Spring practices are beginning to wind down across the Big 12 and teams are sending their squads into summer workouts. As they move forward, we’ll provide some thoughts and observations on things we’ve learned after the past few weeks.
Texas Tech began spring practices in early March and wrapped everything up last weekend.The Red Raiders come into 2018 looking to take steps forward on defense after finally starting to see improvement there under head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
That progress was enough to get them bowl eligible last season, but fans are hoping Texas Tech can move beyond being a fringe bowl team.
For the second straight season, the Red Raiders are unsure who their quarterback will be. One luxury Kingsbury does have, however, are proven playmakers on defense. Below are some thoughts on the Texas Tech football program following the end of spring workouts.
1. THE QUARTERBACK COMPETITION IS FAR FROM SETTLED
Texas Tech might have the closest quarterback race in the conference. They have two players in junior McLane Carter and redshirt sophomore Jett Duffey who have some game experience, but neither has taken hold of the job.
True freshman Alan Bowman enrolled this January and has turned heads this spring, meaning that this could eventually turn into a three-man race.
For now, though, the two older players are the primary competitors. Throughout the spring scrimmages for the Red Raiders, neither Duffey nor Carter stood out, with both having their good and bad moments.
Carter had a respectable game on Saturday and even managed to throw the only passing touchdown of the day. He was efficient, but his limited arm strength could hinder the offense if he is indeed named the starter.
In two scrimmages this spring, Duffey threw costly interceptions that were the product of questionable decision-making. Of course, Duffey’s athleticism, something that is a primary part of his game, wasn’t able to be showcased in the spring format.
The biggest worry Kingsbury might have about Duffey relate to his off-the-field issues. Duffey was suspended his freshman year and he also got in trouble earlier this month after being arrested for disorderly conduct. Hopefully the summer will be a quiet one for the Red Raiders, but there’s not anything assuring fans that Duffey has the kind of leadership Kingsbury will need in 2018.
2. THERE ARE STILL QUESTIONS AT WIDE RECEIVER
It’s odd to think that at a school like Texas Tech, there would be uncertainty regarding both quarterbacks and receivers. The Red Raiders are having to break in some new wide receivers this season, though, so there’s been a good deal of competition throughout the spring.
None of the potential starters has really emerged as a clear star. T.J. Vasher can probably be pencilled in for a spot on the depth chart, but he had a relatively quiet spring. De’Quan Bowman made some plays in spring scrimmages, but he’s one of many wideouts who had only a few catches last season.
There will probably be a lot of passes to go around next season, but it might take a while next fall before we know who the go-to guys are on this team.
3. THE RUNNING GAME COULD SEE SOME IMPROVEMENT
Next season Texas Tech will have one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country, with all five starters back. That should be good news for the running backs. After averaging 4.0 yards per carry last season, the Red Raiders have some talented backs who could take advantage of having seasoned blockers.
The guy who was the likely starter going into the spring was Tre King, a senior who was the team’s second leading rusher last season. King was effective in running the ball throughout practices and public scrimmages, and he even scored a touchdown in the spring game.
Yet, King has serious competition at the position in Da’Leon Ward, a junior who wasn’t with the team last year. Ward has showed out in all the public scrimmages thus far, making him a breakout player. The two will likely end up splitting carries, but Ward seems like he might have the potential to be one of the best running backs that Kingsbury’s worked with.
The Red Raiders are also pursuing a graduate transfer in the form of Tre Watson, a multifaceted back who played in an Air Raid system at Cal. If nothing else, Watson could add depth, but he also has starting potential.
4. DEFENSE COULD VERY WELL CARRY THE RED RAIDERS NEXT SEASON
Yes, this is a serious possibility. The Red Raiders are returning almost every single player from last year’s defensive two deep and the defensive units have absolutely dominated this spring. Of course, it’s hard to really take much away from that in itself, but right now there’s no reason to believe the defense overall won’t be improved.
It’s become cliche for pundits to take shots at the Texas Tech defense, a unit that has not been close to elite for a couple of decades, but one that has been ranked amongst the worst in the nation under Kingsbury. Last season, the Red Raiders finally managed to see some breakthroughs. They finished 2017 ranked in the top half of the country in rushing S&P+ and, in addition, managed to lead the Big 12 with 29 turnovers.
Their improvement was spearheaded by transfers like AP All-Big 12 linebacker Dakota Allen, who came back to Lubbock after a year at East Mississippi Community College, where he appeared on the “Last Chance U” Netflix series. This year, most of those kinds of starters will be veteran upperclassmen who will only be looking to take more steps forward.
Nonetheless, that’s not to say that the Red Raiders will absolutely stifle everyone they play. Asking Texas Tech to take a giant leap from one of the worst defenses in the nation to truly elite in two seasons is probably setting expectations too high. Still, if Kingsbury’s team is to show marked improvement in 2018, they’ll likely need above average play across the board from defensive coordinator David Gibbs’s unit.
With the most significant issues on this team being at quarterback and receiver, it would be easy to see how the Red Raiders might make some significant noise in the conference next season. As good of an offensive coach as Kingsbury is, though, there’s no obvious evidence that the Red Raiders will take their play to a next level in the fall.
A lot of that has to do with the lack of an obvious program-changing talent like former quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Without that kind of player, it’s still entirely possible that Kingsbury’s squad will find themselves fighting to qualify for a bowl at the end of the season again.
The Big 12 as a whole will be more wide open next season, but Texas Tech’s 2018 record will likely depend on how the team performs in close contests. The outcome of two to three games may determine if there’s a coaching search come December.
The Red Raiders open their season on September 1st against Ole Miss in Houston, Texas.