June 29, 2007

Key Red Raiders: #15 Jake Ratliff

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 be taking a reverse-order look at the 25 players who will be most crucial if the Texas Tech Red Raiders are to have a successful 2007 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 spirited discussion and debate.

JAKE RATLIFF: Junior defensive end Jake Ratliff is probably the most undersold player on the Texas Tech defense and he may also be the one most poised to burst into stardom.

Ratliff was a spot player, albeit a fairly impressive one, as an underweight freshman defensive tackle.

As a sophomore playing at his natural defensive end position, Ratliff started every game and was a consistent, reliable presence along the defensive line. He was particularly impressive during the first third of the season, and although he became less visible over the final two thirds of the season, Ratliff's statistics were still more than respectable.

Ratliff tied with Chris Parker for the sixth position in tackles with 50. He also tallied seven tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, four pass breakups, four quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. That is a very good line for a sophomore, and as Ratliff enters his upperclass years there's every reason to believe he will improve upon it considerably. And if he does, Ratliff will be entering contention for All Big 12 honors of some sort.

Such a performance is something the Tech defense could most definitely use. Ratliff will be the elder statesman on the callow defensive line, and younger players such as Richard Jones, Ra'jon Henley and Brandon Williams will look to him as a steadying force particularly in times of stress and travail.

Ratliff may also be Tech's best all-purpose defensive lineman in 2007. Despite being a bit lean at 240 pounds on a 6-foot-6 frame, he is a solid performer against the run and is quick enough to provide a credible pass rush as well. Ratliff is also an instinctual player with a nose for the football and sufficient speed to track down ball-carriers in the open field.

If Ratliff is able to improve noticeably across the board-standing in against the run, coming close to equaling Brandon Williams' pass rush ability, and providing a measure of unflappable veteran leadership, the cause of the Red Raiders' raw defensive line, and thus their entire defense, will be helped tremendously.


TOP 25 KEY PLAYERS:

15. Jake Ratliff
16. Chad Hill
17. Marlon Williams
18. Stephen Hamby
19. David Neill
20. Chris Parker
21. Jonathan Lacour
22. Alex Trlica
23. Edward Britton
24. Kobey Lewis
25. L.A. Reed


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