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July 25, 2012

Preview: Tech has logjam at WR

MORE: Health the concern at RB | Ward is a playmaker

It may not seem that way by glancing at the stat book from last season, but Texas Tech's receiving corps will be a strong point for the team this fall. The Red Raiders are a legitimate 10-12 players deep and, most importantly, are close to full health heading into fall camp.

Tech returns three starters in Darrin Moore, Alex Torres and Eric Ward who registered over 500 receiving yards a year ago.

"We're solid with our receivers," quarterback Seth Doege said. "We have some of the best receivers in the country. Eric Ward is coming back and is very explosive, but we also have Darrin Moore, Marcus Kennard and Javon Bell on the outside. They're all really talented and could be the No. 1 guy almost anywhere else. We have a bunch of guys on the outside that can really make plays.

Texas Tech's receiving corps should be the deepest position on the team this fall. In fact, this is arguably the deepest the Red Raiders have been at receiver in five-plus years. The team isn't as top-heavy as it has been in years past with an obvious Wes Welker, Joel Filani or Michael Crabtree-like headliner but, unlike years past, there isn't a dramatic drop from the top to the bottom of the rotation.
Returning Starters: Eric Ward (11), Alex Torres (10), Darrin Moore (5), Bradley Marquez (4), Austin Zouzalik (2)

Others Returning: Jace Amaro, Jordan Davis, Derek Edwards, Aaron Fisher, Jakeem Grant, Marcus Kennard, Javares McRoy, Tyson Williams

Newcomers: Javon Bell, Reginald Davis, Dominique Wheeler

Departures: Jacoby Franks, Adam James, Tramain Swindall
For the first time since the 2001 season, Texas Tech only had one player (Eric Ward, 84) register more than 55 receptions.

Before getting hurt against Nevada, Darrin Moore was leading the country in receiving yards per game (169.5) and was second in receptions per game (10.5).

Ward caught 16 passes against Baylor, breaking Michael Crabtree's school record for most catches in a single game (15).
Based on what happened last season and during the spring, it's hard to imagine Darrin Moore and Eric Ward not starting the season as Tech's top two guys at Z and X. What will happen at the two inside spots is a little harder to gauge, though Alex Torres (H) and Jace Amaro (Y) were listed as starters on the Red Raiders' official pre-camp depth chart. Will Tyson Williams push Amaro at Y? Can Jakeem Grant make a push at H? Austin Zouzalik has played both, where will he factor in?
"Don't forget on the inside that we're going to get back Austin Zouzalik and Alex Torres from injuries. They're both really dependable guys. Then we have Tyson Williams. And then we have tight end Jace Amaro. I could go on forever. Jace has had a great summer, he's 6-foot-6, 260 pounds and can run.

"We also have two midgets that can really scat around. The list goes on forever and I can go on and on. As a quarterback, there's unlimited guys we can get the ball to."

Ward led the Red Raiders in all major receiving categories last season, including receptions (84), yards (800) and caught 11 of Doege's 28 touchdown passes.

The 6-foot, 203-pound receiver is respected for his physicality in the run game as well as his hands.

"I'm physical and the defense doesn't like that because they're used to pushing the offense around," Ward said. "The defense isn't used to getting hit the same way they hit you. On top of that, I have a great surge off the line and can catch the long ball.

"I feel like the best receivers have to do it all, including blocking. It's important to help your teammates out by sacrificing your body to end a defender's pursuit on the play. I want them to block for me and I'll always block for them."

[ More RRS: Depth is the biggest story at WR ]

Ward says he wants to break 1,000 receiving yards this season, but Moore might give him a run for his money.

Moore was on pace for a monster season -- he caught 21 passes for 339 yards and four scores in Tech's first two games -- but sustained a serious leg injury in the third game of the season and was never quite the same. Still, Moore finished 2011 with 571 receiving yards, which was third-best on the team behind Ward and Torres (616 yards).

Torres is coming off of a torn ACL injury but should be healthy and at full speed by Sept. 1.

Wideout Derek Edwards joins the mix on the outside after redshirting last season. With Ward missing most of the spring due to bruised ribs, Edwards received a lot of quality reps and took full advantage of the opportunity.

Amaro, who had a limited role last season, should give the Red Raiders a good big play threat down the middle. He seemed much more polished this spring and should be much more effective this fall.

Jakeem Grant and Javares McRoy, neither taller than 5-foot-7, are the players Doege referred to as midgets. While small in stature, Grant and McRoy both have plus speed and a lot of wiggle.

NEW FACES: U.S. Army All-American Dominique Wheeler and Texas 1A State Champion athlete Reginald Davis joined the Red Raiders this summer and are all expected to redshirt this fall.

[ More RRS: How Bob Stoops snubbed Eric Ward in Dallas ]

Look for Wheeler and Davis to contribute as redshirt freshmen in 2013 and continue a tradition of very strong receiver units into the future.

PRESSURE IS ON: Tyson Williams. Because of the depth that the Red Raiders enjoy at receiver, there really isn't any single player that's facing an 'under the gun' situation. Williams may be feeling more pressure than his peers because of the fact that, by transferring from West Texas A&M to Tech after the 2009 season, he effectively forfeited his second-to-last season of collegiate eligibility in order to prove himself on a bigger stage. Williams got the opportunity and now, after a year of waiting, he has to prove that the gamble was worth it.

BIGGEST QUESTION: Will Tech's depth make up for a lack of a dominant, No. 1 receiver? Will that kind of all-conference type player -- perhaps Darrin Moore -- emerge this season?

The Red Raiders may not be as top-heavy at receiver as they have been in years past -- they don't have a returning all-conference type -- but, top to bottom, this is arguably the deepest the program has been at the position in several years. The two most noteworthy developments with Tech's official pre-camp depth chart is that newcomer Javon Bell being listed second at X-receiver instead of Marcus Kennard and Jakeem Grant being listed second at H-receiver ahead of a fourth-year veteran like Austin Zouzalik. The absence of Derek Edwards is a testament to how deep the Red Raiders are at receiver, as the redshirt freshman had a terrific spring and is very talented.
1. Eric Ward JR-2L Ward led the Red Raiders in all major receiving categories in 2011, including receptions (84), yards (800) and touchdowns (11).
2. Javon Bell JR-TR Bell enrolled early, but missed part of the spring with an injury; he made a late push, and performed well in the spring game.
1. Alex Torres SR-3L Torres, the Big 12's active leader in career receptions (157), will likely finish his career as one of Tech's all-time leaders in catches.
2. Jakeem Grant FR-RS Grant redshirted last season after a stellar prep career at Mesquite Horn. He makes up for his small size with plus speed.
1. Jace Amaro SO-1L Amaro is one of the most physically talented players on the team and could be a darkhorse for all-conference honors.
2. Tyson Williams SR-TR Williams, a Div. II All-American at West Texas A&M, sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.
1. Darrin Moore SR-2L Moore caught 21 passes for 339 yards and four touchdowns in the first two games of 2011.
2. Bradley Marquez SO-1L Marquez was the first true freshman receiver to score a touchdown for the Red Raiders in a season-opener in over 17 years.



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