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August 25, 2010The Red Raiders defense has a new leader, one who was celebrating on the final day of the 2009 season with a BCS National Championship trophy in his hands while coaching the linebackers for the Alabama Crimson Tide during a perfect 14-0 season. Enter James Willis as Texas Tech's new defensive coordinator.
Not only did Tommy Tuberville hand pick a proven winner, he hired a person that he worked with for three seasons at Auburn when Willis coached Tuberville's linebackers from 2006-08.
Now it is time for Willis to lead the Red Raiders' charge, which is led by senior linebackers Brian Duncan and Bront Bird. It has been well documented that Willis' new-look 3-4 defense will switch the positions for Duncan (middle linebacker-to-hybrid, outside linebacker/defensive end) and Bird (outside linebacker-to-middle linebacker), who both have been fixtures in the Tech lineup at their respective positions the past three seasons.
"It is always a luxury and a pleasure when you have senior leadership in your core," Willis said. "When you get to a game, guys can play, but it is different when you get in front of a big crowd and there is pressure on the game. It is always nice to have those guys around because they can help train and develop the younger guys."
But with a new coaching staff comes a new system, and with both returning three-year lettermen on board, the Texas Tech defense is ready to make a statement in 2010.
PLAYERS IN THE MIX (NUMERICAL)
#13 Julius Howard (5-11, 220, Sr./3L)
#20 Bront Bird (6-4, 248, Sr./3L)
#23 Dion Chidozie (6-1, 208, Fr./RS)
#27 Zach Winbush (6-1, 206, Fr./HS)
#41 Sam Fehoko (6-0, 233, Jr./2L)
#42 Daniel Cobb (6-0, 215, Fr./RS)
#45 Tyrone Sonier (6-2, 233, Jr./2L)
#51 Cqulin Hubert (6-2, 231, Fr./HS)
#53 Joe Carmical (6-1, 242, Fr./HS)
#56 Jonathan Brydon (6-4, 236, Sr./1L)
#57 Brian Duncan (6-1, 248, Sr./3L)
#58 Tahrick Peak (6-2, 196, Fr./HS)
#96 Michael Aguilar (5-11, 238, Sr./Sq)
DUNCAN LANDS ON THREE NATIONAL AWARD WATCH LISTS
After leading Texas Tech in tackles in back-to-back seasons, Brian Duncan has found himself nominated for three prestigious national awards entering his senior season. He was first named to the Lott Trophy Watch List, which honors the nation's top impact defensive player. In June, Duncan was added to the watch list for the Nagurski Award, given annually to the country's best defensive player. Just recently Duncan was named to the Butkus Award Watch List, which goes to the nation's top linebacker. He guided the Tech defense last season with a team-high 88 tackles (66 solo) and posted a career-high 94 tackles during his sophomore season in 2008.
DUNCAN: SECOND ON RED RAIDERS WITH 35 CONSECUTIVE STARTS
Brian Duncan has the second longest active streak of any current Tech player starting in 35 consecutive games dating back to September 29, 2007 (first career start). He has started in 35-of-39 games at Texas Tech. Only defensive lineman Colby Whitlock (36 straight starts) has started in more consecutive games for an active Red Raider.
BIRD BRINGS CONSISTENCY TO HIS GAME
Bront Bird brings consistency and experience to the table for the Red Raiders' defense. Just how much experience, try starting 25 of the last 26 games at linebacker. Bird notched 56 tackles (40 solo) last season and was fourth on the team as a sophomore posting 64 (45 solo). Six times last season he tallied at least six tackles, including his season-high eight, which he did on back-to-back occasions against Rice and Texas in weeks two and three, respectively. Birds' career-high 14 tackles in 2008 against Nevada (9/6) were the most by a Red Raider that season.
FEHOKO/HOWARD ADD DEPTH TO RETURNING GROUP
The returning Texas Tech linebackers also feature Sam Fehoko and Julius Howard, who both saw significant action last season. Fehoko wrapped up on 19 tackles (17 solo) and Howard was in on 29 tackles (25 solo). Fehoko had multiple tackles in six games, including a season-high four solo tackles against Oklahoma State (11/14). Howard had at least one tackle in 11 of 13 games, including a career-high eight against Baylor (11/28). The two combined have played in 40 games wearing the Tech red and black.
FRESHMAN LINEBACKERS SHOW SIGNS OF BEING DIFFERENCE MAKERS
The list of freshmen linebackers out numbers the list of linebackers with significant experience, but many of the Red Raiders that are new to campus have showed signs in training camp that they will be ready to play immediately. Among the top freshmen in training camp is Cqulin Hubert, who was ranked the No. 33 inside linebacker (Rivals) coming out of Eisenhower HS in Houston this past year. Redshirt freshman Daniel Cobb redshirted last season but has played well in the Red Raiders' scrimmages during camp. He is from Ellison HS (Killeen, Texas), which is known as a prep football powerhouse. Cobb was named the No. 24 safety coming out of high school by the Tom Lemming Recruiting Report. Another sought after recruit coming out of high school is freshman Tahrick Peak, who was tabbed the No. 32 ranked outside linebacker in the nation by Rivals. He is one of the leading tacklers all-time at Pulaski County HS.
Fans should also keep an eye on freshman linebackers Dion Chidozie, Zach Winbush and Joe Carmical. Other returning linebackers with experience playing for the Red Raiders include Tyrone Sonier, Jonathan Brydon and Michael Aguilar.