team with Chris Hudler to form a chaotic tandem in the middle on passing downs. The two should feed off of one another and make a meal of quarterbacks as a result. Ratliff is still a bit thin, however, and this will probably prevent him from seeing the field on a down-to-down basis.

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