June 11, 2008

What does it mean for this season?

Attrition is a fact of life on today's college football landscape and the Texas Tech Red Raiders are not immune. Word came down yesterday that junior running back Kobey Lewis and sophomore safety Steven Harris have been suspended from the program indefinitely. Both players will miss summer workouts and two-a-days. Whether or not they will be reinstated for the 2008 campaign is unknown at this point.

One can be certain, however, that Mike Leach and his coaching staff are proceeding under the assumption that Lewis and Harris will be unavailable. We know this because of the use of the word "indefinitely," which implies that the football future of the players is in limbo. Were it otherwise, the statement would have indicated that Lewis and Harris are suspended for a discrete period of time. That is not the case.

The immediate question then becomes, what impact will these suspensions have on the team, assuming that both players miss the 2008 season? In general terms, there will be a modest but far from devastating impact on the field.

The loss of Lewis will probably be the greater of the two. And that despite the fact that the Red Raiders are extremely deep at the running back position. The problem is that Lewis is Tech's best receiver out of the backfield and has carved a niche for himself as a dandy pass-catching back.

Without Lewis catching balls in space and making people miss for good intermediate yardage, those chores will fall heavily on the shoulders of Aaron Crawford, who probably has the second best hands among the backs. Crawford, however, is nowhere near as shifty as Lewis and it will be interesting to see how effective he can be after the catch.

The loss of Lewis raises other concerns as well. For while the Red Raiders are stacked at running back, most of the players there do have baggage of one sort or another.

Baron Batch, who has genuine starting potential, also has a history of ankle problems. Were those problems to recur, depth at running back would become an acute problem.

Then there is volatile Shannon Woods, a former starter who has a lengthy rap sheet under the laws of Mike Leach. He has been demoted and suspended before. For Tech's sake, Woods had better straighten up and fly right in 2008.

Then there is super freshman Harrison Jeffers. Before Lewis' travails it was generally expected that Jeffers would redshirt. Recent developments, however, have opened the door for him to see the field in 2008. Problem is, Jeffers still has not qualified academically. Now from the outside, his prospects for qualifying look reasonably good. And the Red Raiders are keeping their fingers crossed that he does qualify because they could need him immediately.

The loss of Harris looks to be less costly at this point. Much was expected from the talented Lewisville native coming into spring workouts, but he actually delivered very little. Harris was nicked much of the time and when he did get on the field, made little impact. He has good athletic ability and is an explosive hitter, but his grasp of the defense may be too unsure to allow his skills to come to the fore.

And assuming that Anthony Hines makes a full recovery, the Red Raider will have plenty of safeties on the roster to get the job done. Darcel McBath is a returning starter and all-star candidate. Daniel Charbonnet is a very good nickel back who could press for a starting position. L.A. Reed is a transfer from wide receiver who is already further along than Harris. Jordy Rowland is good enough to see spot duty. And Franklin Mitchem showed signs toward the end of spring drills.

With a group like that, Harris may not have seen the field on defense much anyway. Harris' absence, however, probably scuttles any further thoughts of moving McBath to cornerback, if that was even a serious possibility to begin with.

Where Harris will undeniably be missed is on special teams. In terms of kickoff and punt coverage, Harris was one of Tech's best in 2007, if not the best. Harris is a big hitter with a knack for getting to the ball and making big plays. If Harris does not make it back for the upcoming season, there's no telling how many big plays on special teams the Red Raiders will forfeit because of his absence.

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