Favored son and Tech legend Kliff Kingsbury returned to the plains to restore the Red Raiders to their former glory. He brought a sizeable amount street cred and a young energetic Tech-tied staff with him. The result was a teams that was fast out of the gate, then bogged down, and finally pulling off one of the biggest bowl game surprises of 2013. What's in store for year two? Pencils out, let's go to school.
Questions that need answering...
Who comes in if Webb goes down?
Davis Webb started after Baker Mayfield went down with an injury. Mayfield started because presumed starter Michael Brewer missed time due to injury. Brewer took his talents to Blacksburg this offseason. Mayfield, a walk-on, walked off under odd "communication" circumstances and is now plying his craft in Norman. Tanner Tausch and Michael Richardson, both walk-on quarterbacks, left this spring as well leaving Tech with a depth chart of exactly one QB this spring.
We'll leave aside whatever the reasons were for four players at the same position to leave the program within 4 months of each other, the Bud is confident that a myriad of issues caused the exodus so it doesn't seem systemic. Troubling, but not systemic.
So Tech is left with Davis Webb and the unknowns. The good news is that Webb looks more and more confident in the system. He's also the most physically gifted quarterback at Tech since, well, ever. He's big, fast, and has a plus arm. He's also smart, the most important trait in the Tech system. The Bud thought he gave Tech a better chance to win that Mayfield in 2013, though we did admired Mayfield's try hardness, if that is in fact a word. Webb is the guy and he proved it in Tech's Holiday Bowl win over Arizone State.
Just spitballing here, but what if Webb goes down as Tech quarterbacks were apt to do last season? Let's say it's early against Central Arkansas or UTEP, who do the Red Raiders look to to guide them short or long term? That question is probably being asked around the football offices even now. The answer may be Whitehouse's Patrick Mahomes, a true freshman. Mahomes ran a similar spread system at Whitehouse and he has a lot of physical gifts. Ideally he'd sit for a year to figure out how to do laundry, where to buy cheap ramen, and oh yeah, how to run Tech's offense. That won't be an option for Mahomes, he'll be in the mix from day one.
Kingsbury and Tech would probably say that's the way they like it, everyone competing from day one and all, but deep down you'd rather have an experience hand on the tiller. Mayfield and Brewer could have been those guys, but they're several zip codes away. Here's hoping, for Tech's sake, that Webb stays healthy and Mahomes and the fresh walk-ons can develop at their own pace.
Who steps in for Jace Amaro and Eric Ward?
Jace Amaro and Eric Ward were responsible for just south of 200 catches in 2013. A quarterback's best friends are a 6-6 tight end who can run and a burner on the outside who can find the endzone. Well both of those guys are gone. It's not a matter of whether someone steps up for dearly departed, it's a matter of who.
The most likely candidates to replace Ward are Jakeem Grant, all 5-6 of him and Bradley Marquez. Grant is pound for pound the best receiver in the Big 12. Tough as nails and with the skill to back it up. Marquez needs to improve his 55% catch rate, but he's tested.
A dark horse to step up is former 4-star recruit Reginald Davis. Like Marquez, he has to learn to make the plays that are presented to him, but he's got the tools.
As for Amaro, it may not be a matter of replicating the Amaro position - scanning the Tech roster the Raiders don't have that kind of size and speed sitting around - but instead Tech may look to use the depth at the position to scheme their way into Amaro-like production.
Devin Lauderdale was another 4-star recruit who detoured to Junior College but now arrives on campus. Another option is Ian Sadler a true freshman out of Argyle who almost won the 3A state title by himself last season. Kingsbury will find a use for guy like that.
Tech will be deep and talented at the wide receiver position. Which is good because they'll be opportunities to make plays in the pass game and balls will be available. Passing will be, and is the preferred method of movement in Lubbock and we expect that Tech's run game may struggle once the Raiders get into conference play.
How about that secondary?
The Red Raiders lost all four starters in the secondary from 2013. Ironically the starters from 2013 contributed as many interceptions to the cause as you or I did. Still, the Big 12 is a passing league and you'll need to shore up the back end in order to hold people below 50. Last season's pass defense was statistically sound, however, part of that was attributed to Tech's poor run defense.
The returning contributors aren't bad, J.J. Gaines, a starter until injury, has the look of a playmaker. Gaines had 2 picks in just 5 games for the Red Raiders last season. He played sparingly in the spring due to his continued recovery from shoulder surgery. He'll be joined at safety by Keenon Ward who had a pick and stuck his nose into the fray last year.
Josh Keys is a rangy JC transfer who went through spring ball with the Red Raiders. He did enough to impress DC Matt Wallerstedt. John White and Summit Hogue will also be in the mix after putting in time on special teams in 2013. Hogue is moving to safety from linebacker. He'll bring a physical presence. Jalen Barnes redshirted in 2013 due to an injury but benefited from bowl practice as well as the spring.
Justis Nelson is a rangy corner who came out of the spring as one starter along with La'Darius Newbold. Both are sophomores, Nelson had a pick last season. Dee Paul was all everything for the Munday Moguls out of high school, he'll now be on the depth chart as a corner.
Tech's chances took a pretty big shot when highly regarded true freshman Nigel Bethel II was dismissed from the team this week for punching a female student. Good riddance.
Tech demonstrated the ability to put points up last season, sadly they demonstrated very little ability to prevent points from the opposition, especially in conference play. If the Red Raiders are going to turn losses into wins in improve on 8-5, they'll need to make strides on defense, anticipating similar if not slightly better production on offense.
Who's that guy?
V.J. Fehoka Sr. LB 5-11 225 Honolulu, Hawaii (UTAH)
Tech's linebacker corps is a bit of a blank slate. Fehoka arrives from Utah and is penciled in to start at the Will linebacker position. Fehoka wasn't a starter at Utah but he was a steady contributor.
For what it's worth Fehoka was a 4-star recruit out of high school. The Raiders are hoping he can be a thumper who'll help slow opponent's run games.
Fehoka has already made a major impact on the future of Tech's program. Fehoka's younger, considerably bigger brother, Braeden committed to Texas Tech in the spring. Breiden Fehoka could be a big part of Tech's program moving forward. Tech is hoping V.J. is a big part of Tech's success this year.