January 19, 2012

Spring Look: Defensive Line

How do things stand with the Red Raiders as they prepare for spring football? We will be breaking down the team position group by position group to give you a good idea of what to expect once Texas Tech opens spring practice on Feb. 17.

We're continuing with the defensive line.

It's only up from here

Often times, and rather inexplicably, the defensive front was a no show.

Tech's run defense was abysmal en route to a 5-7 record and surprising losses to Kansas State, Iowa State and maybe even Baylor. And if the Red Raiders had an effective run defense, how would the Texas game have turned out?

Tech returns some proven talent in Leon Mackey, Jackson Richards and Dartwan Bush and they all have a season or more of experience at the Division I level. Defensive tackles Kerry Hyder and Delvon Simmons are talented players on the inside to provide at least a one deep.

The talent is there and hopefully new defensive line coach Terry Price along with Robert Prunty can get the line turned around.

Add in JUCO transfer defensive end Lee Adams and the extremely underrated nose tackle Anthony Smith and you're getting closer to a two-deep.

With defensive end Branden Jackson and defensive tackle Donte Phillips coming out of redshirt years and the potential Dennell Wesley has, you have a group that should be able to remain competitive if they can stay healthy.

The run defense wasn't exclusively the defensive line's fault, but it could have done a better job plugging holes and making it easier for the Red Raiders' relatively young linebacking corps to make the tackles.

The defensive line also must do a better job getting pressure on the quarterback. Offenses had too much time to get the ball off last season.

Only time will tell if this group is an improvement from last season though. The defensive line looked decent during spring last year and it wasn't until the new Big 12 dual-threat offenses sliced and diced the defensive line that there were signs of trouble.

How the line fits in to the 4-3

The 4-3 base defense is going to be a big help in defending guys like Kansas State's Collin Klein and Iowa State's Jared Barnett this upcoming season. Those two quarterbacks especially love to roll out and run and their offenses live and die on whether they can set themselves up for third and manageable and then run the quarterback on third down for the first down.

The 4-3 puts a fourth defensive lineman into the game and also puts in a third linebacker. Quite frankly, it's the best defensive scheme ever invented to stop predominantly running teams. For reference, look what the best SEC teams run.

The defense also is the most commonly run scheme on the high school level.

Of course, Tech will mix it up. All a 4-3 really means to defensive coordinator Art Kaufman would prefer to use four down linemen and three linebackers against a semi-conventional offense.

If Tech faced a pass heavy team, it might be better to use three down linemen and four linebackers. That way, Tech has semi-adequate strength up front to stop a run close to the line of scrimmage with linebacker help and the linebackers can drop back to defend underneath routes on the pass.

Anyway, the Big 12 looks like it's going back to being a run-first league.

Assuming it's a running play the offense is calling, with four down linemen and three linebackers, you're trading for a strong defensive lineman up front to jam a hole or shorten the edge and a comparatively quicker linebacker should make the play.

What really did Tech in last season was Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 defense created too much space for teams that wanted to run the ball up the middle.

With the 4-3 defense, the defensive linemen should have help closer in with the addition of a third linebacker that is more capable of bringing down a running back than a weak safety that's in charge of defending the pass -- and -- coming up in run support.

Gary Patterson's TCU team will probably learn this lesson the hard way as well when they run into the likes of Texas, Kansas State and the up-and-up Iowa State.

So, if Tech's defensive line can merely plug the holes and contain the edge, it's mostly on the linebackers to make the stop. But that's a story for another day.

The Red Raiders are going to need a better pass rush game as well, and that's to be seen in the spring.

Coach Price

We haven't formally met Price, but his body of work speaks for itself.

His offensive lines were good with Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville when they coached together and Ole Miss and Auburn together and the line was still very good once Price returned to Ole Miss after Tuberville's resignation from Auburn.

Price also is an outstanding recruiter. He played a big role in recruiting some amazing future NFL talents to Auburn. Most notably running back Cadillac Williams.

Without a single defensive line rep, the addition of Price seems like a big step for the Tech defense and in the recruiting game.

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