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March 21, 2010

Tuberville turns Texas Tech's focus to field

If Texas Tech can draw as much attention this season as it did in December, the Red Raiders will be in for a big year.

The school's nasty divorce from Mike Leach, the most successful coach in school history, and subsequent legal issues drew headlines nationally. In fact, the firing of Leach drew so much attention that the hiring of Tommy Tuberville - who previously oversaw an elite program at Auburn - practically was overlooked.

Tuberville's aim is that Texas Tech won't be overlooked. Although it goes against his usual M.O., Tuberville has vowed to maintain the high-scoring spread offense that has been a staple in Lubbock. He also aims to field strong defensive units, which typically were a feature of his teams at Auburn.

No doubt, the Red Raiders will have a new look under Tuberville. The residents of the South Plains just want to see if he can produce the results they've grown accustomed to seeing.

Here's a look at the Red Raiders as they prepare to open spring drills.

TEXAS TECH AT-A-GLANCE
Taylor Potts returns at QB for Texas Tech.
THE BASICS
Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Last season: 9-4 overall, 5-3 in the Big 12. Beat Michigan State 41-31 in the Alamo Bowl.
Spring dates: March 22-April 17.
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (7): RB Baron Batch, G Lonnie Edwards, WR Detron Lewis, T Chris Olson, QB Taylor Potts, WR Tramain Swindall, WR Alex Torres.
Defense (6): LB Bront Bird, LB Brian Duncan, FS Cody Davis, SS Franklin Mitchem, CB LaRon Moore, T Colby Whitlock.
Special teams (2): P Ryan Erxleben, K Matt Williams.

POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

The Red Raiders are loaded at the offensive skill positions. So what else is new? Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield will vie for the starting quarterback job. Last season, Potts threw for 3,440 yards and 22 touchdowns. Sheffield, who made three starts, completed better than 74 percent of his attempts with 14 touchdowns and only four interceptions. The top five receivers from last season return, and each had at least 35 catches. Leading that group are Detron Lewis and Alex Torres, who each had more than 60 receptions for more than 800 yards. The Red Raiders figure to run more with Tuberville in charge, and they're set there, too. Baron Batch is coming off an 884-yard season in '09, which is especially impressive considering Tech's previous penchant for passing. In addition, sophomores Eric Stephens and Harrison Jeffers were productive backups.

HELP IS NEEDED

The defensive line in general and the pass rush in particular appear to be in dire straits. Three starters were lost from the line - including Brandon Sharpe and Daniel Howard, who combined for 23 sacks in '09. Overall, the Red Raiders were fourth in the country with 40 sacks, but Whitlock's three was the most among returning players.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

LB/E Bront Bird: The Red Raiders need someone to emerge who can provide consistent pressure on the quarterback. Bird, who is smart and physical, needs to show this spring he can be that guy. Defensive coordinator James Willis envisions moving Bird around to attack from various positions on the field, but Bird has to prove he can handle that role.

RB Harrison Jeffers: Jeffers wasn't utilized much by the previous coaching staff. That could change. The Red Raiders' aim is to get the ball to explosive players in space, and Jeffers may be the most explosive player on the roster. His role in the offense could increase dramatically.

QB Steven Sheffield: When healthy, he was excellent. Sheffield completed better than 69 percent of his attempts in his three starts. He led the Red Raiders to a blowout win over Kansas State and sparked a comeback victory over Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl. Although he was the backup to Potts last season, he may be the favorite to win the starting job this spring - or at least take the lead in the competition.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

LB Tyrone Sonier: In his two previous seasons, Sonier has made just six total tackles. There is a new coaching staff and Tuberville's trademark is strong defense. A starting linebacker job is up for grabs. If Sonier doesn't grab it, he'll be in danger of becoming a career backup.

THE BUZZ

The quarterback competition between Potts and Sheffield is obviously of keen interest, but so is the offense they will be directing. Tech quarterbacks frequently led the nation in passing under Leach. No doubt, Tech followers want to know if they can continue to be as productive in new coordinator Neal Brown's system. The Red Raiders also will transition to a three-man front with multiple looks on defense, which is in stark contrast to the previous system. Defense often has been an area of concern at Tech, but Tuberville has a history of fielding excellent defensive units.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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