February 16, 2012

Spring Look: Defensive Line

2011 RECAP

Texas Tech's defensive line looked really good on paper entering the 2011 football season.

The Red Raiders landed big time players like defensive end Leon Mackey, nose tackle Dennell Wesley[d/b] and Rivals100 defensive tackle [db]Delvon Simmons to supplement Jackson Richards, Dartwan Bush, Donald Langley and Scott Smith once he got off of a 12-game suspension in time for Big 12 play.

But something was wrong with the group.

They made plays, occasionally, and Mackey might have been laying 50 percent having been rushed back into service after a collapsed lung sustained in the Texas State game to open the season.

But by the time Kansas State and Iowa State had run over the Red Raiders' 'front six' of its 4-2-5 defense, it became clear the defensive line wasn't effective in stopping the run.

Stopping the run would have been huge for the Red Raiders. Offensively, Tech had a team that could pretty much go toe-to-toe with any other Big 12 offense and if the defense could get some stops Tech would have been able to win by outscoring like in the days of old.

The problem was the defensive line couldn't do their part in stopping the run. It allowed opposing offenses to run the clock down and tire out the defense and the offense came onto the field after an opposing score knowing it would have to score a touchdown on almost every position to keep Tech in the game.

What was wrong with group still isn't exactly clear. The defensive line corps had pretty good size against the average Big 12 offensive line and they made plays from time-to-time.

They just couldn't stop the run.

In last year's Texas game, a 52-20 beat down in Austin, Texas threw the ball just seven times as opposed to 54 rushing attempts and slammed the Red Raiders with their No. 3 running back Joe Bergeron who ran for 191 yards and three touchdowns. In total, the Longhorns ran up 439 yards on the Tech defense that day.

The Red Raider defense gave up 3,106 rushing yards in 2011 -- more than half of what Tech's running game was able to accomplish.

It was a rough season and primary blame can be put on the defensive line and linebackers for failing to stop the run. It could have been a different season if in just one game the Red Raiders were capable of making a run dependent team attack them through the air.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Mackey, a senior, should be healthy while Wesley and Simmons should mature as a junior and a sophomore, respectively.

The big positive could be Simmons. He arrived late to Tech's summer workouts after an academic eligibility issue that needed to be cleared up and he came into fall camp looking like he could have used an extra two months of conditioning.

Simmons should be in better shape with strength and conditioning coach Joe Walker's offseason workouts and should be in even better shape after summer workouts. It will be interesting to see how much improvement he's made since the end of last season.

No questions about Richards or Bush, two standouts on the line last year who are returning for the 2012 season.

They're going to get some help from guys like Branden Jackson who has reportedly become much bigger than when he showed up prior to a redshirt year.

Tech also brought in Riverside (Calif.) Community College Lee Adams to add to the defensive ends and we're about to learn what he brings to the party.

At the tackle position, everyone wants to see more out of Wesley, a 6-foot-2, 285-pounder, while Kerry Hyder has been a good tackle that seems to be on the brink of taking the next step. Donte Phillips adds depth coming out of his redshirt year.

So here are the primary tools the Red Raiders have to help stop the run game they're going to see time-and-time again in the Big 12.

We're going to start learning how much Tech has improved on this front from last season.

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