Tech's biggest question lies in it's defensive line.
Texas Tech would like to have more players with whom to build a defensive line rotation. On the other hand, new defensive line coach John Scott, Jr. has a better starting point than some of his colleagues around the league.
The Red Raiders return a first-team All-Big 12 honoree in Kerry Hyder, a second-team All-Big 12 choice in Dartwan Bush and a 13-game starter in Jackson Richards. Tech will be depending on them a lot, though, because attrition —– most notably the departures of former blue-chip signees Delvon Simmons and Michael Starts — thinned the unit.
“We aren’t the largest group,” Scott said, “but we’re a group that’ll be feisty. We’ll play hard. We’ll be physical. We’ll play fast. If you play like that, you’re going to give yourself an opportunity every time you go out and snap it up.”
The 37-year-old Scott arrived at Tech after three years at FCS power Georgia Southern and immediately gets to coach a first-rate playmaker. The 6-foot-2, 281-pound Hyder led Big 12 defensive tackles in sacks (six) and tackles for loss (14) last year, then carried the momentum of his breakout junior season into spring practice.
“He’s a guy that’s really impressive,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “He just graduated. He’s really mature, handles himself well.
“I think he’s going to be really disruptive in our scheme with what coach (defensive coordinator Matt) Wallerstedt is doing. He just got better and better. We had a hard time blocking him.”
With Tech switching to a 3-4 defense, Hyder played end and tackle during March and April practices, and where he’ll line up once the season starts is still not a certainty. Scott lists Hyder and Bush 1-2 at end. However, Scott said the defensive tackle spot is “kind of jumbled right now.”
Hyder could switch to tackle, where Richards and February signee Demetrius Alston comprise the two-deep, which would free up Bush to start at end.
“Kerry’s a versatile guy,” Scott said. “He’s good enough to play all three positions across the board. He could be the end, the nose or the tackle, depending on what kind of package we’re in. He’s an explosive kid, quick twitch. We’re looking for him to have a big year.”
Bush (6-1, 256) was credited with 41 tackles last season, with 12 behind the line and six sacks — numbers the Red Raiders need him to match or exceed. Richards had 29 tackles with 31/2 tackles for loss last year, and senior Dennell Wesley had 21 tackles, 51/2 tackles behind the line and two sacks. Wesley (6-1, 286) steps in to start at noseguard, with unproven youngsters Anthony Smith and Donte Phillips behind him.
Bush had arthroscopic knee surgery after spring, but Kingsbury said he’s expected to be ready for preseason practice, at which point the Red Raiders want to see him come through with a big senior year.
“Bush is another guy we’re counting on to be a leader,” Scott said. “Bush has all-Big 12 potential. He’s explosive. He has great ability to rush the passer. He’s a very talented kid.”
Front-seven depth seemed like a strength when the 2012 season ended because only one member of the rotation, defensive tackle Leon Mackey, was a senior. Then Starts and Simmons left the program, Simmons transferring to Southern Cal. That muddied the picture, particularly at tackle, where Simmons ended spring practice as a starter.
The 6-4 Richards, an end his entire career, is now up to 270, Scott said, in his bid to replace Simmons at tackle. The sudden depth shortage means Tech doesn’t have the luxury of slowly bringing along Alston, a 6-4, 265-pound transfer from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College who arrived in Lubbock for summer workouts.
Alston had seven tackles and a sack in a 2012 season opener before he suffered a broken leg. He has three years to play three seasons for the Red Raiders.
“Demetrius is a high-motor, quick-twitch guy,” Scott said. “We’re counting on him to help us. He’s got to play.”
Simmons started all 13 games last season as a sophomore, registering 27 tackles with six stops for loss and two sacks.
The timing of his departure — after coaches had invested daily spring-practice snaps in him — doesn’t help.
“He had worked with the first team a bunch and had worked with the second team and has played here in the past,” Scott said. “You lose a guy that has Big 12 playing experience. But when you lose somebody, there’s a door open for somebody else to step up. We’re fortunate to have a guy like Jackson Richards, a guy like Donte Phillips and bringing in a guy like Demetrius Alston that can fill in that role. Those guys will do a good job and we’ll be fine.”