June 13, 2008
Key Red Raiders: #21 Brian Duncan
A huge number of factors go into the success of any football team. In this series, we will be examining 25 of them. More specifically, we will take a reverse-order look at the 25 players who will be most crucial if the Texas Tech Red Raiders are to have a successful 2008 season, however that may be defined.
This is not, however, a list of the best players on the team. Rather, this series takes into consideration the importance of a given position on the team, depth issues, experience and inexperience, and the historic strengths and weaknesses of Mike Leach's program. The results, therefore, may surprise many readers, and will hopefully spur discussion and debate.
Brian Duncan: Given that Brian Duncan is a returning starter, there is a fairly large degree of mystery surrounding him. Part of the mystery stems from the fact that he is playing a new position. Duncan emerged as the starter at strongside linebacker in 2007, but will play in the middle in 2008.
Another aspect of the mystery, however, owes to the fact that he was only a freshman last season, and did not start the entire year. Duncan's play was solid and steady, but it was also unspectacular. He recorded 62 stops in 2007, but only four of them were behind the line of scrimmage. Strong safety Joe Garcia, by way of comparison, tallied six hits behind the line, and backup middle linebacker Victor Hunter had 4.5.
Was Duncan's relative quiescence due to primarily to his inexperience? It is entirely possible. Even likely. Nevertheless, Duncan will need to be a more forceful presence on the field in 2008.
Intense pressure from behind could come in the form of redshirt freshman Sam Fehoko. And keep in mind that defensive coordinator [/db]Ruffin McNeill[/db] proved his willingness to play a youngster over a veteran when he permanently inserted Duncan into the lineup over senior Kellen Tillman, who did not regain his starting position even after he returned from a suspension.
But Duncan has many things going for him. He's a year older and wiser and should know the defense quite well by now. He is a sound player against both the run and the pass, something than cannot yet be said for Fehoko. He is an intelligent player, has excellent character and possesses all the makings of a great on-field leader. And that is important for a middle linebacker. Duncan is also versatile as shown by his apparently smooth transition from strongside to middle linebacker. Indeed, I believe he could play the weakside if McNeill needed him to do so.
All in all, Duncan will be on the field a great deal in 2008. Hopefully, he will also be all over the field.
Key Stat: Duncan recorded only six "big plays" in 2007. Four of those were tackles behind the line, another was a quarterback hurry, and one was a pass breakup. The Red Raiders will need more big-play productivity out of Duncan in 2008. A few interceptions and fumble recoveries would be nice.
Where He Fits In: Current starting middle linebacker, although he could play on the strongside or perhaps even on the weakside if needed.
2008 Expectation: Duncan will have a running battle with Sam Fehoko for the starting spot at middle linebacker. It would not be a surprise if Fehoko claimed that position at some point, in which case Duncan would become the backup in the middle or slide over-probably-to the strong side and take over for Bront Bird.
TOP 25 KEY PLAYERS:
21. Linebacker Brian Duncan
22. Safety Daniel Charbonnet
23. Running Back Aaron Crawford
24. H-Back Ryan Hale
25. Right Tackle Marlon Winn
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