March 8, 2012

Defensive line improving

What we knew about the D-line coming into spring:

The Texas Tech defensive line was probably the weakest point of the entire team in 2011. The line couldn't help in run support as the Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State and Missouri games demonstrated and the front line also had trouble pass rushing.

Two bright spots in defensive end Scott Smith and defensive tackle Donald Langley exhausted their eligibility, but the Red Raiders get back defensive ends Jackson Richards, Dartwan Bush and Leon Mackey in addition to defensive tackles Dennell Wesley, Kerry Hyder and Delvon Simmons.

Richards had an impressive freshman campaign and Bush made some progress during his true sophomore year.

However Mackey, a highly regarded junior college transfer, might have played with complications after sustaining a deflated lung injury in the first game of last season. Coming into the spring, we wanted to see what kind of progress Mackey had made with the opportunity to be fully healthy for the first time since the past fall camp.

Wesley, another big JUCO grab by Tech a year ago, went mostly unnoticed last season which was disappointing considering his 6-foot-2, 320-pound frame. The hope was he'd come out more aggressively his senior season.

Simmons was another frustrating case because he wasn't able to spend the summer prior to his freshman season in the weight room with the other 2011 signees due to an academic hold up. The 6-foot-5, 285-pounder seemed out of shape and we hoped he had the chance to condition a little bit more between the end of last season and spring ball.

To compensate for some of the issues, Tech brought in Riverside (Calif.) Community College transfer Lee Adams.

What we know at the midway point of spring ball:

There's some improvement among the guys on the defensive line.

Wesley has really stepped up this far into spring football, Richards looks like he's ready to replace the things Smith was able to do as just a sophomore and Bush is probably the best bullrusher on the team. Hyder might be the best defensive tackle on the team, he's in a race for the title with Wesley.

Mackey hasn't been all that noticeable, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Simmons still really needs a summer with strength and conditioning coach Joe Walker but Simmons has shown improvement in technique from last season.

Adams has sustained a concussion and could be out for a while.

The most noticeable thing about the defensive line through 10 spring practices is that a good linebacking corps is finally supporting it. The defensive line and linebackers are finally acting like a functioning defensive front.

An indicator of multiple things, the first team defensive line holds its own against the Red Raider offensive line and the linebackers come up in support and the second and third team defensive lines have their way with the Tech back up offensive linemen.

Based on what we've seen in spring practice, we're expecting a better year from the defensive line.

Projecting the offseason:

We're hoping Mackey is fully recovered first and foremost.

Secondly, Simmons should come out of the weight room in August as a changed player. He has a lot of upside and part of attaining that is just getting in proper conditioning.

Tech also will have some newcomers joining them from the Class of 2012.

Anthony Smith can compete for playing time right away at nose tackle with a sub-five second 40 time at over 300 pounds.

U.S. Army All-American Michael Starts is expected to start his Red Raider career at defensive end and the defensive coaching staff is very excited about what he can bring to the table right off the bat. Maybe defensive tackle J.J. Lollar and Chase Robison can make an impact in 2012 as well.

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